Soundtrack Song - Black Eyed Peas, Meet Me Halfway
"I don't understand her, Noelle," I explain. I've told her all about how Charlotte and I met, what exactly happened between us, and how I haven't talked to her since. Someone is bound to be able to help here. "I don't know what I did! Was she trying to test me?"
"She told me that she was in a bad relationship, Max. I think she likes you, but she's scared."
Scared? "Scared of what?" I never gave her a reason to be scared.
"I don't know. But I think you're probably freaking her out even more by stalking her," she says. I can hear the lilt in her voice, but this isn't a joking matter.
"I'm not stalking her!"
"It was a joke. Just back off a little bit. Let her see what she's missing out on, and she'll be back."
"You're telling me just to wait for her to come around?" That's the last thing I want to do.
"Yeah, Max. Just give it some time. I know that this isn't what you wanted to hear, and it pains me to tell you that."
"Yeah, I know that it's killing Sid, too. You know, the waiting."
"What?" Noelle asks.
"What?" Now I'm confused.
"Don't repeat me, Max. What are you saying about Sid?"
"Haven't you talked to him?" I ask. Everyone could tell that something had happened when Sid showed up in Boston this morning, but he wouldn't talk about it or even acknowledge something was up to us. We knew he was under stress, waiting for the whole Noelle-versus-Lynne, now-he-looks-like-an-abusive-boyfriend thing to blow over, but it was anyone's guess what was going through his head now. But if anyone did, it was would be her.
"I just didn't know if he said something to you that he didn't tell me."
"Probably not, Noelle. He showed up this morning for practice and hasn't said a word to anyone. I thought after this weekend, that things were going back to normal. He seemed so happy. But he's just as upset as ever, if not more. Did something happen?"
"Just more people, shoving their noses into our business, where they don't belong. He took it really hard this time. I don't think I helped matters either, because I started yelling at Pat."
Pat Brisson's my agent, too. Yelling at him isn't the smartest thing to do. "The Kid's under a lot of stress right now."
"I know. Listen, I hope I helped—"
"Merci, Noelle. I guess you're right, I should just wait."
"It'll work out, Max, I promise. Take care of yourself."
"You too. I'll see you in a couple of days," I tell her, knowing she'll be at the upcoming home games and also Véro's surprise party this weekend. But I don't know if she's right, if this will work out.
Despite her advice, I can't wait. I can't do it; I can't sit around and do nothing. It's not the type of person I am. On that Wednesday after our road trip, I head straight to her apartment. It's quarter to five, so I know she'll be home. It's after work and after her workout. She's there. I know it because I can hear music through the door.
I knock and wait for her to come to the door. After a minute, when there's no response, I knock louder. When ten minutes pass, I decide that this is it. There's only so much that I can do, only so much in my power. That's why guys are so superstitious in hockey: you do all you can to train and prepare, but you can't control a lot of things about the game. You focus on what you can do, and leave the rest to luck or fate.
So that's what I'm going to do. I search my pockets for a piece of paper and find an old receipt, and then pull a pen out of my suit pocket. I silently thank my father for beating it into my head to always be prepared. Scribbling on the back of the receipt, I slip it under the door. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you've done all you can, and now it's the other person's turn to make the move. Maybe Noelle was right. It's time to wait. I turn around and head for my car, knowing I'll have to take a long drive to clear my head.
I step out of the shower and wrap my hair in a towel. The music is deafeningly loud. I couldn't really hear it while I was under the spray, but it surrounded my ears as soon as I turned the water off. I shrugged on my robe and walked over to Gina's room. "Hey, can you turn that down? Gina!"
She had the music turned up loudly so she could hear it over her earphones, which were plugged into her keyboard. Gina was trying to learn the music by ear, which explained why it was so loud. I finally got her attention, and she lowered the volume. "Sorry, the guys want me to break this down for our next performance."
"It's cool," I tell her. "Just really loud. I'm surprised the neighbors aren't banging down our door."
She shrugs and laughs. "Not like we would have heard them anyway."
I shake my head and enter the hallway again. I step on a piece of paper, and it sticks to my foot. "What the hell?" I say, folding my leg in front of me and detaching the paper. "Qdoba? We don't eat there," I laugh to myself. Gina's vegetarian, and one burrito from that place is more calories than I let myself eat all day. I walk into the kitchen to throw it away, until I notice the handwritten message on the back.
Quand t'es décidée, tu sais où je suis.
I'm so confused. Max did this, I know that; he's the only one who would write or speak to me in French. But why? When? And what in the world does this mean?
I park myself in front of the computer and pull up Yahoo's Babel Fish website, and then I carefully type in exactly what's been jotted down. I'm curious to know what this says. Is there a reason he wrote it in French? This site translates it: When t' , you are decided know where I am. Okay, that doesn't really help. I am decided, or when I am decided? Am I decided about anything?
I try Google next. The threesome of Max, Google, and I don't really get along, but I need whatever help I can get. Google Translate tells me: When you're determined, you know where I am. Determined? I'm still confused about that. All I know is, I'm supposed to know where he is. Of course I know where he is. That's where I'm headed. It's Wednesday, and he's back in town after his road trip.
I check the time on my new phone, the one I had to buy after my old one was smashed to smithereens. The worthless workers at Verizon couldn't salvage my contact list and transfer it to my new phone, but I got my number changed. In fact, when they found out I smashed it after receiving harassing calls, they did it free of charge. That was nice, but Max's number was still lost to me forever. That's why I'm going over to his house in the first place. It's the only way I knew I could see him.
I just hope he'll be understanding about why I couldn't call. I have a lot of serious explaining to do, and I hope he'll be receptive to listening.
The trip to his house is futile, though, because he's not home. His car's not parked here and there are no lights on in his home, either. I sit on his steps and wait. For two hours. It's dark outside by the time I give in and head back to my apartment. Was his message a riddle? Is there supposed to be somewhere else he'll be? On a whim, I try going to Caribou, but he's not there either.
I let out a sigh. This is very frustrating. But at least I know I'll be seeing Véro on Friday. Marc had talked to Geno and had gotten Gina's number from him, and then Gina handed me the phone when Marc called. It was a very round-about way to get invited to her party, but since no one knew my new phone number, that's how it happened. Marc said it was a small get-together with just a bunch of the girls. I knew that I could get Véro to give me Max's number.
I am looking forward to going, but that changes when I actually get there and see Max standing with Sidney in the corner, both with sour expressions on their faces. I try to make eye contact, but he's not looking out into the crowd. I start to walk over, and Sidney nudges Max and points in my direction. Max, however, doesn't look happy to see me. I know that we haven't talked in a few weeks, but he looks... I don't even know how to describe it, but I'm incredibly intimidated.
The new plan: get in and get out. Go talk to Véro, wish her a happy birthday, give her the present I had brought, and turn around and leave. Easy. However, as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. V's already three sheets to the wind. "Char! You're here! Yay! And you brought me something! Aww! That's so nice!" she coos, opening the bag and pulling out the simple bracelet I had bought her. "Why don't you go fix yourself a drink? Maxie's here somewhere. Go find him and say hello."
"I think I'm just going to leave," I tell her, tearing my eyes away from that corner at the mention of his name and glaring at Marc. He lied to me; I don't know why or what for, but it can't be good.
"Je suis désolé," he apologizes, reading my mind. "I'm sorry, but I had to."
"Happy birthday, Véro," I say, starting for the door.
"Noo! You can't leave yet! The party hasn't even started!" she whines, grabbing my arm. "You're all a bunch of, what's the the word? Party poopers!"
"Okay! I get it," I cave, shaking my head. "I'll stay for a little." I head for the kitchen, where Marc has told me the bar is. One drink, and then I'm going to sneak out. As I reach for the bottle of whiskey, I see Noelle hiding in the kitchen, too. She's hiding from Sidney. We make a pathetic pair, but I'm glad that I'm no longer here alone and I'm even happier that we seem to be in the same boat. We don't talk, but we're commiserating together. That is, until some guy walks up to Noelle, offers her his hand, and asks in poor English, "Dance?"
She smiles and accepts, and I frown and turn back to the bottle. Maybe it's time to leave. "Stupid French guys ruin everything," I mumble, getting to my feet.
I freeze. I'd know that voice anywhere. The way it sends a shiver up and down my spine is all too familiar. "Max," I say, turning around to face him. He's leaning against the wall, his hands in his pockets, looking at me with an intense expression.
"Were you planning on avoiding me forever?" He sounds angry. I mean, really angry. I think he hates me.
"I wasn't avoiding you. I got a new phone number," I try to explain.
"Wow. You didn't want to talk me that much that you had to get a new number?" he asks.
"No! Not at all! I told that I wasn't trying to avoid you—"
"So you spend the night; no, I take that back, because you're gone before I wake up and you don't even bother saying goodbye. You sleep with me, leave, hide from me, and then ignore me? You weren't even sick, were you? And not even a thank you for the flowers? What is wrong with you?"
I wince instinctively. It's not the first time I've been asked a question along those lines by a guy. "I'm sorry. Can I explain?"
"You'd better!" he demands impatiently.
I need to take control of the situation. "Sit down, Max," I say, taking my own seat and pointing to the one across from me. He hesitates. I know he's mad, and he doesn't want to calm down. "Please?"
Max grunts and takes the seat, leaning back and crossing his arms across his chest.
"Remember way back when I said that I didn't want to talk about my love life?" He nods at me and looks at me like I'm crazy, like that's completely irrelevant. I take a deep breath. "I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to know, but it's obvious that I have to tell you because it affects you. I don't want it to affect you, or me anymore for that matter, but it does. He does."
"Will you just get to the point already? I shouldn't even be giving you the chance to explain now. You've had two weeks to talk to me."
"I'm getting there," I say, trying to remain calm so I can make sure I say what I want to say and how I want to say it. In one long, drawn-out breath, I spill my guts. "It's my ex. He's the reason why I left Chicago, why I just wanted to be friends, why I was upset that night, why I smashed my phone in twenty different pieces and had to get a new phone and a new number, and why I lost your number and couldn't call to thank you for the flowers and apologize to you like I needed to." I feel a little lightheaded after that epic sentence.
He pauses, like he wants to say something but gets distracted by another thought. "Apologize for what?"
"I wasn't sick. Well, I was, but I was sick with worry. I thought that I had made a big mistake."
"A mistake? With me, you mean?"
"You have to understand, Max. I...." Here goes nothing. I lean forward with my arms against the table and say what can never be taken back. "I like you. More than friends like you." I close my eyes, a little afraid to see his reaction and also trying to stop the swirling thoughts in my brain. I don't talk about stuff like this, and this is a hard topic to discuss anyway. "But I don't know what to do about it."
"Why didn't you just tell me?"
"Because I liked that you didn't know about him—"
Max cuts me off by placing his hand on mine in order to get my attention, and my eyes open. "I didn't mean why you didn't tell me about him. Why didn't you tell me that you cared about me? Do you know that I've been racking my brain constantly trying to figure out why you were avoiding me? And you're telling me it's because you like me? You realize that makes no sense."
I laugh out of nervousness. I guess I had been hoping that he'd gush with emotion that he felt the same or sweep me off my feet or something like that. After all, he's an incredibly eloquent sweet talker. But I suppose if we had had the chance for that, I messed it up by leaving without saying goodbye and then being out of contact for so long. Here comes the big let down. I shrug and pretend like I don't care. "Seems counter-intuitive for me to give you the impression that I didn't like you when I feel the complete opposite. Things just spiraled out of control and I didn't know what to do. What can I say? I'm an utter screw-up."
"You might be a little screwed up," he says, "but I wouldn't say you're a screw-up."
What am I supposed to say to that perfect line? As I try to figure out what to say, Noelle stumbles past us, interrupting my thoughts and our conversation. She grabs the bottle of Jack off the table and heads for the door, Sidney following shortly after. Sid pauses and asks, "Hey man, have you seen—" Max points toward the door with his free hand.
I try to think of what I can say to change the subject and extract myself from this situation. "So, um, did I thank you yet for the flowers? It was, uh, sweet of you to do that."
"You're welcome," he says, shaking his head. "I wanted to do something to make you feel better, but I guess it was pointless since you weren't sick."
Okay. It was a friendly action. Nothing more than that. So it wasn't the romantic gesture that had made me change my mind about giving him a chance. Such a fool I am. Well, that was it: I had done my part and told him how I felt. I had gone as far as I could go alone, done as much as I could on my own. When it was his turn, he didn't reciprocate. I nod and blink back the impending tears, wrenching out of his grasp as Véro walks, or staggers I should say, into the kitchen. Marc follows closely behind her, making sure she doesn't fall.
"Hey, guys!" V slurs, walking into the kitchen. "Aww, are you holding hands? It's about damn time!"
"I'm actually about to leave. It's been a blast, and I wish I could stay longer," I lie, standing up and giving her a hug. I guess I have my answer; that's all I wanted. Now I've got to get the hell out of here.
"Yeah, I'm heading out, too," Max announces while grabbing my coat off the table and holding it out for me so I can slip into it. Even when he hates me, he acts like a perfect gentleman. I think back to what Gina said about paying attention to his actions, that how he behaves is the key to how he feels. Apparently not. Max simply always does the right thing. It's who he is.
I head for the door as he kisses Véro's cheeks as he wishes her what I'm guessing is "happy birthday" in French. As I step outside into the bitterly cold air, I chastise myself. I should've known better. It's not even like I know what I want from Max; I like him, but I don't think I'm ready for a relationship again. As for Max, who's saying he even wanted that from me? I'm so dumb. I'm never going to learn.
"Will you wait up?" I hear behind me, Max jogging along the pathway to catch up with me. "You don't think we're finished, do you?"
"I thought so," I mumble, reluctantly looking in his direction.
"Well, we're not. You have more questions to answer. Let's go somewhere quieter. My place?" I nod at his suggestion. "Okay then, let's go."
"I have Gina's car," I tell him. "I'll meet you there?"
It's his turn to nod. I unlock the door and slide into the seat, reaching for the handle to pull the door shut behind me, but Max is there to prevent me from doing so. "If you're not there in twenty minutes, I'm going to think that you've run off again. And if you do that again...." He's looking at me with that intense expression again.
"Let's hope I hit only green lights," I quip back, trying not to take him seriously. Now that he's planted the idea in my head, I wish I could just drive home. He closes the door for me, and I start the car and push the pedal to the metal. My heart begins to pound, and I can hear it in my ears. I'm beginning to get worried about what he wants to ask. What else do we have to say to each other at this point?