Soundtrack Song - Jesse McCartney f. T-Pain, Body Language
The weeks following that crazy, drama-filled night in mid-September progress in an interesting fashion. Max and I do our best to pretend that that particular Saturday night simply never happened.
I want to forget about that night, because I'm completely embarrassed how I almost made a fool out of myself, again, in front of him. Before, I either just looked like an idiot or displayed my vulnerabilities for him to see. I'm so glad that he left before I tried to kiss him. Can you imagine what that would have been like if I had?! He would have pushed me away and tossed my own words back in my face about just wanting to be friends.
So what if I realized I liked him? Sure, it complicates things for me. It flip-flops the dynamics of our original relationship, when he liked me and I didn't reciprocate the feeling. But I'm used to it. How many times in my life did I hopelessly drool over guys that wanted nothing to do with me? More times than I want to recall. There was Eddy, in my Women in Art class. He looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, and he sat next to me and talked to me, which made every other girl in that class incredibly jealous. But what they didn't know was his girlfriend was pregnant and they were going to get married as soon as the semester was over.
To make matters more complicated, my self-imposed deadline of Halloween is nearing, and I don't know definitively if John's wholly out of my system. Even though Max didn't technically reject me because I didn't make the move, I still feel like I had been kicked to the curb. I was ready to put myself out there again, and I still got hurt. So I wanted to talk to John, in hopes that he would say something to me to make me feel special again. But, of course, he didn't say anything along those lines. In fact, he didn't say anything helpful and instead asked if I'd look over one of his business proposals and offer my opinion on it.
"John, I don't think that's a good idea," I told him.
"Well, why not? You did it for me when you were in Chicago."
"I know. But I'm kind of busy. I don't have a lot of time to myself this week, between work, going to the gym, and the practices and performances I'm doing with Gina for some extra cash."
"If it's a time and money issue, I'll pay you."
"I don't want your money," I said, slightly disgusted with him. That wasn't what this was about.
"Come on. This is very important."
"Important to you. Not to me."
"What's the difference? I thought that the things that mattered to me mattered to you, too."
"It's a business proposal, not a doctoral thesis. It's not a big deal."
He paused on the other end of the line. "You've changed since you've left for Pittsburgh. What happened to you?"
That angered me. "Nothing happened to me. I'm just not your fucking doormat."
"I never thought you were a doormat. You just used to care and want to help me out."
"I don't have the time, John. I'm not saying that I don't want to. I can't just drop everything for you. I'm sorry. I can't do it."
"Whatever. I guess you just don't care about me anymore."
I exhaled loudly. John and I had certainly had this type of conversation before. This is the point where I would always sigh and give in and do what he asked of me, inevitably getting sucked back into his vortex. Take ten steps back and find myself exactly where I was when I left Chicago: a broken mess. But not this time. I'm not exactly sure what was different this time around or where this sudden surge of strength came from that allowed me to say this to him now.
"I guess I don't," I told him, proud of my small victory.
I thought that was the end of that, but it wasn't. A day later, I got an e-mail with his proposal attached, asking again for me to look over it. I know what you said yesterday, he wrote, but I hope you'll reconsider. I could really use your help. I was so angry that I simply didn't respond. At all. He called again after a few days to ask if I received the e-mail.
"Yes. I got it. But I told you no."
"Please, Charlotte. I really respect your opinion."
"Well, you need to respect my answer. I'm busy. In fact, I don't have even have time for this conversation," I told him, hanging up. He tried calling back again a few times, but I ignored all of his calls. Stupid, stupid John. When I stopped answering, he stopped trying, and we completely cut off all communications between us.
Even though I was thoroughly annoyed with John, I still wasn't sure if I was over him completely. I fully realize how ridiculous that sounds. But I think everyone has that one person that they will never be able to get over. Maybe it's their first love or just that perfect person that meant more to them than anyone else did. I worry that John is that guy for me, the one I'll never completely get over. I mean, sure; I'll move on and date again and hopefully find someone to spend my life with, but I'll never be completely rid of him.
And the fact that I'm attracted to guys that don't like me back, like Max? Well, that only makes it more difficult to not feel that way. Despite the stupid way he's acting now, John and I truly had something wonderful. He made me feel beautiful when I was at my ugliest, made me laugh when my world was crashing down around me, and just made me feel whole. It was hard to move on from that, and understandably so. But I really think I'm ready; I'm there at the place I need to be in order to move on.
While Gina's proud of me for my altered attitude toward John, for disliking him even though I'll probably always love him just a smidgen, she's kind of furious that I'm not trying to get with Max. I didn't tell her about what happened that night or about my epiphany. Gina would just try to encourage that which just isn't there. I wouldn't be able to stand that. Because I didn't capitalize on the chance when I had it, when he maybe still liked me.
At this point, I'm wondering if he ever did. I keep thinking that I just imagined it all. That maybe he kissed me by mistake or something. Or he wanted the challenge. Or a change from the norm. Sometimes, I think I just made the whole thing up. Because we act like none of this ever happened. We don't talk about it or acknowledge it. We move on from it, and I pretend like I don't feel the way I do.
Max and I finally find a comfortable balance where we truly are friends. Like I said, we pretend that Saturday night never happened. And we don't talk about certain things, like where he sleeps at night or the reason I was crying when we danced at the Sheraton. When Max and I hang out, we do it alone, either at his place or mine, most specifically on the nights that the Pens aren't playing. We keep it simple, usually ordering in or cooking dinner ourselves, and then watching movies or playing video games. I haven't met his teammates again.
Being friends with Max is fun and easy. Being just friends with him sucks miserably. Sometimes, when we accidentally touch or find ourselves really close to each other as we cook in the kitchen, those memories and feelings from that night come rushing back and I have to excuse myself and calm down. It's embarrassing that I can't even be close to him without letting my mind wander or letting my body lust after his. When that happens, my chest feels hollow and sore, and my stomach ripples with both anticipation and fear. I hate that I missed whatever chance I may have had.
On the nights that there are home games, Max heads to the arena. He keeps his hockey life separate from what he shares with me. I know part of it is because he likes not having to be Max Talbot around me. No hockey talk, and certainly no mention of his shoulder. He's a ham, so he likes the attention, but it really bothers him that he isn't out there on the ice and contributing to the team. Of course, part of me wonders if he was ashamed of me for what happened that night and he therefore doesn't want me around his teammates again.
I'm fine with being only a facet of his life, and then he invites me to a game. But not to see a game with him; he wants me to come see his first game of the season. Initially, I don't want to; it was something my dad and I did together. My parents... they were good parents, but they just had too many hobbies of their own that they weren't really interested in what I wanted to do. That's why my mom made me take voice lessons. And that's why I watched hockey with my dad, and also while I haven't watched hockey since he passed away.
Eventually, I cave. Of course I do. I don't want to say no to him; I want to make him happy. And besides, Max's excitement is more infectious than swine flu. This is the new me: the girl who is over her ex and ready to start her new life in Pittsburgh. And the new and improved Charlotte would jump at the opportunity to get out of this crummy apartment and do something, anything, even if it involved watching hockey with strangers.
At the game, I meet the two people who Max had told me I'd be sitting with. One of them is the girlfriend of Max's best friend on the team. The other is Max's self-described number-one fan, who just happens to be a girl. That particular fact about her gender makes me none too happy. The green-eyed monster in me rages when I see the name on the back of her jersey and the way she reacts when he scores his first goal. Until she tells me that she's dating Sidney Crosby, and I feel soothed and pacified. For now.
Afterward, Noelle quickly leaves for home and Véro hooks her arm through mine, chatting excitedly. She says something about how nice it was for Max to have someone outside of the hockey realm to spend his time with while he was in the IR list. "I know from Marc how hard it is for the guys when they're injured. It's not like the team casts the injured players aside or anything, but when they don't get to train and play and practice with the team, the guys just feel so isolated. That's the way team sports are, unfortunately. It was so nice for him that he had a distraction from all that."
"Distraction?" I laugh. "I guess he doesn't need me around anymore then."
"I didn't mean that! I'm sorry, my English is still a little..." she explains, shaking her hand. "I'm just saying that from my experience, when Marc gets injured, he just mopes around the house. I'm happy that Max didn't have to go through the same thing."
"I don't know that he didn't," I tell her.
"From what Marc tells me, he practically lives at your place," she replies, and I blush fiercely to the point where I think my face will ignite. "Surely you would know if he was acting upset."
"He doesn't live at my place. I mean, we just hang out a few times a week. But I don't think he'd even show me if he was upset about it, because we don't talk about that kind of stuff when we hang out."
"That's my point! That's good for him. Marc and I have known him for what seems like forever. He needs to be able to be himself around more people outside of us and not just be his 'Superstar' persona."
"How do you know that he's the real Max when he's around me and not Superstar?" I ask. This is, after all, the first time that I had met Véro. What did she know about Max and me?
She smiles, a sparkle in her eyes. "Don't worry. I know." She sagely changes the subject at that point in our conversation as we wait for the players to exit the dressing room.
I feel wildly out of place; not because this experience is so new to me, but because I didn't think Max wanted me involved in his hockey life. I mean, yes, he did invite me to watch his game, but he didn't say anything about meeting up with him afterward. And as his teammates leave and walk by, I shrink back and lean against the wall so I'm hidden behind Véro, hoping not to see the few guys that I do know. Or rather, I hope that they don't see me.
"Charlotte?" I hear Max say as he comes into view. "I didn't expect you to wait for me."
"Véro bought me back here," I tell him with a blush. I hope he's not mad that I tagged along, but it just kind of happened and I was here before I knew it.
"Remind me to thank her," he laughs, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and leading me into the empty hallway before we run into guys like Jordan or Kris.
It's at a moment like this that the butterflies in my stomach start to flutter furiously, my pulse quickens to a heart attack-inducing rate, and I can't catch my breath. I try to ignore the way he's making me feel. "Congratulations on scoring in your first game back."
"Thanks! We're going out to celebrate the win. You're welcome to come out with us, if you'd like."
I start freaking out even more. I try to keep my demeanor cool and calm, but inside I'm losing it. Max hasn't invited me out with him and his teammates and friends since that night in September. It's unexpected that he would do so, and I'm unprepared for it. But I just keep thinking about what happened last time, and I certainly don't need a repeat of that. "I have to work in the morning. I really should just head home."
"I can drop you off on my way out to the bar."
"Actually, I borrowed Gina's car tonight," I gladly inform him, absolutely ecstatic that I have a reason to get away from him. I wouldn't be able to get into the same car with him for the drive over. My hands are shaking and my head is swimming from being so close to him, having his arm around me, and breathing in the clean scent of his freshly showered body. Great, now I'm thinking about how sweaty he was after the game and him getting a shower, his body naked and wet. Damn! I need to get away from him! I shrug out of his grasp and put some distance between us.
"Oh. That's cool. Um, so I'm going with the team to Columbus tomorrow, but I'm free on Sunday if you want to hang out?" he asks.
I don't look up at him. I will surely die if I do, because my body's going hay-wire and overheating as it is. It's bad enough that all I can think about is jumping him in the middle of this hallway with complete disregard to any social standards of decency. How in the world was I ever able to not think of him like this? "Sure. Sounds fun."
"Cool. Why don't you come over to my place? Any time is fine, because I don't have any plans for the day."
"Okay. See you then," I say, briefly looking up and taking a glance at his handsome, fresh face. He appears almost boyish when he's clean-shaven. Very different from his sexy, rugged, masculine look when he has a five o'clock shadow or a few days' growth of hair on his face. I like both the boyish and manly versions of him, and I'm unsure of which is my favorite. I'm leaning toward scruffy.
Before I can stay in that reverie, I wave goodbye and practically run to my car. I'm so crazily infatuated with Max that it's times like these where it's hard to be friends with him. It obviously doesn't bother him, because he's okay with being friends, but it's not okay for me. I mean, he doesn't get affected by being near me like how I get flustered when I'm so close to him. I consider telling Max that I can't handle this. That I can't do "just friends" anymore. But I don't want to, because he's one of the very few people that I know in town. I'm severely deficient in the friends category, and I don't want to lose one.
I slide into Gina's car and start it, letting it warm up before I drive home. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself. It was easier being "just friends" with the other guys I had crushes on because they never treated me like this. Max is just so genial and friendly, and I don't think he knows at all what that does to me.
My phone beeps. I guess in the noise of the arena, I didn't hear it ring. One new voicemail. I enter my code and wait to hear what whomever has to say.
"Hey, Charlotte. I figured you wouldn't answer your phone. You're obviously still mad at me. I hate that you're mad at me. I'm not sure what I did, but I want to apologize for whatever it is. I hope you'll forgive me, because I'm going to be in Pittsburgh for a few days. The trip's still not for a few weeks, but I wanted to let you know because I want to see you when I'm there. So think about where you'd like to go or what you'd like to do, because I want to take you out. I'll pass along the details when I find out more.
"And Charlotte? I can't wait to see you again. I hope to hear from you soon."