Ah ben tabarouette!
Gorgeous. What other word can I use to describe her? French, English.... There are no adequate words. Geno, Staalsy, Kris... they all seem to ogle at Gina. Which is fine with me, because I don't want them looking at Charlotte.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to come here tonight. She made it seem like she didn't care either way, so why should I put myself out on a limb if it didn't matter to her? And then after what happened last night.... But I'm really glad I came. Really glad.
It's like her body was poured into that dress. It's practically painted on. That generous hour-glass shape and those healthy curves, all in full view for everyone to see. Part of me wishes that she was wearing something else, something less exposing and looser so no one else can see what I'd like to have to myself, but I appreciate the sight too much for her to cover up. In fact, I can't tear my eyes away. There's just the right amount of cleavage to offset the curve of her full hips and ass. And her legs look good in those heels. Her hair's pulled up at the sides, and the rest is laying around her shoulders in curls. She's not in her glasses. Damn, she's looking fine.
"Man, who is that chick playing the piano?" Gronk laughs. "If I wasn't with Heather, I'd be so all over that."
"Oh yeah," Geno says, probably because he doesn't know what else to say. He licks his lips, so there's not much else he'd have to add to let us know what's on his mind.
"Whadya think, Talbo?" Staalsy asks, elbowing my ribs.
Gina looks nice. She's in a back pencil skirt and a fitted white shirt, looking as sexy as she always does, but she's just incomparable next to Charlotte, who outdoes everyone else in the room. The guys may not be able to see it, but I sure as hell do. "You can have her," I tell them. "I call dibs on the singer."
I'm not surprised that they don't recognize her at first. They've only seen her the one time, and she definitely looks different than she did that night. And I sure don't talk about Charlotte around the guys, either, to let them know there was a girl I was interested in. I'd never hear the end of it, especially if they knew things weren't exactly panning out between us. They didn't even know that she was the reason we were coming here.
But eventually, they do recognize her. Staalsy places her face first. "Dude. That's the chick from the movie theater! What, are you stalking her or something?"
"Not exactly," I tell him, not taking my eyes off her.
"She cleans up nice. Who knew she was hiding all that under those clothes, eh?"
I knew, I think to myself, but I ignore that comment. She sees me and smiles. At first, I'm not sure if she's acknowledging me or if she's just smiling into the crowd, but then she nods her head. Yeah, she's seen me. I give her a little wave back, and soon she's beginning the song. I'm not familiar with it, but that doesn't matter. I'd listen to her imitate whales, for crying out loud.
When she finishes with that song, everyone politely applauds. I'm mesmerized, and the guys are quick to point it out.
"Dude," Gronk says, returning from the bar with some drinks. "You like her? Is that was this is about?"
"What are you talking about, Staalsy? Did you take a puck to the head? You're not making any sense."
"You're staring at the singer."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes. You stare," Geno says, adding his two cents.
"Well, she's pretty," I say, trying to sound dismissive. The last thing I need is for the guys to get involved.
"She's not a piece of art that you want to buy and put on display," Gronk adds. "She's a girl and you wanna fuck her. Are you gonna go home with her tonight?"
"I'm...." I'm not sure what to say.
"Are you saying you wanna do more than just fuck her?"
I try to end this line of discussion. "Okay, Gronk. I get it. You're having fun with me. The joke's on me tonight. Ha ha. Let's drop it."
"I'm being serious. Are you saying you want to date her?"
They won't drop this until I talk. "I'm saying... we're friends. I'm here to support her."
"Wait. You're friends? With someone who has a vagina?" he asks, and he asks it just as the people around us quiet down. Everyone hears him say vagina. They all look at him, and he slightly reddens but tries to blow it off like it was nothing. "Mad Max Talbot, looking to settle down and stop sowing his wild oats."
"Oh, shut the fuck up. I'm not saying I want to marry her or settle down. She's just more than a girl to fuck and dump."
"Dude. Right now I think you're the one with the vagina," Gronk says, and everyone turns to look at him, glaring at his vulgarity. The guys all start to laugh as he reddens again. That's enough to get the guys off my back. They make fun of Staalsy for a while and leave me to my thoughts.
The time passes by quickly. With the songs averaging four minutes each, in an hour and a half, I've sung about twenty-three songs. That doesn't seem like a lot in that period of time.
Gina suggests that I take fifteen minutes to rest my voice. I'm feeling good and don't think I need the break, but I can certainly use the drink refill. I make a bee-line for the bar and get another double vodka on the rocks. After I take a quick swig, I turn around and glance in the direction of Max and his teammates. I catch his eyes, which means I now have to go over and say hello. I take another drink to kill the butterflies that are now living in my stomach.
"Hey, Max," I greet, stepping beside him. I know he saw me approach him, but he's still talking to the guys around him.
"Allo, Charlotte," he says, quickly kissing my cheeks. I know I'm blushing; to make it worse, he whispers something in my ear. "Tu es très belle ce soir. Encore plus belle que dans mes rêves."
I roll my eyes, having no idea what he just said to me, but I know it's useless to complain. He knows I can't understand him. The tall dark one is looking at Max funny, so be must be French-Canadian as well. It makes me curious as hell to know what he just said, but he does this on purpose to me so I try to ignore it. "Are you having fun?" I ask.
"Yeah. Would you like to meet the guys?" Before I can respond, he's introducing them. It's hard to catch all their names and keep them straight. "This is Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, Geno Malkin, and there are some other guys around, but they must be at the bar or something."
"It's nice to meet you all," I say.
"Are you friends with Miss Alicia Keys up there?" the blond one, Jordan I think, asks.
"Yeah, she's my roommate," I explain.
"You girls should come out with us after. We're going to Diesel," he invites.
I live about three blocks from Diesel. I'm not really interested in that type of place, but this is exactly what Gina wanted: to hang out with cute hockey players. She'll be pissed if she hears I turned this down. "Maybe for a little bit. I mean, only if you want me to, Max." I smile realizing that he had said the exact same thing to me just two days prior.
"Sure. It'll be a lot of fun with you there," he says. We fall into a silence until he speaks up again. "Would you, uh, care to dance?"
"I think I have time," I tell him, and I let him take my hand and lead me to the floor where several couples have congregated. Gina had been playing an instrumental piece while I was taking my break, but now she changes the song into one I recognize and even sings. Gina considers herself more of a musician than a vocalist, so she doesn't sing often. She's more of a Janis Joplin or a Stevie Nicks, with a very folksy alto voice. She makes it work for her though, and she does a great job with the song.
In fact, the song moves me so much that I feel tears well up in my eyes a bit as I listen. As much as I enjoy moving with Max in front of me, his hands resting on my hips and mine around his neck, my mind wanders elsewhere. When I'm with Max, I'm not supposed to think about John. But I did. Before I can stop myself, I let out a very cynical sounding laugh.
It's a beautiful song, and I try to soak in the entire moment. The way Charlotte looks in that dress, the melody and the words of the music, the way she fits into my arms like she belongs here, how our bodies just mold against each other's like we were tailor-made to stand like this and sway together in sync with the beat.
She lets out this snort that's so out of place from the moment. It doesn't ruin my good feeling, though. "What's wrong?"
"Sorry. It's the song. The lyrics. I mean, guys don't really ever feel that way in real life, do they? That's only fodder for top-forty Billboard hits."
I watch as she shakes her head, but her mind is somewhere else, far away. My chest hurts to hear her talk like this, to see the pain lingering in her eyes. I don't ever want to see her this way.
More puzzle pieces fall into place and the picture comes into focus. I could tell that she had her heart broken before and I know that she's single; now I realize that she's talking like this with someone in mind. I've got it figured out.
"Let me tell you something, Charlotte. If he was stupid enough to let you go, and believe me, he's an idiot if he let you go, then he doesn't deserve you. He never did and never will. And all this time that you spend being miserable over him, is just more time that you're devoting to him that he doesn't deserve to have either. Not all guys are like that. Don't hold what he did against us all."
She looks into my eyes for a moment; just long enough for me to see the tears that start to well up. Charlotte looks away before I can see them erupt into streaks down her cheeks. Instead, she rests her head on my good shoulder, and we again fall into a restless silence even though we're surrounded by the echo of the piano.
But what hurts me more than seeing her pain is what I can't say to her, in English or in French. Because I don't know how to say it at all. Maybe I could feel that way about her. Maybe I do feel this way about her. I would know if she would let me. But I don't know if she'll ever give me the chance to find out.
Can I be the kind of guy who waits for her to come around? Charlotte's messing with my brain like a drug. I can't stop myself from thinking about her even when I want to, and I couldn't even fuck that damn chick after we left Diesel yesterday. I got all the way to her bedroom. Her hands were on my belt buckle. When I reached for her, she told me to lie down and let her do all the work, so I wouldn't irritate my shoulder. And all that did was irritate me, so I got up and left.
And in the back of my head, all I could think about was how Charlotte would never say something like that. She's the only person who can adequately distract me from the physical and psychic pain of my injury. I need her around. Can I be the kind of person she needs, too? Can I wait to find out?