"Okay. Your man is gone now, so spill." I walk back into the living room and see that Gina is putting the kettle on the stove, ready to make steaming cups of green tea for our up-coming gab session. She looks at me and waits for me to begin gushing.
Kevin still looks a little star-struck. "Max Talbot is your boyfriend?" he asks, ignoring the direction his girlfriend wishes to take the conversation.
For a second, I pause; Max and I haven't discussed titles since making The Big Declarations, but I guess it's safe to assume we've crossed that particular bridge. I nod. "Yeah."
Gina rolls her eyes. "Kevin, do I detect a man-crush?"
"I put off graduation so I could still do student rush! My family's been on the waiting list for season tickets for, like, forever. That was Max fucking Talbot, the scorer of the game-winner for game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals!"
"Way to be cool about it, Kev," she laughs. "So, Char, are you going to tell me voluntarily or are you going to make me beat it out of your?"
I look at Kevin and then back at her. "Later, Gina."
"Okay, Kev, out!" she orders.
"What? I thought I was going to spend the night."
"Ugh, I've seen you all day. I need some girl time."
"But we were going to—"
"I know what I said, but obviously something has come up. Chicks before dicks."
"Just meet me in the stacks half an hour before class tomorrow. Will that make up for tonight?"
Kevin nods, and Gina kisses him before he heads out the door. I can only smile. It's obvious that Gina wears the pants in that relationship, but she wouldn't want it any other way. She's blunt and forceful, and she needs someone who is willing to take orders. But she has a heart of gold.
Once the door clicks shut, I get up and slide the deadbolt into the locked position. It bothers me a little to know that John knows where I live, but I highly and sincerely doubt that he'll be showing up again. He said he came to town early and his meeting wasn't until Monday, and I hate knowing he's somewhere in the same city as me. I hate that he knows how to find me. I kick myself and think that I should've asked to go home with Max, where I'd feel safe.
That thought makes me happy and sad at the same time. It's a good thing my therapist is here, because I need this talk. I have so much to tell her. "Okay," I begin. "I'm going to give you the CliffsNotes version. On Tuesday, I was cooking dinner for Max and he didn't seem to care, and we started to fight. I accidentally called him John. I felt horrible about it, and then we had this unbelievable make-up sex that literally left me weak at the knees. It was just...." I have to take a deep breath and calm my racing heart. Just the memory of it affects me.
I continue, "So anyway, I thought everything was okay until Wednesday, yesterday, he told me that we needed to talk. He wanted to hear about John and that whole thing."
"Wait, I thought you told him about that already?"
"Um, well, I pretty much only told him I had an awful ex, and didn't go into the details. Needless to say, he was pretty adamant about wanting to know the whole truth, and I told him everything last night. He was so sweet about it, Gina. I mean, I can't even tell you. He listened, and he didn't bother with the token phrases of sympathy. He was just... there. He always says the perfect things, but it's like he knows when words aren't going to help, either.
"This morning, we were just relaxing in bed when I opened my big mouth again and told him I loved him! I didn't even realize that I had felt that way before I said it. I said it, and then realized I felt that way after the fact. It was so bizarre, and I was so embarrassed, but he was so good about it and basically told me that he did, too, but he wanted to wait for the right moment to say it.
"And then," I continue, as Gina looks at me in wonderment that my story is not yet finished, "you'll never guess what happened. I mean you'd never guess in a million billion years—"
"So just tell me!" she interrupts, her eyes as wide as saucers.
"John shows up at the door." Gina's mouth drops to the floor. "To visit me for Thanksgiving, because he felt bad I was alone."
I smile grimly. "Mommie Dearest thought she was doing me a favor. I don't know whose idea it ultimately was, but they were in cahoots. I thought Max was going to pound him through the floor. And then, he left, telling me I needed to handle the situation on my own. So it was me and John, and he pulled the bipolar, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act that I'm all too familiar with, and, well, I don't need to go into specifics. But he left all pissed off, so I think it's done with and he's gone forever. Finally."
"Jesus Christ, woman!"
"Oh! And I forgot. After that, Max comes back, tells me he loves me and that his mother wants to meet me."
"Is that all?" she asks sarcastically.
I close my eyes and think. "Yeah, that's all."
"Damn," she says and then pauses. "I don't even know what to say."
That makes me laugh. Gina always has a comment. "It has just been a crazy couple of days. I'm glad Max isn't going to be around tomorrow, because I just feel like I need to process everything and soak it in. It's been nonstop, emotional insanity, and it feels so surreal." I turn serious for a moment. "Gina, do you think this is happening too fast?"
"Where is this coming from?" She leans forward and looks at me curiously.
"I don't know. You know me, G, and you know that I jump into things head first. I tend to get carried away and take it to the extreme. Am I doing that now? Am I leaping without looking?"
"I don't know, Char. My guess is that you aren't, seeing as though you're thinking about it and analyzing it instead of skipping around the room and spouting poetry. I think you're too far gone, though, to worry about it. You're so in love."
I tuck my hair behind my ears and smile. "He's so amazing! It was just so weird, when he said about meeting his mom. I mean, I talked to my mother this morning and didn't even bring him up. I purposely didn't mention seeing anyone new. Does that make me a bad person?"
"Char, darling. Stop it. I love you enough to tell you that you're being ridiculous. You're in love. Just enjoy it, and worry about that when it comes up."
"It is going to come up, and soon. Christmas is a month away. We haven't talked about it. My mother is going to expect me to go home, especially since I stayed away for Thanksgiving. I can't imagine bringing him to Chicago."
"Just don't worry about it yet. Talk it over with him. You guys will find a solution."
Hockey players like keeping to specific schedules. Every game day should have the same pattern. Because yesterday was an American holiday, we all had an off day. That meant we were flying that morning for the game against the Islanders. It wasn't a long flight, but it messed with our schedules and routines. That's why we lost.
But we were also flying back right after the game, since we host the Rangers the next night. We're all tired and stressed. I sink into my seat on the plane and stretch my tired muscles.
"You going out when we get back, Talbo?" Staalsy asks, sitting in a seat behind me while Flower takes the one beside me.
"No," I reply, shaking my head.
I shrug. I hadn't even thought about going out. All I want to do is get back to Pittsburgh, drive home, and sleep in my bed because I know Charlotte's coming over in the morning. It's bad enough I've been thinking about her every moment I haven't had blades laced to my feet, but I'll probably dream about her all night. We've barely been away from each other for over twenty-four hours.
Merde. I've turned into the guy I used to make fun of.
"Is your shoulder bothering you?" Flower asks, and I roll my joint and shake my head wordlessly.
"It's not a painful shoulder. It's a lonesome heart," Tanger quips, taking the seat next to Gronk.
"Non. It's not lonesome; I left it back in Pittsburgh," I reply, opening the window and peering out at the orange lights dotting the runway. Some of the guys are still boarding, but I wish they'd hurry so we could get into the air.
"I'm happy for you, mon ami," Flower says with a smile as he plugs his ears with his iPod, closing his eyes and relaxing.
It's quiet for a few more moments. I turn around and look at Letang. "What? No smart comment? No wisecrack about how I'm going to fuck it up?"
He smiles back, and it's genuine. "No."
"No? Have you finally run out of things to say?"
"Listen. I can be a big enough person to say now that I'm sorry." He runs a hand through his hair and looks at the floor. "I heard what you told Flower, over lunch. I thought.... I mean, I didn't realize. Please accept my apology."
Tanger is... apologizing? I can't even remember what I said during lunch. Now I'm even more confused than ever. I nod at him, and then I turn back around and sink back into my seat. The plane begins to taxi away from the gate, and I watch out the window at the moving lights.