Going to work on Monday is a little bit of a reprieve, in a strange way, because that means I'm unable talk to my mother, who's trying to constantly update me on John's status. It's not that I don't care, because I would like to eventually hear the news that he's okay and going back to his home in Chicago and leaving Pennsylvania. I just don't need to hear every hour, on the hour, that he's slowly gaining consciousness and is due to wake up any moment.
I adhere to my schedule and work until three, and then head to the physio center. Hank's there, just like always, and he comments that I have a glow about me. He asks me if I dyed my hair or something. I smile and tell him no, but he tells me that something's different about me. "I don't know what it is, Charlie, but you changed something."
"I'm just happy," I tell him with a smile as I transition from the treadmill to the stationary bike.
Hank hands me a bottle of water like he sometimes does, looking at me with all the sagacity of his old age. "What's his name?"
"What's whose name?" I question him cryptically, knowing that he sees right through me. Knowing full well that I'm playing dumb, but I can't hide my metamorphosis from him.
"The lucky guy," he laughs. "When you're as old as I am, Charlie, you learn things about life. You learn things about love. And you, my dear, are in love."
I redden. I don't know why; it's not like I'm embarrassed about it. Perhaps it's residual timidity or shyness about the fact that, yes, I am in love. Again. But this time, it feels different. I know it's different.
I know it's for real.
When I finish my workout, I run back home and shower, then borrow Gina's car to pick my mother up from the hospital and bring her back to my place. She is my mother, and I feel obligated to her for just that reason, but I regret the decision to bring her home the second she walks through that door. She purses her lips and clucks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, looking around at my new home.
"This is your apartment?"
"Yeah. It's cute, isn't it? It's small, but homey."
"Well, it is small. But I wouldn't exactly call it homey. You'd rather be here than at home in Chicago?"
"Well, Mom, that's just the thing. Chicago wouldn't feel like home anymore. Because it is isn't. This is home now. Pittsburgh is my home."
She blatantly rolls her eyes. She never was one to hide her emotions or feelings for the sake of tact. "You are your father's daughter."
I don't know if she meant that to be an insult or not, but I certainly don't take it as one. Sure, my dad and I sometimes got along just as well as my mom and I get along, but if it had not have been for him, I wouldn't have my love for hockey nor would I have sought refuse in Pittsburgh. I wouldn't necessarily say he's looking out for me in death, but I would say that the life he gave me has lead me to this point. For that, I'm eternally grateful to him.
"Would you like something to drink?" I offer, trying to play the gracious hostess. "All I really have is water."
"Then I suppose that will have to do," she replies with a curt smile. I bring her a bottle of water from the fridge, and we settle in to watch the game on FSN, but she interrupts the action and distracts me by talking about all sorts of things: Caroline and her husband; her own husband and my stepfather; John and Libby; and all the news about my old friends back in Illinois.
And every time she brings up something I don't want to hear, something from my past that I'd prefer not to listen to, I point to the screen and make remarks about the game. "Look, Mom! Max just blocked a shot."
"That's nice, Sweet Pea. Whatever that means. Did you know that Julia Sanders, your best friend from the sixth grade, just had her second child? A daughter named Jessica. Can you believe that?"
"She's the same age as me. She's twenty-three, and she's already had her second kid?"
"Yes, isn't that wonderful?"
"She wanted to be a doctor. There's no way she's popping out kids and going to med school. That's a shame, because she would have made a great doctor. She was easily the smartest kid in my class."
"Yes, but Charlotte. Her mother has grandkids."
"Caroline's older than me, so why don't you bug her about giving you grandchildren?"
"Because Caroline and Derek keep saying they aren't going to have any kids. You're my only hope," she laughs.
I want to press the issue and ask her if she's envisioning me having babies with John or Max, but I'm afraid to ask. I'm afraid of her answer. So I let it slide and joke, "Well, I'll start practicing right away."
She rolls her eyes, but it isn't in her usual sarcastic way. We both drop the subject, because we prefer to avoid talking about a subject like sex to each other. In fact, I have to suppress a laugh when I reminisce and think about how she gave me a book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, instead of giving me "the talk" when I was about ten years old.
"So, which one's Max?" she asks, finally lending her focus to the television during the third period."
"He's number twenty-five," I smile. If my mother's crazy mind can transition from wanting grandbabies to the idea of her daughter having sex to Max, then I think it's a positive sign that she likes him. Or at least doesn't hate him. We watch as Geno gets thrown out of taking the face-off and Max skates over to take the draw. It's not a clean win, but the Pens get possession of the puck, and I'm glad that when my mother chooses to watch the game, she gets to see him do something of benefit to the team.
And then he promptly gets in a fight.
I feel like a horrible girlfriend, because my first thought is: oh no, how is Mommie Dearest going to react to this? My second thought is how he's going to have an awful-looking shiner when he comes home, because Sean Avery decked him and he fell to the ice. "Shit, Max," I yell, getting to my feet.
"He's not a very good fighter," she comments, watching as both Avery and Max are escorted off the ice.
"He's a lover, not a fighter," I quip. "Just don't let him ever hear I said that, because it'll bruise his ego."
At the end of the night, I drive my mother back to my grandparents', and I stop in to visit with them briefly before I feign exhaustion and drive home. It's not that I'm tired; I just can't wait to go to sleep, because the sooner I fall asleep, the sooner I'll wake up.
On Tuesday, instead of heading home after work, I go to Max's. I know he'll be home, and I can't wait to see him again. If I wasn't so happy with the prospect of seeing him, I'd be annoyed with myself for being so happy to see him. I know I'm head over heels for him, and it drives me a little crazy that I'm this in love. This is probably a phase of infatuation that will fade, and even though I'll always be happy to see him when he returns home after a road trip, I won't feel like the world is ending when I don't get to see him one day because he leaves for a game. I won't always want to spend every waking moment with him.
I'm such a sap. But I know that he's going to be just as excited to see me, so I figure as long as it's not one-sided, I don't have too much cause for worry.
I knock on his door, and I hear him holler from the inside that it's open, so I enter his house and find him on his couch, flipping through the channels. "Hey, baby," he greets as I take a running leap onto the cushion beside him.
"Hey yourself, Max-A-Million," I say back, leaving a trail of kisses along his jaw line until I get to his mouth. I pull away and examine his face and his black eye. "Where's your ice pack?"
"It's nice to see you again, too. Don't worry, I'm fine," he laughs, pulling me against him on the couch.
I curl up beside him, nestling against his side and wrapping my arms around his middle. "How pathetic is it that I missed you this much?"
"Hmm, not pathetic at all," he replies, kissing the top of my head. "Because I missed you, too. In fact, I missed you so much that I bought you something."
"A present?" I know my eyes have lit up. I tease him. "You know, Mommie Dearest will love it if you lavish me with gifts."
"Well, it's not really a gift, per se. It's more like, I saw it and thought of you."
I can't stop the smile on my face from breaking out like a rash. "Well? Don't torture me! What is it?"
"Close your eyes," he orders, and I can feel as the cushion beside me lifts as he gets off the couch. I do as he commands, giggling like a schoolgirl all the while. Max always keeps me guessing, always keeps our relationship fresh and new and exciting. "Now, you're probably not expecting this from me, but for the sake of our love, I think maybe it's best. Charlotte, open your eyes."
I hesitate a second before opening one eye. I see the distinctly colored box, open my other eye too, and then start to laugh. "Oh Max, you shouldn't have," I say, plucking the bright yellow box out of his hands and turning it over. "Rosetta Stone? Really? You think I'm so bad at French that you don't want to teach me anymore?"
Max laughs at me. "No, I'll still teach you. But I figure that you can use this when I'm not around. It's supposed to be a good program."
"Merci, Maxime," I say, using what little French I knew.
"Il n'y a pas de quoi," he replies, and I just laugh, thinking that that I'll never learn French by the time February rolls around. Max somehow reads my mind. "Don't worry, baby. You have plenty of time."