"Geno!" Sid called, releasing his hold on me but still holding onto my hand. "How are ya?"
"Let me introduce you to Noelle. We met a few weeks ago before I was doing an interview. Noelle, this is Geno."
"It's nice to meet you, Evgeni," I greeted, using his first name as we shook hands. I always liked the poetic sound to it when you pronounced it slowly and thoughtfully, even if it was a little difficult to say.
"It nice meet you," he replied. Geno was adorable. He always was, of course, but the way his shoulders were a little slumped forward with his hands in his pockets made me just want to run over and give him a big hug. He had an easy smile and dark brown eyes, and little scar below his left eye, which I knew he had incurred during a game when an opposing player's skate had cut his cheek. Dressed in a blue suit with a white button down, he was the epitome of class. "Please meet my girlfriend, Oksana."
I held out my hand as we were introduced, but her palm was like a wet fish as she squeezed and quickly withdrew. Limp handshakes are a pet peeve of mine. She hardly met my eyes, and she stayed by Geno's side with her arm possessively around him. Immediately, I had a horrible impression of her, but I tried to dismiss it as they stepped aside, so Sid could welcome the other guys as they trickled in.
I knew Max, Kris, Marc, and Véro, and Sid introduced me to Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, and their girlfriends. Once all twelve of us were there, we sat around a large table. I was so glad to see Véro there, so I wouldn't feel so alone, but there was so much going on that I never felt awkward or distant from the action. Sid sat catty-corner to me, and I had Véro on my right, Jordan across from me, and Max to my left. I was barely able to eat any of that bread that was calling my name because someone was either asking me a question or otherwise involving me in the conversation.
"So, Noelle, tell us how you fit in here," Jordan asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we're either hockey players here, or hockey players' girlfriends. I don't remember seeing you on the roster last season, so are you and Sid...."
"No," answered Max for me, as he leaned into me and slung his arm around my shoulders. "She's my biggest fan."
"I'm never going to live this down, am I?" I sighed. "Why oh why did I buy that damn Talbot jersey? Here I thought I was supporting a secondary scorer, but the way this guy acts," I continued, thumbing in Max's direction, "you'd think he was the whole team."
Jordan laughed as Max tried to be serious. "Oh, come on. You know, I am always surprised to score goals. I know I'm not the most skilled player in the NHL. It's nice to have fans."
"It would be nice if you could keep your distance and stop trying to feel me up," I joked as I shrugged his arm off me. "I already feel naked as it is," looking down at my dress. I was a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, and I really felt self-conscious.
Max reached over and poured some more red wine into my half-full glass. "We can get you naked, if you want," he commented with a wink.
"Maxime Talbot!" I said with mock offense. "If you are trying to get me drunk, I might just let you." Winking back, I picked up my glass and took two large gulps. "But you will not get me naked."
"Ooh, a feisty one! I like this girl, Sid," Max said.
Jordan agreed. "Finally, a girl who will put Max in his place."
I shook my head. "But he makes it so easy."
At that, Jordan laughed. "Max, I think she just called you easy. She called you a man-whore."
"Not in so many words," I added, and we were all thrown into a fit of laughter.
The wine continued to flow freely and so did the conversation. I wasn't put on the spot again—the guys just seemed to accept that I was there without really knowing why—and that allowed me to relax and be myself. I chipped in with smart-ass remarks when I thought of them, but I basically observed everyone.
The waitress took our orders and more wine was brought out. Max made sure my glass was never empty. "Are you really trying to get me drunk?" I asked him quietly.
"Not throwing-up, alcohol-poisoning drunk, just feeling-good, a-little-tipsy drunk."
"Ah, well, you're doing a good job," I said, leaning back against my chair. "Three glasses of wine on an empty stomach. Wine just gives me a headache."
"Then drink some water," he said. "Don't make yourself sick. You're going to be our entertainment for the night."
"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked, suddenly alarmed. What did I get myself into?
"Nothing bad. I'm just saying that it's going to be interesting tonight."
"Okay, you're not helping at all."
"Some wine in you, some liquor in Sid, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen."
"You're as bad as V," I huffed, but I also shook my head and smiled. Was everyone else able to see something I couldn't? Why were they all intent on pushing us together? As nice as the thought was, I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted.
Finally our food was prepared and brought to us, and I concentrated on my lasagna. Véro noticed my silence and she asked if I was okay. I blamed it on a headache from the wine, but really I was just engrossed in thought.
I looked across the table and to my left, where Sid sat. He obviously was having fun, joking with the guys and joining the company. At one point, our eyes met, and he gave me that signature half-smile of his. Once I smiled back, he rejoined his conversation and I turned back to my dinner.
At no point in the past three weeks since I had met Sidney had he given me any indication that he wanted to be more than friends. Yes, he did sneak my phone number without me knowing. And yes, he surprised me—on his own birthday—with a beautiful dress and a night of fun. But there was no overwhelming proof that our friendship was anything more than just that.
So why were Véro and Max encouraging something between Sid and me, something that didn't exist? Are they truly trying to force something, or am I completely uncognizant of where the relationship was heading? Admittedly, I didn't have a lot of experience with men. Technically, I had never officially had a boyfriend, and my minor relationships never lasted more than a few weeks. Regardless, I knew when a guy was interested, and Sidney was not acting interested.
I wasn't even halfway through my dinner when some of the guys started ordering dessert. Jordan practically ordered half the dessert menu. "Aren't you in training?" I asked.
He shrugged and gave me a grin. "I'm only twenty, I'm still a growing boy."
"Don't you want anything?" Max asked, and I realized the waitress had gone all the way around the table and was waiting on me.
"No thanks, nothing for me. Geez, I can't even get through dinner!"
"You're a wimp," Sid said. "And here I thought you could hang with the big boys." The guys covered their mouths and oohed.
"Burn," said Jordan, and I shot a look at him across the table.
"There's no need to get nasty," I replied, "especially since I'm the one who has manners and knows to chew her food before she swallows. If I ate like you, I'd be finished, too."
The guys continued to encourage us.
"Come on, it's like you're not even trying," Sid said. "That's not even half."
"Well, watching you chew makes it hard to keep my appetite. Disgusting."
"It's obvious you're going to wimp out on the rest of the night, too. I'm disappointed in you."
"Oh please. Do you even know who you're dealing with? You should wonder if you can keep up with me, not the other way around."
"Well, I guess we'll have to see about that. Where are we gonna go tonight, boys?"
The debate that followed echoed the one I had had with my friends two weeks prior. Someone would throw out one bar or club, which would be promptly dismissed by someone else.
"All that's left is Diesel," TK said, obviously frustrated with the guys. All his suggestions had been turned down.
"We always go there. Can't we go somewhere else?" Marc said.
"But there's a reason we always go there," said Kris. "We can get up to the lounge and have a good time without getting swamped by people."
In the end, they all agreed on Diesel.
My Favorite Five (2015)
1 year ago