"Out partying late last night with the team, Noelle?" Steve teased.
"And what makes you say that?"
"Because you're never late for work like this. Maybe a few minutes here and there, but not like this. I figure you must have had some wild night."
"Well, no, actually. It was pretty low-key."
I made up the time by staying late into Thursday night. Actually, I preferred working late, because everyone else was out of the office, which meant I could work in peace to complete the small tasks that needed to be done.
Sid called around six, while I was still toiling away at my computer. "This is all your fault," I jokingly told him. "I can't talk to you because you made me late for work."
"Hey, that was not my fault! You need to learn how to operate the alarm on your phone before you blame me."
"You're right," I confessed. "This isn't your fault, it's Max's! Why did he have to play his first game during the week? Couldn't he have waited until Saturday's game?"
We talked anyway, even though I should have been working. But since I was alone in the office, no one would see that I was wasting my boss's time, chit-chatting with my boyfriend instead of dedicating myself to my responsibilities.
A little while later, I locked up the office and headed home, excited for the next day.
Friday night was interesting, to say the least. Kelsey hosted the viewing of the away game as the Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the Penguins, and all The Girlfriends had been invited, as well as Charlotte, the group's newbie. She looked tentative and scared.
I walked over and handed her a beer, trying to make her feel comfortable. I remembered being frightened by the prospect of hanging out with all these girls. "It takes a while to get used to," I advised.
She giggled. "They're intimidating as hell. How long have you been a part of the group?"
"Well, I kind of got indoctrinated over the summer, but officially as A Girlfriend? About a month." She nodded and scanned the crowd, not speaking, so I continued, "So, does this mean you and Max are...?"
"No!" she said, quite vehemently. "I mean, no," she added more quietly, blushing.
"Wow, that a visceral reaction." I know Max truly liked her, so I was shocked at her response.
"He has a bad reputation. He's a ladies' man, and I'm not going to be a notch on his bedpost."
"Well, Charlotte, if you don't mind me being blunt, what are you doing here then?" I was feeling very protective of Max, and I wanted to know what her angle was.
She blushed fiercely. "I know that it must look like I'm leading him on. But I told him I wasn't interested in a relationship, so he said that being friends was fine. He offered the ticket to his game, and it was just so long since I'd been to a hockey game. And then Kelsey invited me to the party. I don't have a lot of friends in the area, so it was nice to get out of the house and do something with people."
"So, you don't like him at all?"
"He's gorgeous, don't get me wrong. And he's a lot of fun to be around. So funny and easy-going. It's just that, well, I was in a not-so-good relationship, and I'm just enjoying being single again."
"I'm sorry. Do you mind me asking what happened?"
Charlotte shrugged. "He just wasn't who I thought he was. And I wasn't who he wanted me to be."
"That's the good thing about Max," I said deliberately. "He's so relaxed and accepting."
"I know what you're doing. You can stop."
I laughed. "Sorry. He just means a lot to me, because he's been such a good friend when I needed him. I want him to be happy, and he's taken an interest in you."
She looked like she was peering into outer space. "He's a great guy and all, I just don't think he's my great guy."
"I know his reputation precedes him," I lectured, "but I think it's blown way out of proportion. You should talk to him about it before you completely dismiss him."
Charlotte nodded and headed into the kitchen. I made a mental note to tell Max how much I liked her, but it was going to take a lot of work if he really wanted her. Then I meandered over to Véro and Kelsey. "Hey, girls. What's up?"
"We're trying to figure out our Halloween costumes."
I groaned. "Me too. I haven't thought of anything I like."
"Let's brainstorm together then, eh?" Kelsey suggested. "I just want something simple."
"You should go as Marilyn Monroe, Kels! First of all, you have the blonde hair and are gorgeous, so you could totally pull it off. And even better, Tyler's called 'Mr. President,' so that would just be adorable!"
Véro continued, "You'd only need to curl your hair, pencil in a beauty mark, and wear a white dress. That's simple."
"Thanks, guys, that's a good idea."
"Ok, costume genius," Véro said, "What about me?"
"Well, do you want to do something similar? Having to do with Marc-André?"
"Sure, if you can think of anything."
"Yeah, that's easy. A gardener." A look of appreciation came over her face as she considered his nickname. "All you need is a pair of overalls, a straw hat, and a watering can."
V laughed. "I think I already have all that stuff. And that's perfect, because I really had a hand in raising him into the man he is today."
I chuckled. "Okay, so please help me. And I'm not afraid to go all out. I just want to get into it, you know?"
"Like something having to do with Crosby?"
I shook my head. "I don't think that will work for me. I mean, they call him Kid, so should I go as a nanny? That's lame. And they call him Creature, but I don't think they'll get it if I go as a cryptozoologist." The girls gave me a confused look, and I laughed. "Exactly."
"Do you have any ideas?"
"No. Sid showed me a she-devil costume that was like wearing lingerie out in public," I said, and all three of us rolled our eyes. "He didn't seem to mind that everyone would see me like that."
Véro's eyes sparkled. "Then you should do it and totally make him regret it."
"No way. I don't want anyone to see me like that. As much as I would like to tease him, I don't want to do it by wearing nothing in front of everyone."
Kelsey laughed. "Are you kidding? That's the best way to get back at him for his suggestion." I could see the gears and cogwheels turning in her head. "There are other ways to embarrass him, though."
"What do you have in mind?" I asked, my interest piqued.
* * * * *
Once my costume was decided and my Halloween surprise planned, we settled in to watch the game. For whatever reason, the boys looked sluggish on the ice. By the end of the second, Columbus was winning 2-1.
However, all the drama was happening off the ice and in Tyler's house. Kelsey knew two weeks in advance that she was in charge of tonight's away game, and she extended her invitations to The Girlfriends then. Two weeks ago, Alex was still going steady with the evil Lynne, so Kelsey felt obligated to invite her as well. Even though they were no longer together, Lynne apparently still thought she qualified to attend the viewing.
She showed up half-drunk and totally angry. I was blown away at her behavior and her audacity to show up. Most of the people in the room didn't like her under normal circumstances, and her attitude now just pitted everyone against her. Lynne broke the unspoken hockey team code: teammates don't date or hook-up with with other teammates' girls, and ex-girlfriends/lovers don't hit on other players. The fact that Lynne kissed Sid while still linked with Alex just made what she did exponentially worse.
Knowing that Lynne despised me and could barely contain her emotions while sober, I tried to blend into the background. I didn't like her as much as she didn't like me, and I didn't want to risk the confrontation.
"Who is it?" she slurred. "Who's Alex's new slutty girlfriend?"
Kelsey, being the hostess, tried to defuse the situation. "Lynne, you're drunk. Let me call you a cab so you can get home."
"No! Alex won't answer any of my calls. I want to know who here thinks that she can replace me."
Heather spoke the thoughts on my mind. "Maybe he's not talking to you because you broke his heart. Give him some space."
"No," she said, her words in a garbled mess. "He's got a hussy on the side! I wanna know which one of you it is!" She spotted Charlotte, who was cluelessly sitting on the couch. "Is it you, you little whore?"
Poor Charlotte felt attacked, and her defenses fortified themselves. "I don't know what you're talking about. You're crazy."
I couldn't sit by and watch anymore. Charlotte hardly knew anyone in the room, let alone know who Lynne was. I stepped forward. "She's with Max, Lynne, so back off."
"No one's with Max," she spat. "Max just fucks around, everyone knows that."
As protective as I felt of Charlotte, I was moreso of Max. This was it, the big confrontation, the climax that had been brewing since we met. "Lay off, Lynne. That's completely uncalled for, and you know it."
"You're uncalled for."
"Kels, go ahead and call that cab," Véro said. "Calm down, you guys."
"I don't need to calm down. This is all her fault," she continued, pointing at me.
I knew she was goading me on, but I took the bait. "I didn't do anything, and you know it. What's the big deal? You didn't love Alex anyway."
"It doesn't matter how I felt about him. He was still mine."
"He's a person, not a possession. Maybe if you had thought about that, you wouldn't be in this position."
"Shut up, you stupid whore!"
"I'm the whore? You're the one who messed up by kissing my boyfriend right in front of Alex. You're just pissed because everyone saw, and Alex finally saw through your pathetic ploy to nab Sidney Crosby."
"He shouldn't have been yours in the first place."
"And what? He should have been yours?" I hissed quietly, stepping toward her. I was losing my temper, and I couldn't be nice about it anymore. Not after what she did to us. "He made his decision. And he. Chose. Me."
Lynne punctuated my last sentence with a slap across my face. I didn't need any reaction time; I pounced on her like a cheetah on a gazelle. All it took was one good punch to knock the fight out of her. Her hands flew up to her face as her nose bled. I backed off immediately, knowing I won this battle. My knuckles hurt and my cheek stung, but all I could think was: Damn, that felt good!
It was over as quickly as it began, slightly less climactic than I thought it would be. Kelsey took Lynne into the kitchen to help her clean up, and once she was out of the room, light applause broke out. I smirked and pretend-curtsied, then plopped on the couch. When I thought no one was looking, I rubbed my sensitive cheek. I hated that the verbal fight escalated to violence, but at least I was defending myself, and I had a roomful of witnesses to back me up on that.
But that had been building up inside of me for weeks, and letting it out was a great release.
Once Lynne was safely tucked into the cab with the fare prepaid, Kelsey brought me an ice pack. "Okay, I do not condone violence, but did that feel as good as it looked?"
I nodded and placed the ice back against my cheek, and we both laughed. "Please, don't tell anyone," I whispered to Kelsey.
"You aren't going to try to hide this from Sidney, are you?"
I closed my eyes. "No. I mean, I can't. It'll probably bruise, and I'll have to explain it somehow," I joked. She looked at me seriously. "I just want to do it myself. On my terms. Lynne is kind of, uh, a sensitive subject between us."
Kelsey nodded. "Okay." She paused. "You know this isn't over yet, right?"
It was my turn to nod. "I know."