I waited in the living room for Max to come downstairs and after a few minutes, I saw him come sulking around the corner. He plopped down heavily next to me and I put my head in his lap.
“Shouldn’t you be taking a pregame nap?”
“Oh that’s right, I didn’t get a chance to tell you before, I’m not playing tonight. Healthy scratch.”
“Because of the fight?”
“Because I can’t put my helmet on without being in excruciating pain.” I felt a twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach. No matter what anyone said, I was always going to see myself as the reason that the fight took place.
“I’m so sorry.” Max caught that the tone of the conversation had drastically shifted and reached down to stroke my hair.
“Whatever you’re thinking right now, stop it.” He smiled down at me and just as I was about to say something, his cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket, looked at the screen, then looked at me, then looked at the screen again, and back up to me.
“Who is it?” I saw his blue eyes go wide.
“It’s Mario.” Getting a call from Mario for no reason was a pretty big deal, so I sat up and leaned in to hear what was said. “Hello?”
“Hey, Max! How are you?” Mario asked from the other end.
“I’m fine and yourself?”
“I’m doing pretty well. Listen, I know you’re not playing tonight and I’d like it if you’d come sit up in the box with me. I’ve been meaning to talk to you and I figured this is the perfect opportunity. We’ll have a few drinks, watch the game, it’ll be fun.”
“I…um…yeah! I’d love to! Thanks so much for offering.”
“No problem at all, Max. I’d also really like it if you brought someone. Maybe a girl? Maybe a relative of one of your teammates? Maybe a Malone? I don’t know, whoever you see fit.”
“How did you---?”
“I’ll see you tonight, Max.” And with that, he hung up. It was sort of like being summoned to the principal’s office. You stressed about it all day thinking, ‘What in the world did I do?’. Only this time, we knew exactly what we did.
“I can’t believe he knows,” Max said quietly, still looking at the phone in his hand.
“I can. I mean, he’s co-owner. He probably knows a lot more than you think he does. I’m sure he wants to be on the up and up about his players. I know I would.”
“Yeah, but this seems different. Like really personal.”
“But I guess since it’s affecting the whole team, then he’d want to know what’s going on. Especially since there was a fight, and a write up in the paper, and the fact that you’re not playing tonight.”
“You’re right. That makes sense.” Max nodded even though he seemed like he was still in a daze. We put off talking about the issue for a couple more hours while we lounged around lazily, ate pizza, and watched TV. Eventually though, Max knew it was time for him to leave so he could shower and get dressed before we had to go over. We decided that we’d take separate cars so nothing would look suspicious. When I was choosing my outfit, I decided on a simple black dress that showed just enough skin so as not to offend Mario, but tempt Max at the same time. I still had to make sure he caved first. Once I was dressed, put on my makeup, and grabbed my jacket, I was out the door and making my way to the Igloo. I made my way down to the player’s lounge and met this guy named James who worked at Mellon. Max told me that James would be the one to bring me up to Mario’s box. So, after a treacherous climb, I finally arrived. For the most part, the box was empty with the exception of a few staff members and people I didn’t know. I spied an open bar with glasses of wine sitting on the surface, snagged a glass and grabbed a seat at a table. As the minutes ticked by and the glass emptied, more people began filing in, until at last, Max took a seat across from me. He seemed pretty distracted and didn’t notice what I was wearing until he actually sat down.
“Whoa,” he said, a smile breaking out across his face.
“You like?” I asked, downing the rest of the wine.
“I love. Where’d you get that?”
“I’ve had it for a while. Thought I’d break it out tonight. It seemed like the right time. By the way, have you given anymore thought to my proposition?”
“Yes, and my stance is still no.”
“Oh really? Well, that’s a shame. I was really hoping you’d changed your mind.”
“Nope, because I have a theory.”
“And what’s that?”
“You can’t resist me as much as I can’t resist you. Sooner or later you’ll be begging to have me in your bed and you won’t give a damn whether or not I agree to meet your parents.”
“I beg to differ. I have an unusually strong amount of will power. You on the other hand, not so much.” I smiled at him and watched as he grabbed a napkin from the corner of the table and pulled a pen out of his pocket.
“You know, you’re impossible to live with,” he said as he began scrawling something across the napkin.
“I never said it’d be easy,” I replied with ease. He shook his head and slid the napkin across the table. ‘I love you’ stood out in bold letters across the white background. This was only the second time I’d heard it from him and technically he hadn’t even said it this time. But just seeing it written there was enough to send my heart into overdrive. I felt myself smile involuntarily and I looked up at him to find that he was smiling right back. This was a moment I wanted to remember forever and capture in my memory. But then I watched as his expression changed from happiness to terror and I quickly realized that it was because Mario was standing over my shoulder, reading the note.
“Mario! Hey!” Max said, practically tripping over himself to get over to him. I stood up and took my place next to Max. “This is Riley.”
“Hi, Mr. Lemieux,” I said politely, having absolutely no idea what to call him.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Riley. But please, it’s Mario,” he responded. Awkward greeting, officially over. “Now, I hope you don’t mind if I steal Max for a little while.”
“Oh no, not at all. Steal away.” Mario smiled pleasantly and began to walk away, assuming Max would follow him.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Max whispered in my ear before trailing behind Mario. I watched the two of them convene on the other side of the room and I barely noticed the pretty blonde woman who had come up on my right.
“You must be Riley,” she said suddenly. I turned to face her and I guess she read the puzzled expression on my face because she quickly added, “I’m Nathalie, Mario’s wife.”
“Oh, it’s so nice to meet you,” I replied, repeating the statement her husband had made to me.
“I’ve heard so much about you, I feel like I know you already,” she remarked. I inwardly cringed at the thought of this. She probably heard something along the lines of: “Riley Malone? Oh yeah, she’s that whore that’s tearing the whole damn team apart.”
“Is that so? I hope it was nothing too incriminating.”
“Not at all! I’ve heard how you’re the beautiful cousin of Ryan and how you’ve seemed to capture the heart of one of the most ‘un-capturable’ men on the team.” I felt the heat rise to my cheeks immediately as I thought of Max. But then it occurred to me that even though she probably knows about my relationship with Max, she could also have been referring to my ‘relationship’ with Geno. “How are you two doing?” I figured it was best I go the safe route and assume she meant Geno.
“Oh, Geno and I are doing well. We’re very happy.” I gave the best diplomatic answer I could. I thought for a minute I had succeeded until she lowered her voice and leaned in closer to me.
“Please, Riley. I know that’s not true. I’m pretty sure you’re a little bit happier with Max, no?” She winked and I breathed a sigh of relief. Someone else I could confide in.
“So much happier.” I laughed as she led me to our seats.
Max’s Point of View
I felt bad about leaving Riley by herself, so I hoped to make whatever conversation I had to have with Mario short and sweet.
“How are you doing, Max?” Mario asked once we were far enough away from Riley and Nathalie.
“No, Max. Really, how are you doing?” I sighed, it was no use sugarcoating it. He’d get it out of me anyway.
“Terrible actually. I can’t stand what’s going on with the team. I can’t stand not being able to play. I can’t stand fighting with Geno and Ryan. And I can’t stand having Riley constantly blaming herself. I’m just as much to blame as she is. But she never gets that.” I didn’t have any idea how impossibly good I’d feel just saying that. It felt like a thousand pound weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. “And even though all of this is going on around me, I’m happy. Happier than I’ve ever been. I know that sounds crazy, but I have Riley and for some reason that makes it all worthwhile.” Mario was watching me intently, as if taking in everything I was telling him very carefully. It was a good two or three minutes before he spoke again.
“Do you love her?"
“Yes. I love her.”
“Okay then, Max.” Needless to say, I was utterly confused by this answer.
“Listen, Max. I’m sure you can gather that I don’t like what’s going on with the team right now. Yes you guys are winning and yes you’re keeping it together on the ice, but if things keep up the way they are, and personal affairs begin to intermingle with hockey life, then it will start to fall apart. It’s not bad now, but it could get that way. No owner, coach, staff member, or even other teammate ever wants to hear that two players can’t stand each other or are in some type of feud. But that’s beside the point right now because what you’re telling me, Max, about how much this girl really means to you, is something that only comes around once in a lifetime. And I have the utmost faith that once you square things away with her, everything will be just fine out on the ice.” Was this really happening? Was Mario actually telling me, in a roundabout way, to put something else before hockey? “Just please, Max, please try and work it out with Geno. I know that Riley has to pretend to be his girlfriend for a little while because now the press is involved, but what really matters is who she’s coming home to, and that’s you. He’s jealous and hurt, don’t hold that against him. I’m telling you, he’ll get over it. Just promise me, no more nightclub incidents.” I nodded, trying to soak in everything he was telling me. “And as for Ryan, he’s just playing the protective cousin right now. He’ll get over it as soon as he sees how good of a match you are for Riley. It’ll all work out, Max. Trust me.” And believe it or not, at that moment in time, I would have trusted Mario with my life.
Chapter Six - Tied Together
8 years ago