For the next three weeks, Olivia and I stay a mile apart at work. She laughs and jokes with the guys, playing her usual role of comic femme fatale. Jordan stays distant, but he’s not unfriendly. I keep someone else with me, usually Kris, whenever Olivia might be around. Kris and Crosby are the only ones we see outside of work.
Kris picks me up for the Lemieux’s Christmas party. I can’t arrive with Olivia or leave with her, but we’ll be together tonight. Tanger and I are standing at the bar enjoying our first round of cocktails when she walks through the door.
She’s wearing a deep red Asian-style dress with a high collar and a diagonal row of buttons along the neck. It’s fitted down to her knees, with a slit up the back. Her hair is piled on top of her head. Please Santa, let me wake up to find that under my tree. She gives me a smile, but doesn’t head straight for us. We’ve made it a kind of game – we’re like secret agents and no one can know we’re working together. I send her a text.
Lookin’ good, foxy.
I can see her in the kitchen, talking to Geno as she opens her phone to reply.
No underwear, Superstar.
I think, Oh man, it’s going to be a long night.
After mingling with the appropriate number of people, she eases her way over to us and makes a big show of giving Kris a long, slow hug. He rolls his eyes at me then grabs her side in a vicious tickle. Olivia’s Kris fantasy is a running joke. When she’s done indulging it, she hugs me too.
She pulls her head back, still in my arms, and looks at Kris.
“Threesome?” she whispers.
Kris snorts cocktail through his nose and runs away.
“Damn, there goes my Christmas wish!” she says to me.
I’m thrilled she hasn’t lost her spunk, the sass that was a big part of the reason I fell in love with her. But I really don’t want to share a bed with Tanger.
“Haven’t you gotten yourself in enough trouble around here?”
She gives me a look that says I’ll show you trouble. I growl at her as we part.
Jordan leans against the fridge in the kitchen, sniping hors d’ourves from passing trays. I nab a piece of salmon.
“Your date looks good,” he says, chewing.
“Jordan…” I warn. He’s been fine around me and fine around her, but we haven’t been together.
He shrugs. “Just saying.”
Crosby chaperones us, along with some of the other guys who may or may not know there’s something going on. We all drink and laugh – the party is its usual success. Jordan even brings Olivia a fresh cocktail and tells a couple of very inappropriate jokes about elves. Before too long, we’re pretty tipsy and all the talk is inappropriate.
“How can I be a virgin? I took Olivia’s friend back to the hotel in Anaheim!” Crosby says way too loudly. “Twice!” TK and Cookie are doubled over laughing. Give Snow White one too many and he’s gossiping like it’s Sex and the City.
“Did your friend ever say anything about me? Can you call her right now?”
“Yes, please call her,” Gogo sputters. “Do you have speaker phone?”
Olivia’s laughing too. “I’ve already heard it all. In graphic, glorious detail. Story goes to the highest bidder.” Wallets come flying out, credit cards waving. Jordan offers his watch, someone’s got a check book. TK brandishes $500 cash.
“Were you going to a strip club on the way home?” Kris blurts. TK looks around like, Duh, of course and stuffs the money back into his pocket.
“Whatever they’re offering, I’ll triple it for her phone number. You know she wants to visit you for Christmas,” Sid puts an arm around Olivia’s shoulders.
A spoon pings off a glass in the living room. Several others join it. We shuffle in from the den to find Mario and Nathalie standing in front of the tree. Mario gives his traditional toast – welcoming everyone, wishing good seasons for both holidays and hockey. It’s warm and the tree sparkles with a thousand tiny lights. I don’t even think to stop myself as my hand slides across Olivia’s back. It isn’t till she tenses that I realize what I’m doing. I quickly cut my eyes left, but Jordan’s looking forward. So my hand stays where it is.
Olivia stands in the doorway between the front room and the study, talking to Vero and Kara, Billy’s wife. They’re giggling and whispering, holding half-full glasses of wine. I pretend to watch Kris and Rupp duel over a hand of poker, but really I’m watching her. The bourbon in my glass goes down smoothly.
“You’re staring,” Jordan says, coming up next to me.
I break my gaze and sweep the room, but it’s too late to cover.
He leans against the wall. “I don’t think she’s standing there by accident.”
She knows I’m watching her. I know she knows. It’s part of our game, how we are together when we cannot be together. I guess our plan isn’t really fooling anyone.
“Jordan, I’m sor…,” I start.
He raises his glass, gesturing toward her, then higher. Over her head, in the arch of the doorway, hangs a sprig of mistletoe attached to a red and green bow.
“I appreciate the effort, Max, but it’s time. Go get your girl.”
I look at him, in case it’s a trick. Or he might punch me again. He just gives me a little nod, like he’s going to wait right there until I make my move.
I try to keep my cool and just stroll, but I probably stride across the room. Vero sees me coming and puts her hand on Olivia’s arm. Marc knows, so Vero would know. Olivia lowers the wine glass from her lips and catches me eye.
“Excuse me, ladies.” I reach around Olivia’s waist and pull her into me. Kara grabs the wine glass as it waves past.
So close to her lips, it’s hard to remember my sense of the dramatic. But I know this will make a better story later if I do. When she’s wrapped in my arms, mouth barely inches away, I tilt my head backward and look up. Her eyes follow to the mistletoe, and then she smiles.
“Merry Christmas, love,” I say out loud. Very loud. And then I kiss her.
A few people notice, which turns into a few more. Vero whistles and Kara giggles. Sid pokes his head around the corner from the car game and lets out a howl. Everyone laughs, including Max and Olivia who have to stop kissing to do it. Over Max’s shoulder, Olivia meets Jordan’s eyes. He raises his glass and gives her a small smile. The one she sends back is a little bigger.