By the time everyone arrived at the festival it was already dark out. Christmas lights and paper lanterns strung on the trees and above where people would be walking assisted the moon and stars overhead at providing lighting for the festivities. Booths and tents were set up down the long boardwalk, offering food and fun and other things for the Floridians to enjoy. At the end of the pier there were a few carnival type rides, including a Ferris wheel and a small rollercoaster. The festival extended down onto the beach, as well, where there was a big bonfire already started. There was something for everyone. Even Coach Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff, who quickly went off to have some fun on their own.
“I bet they’re all gonna get hammered tonight.” Jordan laughed as he watched them scurry away.
All of the girls and their boyfriends plus Max and Fleury were standing in a group, surveying the area and figuring out where they each wanted to go.
“If they do, you ought to get on Dan’s case about it and fine him for breaking the rules.” Marc-Andre suggested with a laugh, “Reverse the roles. See how he likes it.”
Jordan smirked, “That idea’s not half bad.”
“Here’s an idea,” Lauren began, talking mainly to Tyler, “let’s go ride some of those rides!”
“Okay, I’m in.” TK smiled, grabbing her hand.
“I’ll come, too.” Leah added. She turned to face Lauren.
“Okay.” She said but used her eyes to point to Max, trying to get Leah to take the hint to ask him to come too. Leah nodded, understanding, and remembering that her and Ashlen advised her to spend time with him tonight.
“Um, Max,” She turned and called his name, her voice sounding shy.
Max raised his eyebrows signaling that he heard her, but she noticed his eyes were focused over on Emily and Geno who were standing relatively close to the group still, but sort of off on their own. Geno held her close to him as they talked. He looked happy but she seemed slightly uninterested.
“Huh?” Max finally asked, still barely paying attention to anything but Emily, which made Leah a bit jealous.
“Um, do you wanna come with me, Laur and TK to ride some stuff?” She asked him hopefully.
“Oh, uh, maybe in a little bit.” He told her, feeling bad that he declined but feeling like he needed to stay to watch out for Emily.
“Oh, okay. That’s fine.” Leah sounded disappointed but she tried to hide it. “Later then.” She said and turned away from him. Knowing she was upset, Lauren put a hand on her shoulder to try to comfort her as they walked towards the rides.
“Don’t worry,” Lauren whispered, “He said he’d come in a little bit. You’ll win him over then.”
“If you say so.” Leah sighed.
Geno looked at the sights around him, kind of in awe, his arm around Emily’s waist as he did so. She chuckled at the look on his face.
“What? Don’t they have Friday Festivals back in Russia?” She asked with a hint of a smile on her tired face.
“Not Floridian ones.” He replied as he took a final glance at his surroundings before his eyes moved back and focused on his girlfriend in his arms.
“I love all the lights,” She said, observing the strings of the tiny twinkling bulbs overhead. “They look so pretty.”
“Not as pretty as you,” Geno smiled, “But I love them too. They remind me of the first time we kissed.”
Emily thought back to that night. Not one of her finest. She pictured the scene, the snow dusted ground, the faint sound of music in the distance, and those famous lights strung on all the trees. It was beautiful then and it remained beautiful in her memory, she couldn’t deny that. No matter how badly she wished she could go back in time and change the outcome of that night. Things would be so much easier that way.
“Hey guys,” Max interrupted her thoughts and her and Geno’s private conversation when he popped up in between them, a smile on his face and one of his hands on each of their shoulders. “Whatcha doin?”
“Just talking.” Geno said, not pleased with the interruption but tried not to show it too much.
“Oh, well I didn’t mean to impose…”
“But you did.” Geno said flat out.
“No, it’s okay,” Emily added before either of the guys could get angry. The last thing she needed right now was a fight. “We should all go find something to do anyway.”
“Okay, you’re right.” Evgeni agreed. He couldn’t get mad at her. “Let’s go see what Jordy and them wanna do.”
As the three of them walked back toward the others that remained, Emily and Max fell a few steps behind.
“Max,” She began, using French to hide from Geno’s ears, “I know you’re just trying to look out for me, but you can lay off a little. I think Geno’s getting suspicious again. He knew you were watching us when we were alone. It’s just, I don’t want him to get mad, and I can handle it for now. Okay?”
Max sighed, but nodded, “I’m sorry. It’s just, I think he’s gonna try something with you tonight.”
“That’s what you said last night.” Emily reminded him, not fully trusting Max’s instinct, “Plus it’s not like he can do anything here. Don’t be paranoid.”
Max nodded as they rejoined the circle. Despite her apparent confidence, he wasn’t as convinced that everything would go over smoothly tonight. But for her sake, he agreed, “You’re right, I’ll lay off.”
“Lay off what?” Marc-Andre, the other French-speaker, asked and the rest of the group looked at Max and Emily questionably as to what they were secretly talking about.
“Um, lay off the French fries.” Em said quickly, blurting out the first thing that came to her mind. She turned to Max and pointed at his stomach, “Starting to lose his figure.”
Max shot her a look that said ‘excusez-moi?’, but nodded as to not blow their cover.
“Ya know, I was starting to think the same thing.” Jordan admitted, giving Max an ‘it’s true’ nod.
“Okay, I’m fat, I know.” Max said, letting them have their laugh at his expense, “Let’s go do something instead of just standing around.”
“Well what do you guys want to do first?” Ashley asked.
“How bout we go get something to eat?” Max suggested, trying to get them moving along.
Jordy chuckled, then whispered loud enough for everyone to hear anyway, “Fatty would suggest that.”
Max shook his head but smirked nonetheless, “Look what you got me into.” He actually whispered to Emily. She let out a laugh.
“Oh, hush. It’s not a big deal.” She replied, giving his abs a pat with the back of her hand just before Geno swept her up and out of Max’s reach. He frowned as the couple laughed.
“We’ll meet up with you guys in a bit.” Sidney announced, holding Ashlen’s hand in his.
“Why? Where are you two going?” Fleury asked, his voice sounding a bit suggestive.
“Just to look around,” Ashlen assured him, “See what they have at some of those booths and stuff.”
“Alright, well you’ll know where to find us.” Max told them as he pointed to where all the food stands were.
Sid waved with his free hand as they turned to go in the opposite direction, “See ya in a bit.”
“Why did we even come to this thing?” Kris asked bitterly as he walked down the boardwalk with Philippe at his side.
“Well, all the rest of the guys are here. I figure it’s better than just sitting in the hotel.” He replied with a shrug, “Plus it can help take your mind off of things. Just enjoy yourself.”
Kris sighed. How was he supposed to enjoy himself? If anything, being here made him think about things even more. And by things both of them knew it meant Emily. Everywhere he looked he saw a happy couple, either holding hands, or sharing a pretzel, or giving each other a kiss. It infuriated him that he couldn’t do that with the girl he loved. Not yet. Instead, some Russian clown got to tote her around showing everybody his grand prize. It wasn’t fair.
“Come on, don’t be angry. You had a great game today, kick back and celebrate it.” Boucher tried again to no avail.
Sure, one assist. One hell of a game, eh? Kris sighed again. His silly little assist wasn’t much of a match against Geno’s two plus a hat trick. Just another thing he had to one up him at.
But Kris opted not to sound like a whining child anymore. Philippe was obviously trying to make him feel better, so even though it didn’t work, he didn’t want to be rude to him.
“Sucks Coach didn’t put you in, though.” Kris said, his voice not sounding harsh like it had been.
“Yeah, well that’s life for an old player like me.” Bouch shrugged like there was nothing he could do about it.
“What are you talking about? You’re only like, thirty-six.”
Philippe chuckled, “Well when you’ve got young guys like you and Goose to choose from, thirty-six sounds a lot older to a coach’s ears. Plus it’s not like I was missed. An eight to nothing win doesn’t really scream ‘lineup change needed.’ And I’m okay with that. I had my time to shine, now it’s yours. I wouldn’t take that away from you.”
“You wouldn’t be taking anything away from me.” Kris told him as they continued to walk.
“Regardless, I’ve had a long run. Hell, I’ve been in the league since you were four years old.” Philippe told him with a chuckle at the realization of the age difference, “I’ve been a part of an all-star game, my name’s on Lord Stanley’s cup, I met some great friends along the way,” He gave Kris a playful elbow to the side at the last one, “What more could I ask for from the game?”
Kris looked at his face, sensing that he was keeping something from him, but he didn’t know what. “What are you trying to say?”
Boucher shook his head and put a firm hand on Kris’s shoulder, “Nothing, son. Forget I said anything.”
Kris sighed for a third time. Unfortunately with thoughts of Emily and Geno continuously popping into his head, it wouldn’t even be that hard to forget about this conversation. For now, at least.