Monday, June 29, 2009


Inevitably, the thought of going on a date, my first "first date" in five years, brought my ex-boyfriend to the front of my mind. Matt and I had met during my sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old. Adrienne had dragged me to a party at a frat house because she wanted to score with one of the brothers. I was leaning against a wall in what was supposed to be a dining room, but had been converted into a beer pong room, when Matt stumbled over to me.

"You are way too pretty to be here alone," he slurred.

I smirked at his weak attempt at a pickup line. "I'm here with my friend," I replied, motioning to Adrienne, who was hanging all over the reason why she was so adamant about coming to the party.

He looked at Adrienne, then smiled and shook his head. "She looks busy. Why don't you come outside with me and have a cigarette?"

I didn't smoke, but I didn't want to turn down an invitation to be alone with him. He wasn't exceptionally gorgeous, but he was tall and had strong features. It was his personality that made him so attractive—he was cocky, confident, and used to getting his own way. Unfortunately, the personality traits that originally attracted me to him were the same ones that forced the end of our five-year relationship.

It wasn't long after the party that we were considered a couple. And it wasn't long before the problems started. We always did what he wanted to do. Went out with his friends. Spent our weekends at his fraternity, even though I detested the filthy house that permanently reeked of cigarettes and beer, the huge crowds of drunk freshmen, and the sleazy guys who were on constant missions to get laid by anything that moved.

He had to be with me 24/7. If we spent a night apart, he would call me at four in the morning, accusing me of being with another man. I never cheated on him, never even thought of it, but he couldn't trust me. Every time I tried to break up with him, he would break down and beg me not to and promise that things would get better. They never did.

A year after we met, Matt graduated with a degree in finance. He was always talking about plans for pursuing his MBA, but never acted on it. He convinced me to move in with him, and while I was attending class full-time and working evenings and weekends at a neighborhood bar, he sat at the apartment and did God knows what. He finally got a job over a year later, working part-time at GameStop. Adrienne would tell me that I wasn't dating a 23-year-old, but a high school kid with an attitude problem.

Finally, after spending New Years at his parents' home in Erie, I realized that five years of fighting, distrust, and accusations had taken a toll on me. I wasn't myself anymore. I wasn't happy. I moved out of the apartment and in with Adrienne, and never looked back.

Although I felt free and happy without Matt, our tumultuous relationship made me uneasy around men. I wasn't interested in starting another relationship, because I was convinced they were a waste of time. I spent an unhappy five years with an immature man who was nothing more than a comfort object. That, coupled with the fact that my parents had divorced when I was ten, formed my cynical opinion regarding marriage and relationships.

Despite my jaded perspective, I was excited to go out with Max. Mainly, it was because I didn't see him as a threat to my happy single life. He had asked me out because he thought I was pretty, not because he thought I was interesting or we were compatible. He was a player—all I had to do was Google his name to find that out. He definitely wasn't going to be interested in me. I was a 25-year-old librarian with no interest in sports whatsoever…not exactly puck bunny material. We would go to dinner, maybe even drinks afterward, but after he brought me home at the end of the night I would never hear from him again. I was fully prepared for this outcome, and I welcomed it. Dates are fun…even more fun when there isn't a threat of something long-term attached.

Max picked me up at exactly seven Sunday evening. We went to a restaurant Downtown called Seviche, which is a kind of Latin American sushi. The restaurant itself was really cool…it looked like it belonged in Cuba, not dreary Pittsburgh, but I wasn't crazy about anything on the menu. I'd never had sushi or any other kind of seafood because honestly, fish freaked me out. The thought of eating a slimy water-dwelling creature was not very appetizing.

"I don't know…" I said hesitantly as I scanned the menu. "I don't think I'd like any of this."

"It's all really good," Max urged. "As long as you don't think about what you're eating, you'll be fine."

I wrinkled my nose. "Maybe I'll just get something to drink."

"Oh, come on. Live a little." I was still reading the menu with uncertainty when the waiter came to take our orders. Max ordered for himself, and for me. "She'll have the Traditional Seviche with shrimp, and a banana mojito."

My head snapped up and I narrowed my eyes at him. "Did you seriously just order for me?"

"If I wouldn't have, you would have spent the entire night staring at the menu, talking yourself out of trying anything."

"I'm fully capable of ordering for myself." I crossed my arms defiantly and stared him down. "I'm not going to eat it."

He laughed incredulously. "You are so stubborn."

"I just don't enjoy being treated like a child."

He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Come on, don't ruin the night. I'm sorry."

I pursed my lips into a thin, annoyed line and didn't respond. I detested being treated like a child. I had always been an independent person, and as a child very mature for my age. I suppose that had a lot to do with being the oldest child, and after my parents' divorce I took on a lot of responsibility. Needless to say, I was more than slightly offended when Max took it upon himself to order for me.

Max rested his arms on the table and stared back at me. "Forget about all of that, okay? I want to get to know you. So, Jessica Dawson, tell me your life story."

I couldn't help but smile and I felt myself loosening up. Max's charming personality made me want to talk to him. "There isn't much to tell."

"Sure there is. Where are you from? What do you do?"

"I'm originally from Conneticut. I moved to Pittsburgh for college…I went to Pitt for undergrad and for my master's program. I'm a librarian at the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh."

He smirked. "You don't look like a librarian."

I rolled my eyes. "We aren't all old cat sweater-wearing spinsters."

"So you do more than check books out, right? You wouldn't need a master's degree for that."

"Right. There are different kind of librarians…some are archivists, they restore old books and maintain records and stuff like that, but I'm a research librarian. I'm into 19th century literature, so if someone came in and was trying to write a book on Jane Austen or Emily Brontë I would help them with research. We also book speakers and plan classes and stuff like that. It probably sounds boring to you, but I love my job. I'm constantly learning."

"Books were never my thing," he admitted. "I'd known since I was little that I was going to be a professional hockey player. If it came between reading a book for English class or doing drills at the rink…well, I'd choose the rink."

"To each his own," I replied. For being polar opposites, we seemed to be getting along very well. Max was an easy person to talk to. He seemed like the kind of guy who never felt awkward or out of place, and that made me feel comfortable, too.

By the time our food arrived, I had felt like I had told Max my life story. I told him about my younger siblings—Andrea, who was 23 and was attending Pharmacy school at the University of Connecticut, and Chris, who was 20 and a sophomore at NYU. I told him about my parents' divorce, and how a lot of responsibility had been thrown on me at a young age because of it. I told him about how trapped and suffocated I felt in Connecticut, and how although I missed my family I never regretted coming to Pittsburgh for college.

"I'm sorry," I said as the waiter placed our food in front of us. "I've been talking about myself the entire time."

Max shrugged and took a bite of his seviche. "I don't mind. You're an interesting person."

I blushed and poked around the odd shrimp concoction that was in front of me. If I wanted to be mean, I could have refused to eat the food that I hadn't ordered, but Max's little gaffe seemed so insignificant now. I was finding myself drawn to him, and I didn't want to burn any bridges. So I took a bite and to my surprise, it was delicious.

"What do you think?"

"It's good…as long as I don't think about the fact that I'm eating raw shrimp."

"See? All you had to do was trust me. Would I ever steer you wrong?"

I laughed. "I'm not sure."

We were about halfway through our dinner when my entire body started to itch. It started with my neck, and then my arms, and then my torso.

"Are you okay?" Max asked, looking at me with concern in his eyes.

"Yeah, I think it's just this shirt…the lace must be irritating my skin." I took a sip of my mojito and realized the drink was stronger than I thought. I was beginning to feel a little lightheaded and my mouth was tingling, even though I had only drunk half of it.

"Hey, are you sure you're okay?" Max asked again. His eyes were wide and he was looking at me strangely.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I just feel a little off…maybe you should take me home."

"Umm…I think maybe I should take you to a hospital."

"What? Why?"

"Are you allergic to shellfish?"

"No, I don't think so. Why?"

"Because it looks like you're having an allergic reaction…your face is kind of, um, swollen."

"What?!" I screeched. My hands flew up to my face. I could feel that my lips were puffy, as well as my cheeks. My breathing was shallow and my heart began to race.

"Are you having trouble breathing?"

I nodded and continued to touch my puffy face. Tears began to sting my eyes. I was embarrassed, but even more afraid.

Max started speaking in rapid French, and practically lifted me off the chair. He helped me out to the car and then sped through Downtown into Oakland, where the hospitals were. He made it to the emergency room in fifteen minutes, but by then my symptoms were even more severe. I was having serious problems breathing and it felt like my tongue was beginning to swell, too.

I saw a nurse immediately and got a shot of epinephrine. They put me in a bed so they could make sure it was working, and let Max in to see me.

"I'm so sorry," I said over and over.

"Jessica, stop apologizing," he said with a little laugh. "It's my fault. I ordered the shrimp. I could have killed you." His eyes were full of guilt and concern.

"No…I'm sorry. I ruined our date."

"No you didn't. Do you realize what an awesome first date story this is?"

"Oh, yeah, I bet you can't wait to tell everyone about the girl who turned into a hideous freak halfway through dinner."

"No...I can't wait to tell them about the girl who was beautiful, even when her face was swollen to twice its normal size." He hesitated a moment before resting his hand on mine. I flushed slightly and smiled up at him.

"You don't have to stay here," I said after a few moment's silence. "Call Adrienne. She'll come."

"I'm staying here as long as you are," he replied. "It isn't a date unless I get to take you home and walk you to your door."

They didn't keep me in the hospital much longer. A doctor came in and gave me strict orders to avoid shellfish and a referral to an allergy specialist, just to test if I had any other severe food allergies.

Max drove me home and walked me to the door like a perfect gentlemen.

"I had a good time tonight."

"Really?" I replied doubtfully.

He laughed. "Well, ideally there wouldn't have been a medical emergency, but yeah...I had a great time. I'd like to see you again."

"Really?" I repeated, this time with even more doubt.

"Don't look so shocked," he replied with a laugh. "The thing is, the playoffs start on Wednesday so I'm not going to have much free time...but I promise, the minute I have a day or evening off I'm going to call you."

I tried very hard not to roll my eyes. I wouldn't be hearing from Max again. His excuse about his busy schedule was just a way for him to write me off without seeming like a jerk.

"Yeah, okay," I replied, trying not to sound bitter. I turned to put my key in the lock, but Max grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around to face him, and then pressed his lips against mine. Butterflies rose in my stomach and I finally pulled away.

"Sorry," he said, looking a little flustered.

I smiled and gave him a last peck on the cheek. "Goodnight, Max."

I hurried up to the apartment and found Adrienne on the couch, watching television.

"How was the date?" she asked excitedly.

"Good," I replied.

"You look confused."

"I am." I told her about the shellfish disaster, but didn't go into details about the actual date. She pressed for more information, but I shook my head and went into my bedroom to think. I couldn't decide if Max was just a player, or if he was really interested in me. It wasn't that he was throwing me mixed signals...he definitely acted interested, but why would he want anything to do with me?

Thursday, June 18, 2009


"Oh, no. You are not wearing that." Adrienne steered me into her bedroom and opened her overflowing closet. "You can borrow one of my dresses."

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?" I asked, looking at my black button-down shirt and gray pencil skirt.

"Did you wear it to work today?"


"That's what's wrong. You look like a librarian."

"I am a librarian."

She shook her head and pulled out a strapless, short black dress. "You're wearing this."

I knew better than to argue. Adrienne and I had been friends since our freshman year at Pitt, and five years of friendship had taught me that when Adrienne got an idea in her head, arguing was futile. I quickly changed into the dress and glanced at myself disapprovingly in the full-length mirror. "Do you have a cardigan or something that I can put over this?"

"You don't need one. Here." She pulled my long, blonde hair out of its ponytail and fluffed it through her fingers and found a substantial sapphire necklace for around my neck. "Oh, that makes your eyes look amazing."

"I look like a hooker."

Adrienne rolled her eyes. "You do not. That dress is way too classy, even for an expensive prostitute."

We took a cab Downtown, to the Penn, where a red carpet was spread out in front of the entrance. When I saw the other attendees of the fundraiser, I was glad Adrienne redressed me. I would have looked dowdy compared to some of the other women.

We found a table with a few other people from the Tribune-Review and Adrienne began snapping pictures and taking notes with her iPhone for her article. I glanced around the room and tried to see how many players I recognized. Of course, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were easy to spot. I was pretty sure the tall, lanky one in the corner was Fleury, but I couldn't tell who the rest of the players were. I would catch the occasional hockey game if I didn't have anything better to do, but for the most part I avoided sports. I had moved to Pittsburgh from Hartford, Connecticut for college and had never caught onto the intense sports culture that defined the city.

Dinner began at eight o'clock and the players-turned-waiters descended on their respective tables with food and wine. A man with dark skin, brown hair and eyes, and a French-Canadian accent approached our table with a bottle of Merlot.

"Oh, no. Adrienne Michaels. How did you get past security?" he said in mock-seriousness.

"You know seeing me is the highlight of your evening, Max. Here's $50 for you to shut up."

Max grinned and put the money in his apron pocket. "Darling, there isn't enough money in the world for me to shut my mouth." He began pouring wine for the table, and when he came to me he leaned down so his mouth was close to my ear. "You look like a nice girl," he said to me. "What are you doing with this one?" He motioned to Adrienne.

I couldn't help but be conscious of his breath on my ear. I flushed slightly and smiled. "I guess I'm here to keep her out of trouble," I replied, a little flustered by how close he was to me.

"Ah, I see. Good luck." He flashed a cute grin and walked away.

"Max Talbot," Adrienne said to me quietly, knowing that I didn't recognize him. I swore sometimes that girl could read my mind. "Number 25. He's a charmer, isn't he?"

"Oh yeah. He's cute, too." I couldn't stop my eyes from following Max around the room throughout the dinner. He had an enigmatic personality. No matter who was around him, he always seemed to be the center of attention.

"Ask him out," Adrienne said quietly. My eyes snapped to her in surprise. She had a knowing grin on her face. Apparently she had been watching me watch Max for the past hour.

"Yeah, right," I scoffed. "I don't want to date anyone. Plus, why would a professional athlete want to go out with me?"

"It's Max. He loves women. All women. Ask him out. He'll say yes."


She shrugged. "Alright, then. I guess I have to take matters into my own hands."

"What do you mean?" I was slightly panicking. Adrienne had a familiar, mischievous look on her face. I didn't like it.

Her grin grew larger as she called Max over. "Mr. Talbot, I will give you $100 if you ask my friend Jessica on a date."

I blushed furiously and gasped. "Oh my God, Adrienne, no."

Max laughed loudly and shook his head. "I am not a gigolo."

"But it's for charity!" Adrienne argued.

"No, you don't get it. I'll take her for free."

I fluctuated between being absolutely mortified and slightly flattered that a professional hockey player wanted to go out with me.

"Excellent!" Adrienne exclaimed. "Here's her number. You'd better call her."

"Oh, I will," Max replied, smiling at me.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. My face was burning hot from blushing. "Sometimes I really hate you, Adrienne."


A week and a half later, Max still hadn't called. Although I refused to admit it, I was slightly disappointed. I was still mad at Adrienne for setting us up, but as far as set ups go Max wasn't a bad deal. He was cute, funny, and flirtatious. If I had to go on a date, I would have liked it to be with him.

I was getting ready to go out with Adrienne and some friends on April 10th, almost a full two weeks after Skates and Plates, when Max finally called.

"I'm sorry I haven't called sooner, but my schedule has been ridiculous with games and practices. I want to ask you to dinner, but I'm sure you've lost interest in me and have your eyes on some other lucky guy." His tone was apologetic and half-serious. I couldn't help but smile.

"Oh, I suppose I could find some time for dinner," I teased. I couldn't stop myself from flirting with him. He was far too charismatic for me to not be excited about him calling.

"Is Sunday okay?"

"Yeah, Sunday is great." I gave him directions to my apartment, and he said he would pick me up at seven. I went into Adrienne's room with a big smile on my face. "I have a date with a hockey player," I said, realizing that I had not been so excited about spending time with a guy in a long time.


"Go talk to him." It was more of a demand than a suggestion, but I slid away from my best friend and shook my head.

"I'm not ready."

Adrienne rolled her eyes. "You aren't asking him to marry you, Jessica."

I had been stealing glances at a blonde man, about my age, from across the club all night. I was embarrassed that my ever-perceptive friend had called me out on it.

"You're never going to get over Matt if you don't try. Either you go talk to that ridiculously attractive boy or I will." I stared at my drink and shrugged. Adrienne sighed loudly and threw her hands up in the air. She didn't pursue the boy as threatened—she just walked away.

I took a sip of my drink and glanced up at the blonde man again. This time, he was looking back. A sick feeling crept into my stomach and I averted my eyes. I had finally gotten out of a not so great five-year relationship with Matt after New Years, about three months ago, and I wasn't prepared to do it all over again. Although I knew Adrienne was right, I couldn't bring myself to approach men. I found it much easier to lose myself in a book, or work 50-plus hours a week. I had been working at the Carnegie Library in Oakland for almost four years; first as a clerk and now as a librarian. I knew that it was considered a "boring" job, but it was perfect for me. Ever since I was a child, I loved books. The smell, the feel…everything.

I knew that Adrienne was only trying to help, but I was getting sick of her pushing me to talk to guys. When I was ready, I would start playing the field. But the truth was I rather enjoyed my single life. I could do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, and I didn't have to justify anything I did to anyone. Sure, maybe I had become somewhat of an introvert since the breakup, but I wasn't lonely. I didn't feel the need for a man in my life.

Adrienne and I returned to the Shadyside apartment we shared after an uneventful night at the club. "What are you doing Monday night?" she asked as I was washing my face and getting ready for bed.

"I don't know. Why?"

"I have to cover Skates and Plates for the Trib. I have two tickets. It should be a good time. Want to join?"

"Why don't you take Ben?" I asked, referring to her on-again, off-again boyfriend of six months.

She rolled her eyes. "Don't go there. Come on, it will be fun. We can get all dressed up and go to the Penn. The Penguins are the waiters. If it's not a good time at least we'll have some eye candy."

I shrugged. "Alright."

"Great! Oh, and bring lots of cash. Maybe we can pool our money and get Sidney Crosby to take his shirt off."

I shook my head and closed my bedroom door behind me.