Having left the dorm, Mara decided to stop by Nora's apartment. She was relieved to find Nora at home, awake and alone. She figured it would be easier to shower and change there before heading over to the rink. She would much rather field questions from Nora than from her parents. Although she knew Nora would want to know everything. The on-slot of questions came after Mara had finished in the shower and was helping herself to some coffee. The two girls sat in Nora's tiny kitchen as they debriefed the previous night.
"So, I take it you didn't make it home last night?" Nora asked knowingly.
Mara smiled wryly over the top of her cup. She shook her head and then took a sip.
"And?" Nora encouraged, raising her brows. "Spill it!"
Setting her cup carefully on the table, Mara looked up at her friend and sighed contently with a whimsical smile. "I'm falling for him, Nora."
Nora smirked. "That good, eh?"
"Oh, it's not just because of last night," Mara replied with a laugh and then grinned. "But yeah, it was quite good."
Nora chuckled as Mara continued, her eyebrows meeting in middle of her forehead as she contemplated the top of her cup, "It just all feels so complicated sometimes."
"How do you mean?"
"Haven't you thought about what might happen if Baker got cut?"
"Not really." Nora shrugged, sipping on her coffee. "Why? You don't think Silky will get cut, do you?"
Mara replied with a small shrug. "I don't know. He talks about it occasionally, and doesn't seem real confident that he'll make the final roster. But even if he does make it to Olympics, what happens after it's over?"
"Don't you think you're getting a little ahead of yourself, Mara? A lot can happen in the next three months," Nora reminded her. "Just take it a day at a time – have a little fun. Although, I would be lying if I didn't say I've thought about post Olympics too."
Shaking her head a little, Mara smiled gratefully. "You're right – I'm being crazy."
"You did say you're falling for him," Nora added brightly. "I wouldn't think about it too much though. He's a good player. He'll go to the games."
"They are all good players," Mara added as she took notice of the time. Leaping from her seat, she cursed, "Damn, I'm going to be late. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, I'll be studying all afternoon. Maybe we can grab dinner and drinks later – girls' night?"
"Perfect! I'll come by later then," Mara said as she headed out the door.
Cutting through the hallway that held the locker rooms, Mara carried the toolbox from her grandfather's office. General maintenance was Mara's sentence for being late and her grandfather had an extensive list of things she could tend to while he busied himself with the ice resurfacing. In particular, a row of seats had come loose during a North Stars game the previous night. Apparently, the culprits, a rowdy group of college students, had been escorted out of the game because their antics were disturbing others who were trying to enjoy themselves. A couple of the boys were stretching in the hallway when she walked by and they heckled her at bit.
"If your bed hopping, you're welcome in mine any time," Verchota said with a wide grin as she passed by.
Mara looked back over her shoulder, not quite hearing what he had said, and threw a confused half-smile at him. Someone must have said something under their breath because they all chuckled at the same time, but none of them elaborated on the comment. Shaking her head, she completely dismissed the strange encounter; the comment had come from Verchota after all. She went to work, repairing all the odds and ends on the maintenance list.
Up on the catwalk above the rink, Mara was working on changing a couple light bulbs. Having finished, she paused for a moment to watch the boys below, unnoticed. Coach Brooks was explaining some new drill and then blew his whistle. The boys moved around the ice, but clearly not how Herb wanted because he was yelling at Rizzo. She only knew that because he called out his name. In the next shift, she saw two players collide rather heavily and a little bit of a tussle ensue as emotions were starting to run high. It surprised her when the players' names rose up from below: Silky and Mac. Herb must have really been needling the two of them to get them so riled up that they were shoving each other. Mara watched for a few more minutes and then resumed her duties.
With the morning skate coming to a close and each item on the list neatly checked off, Mara decided to wait outside until Silky came out. She bid farewell to her grandfather, who was readying the Zamboni for another pass over the ice, and headed out to the back parking lot. The lot had a much different feel in the middle of the day and not teeming with vultures. It almost felt like she shouldn't be there. Still, she knew that out of all the girls, she had every right to be where she was; being the rink manager's granddaughter had its perks.
The boys slowly trickled from the arena. Most acknowledged her in some fashion as they passed and she returned the greeting. Verchota approached when he saw her waiting. Mara smiled, hoping maybe now he'd explain the weird comment from earlier. What came next was not exactly what she expected.
Verchota clicked his tongue and shook his head. "Now, I would have expected this from Nora, but not from you. I thought you had a better head on your shoulders."
Her smile faltered and she stared at him blankly, absorbing his words. When she finally collected her thoughts, she stammered uncertainly, "Expected what exactly?"
"So you're both going to deny it? Classic. Have you've been toying with Silky this whole time?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Philly. I'm not toying with anyone," Mara replied, slightly irritated by this know-it-all attitude Verchota was exuding.
"Oh no, I get it. You messed around with Silky so that Mac would be jealous. Well, this was a piss poor time to try that tactic. Like I said, I never expected this from you."
Mara stared at him blankly, not sure how to respond because she had no clue where he was getting such an idea. Why would she use Silky to get at Rob? Verchota was well aware of her relationship with Rob, so why was he harassing her about him?
"Well, Mara, your name made the list," Ralph announced as he came up beside them, not sensing the tension. "Just didn't think it'd be with Mac."
"What!" Mara shouted disbelievingly, looking wildly between the two hockey players. "Mac?"
It was cold outside, but suddenly her entire body felt icy as the whole thing unfolded in her mind. She could hardly string two words together as about a million emotions coursed through her body. Someone must have seen her leave Rob's room. Her hands flew up and covered her face.
"Who put my name on the list?" she demanded, her hands sliding from her face. She cast a stony look on the two boys in front of her.
"I don't know," Ralph said with a shrug. "Saw it when I went in for a shower."
"I did," Verchota admitted. "Me and Christy saw you coming out of Mac's room this morning."
Looking skyward, Mara tried to collect the thousands of thoughts running through her mind at once. She could feel the tears beginning to well in the backs of her eyes. Taking a breath, she lowered her gaze onto Verchota, fighting back tears. "And here I thought we were friends, Phil. Apparently I was mistaken." She swallowed hard and glared at him. "It's one thing to put some meaningless girl's name on your stupid list, but we've known each other for three years. I think I deserve a little more respect from you of all people."
It was Verchota's turn to stare at her blankly, unable to find words to dispute what she was saying. Ralph shifted uncomfortably as Mara continued loudly, "And just so we're clear, I did not sleep with Rob McClanahan!"
"I keep telling them that," Rob offered as he approached the trio. He did not look pleased.
"I'm going to go," Ralph said with a tiny salute, taking the opportunity to leave as Mara turned her fury on Rob.
"If you had just let me leave when I wanted to, this wouldn't even be an issue. I said I didn't care if my name ended up on that list – but, the only person my name should be with is Silky. This is ridiculous. I know how important this is to all of you. I would not do anything to ruin it for any of you! You know that!"
The last three words were directed at Silky as he neared. He had caught the tail end of her rant at Rob. She rounded on Verchota again.
"I can't believe you think I'm that kind of girl," she growled, shoving Verchota in the shoulder as she moved passed him.
Throwing up her hands, she walked toward her car. As Mara stalked away, her entire body shook with anger, and the tears she had managed to suppress ran down her cheeks. She was so hurt by Verchota's quick conclusion of what he had witnessed. She knew how it probably looked – her leaving Rob's room in the early morning hours – but when had she given them any reason to think she'd bounce between boys so easily? With her hands shaking, she fumbled her keys as she tried to unlock the car. The momentary set back in her get-a-way provided Silky with the opportunity to catch up to her. From the corner of her eye, Mara watched him close in and tried to calm herself down enough to prepare for the conversation that would come next.
He looked at her red, tear-streaked face for a moment before speaking. "Do you want to explain why you were in Mac's room this morning?"
"I ran into him when I was leaving. I think he was trying to be helpful, but a lot of good that did." Wiping her nose on the back of her sleeve, Mara looked up at him and sniffed. "At this point, I wish they had seen me leave your room. At least it would be the truth."
"So, there is nothing going on between you and Mac?"
Mara frowned, hurt that he would ask her that question. "I'm pretty sure you can answer that one on your own."
Opening the car door, Mara threw herself in and drove away without another word. She was furious at all parties involved in this mess. Angry at Rob for helping to create the problem; pissed at Verchota for not having the decency to act like a friend and for helping to fuel the fire; and upset with Silky because he had to ask that one question that had been grating on her nerves for the last few months. But most importantly, she was mad at herself for leaving the way she did, acting childishly over all of this when only a few weeks ago she had questioned Silky's intentions without any real reason to do so. Still, Mara didn't think any of them had reason to believe she was harboring feelings for Rob McClanahan and simply passing time with Silky until she could make a move on Rob. This is what infuriated her the most because none of it made sense.
"Here's to all three of us being on that stupid ass list," Nora said lightly, raising her shot glass in a toast.
Mara tapped her glass against Nora's before throwing it back. "At least the two of you have been portrayed accurately. They think I'm a whore."
"You're not a whore," Kelsey reassured her as Nora nodded.
"If anyone deserves that title, it's me. I've slept with Verchota and Baker," Nora admitted, mentally tallying the number. Mara shot her a pointed look to which she added, "Fine…Janny and Strobel too."
Kelsey looked at Nora with wide eyes, choking a little on the sip she had just taken. "Are you serious?"
Nora nodded. "I mean, it wasn't like it all happened in one night."
"Just over the last four years," Mara interjected with a grin. "And you were looking to add OC to the list until Baker got in the way."
"Yeah, I still can't figure out how that happened." Nora sighed with a happy annoyance. "But enough about that; what are you going to do about Silky, Mara?"
Mara sipped on her beer and shrugged. "I don't know – wait until he and the rest of the world finally realize I don't have feelings for Rob McClanahan."
"Do you think maybe Rob has feelings for you?" Kelsey asked, choosing her words carefully. The other two girls stared at her for a moment before Mara replied,
"What? No. He can't possibly. He had four years to make a move and didn't."
Nora nodded slowly, pondering the thought and then suggested, "True, but maybe it was never a good time for him to make a move. I mean, you did date that piece of garbage Aaron for a while."
Mara pulled a face. "I do not need reminding of that wasted time, thank you very much."
"Look, I just wonder what other reason Verchota would have to think something happened between you and Rob." Kelsey shrugged.
"He doesn't need a reason to cause trouble," Nora replied, her lip curling into a scowl. Mara nodded in agreement and sighed exasperatedly.
"Life can't be simple, can it? I want a do-over. This is not my fault!"
"It's not Silky's fault either," Kelsey pointed out. Mara pursed her lips, not denying the truth, while Nora looked at Kelsey with a calculating stare before speaking.
"I'm not going to lie, but I thought you'd be all, 'hockey players are scum.'"
Kelsey's eyes darted guiltily between her two friends and took a big swig from her glass. She grinned sheepishly as Nora cut off any chance she had of speaking.
"You're back together with him, aren't you?"
A silent nod confirmed what they already suspected.
"Have we turned into vultures?" Mara blurted out. She was completely serious. It was something that had been on her mind for a while now. "I feel like we've turned into vultures."
"No, Mara, we have not turned into vultures." Nora narrowed her eyes. "If you would like to observe vultures in their natural habitats then we might as well head over to Sanford."
"I would," Kelsey said quickly with a sly grin.
It was clear that girls' night was over. Mara rolled her and eyes. "Fine – let's go over to Sanford. But let's make a stop at your apartment first."
"Yeah, okay. We should freshen up before we go over," Nora replied.
Mara shrugged. "Sure, but I have something else in mind."
A/N: Okay, trying to get back into this. I really want to finish it. :-)