Before heading over to the rink, Mara decided to stop by Nora's apartment to shower and borrow a more suitable change of clothes. It would be much easier to field questions from her best friend than from her parents. Mara was relieved to find Nora at home, awake, and alone. The on-slot of questions came after Mara cleaned up and helped herself to come coffee. The two girls sat in Nora's tiny kitchen as they debriefed the last twelve hours.
"So, you obviously didn't make it home last night?" Nora half asked, half stated.
Mara smiled wryly over the top of her cup. She shook her head and then took a sip.
"And?" Nora encouraged, raising her eyebrows. "Spill it!"
Setting her cup carefully on the table, Mara looked over at her friend and sighed with a whimsical smile. "I'm falling for him, Nora."
"That good, eh?"
"It's not just because of last night," Mara replied with a laugh and then smirked. "But yeah, it was quite good." Nora chuckled and Mara continued, thinking very seriously about the next part. "It's definitely complicated though, isn't it?"
"How do you mean?"
"Haven't you thought about what happens if Baker gets cut?"
"Not really." Nora shrugged, sipping her coffee. "Why? You don't think Silky will get cut, do you?"
"That's just it, I don't know. He doesn't seem real confident about making the final roster. Even if they make the final team, what happens when it's all over?"
"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. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about post-Olympics too. I will to wait and find out."
"You're right – I'm being crazy." Mara gave her head a shake to clear away the intense thoughts.
"You said you were falling for him," Nora added brightly. "Don't think about it too much. Silky's a good player. He'll go to the games."
"They are all good players," Mara added just 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."
"Let's have a girls' night tonight," Nora suggested to which Mara shouted her approval.
Her sentence for arriving late was general maintenance around the building. The list that she had been given was extensive and random. In particular, a row of seats had come loose during a North Stars game the night before. Apparently the culprits were a rowdy bunch of college students that had to be escorted from the arena because they had been such a disturbance. Cutting through the hallway that led to the locker rooms, Mara carried a toolbox in one hand. A couple of the boys were out stretching before practice as she walked by. They heckled her a bit.
"If your bed hopping, you're welcome in mine any time," Verchota chirped with a toothy grin.
Mara tossed a look back over her shoulder, not quite hearing what he said. She threw a confused half-smile at him. One of them must have said something under their breath because they all laughed at the same time. Shaking her head, Mara completely dismissed the encounter since it had been Verchota.
She went to work, repairing all the odds and ends on the list. The row of seats was a quick fix because they simply needed the bolts on the floor tightened. Up on the catwalk, high above the ice, Mara worked on some lighting issues. Having finished swapping out some bulbs, she paused for a moment for watch the boys from the bird's eye view, unnoticed. Herb shouted at them about the last drill and then blew his whistle. The boys skated around the ice, but it still wasn't to Herb's liking because he yelled at Rizzo. In the next shift, Mara watched as two players collided rather heavily, which resulted in them shoving at one another as emotions ran high. The names of the two players rose up from below: Silky and Mac. Mara was surprised. Herb really must have been needling the two them to rile them to the point of shoving each other. She watched for a few more minutes and then resumed her duties.
As the morning skate came to a close and each item was neatly checked off the list, Mara decided to wait in the parking lot to see if Silky wanted to grab some lunch during their break. The back lot had a much different feel in the middle of the day and not teeming with vultures. Slowly, the boys trickled out of the arena. Most of them acknowledged her in some fashion as they passed. When he saw her waiting, Verchota came right over. Mara offered him a smile, hoping maybe he'd explain the weird comment from earlier.
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."
Mara's smile faltered as she absorbed his words. She stared at him blankly for a moment, trying to find a reason for such a statement. "Expected what exactly?"
"Ah, so you're both going to deny it? Classic. Have you been toying with Silky this whole time?"
Mara gaped at him, bewildered and irritated by his attitude. "I don't know what you're talking about, Philly. I'm not toying with anyone – least of all Dave."
"Oh no, I get it. You messed around with Silky to make Mac jealous. Well, this was a piss poor time to try that tactic. Like I said, I never would have expected this from you."
Mara had no idea how to respond to such accusations. His words were so hurtful. She would never use anyone like that. Where was this all coming from? Verchota had been straightened out regarding her relationship with Rob, so why was he harassing her about him? From what she could tell, it wasn't a joke.
"Well, Mara, your name finally made the list," Ralph announced as he walked up beside them, not sensing the tension. "I just didn't think it'd be with Mac."
"What!" Mara shouted, looking wildly between the two hockey players. She must have heard that wrong. "Did you just say Mac?"
It was chilly outside on that first day of November, but suddenly her entire body felt icy as everything unfolded in her mind. She could hardly string two words together as about a million emotions erupted inside her at once. Someone must have seen her leaving Rob's room. Her hands flew up and covered her face as she tried to process it all.
"Who put my name on that list?" she demanded as her hands slid away from her face.
"I don't know," Ralph said with a shrug. "Saw it when I went in for a shower."
"I did," Verchota admitted without a look of remorse. "Me and Janny saw you coming out of Mac's room this morning. We couldn't believe it."
Closing her eyes, Mara tried to calm the new thoughts and emotions that ran through her mind. She felt tears welling behind her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she fixed a steely gaze on Verchota. "I guess it was my mistake to think that we might be friends, Phil." She swallowed hard, keeping her emotions in check as she spoke. "It's one thing to put some one-night stand on your stupid list, but we've known each other for three years now. I think I deserved 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 said. Ralph shifted uncomfortably as Mara continued to shout loudly.
"And just so we're clear, I did not sleep with Rob McClanahan!"
"I've told them that!" Rob yelled suddenly. As he approached the trio, he did not look pleased.
"I'm going to go," Ralph said with a tiny salute as Mara turned her tirade on Rob.
"If you had just let me leave this morning, this wouldn't even be an issue. I don't even care that my name is on your stupid ass list, but it shouldn't be with anyone expect Silky. This is ridiculous. I understand how important this team is to all of you. I would not do anything to ruin it. You know that!"
Those 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 once more.
"I can't believe you think I'm that kind of girl," she growled, shoving Verchota in the shoulder as she pushed passed him. Throwing up her hands, Mara stalked toward the car. Her entire body was shaking with anger. The tears that she had managed to suppress ran down her cheeks.
She was so disappointed by Verchota's quick conclusion of what he had seen. She knew how it looked – leaving Rob's room so early in the morning – but when had she given them any reason to think she'd move between boys so easily? With her hands shaking, Mara fumbled her keys when she went to unlock the door. This momentary set back in her escape provided Silky the opportunity to catch up to her. Out of the corner of her eye, Mara watched him close in. She worked to calm herself down before the conversation.
"Do you want to explain why you were in Mac's room this morning?"
"We ran into each other in the hallway when I was leaving. I think he wanted to be helpful, but a fat lot of good it did." Wiping her nose on the back of her sleeve, Mara sniffed. "I wish they would have just seen me leave your room, because that is the truth."
"So, there is nothing going on between you and Mac?"
Mara frowned, unimpressed by the 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 the parties involved in this mess. Angry with Rob for creating the problem; pissed at Verchota for not acting like a friend and fueling the fire; and upset with Silky because he asked the one question that could hit a nerve. But most importantly, she was mad at herself for storming off the way she did, acting so childishly. There was no reason for them to think that she was harboring feelings for Rob McClanahan and simply passing the time with Silky until the situation changed. This infuriated her the most.
"Well, here's to all three of us being on that stupid ass list," Nora said lightly, raising her wine glass in a toast.
Mara tapped her glass against Nora's before taking a sip. "At least the two of you have been recorded accurately. They think I'm a whore."
"No one thinks you're a whore," Kelsey assured her while Nora agreed.
"If anyone deserves that particular title, it's me. I've been with Verchota and Baker," Nora admitted, mentally calculating 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 her drink. "Are you serious?"
Nora nodded. "It wasn't like it all happened in one night."
"Just over the last four years," Mara interjected. "And don't forget you wanted to add Jack to the list until Baker got in the way."
"Yeah, I still haven't figured out how that happened." Nora sighed, happily annoyed. "But enough about that – what are you going to do, Mara?"
"I don't know. I may just have to wait until the rest of the world realizes that I don't have feelings for Rob McClanahan."
"Do you think Rob has feelings for you?" Kelsey asked, choosing her words carefully. The two other girls stared at her for a moment.
"What? No, he can't possibly. He had four years to make a move, but didn't."
Nora nodded slowly, pondering the thought and then said, "True, but maybe the circumstances were never right? I mean, you did date that piece of garbage, Aaron, for a while."
Mara made a face. "I do not need to be reminded about that wasted time, thank you very much."
"I can't help but wonder what other reason Verchota would have to think that you and Rob hooked up," Kelsey added with a shrug.
"He doesn't need a reason to cause trouble," Nora replied, her lip curling into a scowl. Mara agreed and sighed exasperatedly.
"I just 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 truthful statement.
Nora had Kelsey fixed with a calculating stare before she spoke. "I'm not going to let, but I thought you'd be all, 'hockey players are scum.'"
Kelsey's eyes darted between her two friends. She took a big swig of her drink and grinned sheepishly. Nora jumped in before Kelsey had any chance to speak.
"You're back together with Bah, aren't you?"
A silent nod confirmed what was already suspected.
"Have we turned into vultures?" Mara blurted out. She was being completely serious. This 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'd like a refresher course in Vulture 101, I would suggest that we go to Sanford Hall, Sally's, or wherever else the team might be hanging out tonight."
"I like that idea," Kelsey said with a wry grin.
"No. We said this would be a girls' night," Mara replied, eyeballing her co-worker. "Besides, I want to hear more about this business of you and Bah being back together."
Kelsey sighed, knowing that she could not skirt around the subject. "We talked last night after my shift was over. It turns about he wasn't talking about me that night. I caught the wrong part of a conversation about an old flame in Duluth, who was apparently at the club too."
"You believe him?" Nora asked with an air of skepticism. Kelsey assured the pair of them that she felt he was sincere.
"I don't find it hard to believe, actually," Mara said. "He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him you'd left, but I didn't let myself see that in the moment. I was so caught up in how upset you were, Kel."
"Yeah, Bah mentioned you reamed him out that night. I think he might be a little afraid of you, Mara," Kelsey told her with a laugh.
"Well, he's not the only player I've yelled at," Mara said with a chuckle. "Someone has to help keep these boys in line. I'm doing my best."
"I think someone needs to keep us in line," Nora replied with a laugh.
Mara nodded. "I propose we take a small break. Tonight was a girls' night in. Let's have a girls' night out next weekend – just us."
"But the boys will be gone all week," Kelsey whined, pouting a little. "I was going to make plans with Bah on Friday night."
"There is always Saturday."