Thursday, September 17, 2009

87: The End, Part II

Soundtrack Song - All the Memories, The Classic Crime

I looked at him looking back at me. Both of us staring at each other. He knew the thoughts running through my mind, and despite all the thoughts stuck in my brain at this very moment, the one thing that stuck out over all others is that song by the Clash: should I stay or should I go?

Honestly, I have no where to go. But I also know that there's no where else I'd rather be. I was still furious with him for dismissing my feelings so easily, for brushing them aside as if they were nothing, but I couldn't leave.

I shrugged and sat on the bed. Sidney was looking at me with a smile, which I ignored. "You know this doesn't mean that this discussion is over," I told him. Maybe we wouldn't be able to continue this now, but we were going to have to have this conversation soon.

"We've got a couple of days to think about it, figure something out," he replied. I pulled back the covers and slipped into bed as he finished stripping out of his suit, carelessly throwing his clothes onto the floor. Which I knew I'd be the one to pick up in the morning, because I'm obviously destined to pick up after the poor boy, and that only annoyed me more. It was one of those things that didn't bug me when I stayed over for a few nights but really irritated me since I had moved in permanently.

Once he stripped down to his red boxer briefs, I forcibly dragged my line of sight elsewhere. I'm mad, I told myself. And as fun as angry sex is, I don't want that right now. Still, his body never failed to take my breath away and make my mouth run dry. I could look at him all day, never tiring at the sight of him. There was a pooling sensation low in my abdomen, and I almost changed my mind. But I wanted to make him feel the way I did when he was gone: sad, lonely, unsatisfied. When Sid slid into bed, I rolled over and gave him a full view of my back instead of snuggling against him.

Sidney chuckled lowly, and I thought about yelling at him for laughing at me again. Before I could turn around and give him an earful, I felt his hand on my hip. He started playing with the waistband of my sweats, his fingers toying with the edge of the fabric and brushing lightly against my cool skin. Automatically, I inhaled sharply, but I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing what he was doing to me. I bit my lip, squeezed my eyes shut, and tensed beneath his touch.

Sid brought his body closer to mine, and although I couldn't feel his touch, I felt his heat at my back. Feeling him so near to me, but not touching me, was like a slow and painful death. His tongue darted out of his mouth and made contact with my ear as he said, "What's the saying? Don't go to bed mad?"

I tried to hold still, to not react, and to not give him the satisfaction of knowing how easily he could change my mind. As his fingers crept below the waistband of my pants and caressed the flesh right below my belly button, I couldn't stop myself from thinking lower. Lower.

He chuckled again with my earlobe between his teeth, and the sensation tingled throughout my entire body. "Lower?" he asked. Shit, I didn't mean to say that out loud!

"Oh, fuck it," I mumbled, quickly rolling over to face him, hooking a leg over his thick thighs, and grabbing his face to bring it to mine.

* * * * *

I didn't need to get up for another five minutes, but I didn't want to get up at all. Nothing compared to this, to this feeling of completeness as I reclined in bed with Sidney breathing heavily beside me, still adrift in dreamland.

If I moved, he'd wake up. If he woke up, I'd have to talk and continue our conversation from last night. That would just mar the pleasant feeling that was washing over me in waves as I smelled Sid, felt him envelope me in his arms, and knew within my core that right now, things were perfect, just as they should be.

But in a few days, when his games against the Islanders and the Caps were over, he'd be jetsetting off again, away from me, and I would be alone again and just as miserable as I was a mere twelve hours ago. Immediately I felt the tears return, the tears I had cried every day he was gone, wondering if I would ever stop weeping over him. Because I was not the kind of girl that wept over a boy, no matter how in love I claimed to be.

The more I tried to stop, the worse it got, and soon my body was wracked with sobs and was convulsing like I was seizing. And of course that disturbed Sid and woke him. In his usual fashion, he propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at me, concern evidently on his face. "Nelly, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. And that's just it. Right now I'm happy, so deliriously happy. And when you're gone, I'm so completely empty and morose and like a zombie. It's so hard to try and reconcile both of the ways you can make me feel. And I hate myself for that."

He looked at me, cradling my face in his big hands. "Don't say that, Nelly. Don't ever say that."

"I just don't know who I've become anymore."

"You're still you. Maybe your setting has changed, the people around you, and what you're doing. But you're still the girl I met and fell in love with. Why are you so focused on thinking that you've changed into someone else?"

"Because I don't feel the same."

"You can't expect to fall in love and think that everything will stay the same. Of course it's gonna be different. You're still the same person, just now you're in love with me. I'm sorry that you're sad when I leave, but I don't think I could stand to know you're fine and perfectly okay when I'm not here. I like that you miss me, but I wish you weren't as miserable as you say you are."

I half-groaned and half-sighed. "Me, too. I just.... I just wish I knew what it took to stop this merry-go-round."

"It doesn't stop," he grunted. "It's been my life for a long time now, and it doesn't stop. Sometimes it's slow enough that you think you can finally step off and sometimes it's so fast that you're constantly nauseous and you're gripping anything around you to hold on for dear life. But that's the way things are for me."

"That's a really good metaphor," I told him, smiling through my tears at his big, brown eyes. "When did you get so smart?"

He grinned. "I've always been this smart; you've just never noticed. You love me for my body, not my mind," he added, pressing his lips against my clavicle before getting serious again. "I'm sorry that you're riding the merry-go-round with me now, but it makes the ride a little more bearable for me."

I laughed at him and placed my hand on his shoulder. "Transferring some of your misery onto me. Nice. I appreciate it," I teased. Suddenly, I realized that even though he was driving me crazy, that was better than before we met, when I wasn't feeling anything. Being on the merry-go-round with Sid was better than being on solid ground without him. At least I knew that he would always come back to me and put an end to my sadness by bringing me incredible joy. I wanted to forget all about the past week and just concentrate on what would be in store for me this week, for the few days he'd be around.

We made out for a while until the alarm rang out, signaling the start to my day. Sid stayed in bed as I went about my business, showering and getting ready for work. At least today would be a busy one, with the guys back in town after the road trip. I actually had meetings and appointments with some of the guys, and I was excited to finally start what Mario had hired me to do.

I tried to tell myself that things were going to get easier. It would take some time, of course. I thought that time would be the ultimate cure. After all, the house still felt like Sid's, and not mine. While he was gone, I was surrounded by so many of his things, so much of him, but essentially without him. It was his house, filled with his things, things he bought with his money. But eventually, they wouldn't be his things anymore. And they won't be mine, either. They'd be ours. Once the house began to feel like my home, it would get easier to spend so much time there even if he wasn't around. I just couldn't give up on it yet.

Climbing into Cherry, I started her and listened to her purr as she warmed up before I drove to the Mellon. I had a meeting with Evgeni, since he'd be getting a lot of attention during the home game against the Capitals. After all, he was going to be playing against Ovechkin, the guy he'd be playing with during the Olympics. I shuddered to think of Malkin playing center to Ovechkin's wing, and what that would mean to the U.S. and Canadian teams playing against them.

Then I realized that I didn't know who I should root for. The United States, my home country's team, or the guys in red, my boyfriend's team. Because it wasn't just the team my boyfriend supported—it was the team he was going to play on. It wouldn't be a big deal if the two teams never had to meet, but what would I do when they did?

When I got to my office, I tried to shake the Olympics out of my head, especially since that wasn't the only thing we were to going to end up fighting about. Sidney had asked a long time ago when my birthday was, and I told him February. I didn't tell him it was the twenty-second, which was smack-dab in the middle of the tournament. He would want me to be there with him so we could celebrate together, because he knew how important birthdays were to me.

And when I walked to my desk, I saw the schedule for the guys who hadn't been invited to participate in their countries' games. Some of them were taking vacations for a couple days, but those were staggered so I could still work with them. Després, who had been playing in the AHL Baby Pens, would be coming to Pittsburgh for a few days so I could work with him. As a first round draft pick, he was going to need a lot of help for when he was called up for games in the Igloo.

Depending on how I penciled in my own hours—which Mario let me do—maybe I could work my forty hours in three days so I could take a long weekend and travel up north to visit Sid for the games and my birthday, too. It would be hard on me, with the travel and the long days at work, but it could be worth it if it put a smile on Sidney's face.

How was I going to break the news to him? I could maybe manage a few days to go see him, but I wouldn't be able to spend the whole two weeks with him in Vancouver. He'd be so disappointed. I'm not even sure if I could get Mario to approve the schedule I was trying to create. Sure, he'd understand my situation, but his appreciation for my predicament might not be enough to fix it. After all, the NHL games might stop for a couple of weeks while the Olympics were taking place, but the league wouldn't stop. I was a part of the Penguins organization now, and I had to do my part to make sure it worked like a well-oiled machine.

I looked at my own schedule and tried to figure out if it was even possible. Plotting a way to get time in February to fly to Canada consumed my entire morning, and I knew my afternoon appointments would suffer for it. Frustrated, I threw my pencil down on my desk and leaned back in my chair, massaging my temples and closing my eyes. I had to figure something out, I just had to.

"Am I interrupting something?"

Slowly, I opened my eyes and sat up straight to look at Sid. I checked the clock, and I saw that practice would begin soon. "I'm just... thinking," I told him vaguely.

"Listen, I didn't get a chance to tell you this morning, but I wanted you to know that I do hear you when you're feeling stressed. I'm still not sure what we can do to get things to work out, but we'll find a way. We have always found a solution before, and we will this time, too. So just, don't worry about it too much, okay? I know that's easier said than done, but at least try."

I smiled at him, my headache suddenly gone. The way he was looking at me was the best painkiller, the best medicine for me. He was right; we always found a way before. We could now. I knew at that moment that we were going to get through this, and come out of it stronger and closer. I didn't know how, but I just knew deep in my bones that we would.

I nodded silently at him, and he continued, "Good. Because I promise you, I'll listen to you and respect what you have to say. As long as you promise that you'll stay with me while we sort everything out."

And that's what it boiled down to. Sid was the kind of guy who always got his way, eventually, and he did a lot of things without thinking about what I wanted or taking into consideration my feelings about it. The credit card. Lynne. The car. And my response was to storm away, every time. Last night broke that pattern, but that didn't mean that the next time we were faced with a dilemma, we would react any differently. Those were the things we needed to work on if we wanted this to last. And I wanted this to last so badly.

"I promise," I swore to him.

So, maybe I don't know if we'll get that happily ever after. Things aren't always going to be happy between us, but as long as there is an "us," that's going to be enough for me. Relationships aren't meant to be easy, and being with Sidney would never be easy, no matter what. Because of who he was, both as a person and as a hockey player and face of the league, and also because of who I was, a stubborn girl, too independent for my own good.

No matter what we figured out, both for now and for February, we would make it work for us. We'd make the most out of whatever time we got to spend together, and we'd deal with being apart when the time came. This was an ongoing process, and we were on a learning curve. I had to take it one day at a time, with full knowledge that some days would be incredibly fantastic and others would be horribly devastating.

In the scheme of things, being with Sidney would mean fighting and crying and yelling and going crazy—but it also meant living and feeling and smiling and being in love. No, it would never be easy, but Sid was worth it. He was worth so much to me, and it was worth the hard work. So of course, nothing would ever come easy for Sidney and me. But in the words of someone so much wiser than me, nothing worth winning ever is.

Author's Note: Closure

I debated on whether or not to say what I'm about to say. I feel like letting the ending speak for itself, but I feel bad to those of you reluctant to see the story end.

So, you can read it or not read it:

This story for me always had a distinct beginning, middle, and end. This has always been the outcome in my head, from day one. I'm not saying this is some masterpiece with incredible literary value, but it has themes and motifs which must to come to fruition. To continue it is to ruin it.

Maybe you only like this story just because it's about Sidney. That's cool. But there are plenty of really good Sid stories out there. Or maybe you like it because I post frequently. Or maybe you truly enjoy the story, and if that's the case, then you know that it had to end here even if you feel disappointed and gypped, because yes, it must end.

So, whatever your reason may have been for sticking with me through this, thank you for loving these characters and this story as much as I do. Thank you to my very first followers, and thank you to those who came on toward the end. Hell, thanks to anyone who stumbles upon this blip on the web many days from now and reads the entire thing. I feel like I've established a personal relationship with each of you, our conversations involving my story and your comments. You mean the world to me. Especially my Blogger Girls--you are all incredible.

I've lived with these characters day-in and day-out for months now. I'm going to miss them terribly, but I need to say goodbye to them. I can see their future, and maybe someday, one day, I'll share that with you, too. But for now, it's time to move on.

While NWW is ending, I'm not dying and nor am I giving up writing. Check out the stories in the sidebar; maybe you'll like them, too, even though they're not about Noelle and Sidney. Paper Perfect is slowly but surely spreading its wings and taking flight. It's quite different from NWW and still in its infant stages, but I hope it'll be just as good and something else to be proud of.

If you still want something to read after tonight, check out the blogs I follow. There are some pretty good stories there.

So, don't hate me. I've heard your riotous outcry to carry on the story, but I can't. I still appreciate your devotion. And as cruel and heartless as it may sound, I like that you're upset it's over. It means you're invested in this. I am, too. And they say if you love something, you set it free. So please enjoy it for it's worth. Besides, I'm happy it's ending on eighty-seven. I can't think of a more perfect way to say goodbye.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

86: The End, Part I

Soundtrack Song - Kill, Jimmy Eat World

I wish I could say that Sidney and I got our happily ever after, but I can't tell you that. Not because we didn't get our happily ever after, but because I just don't know.

Sure, things were going great. They always did, even when we hit the bumps and dips along the way. As long as we stuck together, talked to each other, and kept our heads on straight, we could make it through anything. We'd already made it through so much. Giving up now would have been a total waste.

After I moved in, we didn't have the chance to really fall into a routine. For the first week of my new job, Sidney was back for two home games before he left for a long road trip, including some western Canadian cities. This time, he was gone for over a week. I knew it came with his job, and it came with the territory of being his girlfriend, but I felt a little abandoned. Lonely.

If I were still at my home, I'd have my parents to keep me company, if I were that desperate. My friends were a phone call away from meeting me at the bar for drinks or the Coffee Bean Café for a caramel macchiato. However, the spring semester was beginning for them, and any time we could have spent getting together quickly would have been wasted in traffic.

I tried calling Véro, Kelsey, and Heather, but they, too, were busy with their own lives to do more than talk on the phone for a few minutes. Mostly, I became angry with myself. What the hell was I thinking? Worse, what was I expecting? It seemed like I had dropped everything on a whim and started relying on Sidney for everything. I had changed so much of myself for his sake, to be nearer to him, to be with him, and I didn't earn any of it. The new job, the new car, the new home, even him.

Now that I was his, just another possession of his forced to wait for him until he returns, I thought about how I went from sharing my life with him to sharing his life. Like I was proscribed to sit and wait for him obediently, wagging my tail like an expectant pup waiting for its master. Hearing the car pull up in the driveway and the keys jingle in the lock, knowing that when he got home, I'd get a treat and pat on the head for being good while he was away.

And even if those weren't his intentions, it didn't counteract the way I felt. He said he liked knowing I was in his home, our home, knowing that I'd be there when he got back to the city from a road trip. That was easy for him, because he was the one who was away and distracted by travel and games. It was torture waiting for him, knowing he wouldn't return for days yet surrounded by the constant memory of him.

I tried to talk to Véro about it, thinking that she would understand. Instead, she made me feel like I was the crazy one. "Do you love him?"

"Of course, V. You know that."

"Then you have to let that be enough. Because even though he may be gone five days out of the week, you know he's coming home, coming back home to you. And those two days that he's here make up for the time he's got to spend away."

"The time we spend together is great. It's everything we need it to be and more to make up for the stretches of time he's gone. But I'm still miserable when he's not here. Maybe the time he's here makes up for his absence, but that's not a consolation when he's gone."

"I don't know what to tell you, Noelle. I could say he's worth it, but you already know that."

"I'm miserable, no matter what I tell myself to try and make this better," I whispered, mostly to myself rather than her. We hung up, and I wasn't any closer to an answer or a solution. Instead, I was still avoiding the ultimate question roaming around my head: is this what I want? Sure, I loved Sid and I wanted to be with him, but this wasn't what I had imagined for myself. The waiting, the time apart, the loneliness. Even if I tried to tell him about how I was feeling, he'd just tell me that this wouldn't last forever. He wouldn't be a hockey player forever. But I knew that he was going to play for as long as his body would let him, and even after that he wasn't going to completely retire from hockey. He'd be a coach or something. Maybe this wouldn't last forever, but it would last for a long, long time.

I knew I needed to talk to Sid about this. The phone calls just weren't cutting it, so I waited for when he'd return.

I stayed up, dismissing the fact that I had to work in the morning and had sessions with Geno for English lessons and with Brooks for media prep, waiting for Sidney to come home. Something had to give; I don't know what or how, but this could not continue. I planted my ass on the couch, tired, but well aware that I could wait the few hours to confront him with this as soon as he walked through the door.

A feeling of warmth pulled me out of my deep sleep, and I realized I was in Sidney's arms. He was carrying me away from the couch in the living room and up to our bed. I squirmed, and I felt his lips brush my cheek as he whispered, "It's okay. Go back to sleep."

The idea of slipping back into sweet unconsciousness—and avoiding the inevitable fight for just a few more hours—was comforting. But since when did I ever take the easy way out of anything? No more putting it off. "Sid...."

Although it was dark, I knew he was rolling his eyes. "You're using your serious voice."

"I don't think this is working, Sidney."

He dropped me on the bed gently, trying to look like he was playing around instead of being serious. "What isn't?" I let out a sigh, opening my mouth to explain, but he cut me off before I could say a thing. "Don't say this. Don't you dare say us. I just got back, and I really want to enjoy your company right now. I could tell something was wrong on the phone, but I just figured you missed me."

I reached out and undid his tie, doing so in a caring manner rather than trying to get him out of his clothes. If I let this slide now, I'd be loathe to bring it up again. I'd forget about the misery I'd been in for the past so-many days while he was away and I was feeling useless without him. "I do miss you. Terribly. This arrangement isn't working. I moved in to be closer to you, and instead I feel ten times worse when you're gone. It's not fair. I've given up a lot to be here with you."

Sidney snorted. I wasn't expecting that reaction from him. "What? What have you given up? Living with your parents? The job you hate? The car that was about to break down on you? Don't you think that what you have here with me more than compensates for whatever second thoughts you're having?"

"Okay, first of all, don't be an ass. You said the Jeep was a gift, so don't you dare hold that over my head like this. You can't buy something for me and then make me feel guilty for taking it, especially when I didn't ask for it or want it in the first place."

"Fair enough."

"Second, I'm not having second thoughts. I love you. You know that. But being here without you sucks."

"But you know damn well that things between us are good right now. No more fighting. Remember Christmas, and how much fun that was? Why are you looking for trouble?"

"I'm not looking for trouble. But I gave up myself to be with you. I gave up who I was. And now I don't know who I am, because all I feel like right now is Sidney Crosby's girlfriend, and not at all like Noelle Lambert."

"You're still who you are. You're still the girl I met over the summer. We've spent a lot of time apart before. So what suddenly caused this? You're springing this on me, and I didn't even know you remotely felt this way."

"It's the fact that I'm in your house, and you're not! It's not like I want to feel this way. I want things to be good between us. When I got back from work this past week, coming back here to an empty house was so lonely. I miss you when you're not here," I admitted against my better judgment.

"You think I don't miss you when I'm gone? It sucks, Nelly. But I don't know what you want me to do. It's my life."

"I know," I sighed. "I know that there's no magic cure. It's not like I want you to give up playing hockey or anything like that. I just... want to stop missing you so much."

He laughed. "Are you trying to be obstinate?" His hands wrapped around my waist, pulling me to him while his hot mouth attacked my neck.

I pushed against him, and it took several shoves to prove to him that I was serious. "Don't laugh at me. This isn't funny."

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, exasperated.

"I don't know. But can you just at least listen to me? I know you think I'm crazy, but I want you to validate my feelings and not make me feel like I'm going crazy and making shit up!" I crossed my arms and stared at him. This wasn't easy, and he was just making this harder on me. Sid needed to be serious now, because I needed him to be serious now.

Sidney shrugged and cocked his head to the side. I knew he did that because he was afraid of saying the wrong thing and pushing me farther over the edge, but his silence was worse than his misspeaking. So I groaned and pushed him away, heading for the doorway because I felt disgusted with him.

As I reached the threshold, I realized something: I didn't have anywhere to go. Every time I got pissed or frustrated at Sid, I left him to go clear my head. But now I was literally surrounded by him, enveloped by him. I lived in his home, I drove his car. I couldn't escape him. If I truly wanted to leave and get away from him for a while, I'd have to abandon all of him—and that meant leaving him, completely. After all, it's not like I could just hide away in one of the spare bedrooms. Or worse, lock myself in the bathroom. Again.

I hesitated, and I turned and looked back at him. He was returning my stare with raised eyebrows, reading my mind. There was a choice at my feet, a fork in the road. I could either stay and figure this out, or I could leave, really leave, knowing there would be no turning back again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

85: Big Day

Be calm. This isn't high school. Everyone will love you.

I took a couple deep breaths as I pulled up to the arena, which housed my new office. Today was my first day as Director of Player Communications and Media Relations, and I was so nervous. More nervous than I got on the first days of a new semester or when I gave some cute guy my phone number and waited to see if he'd call. I knew a lot of the people I'd be around, but still. First days are always nerve-wracking.

Despite the anxiety that this was creating havoc in my stomach, I was so thankful to start this job. Not just because of the general awesomeness of the position, but because if I had to spend any more time in Sidney's house without him, I'd positively burst. It only took me two days to unpack all of my things and distribute my stuff with Sid's throughout the various rooms, but our things didn't seem to be meshing. Like it was a forced amalgamation of our possessions that really didn't belong together. There was his stuff, and there was my stuff; nothing was ours. Not to mention that everywhere I looked, despite my things being there too, I only saw his stuff. His stuff that reminded me that he wasn't around and I was alone in this big building with no one to keep me company and nothing better to do than be lonely and miserable while I missed him.

So needless to say, getting back to work was going to be a great distraction for me. After reassuring myself that yes, everyone would love me and today would be great, I walked down the hallway, following the directions Mario gave me. The click-clack of my heels echoed off the walls, making it sound like a herd of stiletto-clad models were following me. An older woman poked her head out of a doorway. "Noelle? We've been expecting you."

I followed her as she darted around a few desks and led me into a small, windowless room with a desk, a lamp, and two chairs. "This will be your office." She handed me a large, interoffice mail envelope. "This is the new hire paperwork. You can hand it to me when you're finished. Mario also left you a note in there. If you have any questions, just let me know." She smiled and left me alone, and that's when I realized I didn't catch her name. Really, I don't think she told me her name. Oh well.

Plopping into my chair behind my desk, I looked around the room. Definitely needed some personal touches, like pictures and trinkets and junk like that. I never did it at my legal assistant position because I knew it was temporary. But this? I could fall easily into this position until it was time for me to retire. Or die.

I pulled out all the paperwork that I needed to fill out. So many forms. Direct deposit, new hire, insurance application, time sheets.... It was going to take most of my morning just for this. I pulled out a pen and got to it, writing out my social security number so many times that I worried I was transposing the numbers. I hated this type of hoop-jumping, but it's not like I had anything better to do anyway, because the boys would be returning from their road trip today. Mario gave me the day to get get acclimated before meeting with him after lunch.

It took me two hours to fill out everything they had given me, including a request to do a background check with the police. After that, I waited until I could take my half hour, paid lunch break. With nothing on my mind, I fantasized about how I would decorate my little nook. Definitely a couple of pictures. Maybe I could actually get some use out of that expensive piece of paper and hang my diploma on the wall!

As I was lost in thought, I heard a knock my door. I looked over, reluctant to be pulled out of my thoughts, to see Sidney with his arms full.

"Sid! I didn't expect you guys to be back so soon!" I started to get out of my seat to help with the bags in his hands, but he stopped me.

"I wanted to take in the sight of you in your own office. Pretty impressive, Ms Lambert," he teased, referencing the nameplate on my office door. "We landed a little bit ago, and I thought I'd bring you lunch on your first day."

"That's really sweet of you," I told him as my cheeks flushed. "What did you bring?"

"I stopped for Chinese. Sweet and sour chicken okay?"

"Sounds good." My mouth was already salivating. "What else do you have there?" I asked, noticing a blue package tucked between his arm and his side.

"Oh," he said with a slight blush. "I brought you a little 'office-warming' present."

"You didn't—"

"I know, I know, I didn't have to do it. But you may change your mind once you open it."

I bit my lip as I accepted the poorly wrapped package. I loved Sid dearly, but he couldn't wrap if his life depended on it. Fighting through the tape, I finally ripped away a corner of the paper to reveal the box underneath. "Oh, this is awesome. A digital picture frame. It's perfect!"

"Open it," he told me. "I already loaded the pictures on for you."

A grin broke out across my face. Ever the thoughtful one. I pulled out the frame and turned it on, watching five different images fade across the LCD. First, the screen displayed the picture of us in the sand at the volleyball court, when I nudged him and he fell to the ground taking me down with him. Second was another picture of us that had ended up on the internet, of us kissing and dirty dancing at Diesel, the night of the season opener, when we forgot who we were and that we weren't alone on the floor. The night I agreed to officially be his girlfriend. That night was incredible.

The third image to appear on the screen was a picture of us taken by his mother at Christmas. He was wearing his Reebok tie, and I was in my new blue cashmere sweater that his parents had given me. Our bodies were facing each other but our heads were turned to the camera, smiling and posing, and my left hand was stretched across to his chest, the bracelet he had given me in full sight, glinting in the light of the flash. That faded away to a simple close-up of Sidney's beautiful face. His pink, full lips were drawn into his classic half smile, his golden-flecked eyes were clear and peering into my soul, and some of his soft, brown curls fell over his forehead. He was so gorgeous; I could have spent the rest of my day taking in the sight of that picture, but it, too, gave way to one last image.

The last picture he had uploaded was the one that started it all: he and I at Diesel, the night of our serendipitous meeting. He had promised me a picture when we had first met, and this was Sidney fulfilling his promise to me. We were in that standard couple pose, foretelling our own future with our posture. When I showed him the picture after I had taken it at the club, he asked for a copy, and that started our correspondence. Sure, we had met in that restaurant by my house, but it wasn't until he spotted me at the club and invited me up to the V.I.P. lounge and we really talked that our relationship started.

In the time it took for the digital frame to rotate through all five images, I had gone through the course of our relationship. Water spilled over from my eyes and onto my cheeks.

"Those are happy tears, aren't they?" Sid whispered.

I looked him and smiled sweetly. "More than happy. Have I ever told you how perfect you are?"

He shrugged and grinned back at me. "Not today."

"I mean it. This is great, Sidney, I truly appreciate it," I told him as I stood the picture frame next to my computer screen, so I could easy look at the pictures when I wanted to.

We dug into our lunches, eating at my desk. This was great. I loved the simplicity of the moment, of talking and sharing our day. I told him all about my morning, which was brief and uninvolved, and he told me some tales of what happened on the road while he had been away. Things were good.

After we had eaten, I threw away our empty containers, and then Sidney grabbed my hand. "So, this is a nice little office. Is it soundproof? Do you have privacy back here?"

I shrugged at him. "I don't know, I've only been here for a few hours. And I've had the door open, but no one's been back here to bother me." Then I gave him a look. "Why?"

"You have some time left on your lunch break, don't you? I figured we could close the door, and you know...." He waggled his eyebrows.

"You're such a horn-dog," I whispered with a chuckle.

"Oh, come on. Don't tell me you've never thought about it," he said, pulling my arm until I was right next to him, our bodies almost touching, and breathing into my ear. "Swiping everything off the top of your desk. I can just hike up your skirt. I bet you aren't wearing any underwear, are you? I don't see any panty lines."

I felt his hand reach around and grab my ass, pulling me against his crotch. Oh lord, I was going to get fired on my first day for having sex in my office. "Sid..." I whimpered, trying to protest but also acquiescing. I had turned his name into both a yes and a no.

Luckily, I heard the footsteps before that person made it to my door. I pushed Sid away from me and tried to compose and settle myself for my visitor. Sidney turned with a slight scowl on his face, and we both saw Mario as he appeared in the threshold of my office.

"Hello, Noelle. Hey, Sid, this is a surprise. But I guess I should have expected to find you here," he added with a chuckle. We both greeted him, and he continued, "Are you ready to get together to discuss our plans?"

"Sure..." I hesitated at what to call him. When we were first introduced, he told me to call him Mario. But now that I was working for him, should I address him as Mr. Lemieux?

"Meet me up in my office in about five minutes, and we'll get everything sorted out."

"Of course. I'll see you in a few," I told him, and I let out the deep breath I had been holding as he turned and left. I shot a playful glance in Sid's direction. "Way to go, hot shot. You want my boss to catch me in a compromising position on my first day?"

"You think that was compromising?" He quipped back with a smirk. "Compromising would be bending you over that desk—"

"Oh, and Sid?" Mario interjected, poking his head back into my office. I was sure I turned as red as a Team Canada jersey. "Nathalie said you owe her a night of babysitting? I don't know what that means, but she told me to tell you."

Sidney and I burst into laughter once Mario was gone again. It was a sign: we'd never be able to have sex in my office. Which is probably for the best; I'd never be able to get any work done if I thought about Sidney's hot body every time I set foot into this room.

"So, what was that about?" I asked him as I gathered a notebook and a pen, so I could conference with Mario about which players I'd be focusing on and what I had in store for them.

"Oh, nothing. It was a bet we made a couple months ago. I lost, so I owe her a night of watching the kids. They don't even really need to be babysat at this point, Nathalie just feels better having an adult there."

"So, what were the terms of your bet?"

"Nothing," he said, looking away. "I should get going—"

"Hey, wait, aren't you gonna tell me?"



"Because it involved you." When he said that, I kept my eyes focused on him, willing him to just tell me. "Okay. Nathalie bet me that you were going to move in with me before the end of the year, and I said no way it would happen in oh-nine."

I crinkled up my nose. "She really said that?"

"Yeah. Funny, huh? Anyway, I guess I should let you get to your big meeting," he said, teasing me slightly but also feeling proud of me, too. It's like the way I feel about him after he makes a big goal or does something else that's amazing on the nice. "So, I'll see you when you get home?"

"Yup," I told him. I really liked the sound of that. Coming home to Sidney.

Monday, September 14, 2009

84: Jedi Mind Trick

"Come on," Sidney said, jingling the keys again. "I know you like it. I can see it in your eyes." He was right. I did in fact like it. I liked it very, very much. But that doesn't mean I should be happy about it, or even accept it. He continued, "Don't let your pride get in the way."

Ah, hubris. The tragic flaw of so many of the characters I'd read about. Macbeth, Victor Frankenstein, Oedipus, Faustus.... Would I fall victim to the same fault? No! Because this wasn't about my pride. I wasn't acting superior or better than him. I wasn't being conceited. But I did want to hang on to my dignity, and it wasn't dignified to let him do this.

Buying this vehicle was more than providing for me. Providing for me would merely entail making sure I was fed, sheltered, cared for. This was extreme and over-the-top. It was too much. However, it was a nice gesture. After all, Sidney was a guy, and the guys I knew didn't know how to show their emotions unless it was a big and flashy display of affection. And I couldn't think of anything that was bigger or flashier than a new car.

I wanted it. Hell yeah, I wanted it! Cherry was beautiful, a deep royal blue and shiny. Silver rims. A Penguins decal on the back left bumper. I could do without the vanity plate, but beggars can't be choosers. For fuck's sake, I named her already! Everyone knows once you name a pet, you have to keep it—the same logic applies to cars. If you didn't know that, I'm telling you now.

Sid stood there and watched my internal debate. I'm sure he could watch the emotions as they passed on my face and see as I leaned back and forth between screaming yes and yelling no.

"I can't believe you did this," I whispered, still unsure. What would my friends say if they found out? Would they say I caved if I accepted, that I changed from the strong, independent person I once was to except a hand out? But it wasn't a hand out, it was a gift. I didn't ask for it; he bought it because he wanted to. Worse, would I be labeled a gold digger? Would they say I was just taking advantage of him?

"I know you said that if I thought you'd be mad that I shouldn't get it. I knew you'd be mad or upset. But I also knew you'd accept it, be grateful, and then you'd make it up to me."

My eyes focused on him rather than on the vehicular dilemma before me. "Really? And how did you come up with that?"

"I figured if I said it, you'd have to go along with it. Like... a suggestion." I giggled at his logic. He bit his lip to stop himself from laughing while he tried to be serious. "Is it working? It should be working. It is working."

"I don't know," I said honestly through my laughter. "I do like it. That's for sure. But I still don't know if I can accept it."

"All it takes is one word," he whispered, stepping beside me. "Yes." Of course he made it sound so easy. "Besides, I know your mother taught you manners. It's impolite to refuse a gift."

I smiled at him but didn't relent. "This is more than a gift." I ran my fingers along the lines of the door, and I itched to grip the wheel, push the pedal to the metal, and see what she could do. "It's a big deal. It's not a trinket or a pretty bracelet."

"I could've spent a lot more if I really wanted to," he told me. "I could've bought an Escalade. Twenty-two inch rims. Stereo system. You know, Pimp My Ride style. Why don't you get behind the wheel? See how it feels before you make up your mind?"

Once again he held out his hand with the keys. I knew that as soon as I sat in the driver's seat, this would be over. No way could I say no to him after that. "Sid...."

Before I could shake my head at him, he pressed the unlock button on the keyless entry remote and the lights on the vehicle flashed. I grinned at the novelty and immediately felt guilty. My Neon was so old and didn't do anything nearly as cool as this. Next thing I knew, the keys were in my hand and Sidney was opening the door for me.

"Go ahead," he said. "Make me happy."

It would make him happy if I told him yes. And I knew it would make me happy, too. I smiled and slid into the seat, and suddenly Sidney was talking at a million words a minute. "I programmed the radio stations for you already, and they have the same settings as your old car. But you can plug your iPod into it, too, instead of having CDs. And all the speakers work, so you won't have to crank up the volume to hear the music, either. I know it's winter, but the air conditioning works...."

He explained how everything worked and what was so special about it, but what I appreciated most of all were the small things. The vanilla freshener in the vents, just like what I had in my old Dodge. But most of all, I saw the ornament clipped to my visor. It was in the shape of an angel holding a banner which read, "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." I stopped listening to him and touched that innocent piece of metal that meant so much to me.

Sidney stopped talking. "I thought you might like that. I saw it and I thought that it was just... perfect."

I looked at him and smiled. "You're perfect," I said to him.

"So, was I right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I told you that you'd accept it, be grateful, and then you'd make it up to me. So, I'm pretty sure you just accepted, and you're doing your best at being grateful—which could still use some practice at that, because you're not great at it."

"That's not funny," I said, even though I was laughing. "You know this isn't easy for me. I told you, I can't just take things from you. It's like it undermines my hard work to provide for myself."

"I know. You should be proud of yourself for how far you've come. You've worked hard, and you're still working hard. You deserve a little reward. You deserve something great. I can't help it if I just want to care of you. I want you to let me take care of you."

"I already have something great. I've got you," I told him. I leaned over to kiss him. "It's just hard for me to have someone take care of me. Do things for me. Because it's been so long that I've had to do things for myself, because I've only had me to rely on."

"Well, now you're not the only one watching out for yourself. Call it the male instinct to want to be the protector or whatever, but I want to make sure you have everything you could ever want, everything you need."

I smiled up at him, appreciating his sentiment but still not letting the depth of his promises sink in. Part of me still thought that even though he meant it now, eventually he may change his mind. I did my best to suppress those fears and changed the subject. "So, what did you have in mind?"


"Making it up to you?" I winked at him.

"Oh, I've got some ideas in mind," he whispered, pulling me out of the car and leading me into the house.

Later that evening, I drove Sid to the rink in Cherry. It was a definite detour from his routine, but he told me that the smile on my face was worth it, as I navigated through the Pittsburgh streets in my Jeep, figuring out the intricacies of driving a new vehicle. I felt invincible.

And Cherry came in handy the next day, too, when Sid, Max, and Jordan came over and helped me move. I didn't have any of the big stuff to bring over, like couches or refrigerators, and even my bed would be staying behind. I certainly wouldn't be needing my own at Sidney's. I did have lots of boxes of books, lots of clothes, shoes, and all my personal effects. My parents wouldn't have minded storing some of this stuff in the basement or the attic for me during this transition, but I knew that this was it. We weren't engaged or thinking about getting married yet, but I knew that this could be the big move and the only move I'd be making. This was permanent; this was it.

Sidney drove the rented van with Jordy while I drove down with Max as my passenger. It seemed like forever since I had last spoken with him. We shared a lot of laughs as he talked about what it was like when his family came down from Quebec for Christmas and the Three Talbot Brothers were reunited. He was disappointed to tell me that Charlotte didn't get to spend the holidays with him, because she had to visit her family back in Chicago, but he was looking forward to New Years with her.

Needless to say, the guys were surprised at just how much stuff I had to move. Like I said, I didn't have any big things, but I had giant plastic totes full of my old college textbooks and notebooks, suitcases and laundry baskets full of clothes, and my bookcases, DVDs, and CDs.

"Holy shit, Nelly, I didn't realize you had this much stuff!"

"Well, that's why you brought two strapping young men with you. It's not heavy, there's just a lot of it."

We loaded up my shelves and my desk in the van and then piled in everything haphazardly before driving back in the city. Sid and I had bribed Jordan and Max with pizza and beer, which they gladly devoured after everything was moved into Sid's—my, no our—house and put in the appropriate rooms. I'd have to unpack everything myself, but as long as I didn't have to sort through it, it would be a lot easier.

The guys left shortly after, and I hung up some clothes in the closet while Sidney packed for his road trip. I didn't understand why when I finally took the big step and moved in, Sid was going to be leaving for about a week. What timing.

That night, I didn't worry about settling in properly. I had a week to get organized and make Sid's house my house before I started my new job, too. I had a week of not working while living in an empty house, so there was no reason for me to jump into getting everything done right away. So instead of unpacking, Sid and I spent the night together in a simple manner, soaking in each other's presence to prepare for our separation. I knew that it would be easy on Sidney; not that he didn't have a problem with going away for an extended period of time, but he was used to it. But it was going to be weird to have to sleep in his bed knowing he wouldn't be back for a week. I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to handle it, but I was kind of excited to find out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Note About Training Camp

An unknown fact about hockey players is they can skate kinda fast. /sarcasm

I went to training camp and took hundreds of pictures. (I wish I was exaggerating about that number. It's not an estimation; it's a fact.) Some of them didn't turn out well because they're moving and not posing, so forgive the quality. Half the time I was too in awe to be there that I forgot to take pictures.

I had a lot of trouble picking out the best pictures; ergo, I'm posting a lot. But this is only a fraction of them, and there are so many players I'm leaving out for the sake of not overloading the site.

First of all: hockey stretches. I know we all love them:

Sometimes, you just cannot take good pictures, no matter how hard you try:

And some players just make taking pictures SO easy on the photographer:

If training camp is any indication, looks like Kennedy's getting moved to the 2nd line (in Talbot's place) with Tenk and Malkin:

And this picture just turned out kinda cool, so I thought I'd include it:

Disco Dan!

Coach and Harvard:

The first line:

Bad Ass Billy G, after taking what is now referred to as The Guerin Wipe-Out:

Lovejoy, my heart. I thought I'd never get a good a picture of him until:

Didn't get a lot of Fleury, since he wasn't at my end of the rink for too long:


Gotta show some love for the D:

And of course, what would a Sidney story be without pictures of the man himself?

83: Take It/Take It Back

The rest of Christmas day passed by smoothly. I gave Sid the present I had bought for him, even though it was nothing compared to what he had gotten for me.

"I'm really embarrassed," I told him.

"It's okay," he assured me.

"No, I mean, I just did it because I thought it would be funny and cute, but you outdid yourself, and now...." I bit the inside of my cheek.

"Nelly, it's okay. I'm sure I'll like it regardless."

I knew that he was just going to laugh, or worse, roll his eyes, but I handed over the box and closed my eyes. I didn't need to see his reaction to his lame-ass present. He was laughing. I knew he'd think it was stupid. "I just thought—"

"I love it, Nelly," he said, pulling the tie out of the box, wrapping it around his neck, and beginning to tie it. As he finished, I reached out and straightened it. "Did you have to get it specially made?"

It was a simple design, a plain black tie with white Reebok symbols patterned in diagonal rows. "Yeah. Believe it or not, but Reebok isn't in formalwear yet. And I just realized that the only time you don't wear Reebok is when you're in a suit before or after the game. It was a silly idea."

"I think it's hilarious," he said with a kiss.

"I know, but..." I tried to vocalize how stupid I felt at that moment, especially when the arm of mine that was outstretched in his direction sparkled with gems and precious metal.

"You're thinking about it too much," he assured me.

I nodded and pushed the thought out of my mind. It's not like I had a lot of time to ruminate on it anyway. Grandma Forbes and Grandma Crosby showed up shortly after I changed into my new sweater, and I did my best to not be awkward. I wasn't sure what to say to them. Catherine didn't watch hockey, because she was too worried to see Sid get hurt, and I hated that line of thinking. I didn't want him to get injured either, but if I let myself worry all the time, I'd never want to see him play. I loved hockey too much to not let Sid play, and I loved Sid too much to want to stop him from doing what he loved.

So instead I tried to talk about something else, but I wasn't sure what common ground I had with these women besides Sid. It wasn't like we didn't get along, because we probably would, but we just couldn't get a conversation going. After what felt like an eternity, Sidney saved me and asked if I wanted to step outside for some air.

"You looked a little overwhelmed," he told me as we tromped around in the fresh, white snow.

"I like your family, it's just a little much to take in all at once."

He laughed, knowing exactly how I felt because of his experience at Thanksgiving with my relatives. "It's not that bad."

"No, I'm just really worried about making a good impression. I want them all to like me."

"No one's not liked you yet, have they?" he asked. I gave him a funny look for his choice of words. "Shut up, you know what I mean."

While he wasn't looking, I dug up some snow and packed it into a snow ball, pelting him in the shoulder while his back was turned. It was a rematch of our water balloon fight as we frantically gathered snow in our hands to throw at each other. I squealed as he charged at me and dumped snow down the back of my shirt. "Not fair!" I cried. "You're playing dirty!"

He scooped me up in his arms, and I grabbed a hold of him, afraid he would drop me. "Since when have you known me to take it easy on you?"

"Put me down, Crosby. Put. Me. Down!"

"As you wish," he whispered, and I laughed at his The Princess Bride reference. He was such a dork. Next thing I knew, I was on my back in a snow bank, Sid stretched out above me. "What do you say we heat things up and make some of the snow melt?"

I giggled as he kissed my neck. "The snow's already melting, and I'm getting all wet."

"Just what I like to hear," he growled, continuing his oral assault on my flesh.

"That's not what I meant," I laughed, pushing him off me. He offered me his hands, and I accepted them so he could pull me to my feet. The seat of my jeans was soggy, and the rest of my clothes were at Sid's home, not his parents'.

Trina appeared at the back door. "What have you kids been up to? Noelle, you're drenched," she said with a chuckle. My hair was wet and stringy from his snowy assault, and I knew that I had to look downright disgusting, not unlike a drowned rat. "Sidney, how do you manage to soak her every time I leave you guys alone?"

"What do you want to bet she tells me to give you some dry clothes?" he whispered throatily in my ear.

"Get her out of those wet clothes, Sidney, and give her something warm to wear," she called before turning around and heading back into the house.

"I told you," he said, nipping my neck again.

"You're too much," I laughed.

"No, I'm just enough," he retorted, leading me back into the house. We kicked off our wet shoes, shrugged out of our soaked jackets, and raced each other up to his room. I shimmied out of my drenched jeans and slid into a pair of his old track pants before he could touch my bare skin. If I let him touch me, we really would break in his childhood bed.

"Sid, no," I giggled. "It's Christmas. Can't you wait until we get back to your place?"

"Why?" he laughed.

"Don't you ever turn off? I mean, honestly," I teased.

"Who are you, and what have you done with my Nelly? She'd never ask a question like that. She never turns off either," he joked back.

"Sid! Noelle! Dinner!" I heard Taylor calling us from the bottom of the stairs.

"Looks like our presence is being requested," I said, batting his hands away.

"Five minutes," he whispered.

"More like thirty seconds," I quipped, giving him a wink and rushing past him.

"I'll make you pay for that," he called after me.

"That's what I was hoping for," I yelled, already down the stairs and heading toward the kitchen.

* * * * *

The rest of our mini-vacation was as equally delightful as Christmas morning. On Boxing Day, we went to Taylor's game with faces painted in the team's colors. She was slightly embarrassed by the way we cheered crazily for every one of her saves, but I knew that she loved having her big brother there to support her. I met some of Sid's hometown friends, too, like Andrew. He told me a couple of stories about Sid from his youth which embarrassed him, like when the team decided to bleach their hair for the playoffs since they couldn't grow beards yet. We both quipped at the same time, "It's not like he can grow one now, either."

The time just passed by too quickly. We were having so much fun, and I enjoyed the break that we deserved. All the stress melted away as soon as we crossed the border to Sid's motherland. On our way home—to my home country—the nerves and anxiety returned as reality set back in. I still had the move to think about, as well as knowing I had a week before my new job would begin.

"Can't we just turn around and go back to Canada?" I asked him, as our plane began its descent into Pittsburgh International Airport.

"We'll go back," he whispered. "There's the Olympics," he added, happy with the knowledge that he had made the team.

I knew that wasn't going to happen. First of all, the Olympics would be a stressful time for him. It wouldn't be a vacation. And second, how could I take time off from my new job with the Pens to relax in Vancouver for a couple weeks? I'd never ask that of Mario. This job was too good to be true on its own; I couldn't expect more.

Instead of differing, I smiled at him and looked back out the window as the plane touched down. I sadly went through the motions of waiting for our bag, following Sid out to the car waiting for us, and riding silently back to Sid's house. He had a game tonight, and then we were going to try to move all my stuff on Monday before their road trip.

As our ride pulled into the driveway, I wondered who was at Sid's waiting for us. I saw his Range Rover, and I saw my Dodge Neon, but there was another car in the driveway, a blue Jeep Cherokee. Squinting, I read the license plate. It was one of those stupid vanity plates. CRSBYGRL? Who in their right mind would get that....?

Sidney was grinning like a butcher's dog. "Please tell me you didn't," I begged, looking at him.

"I could. But then I'd be lying."

I pulled on the door handle and shouldered the door, opening it and running up to the side of the Jeep. Sid wanted me to be excited; I wanted to be mad. I didn't know what I was, because I was too steeped in disbelief to fully comprehend. He didn't, did he?

My question was answered when he dangled a set of keys out in front of him. Yes, yes he definitely did. I hesitated. "Okay, I know what you're thinking. Too much. And you're right, kind of. But, I told you that one present was something you need. And you need a new car. It's bad enough that every time you start that piece of crap, you never know if it'll turn over. It's a guessing game. And the roads in Pittsburgh are bad. You know the city never salts, and I'd feel a lot better if you were driving a four-wheel drive vehicle. So I'd know you're safe."

There he was, trying to take care of me again. I was flattered, for sure, but I couldn't stifle the feeling that he was doing this to change me. Like what I had chosen for myself wasn't good enough, and the fact that he couldn't respect it was belittling. But then I looked at the beautiful blue SUV. My car was dying a slow, painful death, and it was only a matter of time before she took her last breath. Cherry—what I would name this beauty if I kept her—was bright and shiny and new, and she whispered promises to let me drive her wherever I wanted without the fear of breaking down.

I didn't know what to do. Should I take it? Should I tell him no, to take it back?

"Before you answer, I wanna let you know that the car is fully in your name. Whether you want it or not, your name is on the title. Well, except for the fact that it's my name on the plate," he chuckled. "But you're in charge of the insurance for it. I think of it like a business investment. You know, one with long-term returns. I'm investing in your safety, seeing as though I want you around for a long to come. I'm doing this more for me than I am for you. So, what do you think?"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

82: Christmas in Cole Harbour

I was anxious and nervous and excited, and probably a million other things, too. Because of the way the holidays fell this year and when I had handed in my two week's notice to my now former boss, that hell was behind me and I was currently "between jobs."

It was the day before Christmas Eve, and I was in the stands, cheering on my boyfriend as they were tied with the Sens. I was in my jeans and Crosby jersey, topped off with a red Santa Claus hat. During the stoppages of play, tidings of holiday wishes were displayed on the jumbo-tron. It was adorable to see some of the guys with their families. I wondered if someday, that would be me and Sid. Oh shit, Noelle, don't start thinking like that now! Something about the holidays always left me feeling joyful and jolly. Thank God none of the guys started singing Christmas songs with my name in it... that always ruins my holiday spirit.

The girls and I talked about our various plans for the next few days, but we all were going to Canada. Véro and Marc-André were going back to Sorel; Heather and Jordan were heading up to Thunder Bay; and Tyler and Kelsey were going to Sault Ste. Marie. "Sometimes, the guys don't get this much of an extended break," Heather explained. "It's really nice that they get the time to go home for Christmas."

I didn't realize that the holidays would be so hard for the guys. I mean, even if they didn't have the time to make it home, surely their families could come out and join them. But then I thought about the Staals. The holidays must be hard for them. And even for "normal" families too, with work schedules and traditions. No wonder Trina was so excited for Christmas this year.

The game went into overtime, and Guerin got the game-winning goal. The guys tried to hurry through their interviews; everyone was anxious to get out of the arena and go home, wherever that may be, and gear up for the holiday.

Sid and I met in the lounge, and he practically dislocated my shoulder as he tugged on my arm to leave. "Ouch! What's the deal? Canada will still be there. It's not like they turn people away from the border at midnight."

"I know, I'm just so excited. I get to show you my home. I kinda feel like there's this whole side of me you don't get to see, and now you finally will."

"You mean the Canadian side? I see that all the time, eh," I teased him.

"But I mean, like, where I grew up. My grandmothers, my childhood friends. And I get to introduce you to my other favorite girl." I gave him a puzzled look when he said that. His other favorite girl? I had met Taylor, and it was no secret how he adored her. Who was he talking about? "Sam, my yellow lab. My family takes care of her during the season. And even though I have my own place now, instead of living with Mario, it didn't make sense to bring her down to Pittsburgh since I travel so much. If Sam likes you, then I know for sure that you're a keeper," he added with a wink.

Sid really was impatient to leave. We hurried to his car and he raced to the airport, where a charter flight was waiting to whisk us away to our frozen paradise. It felt so romantic and extravagant. We tried to sleep a bit on the plane, but it seemed like by the time I had calmed down enough to relax, we were getting ready to land at Halifax International Airport.

As we took a cab from the airport to his lakeside house in Enfield, I asked what Christmas would be like. I didn't know what to expect. "Is it a small thing? A big thing?"

He was tired, and I knew he really didn't feel up to talking, but he tried to appease me. "Well, the night of Christmas Eve, it's just us. And then presents in the morning, breakfast, and then everyone else comes over to hang out and have dinner. Taylor's playing a game on Boxing Day, and I'm really excited to go to one of her games. I really wish I could see more of them and support her like her big brother should."

I didn't respond; I think I was too choked up to. I just looked at him in amazement. I mean, I knew that he and Taylor were close, but any other twenty-two-year-old would be too busy to attend his thirteen-year-old sister's games.

"What?" he asked me, noticing that I was staring. "Is there anything on my face?"

"No," I sighed. You're just perfect, I thought.

We were so exhausted that we practically collapsed as we got to Sid's. The cabbie let us out at the gate, where Sid punched in the code, opened the gate, and helped me drag our collective suitcase to the front door. Once inside, we sunk into the couch and fell asleep, unable to even make it to the bedroom.

When I woke up, I was draped across Sid's chest like a blanket, and I was using him as a pillow—complete with drool. I hoped he wouldn't notice the big wet spot on the front of his Reebok hoodie as I pushed away to search for the kitchen and the coffee pot, but Sid wrapped his arms around me and kept me in place. "Don't get up yet. I'll be cold."

I laughed. "I'm not your personal space heater, Crosby."

"Five more minutes," he said with eyes closed.

"If you're that tired, just go up to bed. You'll sleep better there than on the couch."

His lips curled into a suggestive smile. "I don't sleep as well without you. And if I take you upstairs with me, then we'll just have to break in that bed since we haven't had sex in it yet. So there will be no sleeping going on."

"Whatever. Stay here then. So, what's on the agenda for today?"

"You mean, besides breaking in my bed?"

I playfully pushed on his shoulder. "One-track mind."

"Well, there's no food in the house. So I'm thinking Tim Hortons for breakfast."

"I've never been to one," I told him.

His eyes flew open, and he stared at me. "Never?" I shook my head. "Well, that's it. Get up. We're going."

Sid and I showered together, had wet and sleepy sex on his bed to make him happy—and me too, and then we dressed and were out the door. He yelled at me when I equated Timbits to doughnut holes, telling me that Timbits were so much better. After breakfast, we drove the half hour to his hometown, and he showed me where he played hockey, the route he'd run every morning when he was home, his old school, and then we ended up in front of his parents' house.

I wasn't expecting to have to see them so soon, but I realized that Sid was bubbling with anticipation to see his family again. And they were equally excited to see him again, too. At first, I felt like an outsider as they rushed to embrace him, until Trina hugged me. "It's good to see you again, Noelle. We've been looking forward to this for a long time now."

"It's really great to see you, too, Mrs. Crosby," I said.

"Please, I told you, it's Trina. I'm happy that you could make it. For a while, we weren't sure if you'd come, after the death of your—"

"Mom," Sid scolded, shaking his head.

"No, it's okay," I told them both. "I mean, no it's not okay that he's gone, but I made the commitment to be here, and I was looking forward to this, too." I didn't add that I knew spending Christmas in Cole Harbour was going to be a lot easier than spending it at home, missing Grandpa.

The rest of the day passed by quickly. I helped Trina in the kitchen as she baked cookies, I gave Taylor some pointers on her Julius Caesar essay, and I even awkwardly conversed with Troy. Sam and I had been properly introduced, and she licked my hands, which was a good sign. It was a quiet day spent with his family, but I was exhausted by nine.

"Noelle, you look like you're about to drop," Trina laughed. "Sid, honey, why don't you show her up to your room?"

"I don't want to be a drag," I told them. Honestly, who goes to bed at nine?

"It's fine, tomorrow will be busy," she assured me. "You'll need your rest."

I went up to Sid's room, and the place instantly brought a smile to my lips. I knew that this room hadn't been touched since probably before he left home to billet for juniors. There were posters of Patrick Roy and Kirk Muller on his walls, as well as one of Mario and the Cup. Looking at that now, I had to laugh. On his old dresser was a new picture, one of Sid on his day celebrating with Lord Stanley. I ran my fingers over the image of him in his perfectly pleated dress pants, a polo shirt which is tucked in to his waistband, and a blue hat. It makes me happy and proud, even though I want to tease him for his choice of clothing.

Sid wrapped his arms around my stomach, and I leaned back against him. "Are you going to tell me you want to break in this bed, too?" I asked him, eying the full-sized mattress in the corner.

He laughed. "This coming from you? Who didn't even want to stay at my place while my parents were visiting?"

I pulled Sid's arms farther around me. I was tired and he was making me feel warm, so I felt the first wave of sleep start to tug on my eyelids. "It wasn't an invitation. I just figured you'd tell me that. I'm exhausted."

"I know." He handed me a pair of sweats and a Rimouski shirt, then helped me redress before tucking me into bed. Once I was under the covers, he curled up next to me and smoothed his hand over my hair. Slumber was impending. "I'm excited for tomorrow."

"Me, too."

When I woke up on Christmas morning, I was alone. Apparently, all the Crosbys are early risers.
I padded down the stairs to the sight of everyone sitting around the lit tree. I was an only child, so I never knew what it was like to spend Christmas with a real family, taking turns opening presents, sharing the moments. I thought that this was going to be a lot of fun.

Sid stood when I reached the bottom of the staircase. He kissed me good morning and wished me a merry Christmas, which I returned and said to the rest of the family. I was an observer, watching as wrapping paper flew and smiles cracked their faces in half.

"It's your turn," Trina said, handing me a present from under the tree.

I looked at her, then at Sid, who shrugged at me. I could've killed him—I asked him, and he said that his parents weren't going to get me anything. All I brought them was bottle of wine for welcoming me into their home. But the way Trina was smiling at me made me act graciously, and I accepted and opened the gift. His parents bought me a beautiful, blue cashmere sweater.

"Okay, my turn," Sid added, handing me a long, slim box. Immediately, I knew it was jewelry. "I ordered your other present, but it didn't arrive yet," he explained.

I looked at the tag attached to the wrapping paper: To Nelly, from SC. "SC?" I laughed at him.

Sid smiled and shrugged. "Could be from Santa Claus."

"Or Sidney Crosby. Either way, I guess I'm pretty lucky," I replied, appreciating his grin directed at me as I untied the ribbon and and ripped off the paper, struggling to get through all the tape. He had definitely wrapped this himself. I then opened the box, and as a result couldn't breathe or speak. I knew when I got the box that it was jewelry, but I wasn't expecting the white gold, sapphire and diamond tennis bracelet inside. "Sid...."

He scooted next to me, took the bracelet from the box, and began to fasten it around my left wrist. "I know that you might think it a little much, but it reminds me of you. The blue matches your eyes. So even if you're mad, please please please don't yell in front of my parents."

"No, Sid, I love it," I told him. I wasn't going to yell at him on Christmas. "I do take it that this is my extravagant present, and not the thing I needed?" I joked.

He smiled and kissed me chastely, rubbing his thumb around my wrist where the bracelet caught the light and sparkled.

"Um, can you guys stop making googly eyes at each other? I'd like to eat breakfast now, and you guys are making me lose my appetite," Taylor said, making me laugh.

Friday, September 11, 2009

81: Living Like a Grown-Up

The days began to pass by in a blurry haze. So much was going on. And I felt like such a grown-up, too, having to deal with these new experiences that only true adults had to deal with, like new jobs, moves, and the holiday jitters.

First, I had to talk to Mario. I waited for him in the privacy of the owner's box at the Igloo, watching as Sidney was on the ice in sweats and sneakers doing some puck handling. It was mesmerizing to see, and I was sucked in. I watched Sid the way he watches the puck during a game—with blinders on, focused on nothing else.

Which is why when Mario walked in, I was startled. "I seem to be getting into a habit of frightening you," he said with a chuckle.

"I need to pay more attention when I know you're going to be around," I quipped back. I was suddenly nervous.

"Let's not beat around the bush, shall we?" He asked, motioning for me to sit in a chair. Mario was very direct; he told me exactly what the position would pay, what the benefits were, and what would be expected of me. "Best of all," he persuaded, "is you can pretty much pick your own hours. You should set some definite hours to be in the office so we know when to reach you, but you'll be doing a lot of one-on-one work with the players, so you'll be working around their schedule. As long as you put your time, your forty hours a week, you can work when you want. You'll have a lot of freedom."

"I'm not going to lie, Mario. This sounds amazing." If I had had any doubt about whether I wanted this position, those questions flew out the window. I couldn't have negotiated for a better salary or more incredible perks.

"I'm glad to hear you're as excited about this as we are," he told me with a smile. Mario was so reassuring. "With the holidays coming up, I figure you can start after New Years. Why don't you stop in some time during the first full week of January? I believe the team will be returning from a road trip around that time."

"Sure. That's perfect," I told him. That would give me plenty of time to get everything straightened out before beginning my new position. And enjoy the holidays.


"I just have one question for you, Mario," I said tentatively.

"Yes, Noelle?"

"I'm worried about taking this position since I'm dating Sidney."

"We don't have a policy about interoffice relationships or player-personnel relationships, either. You don't have anything to worry about." I nodded and took his answer for what it was, but I was worried what everyone would think: that I got this job because of who I was dating, not because of what I was capable of doing. "Are you going to stay up here to watch the game tonight?"

"Oh, no, I'm going to watch from the family and friends section. I haven't seen the girls in a while, so I have some catching up to do."

"I'm glad you'll be working for us," he said simply, shaking my hand and sealing the deal. I was giddy with excitement. "And I'm sorry if I caused a riff between you and Sidney. I didn't know you hadn't told him yet, and then he played in Thursday's game after he said that he need to stay with you."

I thought about that argument with Sid, how I had lied to him, then how I had withheld information—which, to some people, would be just as bad as lying. "No, it was fine," I said, still feeling a little guilty.

The girls were waiting in their seats when I found them and told them my good news. They were excited for me, of course, but they were excited also about what this could mean for Sidney and me.

"Just another step closer to domesticated bliss," they told me.

"Will you stop," I laughed. "I'm not worried about that, and Sidney isn't either. We're just going with the flow. So don't try to pressure me into anything."

"Pressure? No, we'd never pressure you," Véro said slyly.

"Bullshit," I chuckled. "You've been up to no good the whole time I've known you, from Diesel 'til now. Pushing me and Sid together. You won't be happy until I'm dressed in white and you're in whatever ugly bridesmaid dress I pick out for you."

A smile cracked her face in half. "You'd make me a bridesmaid?"

I couldn't seriously talk about this anymore. Véro was as close as possible to be being a bridezilla without having an engagement ring on her finger. We didn't broach the subject again as we watched the Penguins pummel the Panthers. It appeared that the team was back into the swing of things.

After that was sorted out and my future with the Pens was cemented, I had to quit my legal assistant position. As glad as I was for my new job, and as happy as I was to leave that hellhole, I was sad to say goodbye to my coworkers. They were good people, and I would miss them.

The first person I told was Steve. "I just want to give you a heads up, before I talk to the boss, that I'm putting in my two week's notice."

"Very funny, Noelle. You've said that a lot in the year and a half that you've worked here."

"Steve, I'm serious," I said. He looked up from the folder on his desk. "I know you won't believe it, but Mario Lemieux offered me a position with the Pens. I start in the beginning of January."

Steve was speechless. "How are you going to tell the boss?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I wrote up a resignation letter, and I figure I'll go into his office, give it to him, and tell him."

"You can't leave. Not like this. February is going to be a bad month. I can't handle this on my own."

"I'm sorry, Steve. You guy will hire someone to fill my position." I knew that was a lie, something I was making up to make him feel better. No one stayed at this place for very long. I was just another example of the revolving door that was this job. "Besides, you can't expect me to turn this down."

"What are you doing for the Pens?"

"I'm the Director of Player Communications and Media Relations," I told him, swelling with pride. Mario was right: long titles really did make you feel important. "Working with the players, teaching English to the ones who need to learn it, and media coaching. When do you think I should tell the boss?"

He tilted his head to the side. "Now's as good of a time as any."

I nodded and grabbed my resignation letter, and walked to the boss's office. He was sitting at his computer, doing whatever he does when he's alone in his office. I never figured that out, as long as I had worked there.

I cleared my throat and knocked on his door. He jumped and turned. "Noelle? Do you have something to go over?"

"No," I told him. I cleared my throat, strode into his office, and held out the letter. "I'm giving you my notice. I've been offered another position."

He took my letter from his hand and scanned it with his eyes. It was a standard letter; I'd pretty much copied it from some website. "Is there anything I can do to get you to stay?" I didn't expect this, for him to bribe me into staying. "Offer you more money? More vacation? If you need more time off to deal with your grandfather's passing, you can take it."

"That's very generous of you, sir, but this new job is just more up my alley."

And that was that. He dismissed me from his office, and the countdown to my last day began. But not without its detriments. I got stuck with the shitty cases, since there was no use in trying to appease me. I wasn't going to be around long term, so I was given the work that no one else wanted to deal with it. And there was a lot of it, too. I had a feeling that these were going to be the busiest two weeks I'd ever spend in that office.

Sid and I agreed to worry about my move to Pittsburgh, and all that entails, after Christmas. There was only so much stress we could handle at once. When I'd get home, exhausted from work at the end of the day, I hated to think about packing my things into boxes, to either be taken to Sidney's—and my new—house or to be put into storage.

I was worried about how I would fit into Sid's, into his house and his world, now that I would be there full time. Before, I was a transplant. I was inserted into his house, filled with his things, completely on his terms. This was going to be completely different. We'd get to see each other's habits, with no escape. All his superstitions and quirks, and all my neuroses would be in full view. I was concerned about how we'd handle it, and the more I thought about it, the more petrified I became.

There was one thing, one thought that kept me going through the mess, and that was Christmas. We'd have three blissful, wonderful days to ourselves to celebrate the season. Well, between all the traveling, it would probably end up to be more like two days of relaxation. And we wouldn't be by ourselves. His family would be there, and not just the three Crosbys I had met so far. There would be grandparents, cousins, and also all his Cole Harbour friends that he said he was so excited to introduce me to.

Now that I thought about it, Christmas didn't seem to be so relaxing, after all.