Friday, July 31, 2009

37: If It's a Broken Heart, Then Face It

Dear Readers,
You guys are fucking awesome.
Love, Jay.

In all seriousness, I'm blown away by your support. I'm grateful to you all for your encouragement and wonderfully sweet words. I'm being very selfish by posting one update per day, because I love your reactions and take them into consideration for future chapters. Speaking of which, the posts to come were obviously a little difficult to write, so here's hoping you enjoy them just as much. Thanks again and I hope you enjoy!

oh, and of course: Happy birthday, Evgeni!

Eva never answered my message. I called Megan and Nat, hoping that I could hang out with someone and get my mind off what happened that morning, but they told me that they had plans with Eva that night, and it would just be weird if I tagged along. They weren't rude or excluding, insinuating they didn't want to hang out with me at all, but they just didn't want to deal with the drama of the disagreement between Eva and myself. They suggested we get together sometime later in the week. I felt slightly betrayed; Eva and I had met in high school, and I met Megan and Nat in a class at Pitt. Those three were friends because of me, and now I was the odd man out.

Sidney never tried to reach me. Ever since I drove off, he let me go without a word. No calls, texts, e-mails. I can't say I blame him—we were both pretty brutal. We said harsh things, things that we couldn't retract and or easily forget had crossed our lips.

What hurt most of all was how Sidney was dead right. Of course he would get that impression of me. Hell, I still hadn't told my parents about us. I was afraid to let him get close to me. Afraid to let him into my world if he wouldn't become a permanent fixture in it. But as much as that was true, I felt that it was okay for me to feel that way. Our relationship was still so new.

And I was stubborn. When I believed in something, I didn't back down. That's why I was able to kiss Sidney good night and head home on the night of the regular season opener. It was why I forced myself to walk away from him Sunday morning, refusing to accept his charity. Call it a character flaw or call it a value, but it is what it is, and I'm not changing.

I should have been completely honest with him. I should have told him why it was so hard to accept his presents and otherwise philanthropic gestures. Sidney was understanding and patient, but I couldn't expect him to follow my lead if I didn't clue him in on my motivations.

On Monday, I took a last-minute personal day; I had something very personal to take care of, and I had to take care of it during the day. First, I packed my car for one last trip to the city, and then I called V. I knew that she should be the last person I should be asking for a favor, especially this favor, but I had alienated so many people I cared about in the past few days that I didn't have many left to turn to. She agreed to meet me for lunch, and I told her I would pick her up around noon. I took her to the last place I knew I could possibly run into Sidney: McDonald's.

At first, we small-talked, but Véro didn't tolerate this for long. "When are you going to tell me why you're out here? You're supposed to be working."

"I took a personal day. What time is practice for the guys today?"

"One." Her face lit up. "Are you going to talk to him? We can go to the arena now and meet them before practice starts."

I shook my head. "No. I'm doing this now so I don't have to face him. I'm giving him his stuff back, and I'm getting mine. This is a lot to ask of you, but I want you to come with me to Sid's house. I want a witness there that I'm only taking my things, and I'm not doing anything crazy like writing graffiti on his walls or gutting his couch or going psycho-bitch on him."

"You don't honestly think he'd think that about you, do you?"

"I work for a lawyer, so I'm just being overly cautious. Things can turn ugly very quickly, and I'm just covering my own ass, even though I highly suspect I'm being paranoid. Please just come along?"

"How are you even going to get in his house?"

"He gave me a key. Actually, he had Max give it to me that night we watched the game at your place, the weekend before last. I haven't used it, but he told me to hold onto it in case I ever needed it."

"You never told me that! He gave you a house key?"

"Yeah, V, I just explained that." I rolled my eyes. She was making such a big deal out of this.

"I know, but that's such a big step. Isn't it obvious how much he adores you? You can't seriously be considering calling it quits?"

"I think I'm past the 'considering' stage. I think it's a done deal." I dipped a fry into my chocolate shake. Ah, nothing like comfort food to steel you for the day ahead.

Véro sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I don't have to tell you that I don't like this one bit. You know that. But you're a friend, and you obviously need someone around with her head on straight. I'll tag along, but I don't like it. Just let me go to the restroom."

"Thanks V, you have no idea what this means to me."

After lunch, I drove over to Sid's place. The driveway was empty. Véro had mentioned that it was an optional practice, but I knew Sidney never opted out of anything if it held the allure of giving him an advantage or edge over the competition. I grabbed my things—er, Sid's things—out of the trunk and unlocked his front door with the silver key on my key chain. This certainly wasn't how I imagined using it.

I went up to Sid's bedroom, where I was sure he'd see that I'd returned what he'd given me. This was it; once this swap was finished, our relationship was done for. First, I hung up his Crosby jersey, the number 83 Steelers jersey, and then the dress he had given me on his birthday.

"He's not going to be happy that you're giving those back. They're not his—they're his presents to you," Véro commented.

"I don't care. I'll never wear them, because they'll just remind me of him. He can make use out of them somehow."

"Even the dress? I don't think it would fit him."

I was glad that V was keeping her humor through the ordeal, even if I didn't show it. "Do you want it?" I asked, earnestly handing the dress to her. "You'd probably have to have it taken in, but I bet it would look nice on you."

"No, I don't want it."

I shrugged and hung it up in the closet with everything else. Most of all, I was loathe to give back the black hoodie. I practically lived in it anymore. I quickly hung it over the door knob of the closet and turned away, and then opened the top drawer of his dresser and began to pull out my things.

"He even cleared out room for you? I swear, Noelle, if you can't make it work with Sid, then there is just no hope for the rest of us."

"Yeah right. Look at you and Marc. You guys are so freakin' adorable together that I want to hurl. You've been together so long, and you still look at each other like you've just met."

"Yeah, but you and Sid? There's just something about your story, the way you guys just came together."

Before I could say anything else, I heard a car in the street, the engine shut off, and a door slam. I closed my eyes. "Véro, please don't tell me you called him."

"I didn't! I sent a message to Marc, just to let him know what was going on." She looked out the window, and I knew she saw his Range Rover. "He must have told him, Noelle, because I swear to you that I didn't."

I heard another car. Sid's house was on a secluded street of a gated community. We never heard this much traffic. Now who was here? The front door of the house opened, and his voice rang through the foyer. "Nelly?"

Get my stuff and get out. That was the plan, and I fiercely tried to finish it, grabbing my clothes and shoving them into my empty bag on his bed. Footsteps on the stairs. Hurry up! I was panicked and frantic. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen, he wasn't supposed to show up. I was supposed to have closure.

"Where is she, V?" I could hear him in the hallway. Something in his voice gave me the chills. Desperation? Anguish? I knew I'd have to face him; there was no way I could get out of it now. He appeared in the doorway, wearing his shin guards, hockey pants, compression shirt, and his obnoxiously yellow crocs. I guessed he had been getting ready for practice and gave up halfway through. He stood there, staring at me, Véro blocking him. Not that he couldn't get past her, but I appreciated her symbolic gesture.

He watched me, wide-eyed, not moving. I could see in his eyes that he was processing the scene. The jerseys in the closet, the empty drawer. Marc ran up the stairs, yelling, "I'm sorry, it was an accident!" He bumped into Sid in the doorway and looked around at the three of us who stood unwavering, motionless.

I was the first to speak. "You guys should get back to practice."

"It's optional," Sid said.

"You never not go to a practice, regardless if you have to."

"This is different. I have a reason to not be there."

"I won't be that reason," I told him. "I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I wouldn't interfere with your game."

"Well, it's kinda late for that. We need to talk. You're here and I'm here, so let's talk."

"I don't feel like it." We weren't yelling, but our words were icy and impersonal.

"Don't be a hypocrite. You're the one that said we need to be more open."

"That was different. We don't have anything further to discuss. Please just go and let me finish here." I did want him to be at practice, for his own sake as much as mine.

"Not a chance. I'm not going anywhere unless you're coming, too. If you want me to go to practice, then you're coming to the arena, too."

"That's not fair, Crosby. You're using my love for the team against me."

He shrugged, not even a hint of a smirk on his face. "Whatever it takes to get you to talk to me."

I looked at V, who was actively avoiding my gaze, but I knew what she would have instructed me to do anyway: talk to him. I had the advantage if I went to the rink, because I could think about what I wanted to say, whereas now everything was in the air. If I didn't have time to think, I would only get emotional, and who knows where that would lead.

No! Stop trying to think rationally! Nothing good could come out of talking this over. I knew I'd only get worked up even more. Things were just simpler this way, if I could just avoid him all together. I knew this wasn't going to end well. Too bad my mouth was operatively connected to my brain, and not my heart. "Okay, fine. But I'm only agreeing so you can go to practice."

Still not thinking clearly, I left my packed bag on his bed, and no one corrected my error. Sid looked a little relieved, but I was shaking inside. I didn't think I could drive, so Marc drove me to the arena in my Neon. V offered to accompany me to practice, but I told her to go home. I had already gotten her deeper in my mess than I had wanted. She wished me luck and drove home in Marc's SUV.

At first, my temperamental baby wouldn't start. I told Marc to sweet talk my car—he would especially have luck with her with that accent of his. He smiled at me and said something in French, and the engine turned over. After we were on our way, he turned to say something.

"I'm honestly sorry about that, Noelle. He was standing behind me, and I thought it was Max. Before I even realized it was him, he was out the door in half his hockey gear."

"Why did you follow him out here?"

"He was possessed. I've never seen him like that before. I didn't know what he was going to do, and I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

I leaned back against the headrest. It felt so unnatural to be in the passenger seat of my own car. "Nothing's okay. I'm so sorry I got you and V mixed up in this, too. I hope this doesn't make things weird between you and Sid on the ice."

"Don't worry about us. I'd worry about you for now, and how you guys are going to work through this."

Snorting, I said, "I don't know if I want to work through this."

"You don't mean that."

"I wish I did. My life would be so much easier."

"Nothing worth winning ever came easy."

For the first time in two days, I laughed from somewhere deep inside. "Hockey players are so unoriginal."

When we got to practice at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, Sid was already there. I pushed past him and headed for Jay's Sportsbar and Restaurant. If I was going to have to do this today, I needed a drink. As I watched practice from the bar, I scribbled a few thoughts on a napkin. I wanted to make sure I said everything I wanted to him.

After my thoughts were on paper, I sat in the stands and watched the end of practice. I plugged in my iPod and hit shuffle. Jason Mraz's "Details in the Fabric" appropriately played in my ears. Even on the best of days, the song brought tears to my eyes, but it hardened my resolve and I used those beautifully sung words as motivation to stay strong and hold my own.

The guys skated off the ice and headed to change into street clothes. My stomach somersaulted; my moment was coming. I headed toward the door and waited for Sid, who was one of the last to come out of the dressing room. Maybe he was just a slow poke, or maybe he was waiting for everyone else to leave. As some of the other guys filtered out, they gave me knowing glances. A lot of them didn't say anything, but some did. Marc wished me luck, Jordan said that he needed me around to pick on, because Heather hated being the brunt of his jokes, and Max hugged me and told me to be open and honest, and things would work out for the best.

Sidney came out finally, and we mostly stared at each other for a while. "Um, thanks for coming out here. I'm glad you're giving me this chance to talk to you. I know my words were callous, and you probably hate me now—"

"I don't hate you, Sid. If I did, that would make this so much easier on me."

"Well, good. Remember that time at lunch when you came over after my parents left? And you told me that I was 'damn near perfect?' And I asked you to remember that, because there would be a time I'd screw up?"

"You aren't the only one who screwed up, Sid. I made a mess of things, too."

"Listen, I'm sorry about what I said, and how I said it. You didn't deserve that. I was feeling frustrated, because it just hurts when I try to do something nice for you and you throw it right back in my face."

"I'm sorry I called you a prick. And I'm sorry that I kind of flipped out without explaining. I should have told you before why this bothers me." I took a deep breath before I began my lengthy confession. I hoped he knew what I was trusting him with, how monumental it was for me to reveal my painful past. "When I was fifteen, my dad lost his job. My mother was a housewife, fully dependent on my dad. But it wasn't a big deal, because he'd made enough to save for retirement, provide me with a college fund, and even put money aside in a rainy day savings account. But instead of finding another job, he decided to go out on his own and start his own company. I don't even remember what it was, some stupid hare-brained scheme or whatever.

"He invested all my parents' money into his endeavor. It failed miserably. We had nothing. I mean nothing. My mom had to get a job for the first time in her life, and I worked after my high school classes to help pay the bills while my dad struggled to pick up the pieces of his decimated pride.

"My future was gone, just like that," I continued, snapping my fingers. "I studied so hard for scholarships, but five years of college was really expensive, and I had no help from my parents. After the stunt my father pulled, their credit was ruined and they couldn't even cosign my loans. I don't have to tell you how hard I worked to get where I am today, taking classes and working two jobs to afford books, meal plans, bus fare to get to class, and to make sure the water or electricity didn't get shut off at home. After years of struggling, my parents are back on track. But I will have to work for years to dig myself out of my student loans.

"I learned from my mother's mistake. You don't let yourself think that someone is going to take care of you, even your family, because you don't know what the future holds. That's why I can't accept money from you. I won't end up like my mother. My job pays decent money, and I budget well and spend within my means. Anything I receive from you is like wasting what I've worked so hard for. If you support me, my struggles though high school and college will have meant nothing. That was such a difficult time in my life—I have to think that I went through it for a reason." I took a deep breath, finally finishing the story about my past.

"Wow, Nelly, I didn't know."

"It's not something I choose to advertise. I hate that I had to go through that, I hated my life every day I woke up and had to bust my ass, but I made the best out of it and I put my heart and soul into making it through. I gave up my adolescence, and a lot of my future is focused on trying to get ahead and making a name for myself." It felt good to get that off my chest. I checked the notes on my napkin to make sure I had said everything.

"I'm glad you shared that with me. But I don't feel sorry for you."

I looked at him, confused. I just poured out my heart to him, and now he was going to belittle me?

He continued, "You aren't the only one who's worked hard to get where you are now. I've been playing since I could walk. I didn't have a childhood, even though I spent it doing something I loved. There was so much more involved than just playing hockey: special camps, lessons on how to deal with the media, strength coaches. I didn't even get to live at home for high school, going away to prep school in Minnesota and billeting in juniors. My parents are working class, they instilled in me the drive to work hard. And I've earned everything I've gotten. So I feel like I should be able to spend it how I want to—and that includes on you."

"Didn't you hear a word I said?"

"Yes, and I understand why you feel the way you do. It's noble, and I respect you for standing up for what you believe in. It's one of your qualities that I admire so much. So why can't you do the same for me?"

"Because you say you want to spend your money to show me how 'appreciative' you are. That's not how you show someone you care about them."

"I try to show you all the time! I tell you how wonderful I think you are, and you burst into tears as if I told you I just ran over your dog! And in case you forgot, I love you. I'm in love with you. I'm okay with it if you need more time to say it back. I just want us to find some kind of compromise."


"Yeah, you know, when two or more people reach a common understanding?" he joked.

"Very funny," I replied. I couldn't help but a smile a little. "I don't know, Sid, I still need some time. I feel like we rushed into this too fast."

"Is this because of what I said? I swear, Nelly—"

"No, Sidney, you're absolutely right. I was having a hard time letting you in. I just don't want to get swept up in some kind of fairy tale only to fall flat on my face."

"If you expect disappointment, then disappointment is all you'll ever know."

"Is that another hockey saying? It sounds too well rehearsed."

"Ah, there's the cynical humor I know." He stepped closer to me to pull me into a hug, but he hesitated to make sure I was okay with it. I was, and it felt good to be in his arms where I fit so nicely.

With his arms wrapped around me, I said, "I still need some time. Just to process everything."

"You can have all the time you need, just as long as you tell me this isn't over."

"I can't make any promises. I just need some time to think. I need some space. No pressure."

"You can have space in five minutes. Right now, I just need you here. Stay with me, five minutes."

I gave Sidney his five minutes, but I honestly was unsure if he needed to hold me or if he knew I needed to be held. When we pulled apart, I told him I'd be in touch. He nodded without a word and watched me walk to my car and pull out of the parking lot. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove away. He still hadn't moved.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

36: Living for the Weekend, Part II/Sunday

A/N: Please see 35, if you haven't already. I'm sorry if this is a lot to get through in one day, but I couldn't wait to post this one. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 18 was the Steelers' home game against the Cleveland Browns.

Even after a very late night on Saturday, between attending the after party and then partaking in our own festivities back at his place, Sidney was guarded enough to keep his secret plans just that—secret. I tried one more time to get him to divulge his secret plans to me to no avail, even when I attempted to torture him by any means I could think of. He scoffed at me and called my bluff, and in the end, I was too tired to argue.

All I knew was that we'd probably join Tyler and the guys for the game. Knowing Sidney, he would wait until the last possible moment to carry out the surprise and "make it up" to me, just to watch me squirm. Sid didn't need to spend a lot of money on me to lift my spirits—truly, it was the thought that counted. But his thoughts often entailed big price tags. I had seen the price tag on the dress he and Nathalie bought for me in August, and I knew how much rink-side seats at the Mellon and Crosby jerseys cost. With such a budget, we could embark on any whim he fancied, so there was no point in trying to predict what Sunday would hold.

For the second day in a row, I woke up in Sid's bed without Sid in it. This time, however, I found a handwritten note where his chest usually laid. It took my eyes time to focus, but scrawled on the paper was one simple instruction: take a shower, but don't take too long. We're leaving by 11:30.

I shrugged and looked at the clock, which glowed the time of 10:15. With no alarm, I couldn't risk trying to sleep for a few more minutes, so I forced myself out of bed, feeling slightly less contented than the day before, but lack of sleep will do that to the best of us. I turned the knobs of the shower, so tired that I almost forgot which ways to turn them to get the right flow and temperature. Standing under the spray, I closed my eyes and wondered if I could sleep in a vertical position.

Obeying my orders, I showered quickly. My outfit for the day had been preselected and was laid out across the made bed. He must have done this while I in the bathroom. At least I knew Sid was home, even if I didn't know what he was up to. This early in the morning, I was glad to not have to make even the simplest of decisions, including my clothes. I wouldn't have known what to wear anyway, since I didn't know what was going to happen. I was glad, though, that my favorite pair of jeans, the 2009 playoff shirt from Max, Sid's black Reebok hoodie, and my black Chuck Taylors fit the required dress code. No matter what the day led to, at least I would be comfortable.

Under that pile of clothes was a Heath Miller jersey. How did he know I loved number 83? I pulled it on over the hoodie to show my black and gold pride. I had been so caught up in Sidney's season that I'd neglected the Steelers'. My family was crazy about football—even my mom watched the Steelers games on Sunday. In high school, I went to every game, home and away, to cheer on my classmates. I went to some Pitt games, too, when I had breaks in schoolwork that gave me a Saturday afternoon off. It was going to be a lot of fun to hang out with the guys and watch the game. I wondered: how much do Canadian hockey players know about American football?

I stepped into the hallway and skipped down the stairs, the smell of breakfast wafting through the house. For as much as Sid complained about his lack of cooking skills, he sure could make a mean breakfast. Of course, frying eggs and bacon in a pan and inserting slices of bread into a toaster isn't too difficult, but I could hardly function in the morning, let alone operate dangerous kitchen appliances.

Sidney stood at the stove, and I came up behind him, wrapped my arms around his rock-hard stomach, and leaned against his back. I tried to wish him "Good morning," but the syllables slurred together and came out a jumbled mess. He responded by handing me a cup of coffee, already infused with milk and sugar. How had he known how I took my coffee? I didn't care enough to ask because I was too busy pouring it down my throat.

As I sat down to eat, I reflected on the day before and the eerily similar turn of events. Yesterday, I cooked his pregame meal and watched him eat; today, it was the mirror opposite.

"Aren't you eating breakfast, Sid?"

"No. I was up hours ago. I did my workout, showered, and ate before you got your lazy butt out of bed!" he laughed.

"It's too early to think of a snappy comeback," I mumbled, forking some egg in my mouth.

"Nelly, it's almost eleven."

"If it's before noon, it's early. Do you have any chocolate milk?" He shook his head. "If I'm going to start spending more time here, we're going to have to go grocery shopping."

"I'm way ahead of you, Nelly." He slid off the counter and returned with an envelope.

"Is this part of the surprise today?"

"No, it's something I thought of before, but I wasn't sure how to give it to you. Now's as good a time as ever."

I smirked and accepted it. The envelope was white and blank, addressed to Sid and postmarked two weeks ago. I slipped a finger under the flap and ripped it open, pulling out a single sheet of paper. Attached to that paper was a card. A credit card. With my name on it. I did a double take; yes, that did say Noelle Lambert. Under Sidney Crosby's account.

I couldn't read the fuzzy words magically dancing on the paper. "What is this, Sidney?" I asked quietly.

"What does it look like?"

"I know what it looks like, but I want you to tell me what this is."

"Don't make a big deal out of this, I—"

"Stop it! Just answer me!" I didn't mean to yell, but I had to struggle to talk and the only way I could get any words to come out was to scream.

His hand ran through his hair, and I knew he was stressed. "It's a credit card, under your name. I thought—"

"I don't care what you thought, because you obviously weren't thinking! Did you think I would be okay with this?"

"Um, yeah, you're my girlfriend now, I thought it would be okay. Or else I wouldn't have done it."

"You do too much, Sid! I told you Friday that you don't have to do these kind of things. I should have made myself clear. Don't do these things. The presents were one thing, the jerseys, the game tickets. But now you're practically giving me money?"

"Well, for things you need while you're staying here, like groceries, necessities, and gas to come visit me. It was one thing when we were just hanging out, getting to know each other, but now that we're seriously together and are going to see each other as often as possible, it's going to add up fast. Why should I make you pay for that? Why should I make you pay to spend time with me?"

"Because it's what people do, Sid. It's what normal people have to do when they try to make it work."

"I told you, I have the means to take care of you, and I want to."

"I don't need you to take care of me!"

"You don't need anything from me, do you? You turn down everything I have to offer you! Except sitting at my hockey games and fucking in my bed!"

He might as well have slapped me across the face. I wore a stunned expression, and Sid's face fell as soon as he spoke, immediately regretting his choice of words. Too bad he didn't think before he said them. His biting words were more hurtful than a sucker punch. When I finally responded, it was barely above a whisper. "You're a prick."

"Nelly, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."

"Then what did you mean?"

"It just feels like your heart's not in this like mine is. You've been fighting me the whole way, making excuses, and keeping me at arm's length."

"Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you're moving too fast?"

"No, it's never occurred to me that this was too fast! Nelly, I love you!"

Ah, those three words that I should have been ecstatic to hear, but I didn't care. It didn't even register that I should have been happy for him to say such a thing. "You have a funny way of showing it."

I turned and headed for the door. I knew that Sidney could easily catch me if he wanted to, but I hoped he wouldn't want to. He didn't stop me, but he did follow me as I left his house and got into my car. I turned the key, but the engine didn't respond.

Sid stood outside my locked car, looking in through the window. "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving."

"But, where are you going?"

"I don't know. I just can't stay here."

"Let's talk about this. I was going to take you to the game today. We can still go, and work through this afterward, when we've had some time to cool off. You know I didn't mean a word I said."

"Really?" I asked, opening the door and stepping out. Now I was getting angry. He was standing so close that I almost whacked him with the door. I kind of wished I had hit him. "Which part didn't you mean? The part about how I'm using you for tickets and sex, or the part about loving me?"

Sid winced. He was struggling for the right words, something that would make his off comments go away, but he failed. "I do love you. That part I meant, from the bottom of my heart."

"Cut it up."


"The card. Cut. It. Up."

"No," he replied. "I don't think I'm in the wrong here."

"And I am?"

"No, you're just being stubborn! Just take the damn card! It's the right thing for me to do for you."

"Well, I'm sorry I'm not living up to your expectations. You have no idea what the 'right thing' for me is, so why don't you take your hockey tickets and go fuck yourself?" I meant that to be statement, but I choked back tears and the pitch of my voice rose. I got back in my car, the engine turned over, and I was gone.

I drove until the tears made it too difficult to see the road. Pulling over into a Denny's parking lot, I ripped off the Miller jersey and Sid's Reebok hoodie and locked them in the trunk. I was cold, but I couldn't wear them. It's a good thing the shirt was Max's.

The hostess seated me in a corner booth. As I waited for my server, I instinctively flipped open my phone and pressed and held two, speeding dialing Eva. She was the first person I turned to when my world felt like it was collapsing, but she didn't answer, and then I realized that she was probably ignoring me. I sent her a message, saying that even though we weren't getting along particularly well at the moment, I needed her. Then I set my cell on the table and waited, hoping to hear from her.

My server was a young woman, probably still in college, making tips to pay tuition. "Hey, you're Sidney Crosby's girlfriend."

She didn't even introduce herself and give the usual "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I'll be taking care of you today" spiel. It didn't help the situation that I was in the players-only shirt with the Penguins logo on it, and it was too late to excuse myself and turn the shirt inside-out. Maybe if I had been thinking clearly, I would have done that first.

When I didn't answer, she continued, "I saw the pictures on-line."

I snickered cynically. "You shouldn't believe everything you see on the internet."

She shrugged. "I'm pre-law, I'm not gullible. You two really did seem in love."

My pericardium shrunk and strangled my heart; my heart, trying to compensate, began to beat faster and my blood pressure skyrocketed. Love? Was this love? He said he loved me, but no one says something like that to someone they love. And I, one hundred percent, absolutely, positively did not love him.

I think.

My waitress asked what I wanted, and I ordered chocolate milk and my usual breakfast selection. She left me alone with my thoughts—which I would rather not have been. I drank my chocolate milk, which I had been craving all day. My period was nearing, I could tell, because I always wanted chocolate milk. I thought that maybe I was PMSing, and so maybe I overreacted. I quickly disregarded that notion, because I wanted to feel fully justified in my actions instead of thinking that they were fueled by raging hormones.

When my breakfast was brought to me, I was truly hungry and looking forward to eating. I hadn't finished my meal at Sid's, and my stomach was growling; however, the bacon and eggs disgusted me. Sid had cooked that for me mere hours ago.

I slapped some grape jelly on my already-buttered toast and took a bite. Tammy, my server, asked if it was okay, since I hadn't touched it. I waved her off and told her it was fine. My phone buzzed and I grabbed it, answering it without looking at the caller I.D., thinking Eva was returning my call.


"Noelle, where are you?"

"Kelsey, hey. I'm eating, er, trying to eat breakfast at Denny's."

"What are you doing there?"

"Maybe you should stop asking me random questions and get to your point, Kels, because I know you have one."

Véro's voice echoed from the earpiece. "Sid showed up to Tyler's today to watch the game, without you, and he won't answer any of our questions. He's not even talking to anyone. Tell us what's going on."

"Um, well, I think we broke up." They were both silent for several moments before they began speaking over one another. I hated speaker phone. "Slow down, I can't understand you."

"Are you sure this just isn't a fight?" Véro.

"Well, I told him to go fuck himself. I think that's definitely not just a fight. I think it's over."

"Okay, well, what prompted you to tell him to go... eff... himself?" Kelsey.

"He accused me of using him to get a seat for the Pens games and, um, using him for his body." I felt so foolish saying these things over the phone.

"Why did he say that? What instigated the flare of tempers?" Véro.

I sighed. Here we go. "I kind of flipped out on him for the way he's been spending his money lately. In that he's been spending that money on me. And that he wants to give me money, that I can spend on things for myself." They didn't say anything, and I felt compelled to justify myself. "I talked to him before, that he doesn't need to do things like this, and he just kept doing it anyway—"

"So many girls would be jealous to be in your shoes, Noelle. And I'm not saying that because he has money and he wants to spend it on you. I'm saying that because of the great guy he is. So many girls would be jealous to be dating such a thoughtful, giving guy. It's just that his definition of being thoughtful and giving involves spending money." Véro.

"Listen, girls, I have my reasons. Please give Marc and TK my best," I said, trying to end the conversation.

"I can take a hint," Véro said. "But call him. This isn't over. Far from it."

"And whatever happens," Kelsey continued, "don't be a stranger. We initiated you into our club, you're a member for life!"

"Thanks, girls. I promise to be in touch."

I looked at the time display on the LCD screen of my phone and was surprised that it was near one in the afternoon. And to think, I could be at the game, awaiting kick off. Maybe if I had been clear with Sidney and told him exactly why I couldn't accept his generosity, I would have been at Heinz Field.

35: Living for the Weekend, Part I/Saturday

A/N: Thanks again to everyone for all the lovely comments and support. This started out as a silly notion in my head that has since blossomed into an endeavor I never planned to undertake. I don't feel like I'm writing fanfic anymore. I've got so much planned in my head already, yet each post takes on a life of its own. I hope I make it through, and I hope I make it worthwhile to steal a few moments of your time.

Anyway, the reason for the note: Parts 35 and 36 were originally supposed to be one entire update, but as I fell into writing them, there was just too much going on, so I opted to create two parallel chapters. 36 is scheduled to publish half an hour after this one, and I hope they make a little more sense when read together.

Oh, and sorry if this post especially seems different than the usual style. It's not intentional and not necessarily indicative of a permanent change.... it's just what the story called for, I guess.

Saturday, October 17 was the Penguins' home game against the Tampa Bay Lightening.

This was my first real exposure to Sid and his game-day routines and superstitions. Last night, he explained the routine: eating breakfast; heading to the rink to stretch and to participate in the morning skate; returning home for the big pregame meal; around 1:30 to 2, showering and taking a nap for an hour or so; pregame snack at 4; back to the rink to get ready for the game.

Today, however, there would be a slight deviation to the routine. Usually, he'd head over to the Lemieuxs' and Nathalie would prepare his big pregame meal of chicken and pasta, the intake of protein and carbohydrates needed to fuel his game. Sidney politely asked if I'd be willing to take over that duty for the day. I gladly accepted, but I did it less for him and more for myself. As odd as it may sound, I felt honored to have that task delegated to me, trusted with that part of his routine.

Sid let me sleep in and ate breakfast without me before heading to the rink. I heard the door shut when he was on his way out, and that woke me up. Stretching in his bed, I smiled broadly, feeling so... content. Sated. Was this what it felt like to be happy and satisfied with life? If so, I could get used to this.

I had a few hours before I was expected to have Sidney's meal on the table, so I took a long, hot shower, dressed in clothes that The Girlfriends would approve of (even though my blue Crosby jersey would hide them), and then I fully unpacked my bag. With no idea of what the weekend would hold in store, I had literally packed everything I thought I might need. A casual outfit, a dressy outfit, flats, sneakers, jeans, tee shirts, jewelry, hair gel, barrettes, make-up.... Everything. I shoved it all in my top drawer of Sid's dresser, knowing that whatever wasn't worn this weekend could be used at a later date.

My timing proved impeccable, as I tasted a strand of spaghetti to test its tenderness—not al dente, but not mushy—I took it off the hot burner and strained the pasta when Sid walked through the door. He was dressed in shorts, a plain white shirt with a small Reebok logo across his left pec, and his obnoxiously yellow crocs that I wished would magically disappear off the face of the earth.

As I finished preparing the meal, he stood behind me, slung an arm around my waist, and kissed my left cheek. I felt tamed, domesticated, but it didn't bother me. Everything I had said to Sid last night was true; I had plans, goals I had set for myself that I was determined to achieve. But this felt just as good as the day I got accepted to Pitt, the day I graduated with top honors, and when I was offered my promotion. Maybe this could be part of my plan, too.

I mulled over all my thoughts as Sid ate and perched myself on the counter. I was pleased with where our relationship was heading. Yes, things were moving quickly, but everything was going so well that I would have been foolish to second-guess it all. He placed so much of his trust in me—with his personal life and his hockey life. It was easy to make an impression on his personal life. Marc-André told me that I had immediately stood out to him, even after a fifteen, twenty minute conversation. But his hockey life had been harder to crack. Slowly, he found a way to accommodate me into this day-to-day, even if it was only to call me after the game. Today, I was fully enveloped in his routine. That long-forgotten promise of not interfering with his hockey life was discarded from my memory, because Sidney had adjusted so well to balancing a blossoming social life with his densely packed professional life.

He was so accommodating that I felt bad that I wasn't reciprocating. I hadn't done much to bring him in my life. After all, I had only reluctantly told my friends about him, after our relationship had been leaked all over the internet. I still hadn't told my parents, and it was getting harder and harder to talk about the games with Steve while not volunteering any information that would clue him into the small fact that I was dating the captain of the team.

If I invited him over to meet my parents, would he be as excited to meet them as he was to introduce me to his? Would he agree to hang out with my friends one night out of the week, instead of me having to drive into the city to see him, his teammates and their girlfriends, and my new friends? So much of our time spent together was done on his terms. I was okay with that; it made sense, since the demands on his time were so much greater than those on mine. But the question bugged me: would he at least be willing to be a part of my life as much as I was willing to be a part of his?

Suddenly, Sidney was standing before me. "Are you okay? I must've said your name, like, ten times."

"Sorry, I was...." Thinking? Feeling? I wasn't sure how to explain my dazed state, so I just shrugged and smiled. "Off in another world."

He chuckled. "You looked so cute." I blushed, and he twisted a curl of my hair around the index and middle fingers of his right hand. "Why do I get the feeling that you don't believe me when I say stuff like that? Maybe no one's told you that enough."

Sidney kissed me, and then he put his hands on my hips and yanked me toward him. "Maybe we shouldn't," I said, but my body betrayed my thoughts as my legs wrapped around his waist.

"If you can give me one good reason."

"You have a game tonight. I don't want to be responsible for tuckering you out."

"You won't. I still have to take my nap. We can just make this quick."

* * * * *

Sid sat at his stall in the dressing room, and I left him there to relax in the lounge. Three hours until puck drop, and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. Véro and Kelsey wouldn't show up for at least another two hours. Luckily, not all the guys needed to keep to a strict routine to get focused before the game, so as some of them started to filter in, they kept me company. I was able to joke around with Jordan and Billy and formally meet some of the other players, like Ruslan Fedotenko, Sergei Gonchar, and Eric Godard.

Brooks Orpik was working on a crossword puzzle, but he got stuck on some of the clues. He asked aloud if anyone knew the villain of Othello, to which I quickly responded, "Iago." Brooks nodded as he scribbled in the answer. Sometimes, that literature degree paid off.

When the girls showed up, we headed to our seats, since the guys were lacing up to take the ice before the start of the game. I had brought my jersey in my purse, since I rode to the arena with Sidney, and I pulled it over my head once we settled in to watch the game.

I saw Lynne out of the corner of my eye and tried to pretend she didn't exist. She burst that bubble when she leaned over V and Kels to hand me something. "I'm sorry, I just thought you'd want to know."

At least this time, when I made the headlines, it wasn't as a puck bunny. Instead, the article focused on how Sidney and this mystery girl were becoming serious. Seen here, she's obviously well acquainted with Sidney's parents, Trina and Troy Crosby. The picture showed the three of us at the season opener, taken at precisely the moment I turned to speak to them after Crosby's game-winning goal. I had been standing right there; how did I not notice someone taking a picture of me?

The other picture showed Sid and I making out in Diesel. And we all know how well she's acquainted with Sid. Who wrote these damn articles, and couldn't they at least think of anything creative to say? I instantly kicked myself for my behavior that Friday. At least the good part was, if these pictures had been taken the night of the opener, which was over two weeks ago, and I hadn't seen them yet, they weren't circulating the internet as wildly as the original ones had. Lynne must have done a lot of digging to find this. I was grateful to be old news.

She was waiting for a reaction. I tried to think of something. "Well, you'd think by now they'd at least have figured out my name. Do I have to be 'Mystery Girl' forever?" Véro snickered with me. "Do you mind if I keep this, Lynne? I can't wait to hang it on my refrigerator with the other story about me, too. At the rate I'm going, I'll have a big collection by the end of the season."

Lynne looked nonplussed and pissed, and she leaned back into her seat without another condescending word said in my direction. I rolled my eyes. What did I have to do to get her off my back? Poor Alex; I wished he would see how dreadful she was and dump her sorry ass.

Thankfully, the close game provided me with a great distraction. The Pens came out on top over the Lightening, 3-2. Crosby tallied two more points, an even-strength goal in the first and an assist on Malkin's power play goal in the second.

When I left the arena with Sid, I was back in my street clothes with my jersey in my purse. He squeezed my hand in his own, signed some autographs with his free hand, and soon we were on our way to the after party. I was glad that there wasn't much ado involved when we left the Mellon hand-in-hand.

We went out to Diesel and spent the night drinking and dancing, talking and laughing, goofing off and having a great time with the guys. Tonight, however, I behaved myself. Any inappropriate behavior could take place after the club, although at the rate we were going, we'd probably be too tired tonight for any hanky-panky. The bartender gave notice of last call, and we finished our drinks and made our way to the streets. I congratulated the guys one more time on their win as I said my goodbyes.

Tyler asked me, "The guys are getting together to watch the football game tomorrow. Do you and Sid want to come over?"

"I don't know, I'll have to get back to you about that. Sidney has something planned for tomorrow, so I'll have to find out what's going on, first."

Sid came up behind me and said, "We'll have time to catch the game, for sure."

"So, does that mean your surprise takes place before or after kick-off at one?" I asked him. I had forgotten all about tomorrow until TK asked what we were up to. Sid wore a goofy grin, and I knew trying to get any information out of him would be useless. We finished our goodbyes and sped off for home.

Turns out, I was wrong. We weren't too tired.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

34: Chasing Friday

I was halfway home when Sidney called my cell, just like he did after every game. Flipping open the phone, I hesitatingly answered, not knowing what to say after the loss. Should I mention it, or let it slide? "Hello?"

"Nelly? I can hardly hear you."

"Hold on." My windows were down and the radio was up. I was trying to stay awake for the rest of drive, and the cold air and loud music helped. "Sorry 'bout that. Good game tonight."

"Didn't you watch it? We lost." Was he getting an attitude with me?

"Of course I watched it, I was at V's with Max and Kels. You can still have played a good game and lost."

"Where are you?"

"I'm on my way home now."

"Oh." I wasn't sure if I heard disappointment in his short reply. If Max had given me that envelope, as he had been instructed to do if he saw me in the interim of the road trip, and I was on my way home, Sid knew I had passed up his offer to use his key.

"Geno was really on fire tonight, I thought for sure he'd get the hat trick and tie the game."

"Too bad he didn't. I think he and Oksana are having some trouble, and he was exorcising some energy out on the ice."

"What makes you think that?"

"I dunno, I don't speak Russian." Okay, there was an unmistakably rude affectation in that comment.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"You don't seem like yourself."

"I'm just tired. We're on our way to Ottawa. I'd better get going."

"Okay, safe trip. Goodnight, Sid."


The called ended, our conversation so uncharacteristic of our normal exchanges. He was terse and cranky, and I couldn't tell if it was because of exhaustion or frustration from the game or if it was a reaction to my decision. I really hoped it was the former.

I turned the volume back up and searched the mixed CD I'd burned for a song I could belt out. Eventually, I skipped to "Meant to Be" by Bedlight for Blue Eyes. Why did all the bands I fell in love with break up? In the solitude of my car, I sang as loud as I could along with the words.

The song may have been about a broke, up-and-coming musician, traveling the country and putting on shows to make his aspirations come true, but I definitely related to the song. I mean, Sid certainly had the means and was actually living his dream, but I still wondered where he was, what he was doing, crossing off the days as they crept by and waiting his return to Pittsburgh. When the track finished, I replaced the disc with their full album, Life of Life's Terms, skipped to the sappy fifth track, and sang along to "Walk with Me."

I pushed the gas pedal toward the floor and left those thoughts behind with a refreshing determination to fill my own calendar with activities and distractions.

On Sunday, I did my laundry, pulled out my winter clothes, and packed away my summer wardrobe before taking a long stroll around the neighborhood. I cooked dinner for my parents on Monday before settling in to watch the Pens versus the Sens, and then spent my Tuesday evening at Panera Bread, drinking countless cups of decaf as I plowed through a huge chunk of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then on Wednesday, I logged a few hours of overtime before the game against Carolina. When Sid and I would talk on his off days or after his games, our conversations differed from the norm. The spark was gone from his voice, and I wasn't as talkative.

The Penguins' road trip ended on Thursday when they flew home into Pittsburgh International Airport, after which they would have another off-day before playing their next home game against the Tampa Bay Lightening. Sid called after they landed, and even though he had a free day, he didn't mention seeing me, neither suggesting that I drive to his house nor making plans for him to visit me in my neck of the woods. Instead, he suggested that I spend the entire weekend with him—come over Friday evening, stay all day Saturday and come to the arena for the game, and leave Sunday evening.

"I know I've kind of been a jerk lately, so let me make it up to you."

"What do you have in mind?"

"A surprise."

"Sid, I don't know...."

"Oh, come on, Nelly. You and I will both have a good time, and we'll forget this crappy week ever happened."

"Okay," I agreed, more excited to see him again than to see how he planned to make it up to me. The countdown to Friday began, and I knew the next twenty-four hours would be dull and insipid.

Shortly after our conversation ended, Eva called, asking what my plans for the weekend were. "Actually, I talked to Sid, and I'm going to spend the weekend in the city with him."

"You never have time for me anymore, Noelle."

"Woah, wait a second. You're finishing up your last semester at Seton Hill and working 30 hours a week. You were too busy when I called you on Tuesday to see what you were doing."

"I had an exam to study for, that was different."

"No, it isn't. You're just mad because I have plans with a boy."

"Whatever." Click. Silence.

"Whatever," I echoed, out loud but to no one, frustrated with Eva and myself. We'd been best friends since freshman year of high school, and now ten years of friendship were beginning to circle the drain. I let myself be selfish, and I asked myself why Eva couldn't just be happy for me.

By five on Friday, I was effervescent. My bag was packed and in the car, with everything I could possibly need for the weekend. I had made a list and checked it twice before leaving, so I could enjoy the weekend without a worry or care. I needed this weekend to go smoothly.

First, I had to fill up my tank. I stopped at Sheetz for a small cappuccino and forty dollars' worth of gas. Not only had prices started to inch upward again, but I was paying close to two hundred every month—double what I usually coughed up just to get to work. It's not that I couldn't afford it, but that was less money I was saving each week to help pay off my student loans, which in turn would let me move out faster.

I pulled into his driveway behind his Range Rover and quickly grabbed my bag, practically skipping to his front door. Just as I wondered if I should knock, see if the door was unlocked, or use the key to let myself in, the door swung open and Sid pulled me into his arms. The stress that had been hanging over me dissipated faster than a rain cloud after a summer storm. My bones de-calcified and jellied, and I clung to him with my arms wrapped around his neck like a vice.

Sid picked me up enough that I was off my feet, and he swung me around a bit before setting me back down.

"It's good to see you," he whispered.

"I missed you so much."

"Can we talk?"



I must have looked like a deer in headlights, because he chuckled a bit before further explaining, "It's not a big deal. I just want to ask you something."

"Okay." I sat on the couch, still feeling a little weak in the knees from our big reunion, but now with a churning stomach from nerves.

"Relax, will you? I just want to know why you didn't come over last weekend. I talked to Max. I know he gave the envelope with key to you and told you to use it."

"Honestly, I thought about it. I even drove over, but I just... couldn't. Even though I missed you like crazy, I wasn't comforted by the thought of being surrounded by your things. It just wouldn't compare to being with you."

"Really?" When I nodded, he let out a breath and ran his hand through his hair. "That wasn't the answer I was expecting."

"What did you want me to say?"

"Huh? No. Your answer was perfect. I just thought you were going to tell me that it was too much, too soon."

"Is this why you've been kind of, um, disagreeable lately?"

"I dunno. Partly. I get down about the losses, too, and between Saturday's game and then thinking I'd messed up with you, it just kinda put me in a funk."

"Why didn't you just talk to me about it, instead of spending the whole week feeling so despondent?"

"I get frustrated talking on the phone, especially about stuff that should be done in person."

"You're going to have to get over that real fast, babe," I told him. "Not only are you on the road a lot, but even when you're home we don't get to see each all that often. If we don't keep the lines of communication open, this isn't going to work." He nodded his head, and we silently made the commitment to talk about our problems before they escalated into anything potentially ruinous.

"So you aren't upset about the key? I mean, you're okay with my giving it to you?"

"Well, it was a lot to process at first," I laughed, remembering how I had clutched my hand around the metal until it left imprints in the flesh of my palm. "But I appreciate the gesture behind it. I just wish I felt like I was in a place where I could use it. I'll give it back to you."

"No, keep it. So you have it for when you can use it, or need to, or want to. Or whatever," he said, stumbling over his words. I laughed, and he attacked me and tickled me until I thought I might pass out from lack of oxygen. As I squirmed to get away, I fell to the floor. Sidney fell with me and landed on top of my solar plexus, which truly did knock the wind out of me. He looked sheepish and embarrassed as I tried to concentrate on breathing, even though I thought it was funny.

We called an end to our horsing around at that point, because as they say, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Sid suggested we order in and just spend a lazy evening together. "I play tomorrow, and then Sunday is going to be busy, too."

"Why? What's going on Sunday?"

"Remember when I said I was a jerk and I wanted to make it up to you?"


"Well, that'll be Sunday."

I groaned. "You know I'm going to be on pins and needles until I find out what's going on! You're making me wait two days? You are a horrible boyfriend," I teased, poking him in the ribs.

He looked at his watch. "Technically, it's less than 48 hours away, so don't complain." Sid walked into the kitchen and pulled a Chinese menu from the fridge. "What do you want?"

I walked over and took the menu from his hands. Not to look at it and peruse my choices, but so he couldn't look at it. "Sidney—"

"Whatever it is, don't say it," he interrupted. "Now I know how you felt when I said 'we need to talk.' You're using your serious voice, and whatever you're going to say, I'm not going to like."

"I want to thank you, for whatever it is Sunday is going to involve. Your surprises and presents are so elaborate, I mean, look at your birthday, the first preseason game.... So I won't even waste my time trying to figure out what you may have planned, because I'll be wrong.

"But I want to tell you that, whatever it is, as much as I'll appreciate it, you don't have to do it. I won't be any less impressed with you or like you any less than if you don't put on these big displays of wealth or power. I'm a simple girl. If you want to make me happy, just give me a back rub and a beer."

Sid smiled, pulled me into his arms, and then kissed the top of my head. "I love to hear you say that. But being my girlfriend isn't easy. I'm gone a lot, I work hard. We've had a really great start to the season, so things right now are great. But this is only the beginning, and that may change. So I want to make it up to you, for everything you've had to put up with so far and everything you're going to have to put up with, too. I like doing this for you, and I like that I can do this for you. I want to do this for you. It's how I show you just how appreciative I am of you. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to get over that real fast, babe."

He repeated my words from our earlier conversation, and I had to laugh at how stubborn we each were. I bit my lip and tried to appear serious. "I'll do my best, Mr. Crosby." I coerced him into letting me pay for dinner, since his plans for the weekend would no doubt exponentially outnumber the expense of dinner.

We spent the evening on the couch, Michael Bublé playing in the background, the lights dimmed. I sat with my back against the armrest, legs splayed out in front of me and stretching onto Sidney's lap. We ate out of the cartons with chopsticks. Between my struggles to get bites of rice in my mouth with the help of two measly wooden sticks, I enjoyed the basic simplicity of the moment I was in.

That night, I felt oddly sentimental, and I told Sid about it. "Everything's changing around me. It feels so good to take a night off and just enjoy the evening. I guess this means I'm growing up."

"What do you mean?"

"My whole life, I had this plan. Get through high school, go to college, and get a degree. And I did all that, but I didn't have any expectations for what would happen after. I don't know what to do with myself. Eva and I are on the rocks, I'm regretting my promotion—"

"Wait, what's going on with Eva?"

I shrugged. "We've been friends for so long because we were so similar. We made these plans about how we were going to get out of our small town. The only difference is I finished mine: I'm done with school, I have a real job now, not some part-time gig that pays the bills in the meantime. She changed her major three times, and she's still got this semester to get through. Even though we're the same age, I feel like I've had to move on to a new developmental stage in life with different responsibilities, and since she hasn't moved on yet, she just doesn't understand that things can't be the same anymore. Does any of that make sense?"

With a nod, he said, "Yeah, it does. It sounds like you're growing apart, because your new life is taking you in a different direction. But what I don't understand is why this is happening now. I mean, you've been out of school for over a year now, right?"

"Yeah. Well, don't take this the wrong way, but part of it is all your fault."

"Is there a right way to take that statement? Because if there is, I can't see it."

I laughed and almost shot rice out of my nose. "Sorry. To Eva, you're just another time constraint added to my schedule, which means you're to blame when she and I can't get together."

"Haven't you guys had to make time for boyfriends before?"

"Um, not really," I said, trying to explain without having to go into too much detail. "We had plans, remember? And we didn't let guys get in the way of accomplishing them. We didn't have serious relationships, just fun flings during the breaks between semesters. I guess this is just a part of growing up that we didn't factor in to our friendship."

"Wow. Growing up sucks."

"It does. It just complicates things."

"I'm glad I never have to grow up. I get to play a game for a living."

Sid's innocent observation made me smile. Parts of his life were incredibly complicated—his run-ins with the media, dealing with reporters and losses with grace and humility—but some parts were wonderfully simple. He played a game with concrete rules and boundaries; he knew what it took to win, and all he had to do was obey the laws of the game. He only had one worry, and that was leading his team to a repeat of the previous season. It was beautifully elementary and uncomplicated, and I was terribly jealous that my life couldn't be like that.

He told me not to worry about Eva, saying that if we were such great friends, we'd find a way to overcome the issue and things would return to normal. After dinner, we shifted positions on the couch, so my head was in lap, and he played with my hair, causing sensations to ripple throughout my body. I was both excited and calm, and we took advantage of the mood and made love lazily and slowly.

By ten o'clock, we were laying in bed, not tired enough to sleep but not awake enough to do anything. Rather, we soaked up each other's presence, trying to brand the feeling in our memories to recall during the next road trip or extended separation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

33: Key

The next two weeks were long, monotonous, and stressful, especially during Wednesday's home game against the Coyotes. I wanted to be there, but I had two cases due in the latter half of the week—and it seemed like every time I thought I would make progress, the boss would just pile more tasks on top of what I was already handling.

During my lunch break on Thursday, I called Véro and asked how she handled it when the team went on long road trips.

"I do everything I don't get to do when he's around. All the laundry, cleaning, do some shopping to fill up the empty spaces in my closet. By the time I get everything finished, Marc's back. Why, what's up?" she asked me.

I sighed. "I miss him. A lot more than I thought I wish I did. I want to find a way to get him off my mind, because I'll never get through the next week if I can't."

"Well, this is a change from two months ago, when you barely could even admit you liked him."

"Please, V, don't remind me. I'm crazy about him, but I'm so scared that I think about him so much. Does that make sense? I think my brain is fried."

She laughed. "Noelle, this is all normal. When romances are new, you always feel so giddy and high. All you want to do is talk about that special person, even when everyone around you is so annoyed because you won't shut about him. Everything reminds you of him, the world seems darker when he isn't around, and when you're finally together again, nothing else matters. We all go through it."

"When does it stop? When can I expect things to go back to normal?"

"If you're lucky, never," she responded with a laugh. "Be happy you found someone who makes you feel that way."

I groaned. "V, that is not what I wanted to hear. I like that he gets to leave and I have time to myself to accomplish the things I want to. But instead of getting everything done, I miss him too much! I'm turning into those types of girls that I hate and swore I'd never be."

"No, you aren't. Believe me, if you turn into a Lynne, I will let you know. What would you do before you met Sid? Do those things again. Kels is going to come over on Saturday to watch the game. Why don't you join us?"

"Okay. Hey, thanks a lot V. I'm going to take your advice. I'll see you Saturday."

When I hung up with Véro, I sent Sid his normal pregame text, and then a few seconds later, I sent another telling him to watch his back against the Flyers, because I wanted him to keep all his teeth. Games against Philadelphia were always physical, and these rivals especially hated Crosby.

Sidney messaged back and asked: Would u still luv me if I lost a tooth or 2? I laughed and typed: Depends on which ones ;)

Just as Sid fell into a routine on the road trip, I fell into a routine without him. On his game days, I'd send him a message in the afternoon, between his nap and his departure for the arena, watch the game on television, and wait for his call after his interviews. When he wasn't playing, we'd talk around six or seven, most often for only ten or fifteen minutes, and sometimes for an hour and a half.

I listened to Véro's sage advice and booked my free time. Megan and Nat agreed to watch the game with me at Primanti's on Thursday; Eva and I went to the Waterfront on Friday for dinner and a movie; and Saturday was spent at Véro's with Kelsey and Max before the game against Toronto.

During the second intermission of the game, when V and Kels gathered all of our empty beer bottles and walked into the kitchen to make more nachos, Max handed me an envelope.

"What's this?"

He shrugged. "The Kid gave it to me right before the team left."

Max looked sad; I knew he was torn about not being on the ice—he wanted to heal, but he wanted to play. During the playoffs last season, he had earned his spot on the second line with Malkin and Fedotenko, and now he had to watch rookies Luca Caputi and Dustin Jeffrey try and fill his void. Instead of opening the envelope and ending my curiosity, I set it aside and talked to Max. "At least they're not on a bad losing streak."


"The Pens. I mean, I know sitting on the couch here will never compare to sitting on the bench there, but at least they're not losing. So you don't have to think how your contributions could help."

"I suppose you've got a point, but it doesn't make this easier." He turned to me, and I saw vulnerability in his eyes. "I mean, what if Cap or the Guy-with-Two-First-Names takes my spot for the rest of the season?"

"You play a big role on this team. You're irreplaceable. Look, who scored goals for the Pens during Game 7?"

"I did."

"And who was on the ice during the last seconds of the Game 7?"

"Flower, Scuds and Gillsy, Adams, Staalsy, and me."

Smiling I said, "So, what you're telling me is, not only you were the only player to score, but you were trusted enough to be on the ice to prevent the other team from scoring?"


"You're so clutch! Is that proof enough for you that they aren't gonna take your spot?"


I shook my head. "Listen, it's just not going to happen. You've got something those guys don't have—something none of the other players have. You're the heart of the team. Guys like TK are the fast legs, Crosby and Malkin are the hands, and Guerin's the funny bone. The team needs you just as much as you need them, so don't forget, and keep your heart in it." Max didn't respond, but he didn't need to. My words weren't a Band-Aid, but I hoped they provided some comfort to him. "Besides," I joked, "this gives you a little more time to work on your 'bad hands.'"

As he laughed at my reference to Geno's jab made after his first two-goal game in the Finals, I opened my envelope and found a hand-written note and a key. Could this be what I thought it was?

I hope you don't mind that I couldn't do this in person, but it was a spur of the moment idea. As you could probably guess, this is a key to my house. You can use it or not, but I thought it might give you some comfort while I'm gone. I'll see you soon.

So, it was what it appeared to be. I folded the note and put it back in the envelope and held the key in my hand. There was no reason I needed a key; he didn't have a dog that needed to be fed and let out or plants that needed to be watered. There was no reason for me to need access to his house, for instance to get anything I may had left behind. Any reason to visit his home was an emotional one, a need to feel close to him as he was up north in Canada. Always the thoughtful one, aren't you, Crosby? I said to myself. He had games to worry about winning and a trip to pack for, but he took the time to think about how I might miss him and about what he could do to lessen some of that misery. Sidney really was nothing short of perfect.

As the third period started, I wrapped the fingers of my right hand around the key, and it wasn't until the end of the Penguins' first loss of the season, when I got up to grab my purse, that I opened my hand to see the indentations the teeth of the key had left in my palm.

I attached the key to a key chain with my own house key, car key, and various keys to the office. Max pulled me into a big bear hug and said something in French. I silently cursed myself for taking Spanish in high school—as an English major, someone should have convinced me take French since the language contributed to about a third of the English vocabulary—leaving me clueless as to what he said. He thanked me in English, and then added, "Use it. He would want you to."

Raising my eyebrow, I asked Max what he was talking about. He tugged on the sleeve of my Crosby jersey and said nothing further. I waved good night to Véro and Kelsey, put the key in the ignition, and began driving. It wasn't until I put the car in park and got out that I realized I had unknowingly driven to Sidney's house.

Unsure if I should use the key or not, I sat on the steps to his front porch. My elbows rested on my bent knees, and I held my head in my hands. A thousand thoughts ran through my head at once, an experience I was all too familiar with, but only one question stood out: To go in, or not to go in?

I thought about what it would feel like to crawl into his bed and spend the night. His bed was the perfect combination of firm and cushy. The warm comforter, his soft pillow that would still smell like him. Not to mention the shower in his bathroom that we had shared just last Sunday, the couch on which we had snuggled and watched movies, the kitchen where we kissed and shared our true feelings for each other.

At some point, I started crying. What the hell was wrong with me? This was the second time in the span of one week where I spontaneously transformed from the strong, independent person I once was into a stupid, weeping mess. His house would remind me of Sidney and the time we had spent together inside those walls, but Sidney would not be there.

What good were the memories when they would only remind me of what I missing?

Standing up, I pulled my key chain out of my pocket and fiddled with them until I found the key I was looking for. I jammed it back into the ignition and sped off for home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

32: I'm Too Tired to Think of a Title

Sid and I agreed to have lunch at his house on Sunday. Let me correct that—we agreed that I would be cooking lunch for him on Sunday. He told me to come by his house around ten in the morning; we'd go grocery shopping and pick up what we needed, then come back and cook.

Needless to say, things didn't go as planned.

But not in a bad way.

As soon as I set foot in the door at Sidney's house, we attacked each other with kisses and caresses. In fact, we couldn't even make it out of the foyer before we started ripping each other's clothes off. Garments were strewn on the stairs and in the hallway leading to his bedroom like a Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs leading home.

It felt as if we had been apart for weeks, not days, and I was startled at how excited I was to see him again and at how desperate I was to be in his arms. I wasn't just craving his touch either; I needed to feel his presence. Being in the same room with him was enough to put my mind at ease.

I didn't love him yet, but I knew I could. As long as our relationship stayed on this track, I knew I could fall head-over-heels, til-death-do-us-part in love with him. Maybe Sid was right. Maybe love is easy, and we were the ones complicating it.

"I'm starved," he said, pulling me out of my thoughts. "Let's order in, eh?"

"You lured me here under false pretenses, Crosby," I joked, curled in his arms.

"Do you still want to go out shopping and cook? I mean, given the alternative of staying in bed with me," he returned, rubbing my back.

"I think I need a break from you, or else I won't be able to walk. Besides, what's the point of having such a gorgeous boyfriend if I can't show him off?"

"I am pretty gorgeous, aren't I?"

I rolled my eyes with a laugh. "Not like you need the reminder, Fabio." After I made known my resolution to really not stay in bed all day, we dressed and went to Whole Foods. It was the first time I had been in the store, and Sid led me around for everything we needed.

"So, what do you want, anyway?" I asked. Because I still lived at home, I didn't have to do a lot of cooking for myself, but my mother was the best cook in the family. She was the oldest of four kids, and while her parents were working long shifts to provide for them, she was the one who cooked the meals, cleaned the house, and mended the clothes. My mother was an old-fashioned woman who would never leave the kitchen if she didn't have to, and I learned everything I knew from her.

"I was thinking Italian."

"That's giving me a pretty long leash to decide. Can you be more specific?"

He shrugged. "Surprise me. You're the great chef, make whatever will make my taste buds sing."

"You're a dork, and I'm saying that from the bottom of my heart." Since he was no help, I decided on a classic favorite in my house—baked ravioli. It was a fairly simple recipe that was as delicious as it was easy. We bought four-cheese ravioli, ground beef, cheese, and spaghetti sauce, pre-made salad mix, and a loaf of French bread, as well as any spices that I thought I might need. Who knows what the state of his cabinets were like, but I assumed they were barren. Back at the house, Sid sat on the counter and watched me brown the ground beef as I started cooking.

"This better be good, Nelly."

"It's a favorite in my family. I'm sure you'll like it. Speaking of family, I'm dying to know, and you haven't told me. Did your parents like me?" I bit my lip, very nervous to hear his response.

"Are you kidding? I think my mom wants to adopt you right now. She told me she's already planning to have you up for Christmas. And Taylor knows that I like you, and that's good enough for her."

"What about your dad?"

"He takes a while to warm up to people. He likes you...."

"But he doesn't exactly like me being your girlfriend?"

"He doesn't like anyone being my girlfriend. It's nothing against you, he's just always been like that. Before, it was about focusing on being ready for the draft. Then, it was about getting the Cup. Now he's really worried about how the Olympics are going to go. But that's in February, and right now I need to focus on making sure the team has a good start to the season. Which shouldn't be a problem with you at the games, since you're my good luck charm. I'll never have to hear him say, 'That's girl's not good for you, son, she's hurting your game.'"

I laughed at his horrible impression of his father. "It's a good thing you're a hockey player, and not a comedian."

"Sorry, but I just want to make you laugh. Really, don't worry about it. I truly think he likes you, because you're a fan of the game as well as my fan. You see the bigger picture than just me, that what life is going to be like this season is a sacrifice for the city and the team. That's the type of girl he wants for me, eventually."

"You make it sound like it's going to be so hard. I mean, it will suck that I won't be able to see you when I want to, but it's not like I don't have my own life. I'm in a book club," I told him, and he laughed. I layered the ravioli with sauce, cheese, and the browned ground beef before popping it into the oven. As it baked, I cut the bread and opened the bag of salad mix.

"Well, we play at home on Wednesday, and then we've got our first real road trip coming up. Road trips aren't bad, because it's so easy to fall into a routine, but I'm going to miss you like crazy. I figure we'll hang out after the game on Wednesday—"

"I can't make it to that game," I said, cutting him off.

"What? Why?"

"I have a case due on Thursday, and one on Friday, too. I'm swamped with work. I'm going to have to log some extra hours just trying to get everything done on time, so there's no way I could possibly leave early to make the game or stay out late and come into work exhausted."

"Can't someone else handle it?"

"Hey, that's not fair, Sid." I stopped what I was doing and walked in between his legs to get his full attention. "You know I would love to be at that game if I could. But I have responsibilities, too. I can't ignore them or put them aside just because you want me to."

"I know, Nelly, but you've been at every home game so far—"

"Luckily, they were all on a Friday—"

"—and it's going to ruin the routine we have—"

"—we don't have a routine, Sid, stop being so superstitious—"

"—but I know you're there, and it gives me a boost to know that."

"—and I'll still be rooting for you, whether I'm in the building or not."

We'd been talking over each other, so we said what was on our respective minds without listening to the other's babbling. I was kind of kicking myself for not being more open with Sid about my life. Maybe if I had talked more about work, he would know what it's like and what was expected of me for forty, forty-plus hours a week.

Sidney spoke again first. "I'm sorry if I made it seem like I expect you to put my game before your work. But I'm still disappointed you won't be there."

"I'm sorry that I can't be there. Believe me, I'd rather be there cheering you on than stuck at my desk and then watching from home."

"But if you really want to come, then why not?"

I sighed. Sidney was usually so understanding and accommodating with me, but he wouldn't let it go. "Not everyone has a job they love, like you do. I'd love to blow it off, except that may mean I don't have a job next time I go in. My boss has been good with letting me leave early and make up the time somehow, but deadlines are deadlines."

"It doesn't seem fair."

"Since when has life been fair? But there's not a lot a girl can do with an English Literature degree, and I was lucky to get this job right out of school. It's temporary, until I figure out what I want to do."

"What do you want to do? I mean, what was your reason behind choosing your major?"

I shrugged. "I love to read. If I could find a job that paid me to read books, that would be my dream job."

"So, become a book critic! Problem solved!"

The look on Sid's face was one of innocent pride; he was so pleased with himself for coming up with the answer to my life's quandary. I was so tempted to skip work for his game, but I had to stay grounded in reality. My job would be around for as long as I wanted it, as long as I didn't majorly screw up, but I couldn't make the same guarantee about my relationship with Sidney.

"It's one game," I said, being as rational as I could. "I told you, you make your own luck. You're going to have a great game because you're going to play your A-game. It doesn't matter if I'm in the stands or not."

"But then we start our road trip, and I'll be gone for a week."

"It's a four-game road trip, followed by a five-game stretch of home games. And I'll definitely be able to make at least three of those," I explained, trying to cheer him up.

"What, do you have my schedule memorized?" he asked, laughing.

"Only 'til the end of October," I responded, blushing. He rubbed his thumb against my cheek, and I thought about how lucky I was.

"I'm still not going to get to see you for, like, two weeks."

"I'm just as miserable at that idea as you are, Sid. But don't a lot of the guys leave their girls on these road trips? You'll have the games to focus on, and you won't even be thinking about me. Besides, you can't give your dad any reason to hate me," I joked. If it was this hard to spend time away from Sidney so early in the season, I didn't want to know how hard it would be come winter or spring.

"He'd never hate you. And you're right, it's going to be hard. It's like they say, though: 'nothing worth winning ever came easy.' I'm still going to miss you, especially at night, when I'm lying in my bed, all alone."

"First of all, what a cop-out—that saying was displayed on the ice during the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. Second of all, if you're really lonely, maybe you can get one of the guys to cuddle with you. Maybe Marc will be missing V, and you can console each other," I teased.

"Ha, yeah, because spooning with Flower's broad shoulders and hairy legs are really going to compare to you," he laughed. "You know, I was always too focused before to even consider trying to balance a relationship with the demands of the season, especially when we were all so determined to win the Cup. And it's not that I don't want to repeat and win again, but watching the guys celebrate with their girlfriends or their wives last year, it made me wonder what that could be like. It was nice winning and sharing it with my parents and my sister, but I can only imagine what it would be like to win and share it with someone. Someone like you."

The timer buzzed, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I was worried I'd start to cry. His words resonated within me. Sid was ready for this; he was thinking long-term. He was ready, but was he prepared for the hard work of a long season and a serious relationship? I hoped so, because I knew I really could fall head-over-heels, til-death-do-us-part in love with him.

The only way I could describe my feelings is if I had opened a box full of puzzle pieces and upended it. As the pieces flutter to the floor, they magically fall into place. No searching for that missing piece that ultimately would fill in the picture but disappeared somewhere along the way. No constructing the border and hoping the middle would follow after. No trial and error, pounding the pieces into place and making them fit, even if it didn't feel right.

I pulled the hot casserole dish from the oven, and as it cooled, Sid set the table and even lit a couple candles. We were so easily falling into domesticated bliss. As much as I enjoyed the feeling, I knew that those few weeks apart would be good for us, because I was in over my head.

"Nelly, this isn't half bad," Sid so poignantly conveyed, as he fed himself a forkful of ravioli.

"Wow, I'm glad you enjoy it so much," I mocked. "Your delight is positively overwhelming."

"No, I mean it, it's really good. I thought you were exaggerating when you said you could cook."

"I do have some talents, you know. Not everyone can be like you and display one incredible skill."

"I just didn't realize you had so many. You're smart, funny, beautiful, a tennis star, a hockey fan, a top-notch cook. How did I get so lucky?"

I almost lost it. My eyes brimmed with water, and I blinked ferociously to prevent tears from streaming down my face. I wasn't a crier; I don't typically show my emotions that way, especially if I'm deliriously happy.

Sid's face fell. "I'm sorry, what did I say? Don't cry. What did I do? I'm so sorry." He reached out and grabbed my hand.

"No," I laughed, despite the tears. "You didn't say anything wrong. You said all the right things. You're damn near perfect, Crosby."

He pulled me off my chair and into his lap, and then used his napkin to blot at my running mascara. "Will you please remember what you just said when I muck something up and you get angry with me? Really, I should get that it writing."

I laughed again and kissed him, tasting the salt of my tears. I slid off his lap so we could finish eating. After lunch, we went down to the basement for a game of pool. Even though I had played before, I pretended to be ignorant of the game so he would have to put his arms around me and show me how to hold the stick.

After a few practice shots, Sidney suggested a risqu
é game of strip pool. I tried to get out of it—I knew his competitive nature, and I knew I would lose—but when he called me a coward, I couldn't back down. He broke, and before I even got a turn, my hoodie, shirt, and shoes were discarded.

However, I wouldn't say I was at a disadvantage. Playing the ultimate tease, I leaned across the pool table in just a bra. By the look on Sidney's face, I knew I was a great distraction, and it didn't take long for us to abandon the game and busy ourselves with other activities.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

31: Official

Today was the big day, the regular season opener against the Rangers. I came into work early and then didn't take my lunch break so I could leave early in an attempt to beat the traffic. Initially, I didn't worry about getting there early, but Thursday's text from Sid told me to be at the Igloo early, and to not wear my Talbot jersey.

The whole thing made me nervous. Had I embarrassed him by wearing that jersey last time? I tried calling him after I received that message, but I went to voice mail, and he never returned the call. I dressed in khakis, a black cami, a black, gray and white variegated sweater jacket, and black boots. I knew that I would blend in with The Girlfriends this time, but I felt naked with out my number twenty-five jersey. I did bring my lucky Pens hat, that Sidney had so nicely returned after his hat trick, which I figured was a compromise.

I got to the Mellon at six, and I found out one perk of being associated with the Pens: I got into the arena before the doors opened for ticket holders. By now, I was able to find my own way to the lounge, which was crowded.

Max saw me, and he looked disappointed. "You aren't wearing my jersey. You've broken my heart!"

"Oh, stop with the hyperbole. Sid asked me not to wear it."

He raised an eyebrow. "Is this because of that article?"

I hadn't thought of that. "I don't know, he didn't say why."

"Let's get to the bottom of this, then, shall we?" He hooked his arm around my neck and we found Sidney talking to his parents and sister. "Hey, Kid, I'm outraged here. What are you doing to my fan?" Max asked.

Sid smirked and handed me a bag. "Converting her." I looked inside and saw something blue, and when I pulled it out, I saw it was the blue alternate jersey, number eighty-seven.

I laughed. "You know I hate the blue jerseys, right?" His face fell, but before he could answer, I added, "I guess I'll make an exception for you, though."

Sidney smiled and looked as if he wanted to hug me, but he held back given our present company. "I thought you'd look good in blue." I pulled the hockey sweater over my clothes and modeled it for him. He looked smug. "It definitely looks good on you."

The players began filtering into the dressing room to finish getting ready, and a lot of the guests began heading toward their seats. The Crosbys wished Sid good luck and told me they'd see me in the family section, giving us a few moments to ourselves. Even though there were still other people around, we kissed since his parents weren't there to see it.

"If you really don't like the blue jersey, I'll get you a black or white one. I just want you wearing my number."

"Blue's fine. But is this because of that story and those pictures, that you won't want me wearing my Max jersey?"

"No way. That never even crossed my mind, to tell you the truth. I remembered what you said about getting Talbo's jersey, because you wanted to show him 'a little love.' Well, I wanted you to show me a little love tonight."

I kissed him again. "Don't I show you love all the time?"

He shrugged. "You're my girl, and call me selfish, but I want the whole world to know."

"I thought we agreed to keep this simple," I mumbled.

"It is simple. I like you, you like me. I'm not about to go out and find another girl, and I hope you don't have anyone else on the side."

"No! That's horrible for you to even think that!"

Sid let out a chuckle, and then wrapped one of his fingers in a curl of my hair. "So, if we like each other, and we're not seeing anyone else, why not simplify it and just say we're together? It's a lot harder for me to say, 'Hey, meet this girl I really like and want to be with, but we're not together, even though she likes me, too,' than to say, 'Hey, meet my girlfriend.'"

"It sounds so easy when you put it that way."

"It is easy. We're the ones making it more complicated than it needs to be."

I let out a long sigh. "Okay."

Sidney beamed and let out a whoop, and then he kissed me so hard I thought my lips would bruise. "Slow down there, cowboy, and save some of that energy for the game," I said, pulling away for air.

More of the players started to head into the dressing room, and as they walked by, I wished each of them good luck. When Sidney decided to leave, I gave him a peck on the cheek and said my usual, "Play well."

"How come you wish the other guys good luck, but not me?"

"Isn't it obvious?" I asked. He shook his head, and I explained, "You make your own luck out there, because you're just that good. As long as you play as well as I know you can, you don't need luck."

He looked a little embarrassed, but he seemed more than pleased with the answer. Véro, Kelsey, and I made our way to our seats, and I saw the Crosbys in the row above me.

"So," Lynne said to me, leaning forward to see past V and Kels. "I see you changed your wardrobe. Does this mean you're official or what? It's about time you two stopped sneaking around and just tell everyone."

Ew, I wanted to punch that bitch in the face. She knew exactly what she was doing, gossiping right in front of his parents. What was her problem? "It's just a jersey, Lynne. Don't read too much into it."

That made Lynne back off, but V raised an eyebrow at me questioningly. I nodded, and she knew instantly that we were indeed official. "Oh, by the way, I was instructed to let you know that if you wanted to join the after party, you can stay with Marc-André and me tonight," Véro said, with an intonation so I knew that Sid had asked on my behalf, since I made it clear to him that I would not spend the night with his parents in the house, too.

"Thanks, V, I'll see what the night has in store."

And the night was nothing short of what I expected it to be. The banners were raised, and the Pens came out of the gate playing hard, fast hockey. They were determined to win this game, keeping with the spirit that won them those brand-new banners. The Penguins won 4-1, with Crosby picking up a goal, a primary assist, and a secondary assist. His goal would eventually be the game-winner, and when he scored that beauty on a breakaway, I leapt out of my seat before the siren went off. I turned to Trina and Troy and said, "Have I ever thanked you two for your contribution to the hockey world? Because thank you." They both suppressed a laugh, and Taylor looked repulsed at the reminder that her parents had sex—even if it meant otherwise, neither she nor her brother would have been conceived.

Afterward, we all went back to the lounge to wait for the players. When Sid appeared in the charcoal suit he wore on his birthday, he clapped his father on the back. "What did I tell you, Pops? She's my lucky charm. So far this season, every time she's been in attendance, I've had a multi-point game."

Troy laughed, but it didn't quite seem to reach his eyes. "Well, I guess I should hope you come to a lot of home games."

"That's the best part," Sid answered. "She will be. Noelle's finally agreed to be my girlfriend!"

Everyone congratulated us, and my normal response was to blush. Taylor was hilarious, though, because she cried out, "Yes! I knew it!"

"Can't hide anything from you, can we?" I said playfully, thinking of how many people could say the same thing.

"I could tell as soon as I saw the way Sidney looked at you at the barbecue. And you looked at him the same exact way."

I wrinkled my nose. "Really?" Taylor nodded, and so did Trina, that sparkle in her eyes. I was so transparent.

Trina congratulated Sid on the game, and they said they were going to head back to the house. "We fly home tomorrow, so we want to be rested," she finished.

Troy added, "Don't stay out celebrate out too late, Sidney, you play again tomorrow."

I said goodbye to Trina, Troy, and Taylor, and I wished them a safe flight home to Nova Scotia. Taylor gave me a hug, which I didn't expect, but I thought it was sweet. Although there was quite an age difference between us, she was mature for her age (just as, I'm sure, Sidney was), and I couldn't wait for the opportunity to get to know her better.

Trina likewise pulled me into a hug. She wasn't my mother, but she emitted a maternal aura that made feel as if I were a part of the family. I thought she held on a little long as she said quietly in my ear, "Congratulations, my dear. You're good for him, I can tell. I look forward to seeing you at Christmas." I was stunned speechless as Troy shook my hand, and all three were gone before I could get out another word.

"What did my mother say to you? I've never seen you absolutely speechless before." Still unable to piece together a coherent thought, I just shook my head. Christmas? It's the beginning of October. Isn't that a little premature? "So, did V tell you you can stay with them tonight?"

I nodded. "Yeah, but I don't think I will."

"Why? Aren't you going to come out with us tonight?"

"Maybe for a bit. But I have a reason to spend the night at your place, not so much with them. I might as well go home, because staying at V and Marc's is just going to make more tired come morning." He pursed his lips, but didn't argue. Sid was too pumped after the win to want to press the issue and ruin the fun we could have. "Are Gogo and Lynne going?"

"I don't know, probably."

"Ugh, I don't like her," I said, making sure no one was around to hear. "She's always on my case. You know, she was the one that showed me those pictures on Monday. And tonight, she makes a huge point of asking if you and I were official right in front of your parents. I just can't stand her."

He laughed a little. "Well, you don't have to talk to her if you don't want to."

"Gee, thanks Dr. Phil. I'll remember that the next time she approaches me to run her mouth," I teased.

"How's that working for you?" He did his best Dr. Phil impression, which was pretty awful, but I laughed anyway.

"So, how does this work?" I asked, as we left the lounge and headed for the door.

"How does what work?"

"Leaving here with you?"

"Well, I figure you don't want to ride with me and leave my car here. So, we'll meet at Diesel. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, perfect," I mumbled, thinking that wasn't what I was asking. Do we hold hands? There were bound to be fans waiting for him outside. But, I didn't have to worry about that now, since I had to exit differently to get to my car. I took my new jersey off and put it in the truck, so no one would see it and break into my car and steal it. We all met up again on the Southside and began our celebration.

Sidney and I sat on a couch. He reached over for my hand and pulled it into his, placing our entangled fingers on his lap. I squeezed his hand and thought to myself, So this is what it feels like. My blissful moment ended when I saw Lynne, from across the room, staring at us. What a bitch.

"Do you want anything to drink?" Sid asked me, pulling me out of my thoughts.

"No, I'm okay," I told him. He got up and headed for the bar, and I sought out Véro. She stood by the railing, looking over at the group of people dancing below. "Hey, V, do you know what Lynne's deal is?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's her story? Is there anything I did or said that would make her hate me?"

"That's just the way she is, a royal pain in the ass. No one gets along with her. I wouldn't take it personally."

"I don't know, I really think there's something behind the way she's acting toward me."

"She's always had that attitude to her. She was a waitress at this restaurant we used to go for lunch, and she flirted shamelessly with all the guys. Honestly, I think she had her eye on Sid. This was when Sergei and Ryan Whitney were on the long term injured reserve list, when Alex was called up from the farm team to play in the NHL. He was the only one paying her any attention, so she just kind of settled for him."

"That sucks for Alex, that he's stuck with someone who feels like she settled for him. But that must be it," I rationalized. "That must be why she doesn't like me. She's jealous."

Sidney came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, and I knew if Lynne could see, she would be looking at me and shooting daggers with her eyes. "Hey, Nelly, wanna dance?"

"Sure," I agreed, and we started to dance, which quickly escalated to grinding. My temperature was rising, so I took off my sweater jacket. The look Sid gave me upon seeing me in my cami subsequently lead to me wishing that his parents weren't back at his house. We forgot ourselves and forgot where we were, making out on the dance floor like no one was around and no one had an inkling of who we were.

I wasn't the only one ruing our decision. "You know," he whispered in my ear. "You are my girlfriend now. So it probably wouldn't be too big of a deal if you decided to stay over my place tonight. You can sleep in my bed, and I'll take the couch."

I leaned my forehead against his chest. I wanted just as badly to spend some intimate time with him. "It's like you can read my mind. But I'm not that kind of girl, and I will not have you sleep on the couch the night before a game. I'll get to see you soon enough, I guess."

He groaned. "We leave to play the Islanders tomorrow. I'll be back on Sunday. That's two days away."

"Hey, it could be worse. It could be a week-long, Western Canada road trip." Neither of us were consoled by that, but when we called it a night, we agreed to meet on Sunday for some much-needed one-on-one time.