"You're impossible, you know that?" Véro asked, and I could only nod. "The only reason—"
"I don't know what you're about to say, V, and please don't think I'm being rude, but I have a lot on my mind right now."
She shrugged. "I suppose you'll find out soon enough, anyway. It's not my place to say."
"Well, now you have me intrigued."
"Hey, you're the one who said you didn't want to hear it," she laughed. "Look at him," she added sympathetically. "He looks so dejected."
I didn't want to, but I turned around slowly to look at the scene I had left behind so suddenly. Sid stood with Max, talking and running his hand through his hair. I had to admit, he did kind of look dejected. Did I do that to him? Sid was looking at Max and talking, as if he were trying to explain something. When he looked over to where V and I were standing, my breath was caught in my throat. It seemed like whenever I was around Sidney, I was scared and brainless—but when I wasn't near him, I felt pulled in his direction.
"I wonder what they're talking about?" I said absentmindedly.
"One way to find out," she answered, and before I even knew what happened, she grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the two gorgeous men on the floor.
"No, V, you promised!"
"And you broke that promise when you ran away," she countered.
"I feel like I'm at a middle school dance," I grumbled.
"Then stop acting like a thirteen-year-old." Véro had an answer for everything.
"Allo, boys," V said, and then she rambled something off in French to Max. He responded, also in French, and the two of them linked arms and walked away. Again, it was just Sid and me together on the floor.
"Are you all right now?" he asked timidly.
I held up my drink. "Sorry, I was feeling myself sober up."
"Oh." Awkward city.
"Are you having fun?" I questioned, desperate for a conversation topic.
"Best birthday ever?"
He laughed. "We'll see. It's not over yet." After a long pause, it was his turn to ask me, "Are you having fun?"
"Yes, I am," I replied, turning and looking at our group. Geno and Oksana were comfortably close on one couch, with Jordan and Heather sitting similarly nearby. Marc and Véro were dancing, Tyler and Kelsey were too, and Max and Kris looked like they were scanning the crowd for single girls. "Thanks for including me in on all of this."
"I'm just glad you could join us. I figured you would fit right in with the guys."
"Yeah? And how did you figure that?"
He shrugged. "You're not like the typical girls I meet, when it's like talking to a brick wall."
"You mean puck bunnies?"
Blushing, Sid said, "Yeah, I guess."
"So you don't think I'm a puck bunny?" I clarified.
"No, you're definitely not a puck bunny," he answered.
I smiled and looked back into his eyes. "Damn, because I was really going for the lapine look."
Sid shot me a confused look, and I knew that it went right over his head. "Sorry, that was my horrible attempt at a joke."
He nodded and didn't ask questions. I was unsure if I should ask him to dance again. Before I could muster up the courage, he suggested we rejoin his friends. I agreed, even though I wanted to spend more one-on-one time with him. We made our way off the floor and toward the group of people around the couches.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Jordan took another phone call. He tried plugging his left ear with his finger while he strained to listen with his right ear, but the music was too loud. He left the lounge to find a more quiet area to conduct his business.
When he reappeared, he had a serious look on his face. He made his way over to the group. "Hey, listen guys, I'm sorry, but I have to go. Tanya's in labor. Eric's a wreck."
Thank God for Véro, who filled me in on the situation. "Tanya is Jordan's sister-in-law. She's married to Eric, his older brother. She's only seven months along."
"Oh, no," I said, and I quickly said a prayer for the Staal family.
Jordan quickly said his goodbyes and once again wished Sidney a happy birthday, grabbed his girlfriend's hand, and bolted for the door.
After he left, it hit me—how would I get home? Then I kicked myself for thinking that, because I should be more concerned about Tanya and her unborn child than I should be about the rest of the night. No matter what I told myself, however, I still was worried about how the rest of the night would unfold with this curveball thrown in amongst Sidney's plans.
Sid was having a great time. He was being responsible, which I figured was partly for the sake of his reputation. If he got wasted, no doubt pictures would spring up all over the internet to expose his debauchery. But he was definitely intoxicated. Who was going to drive?
Max must have read my mind. "So, change of plans," he said. "Jordan gave me the Kid's keys."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Good." But that didn't solve all the problems. "Are you okay to drive? I still don't know how I'm going to get home—I don't live in Pittsburgh."
"Chill out. Listen. I'm fine. I can't really drink while I'm still rehabbing for my shoulder. I'm just going to take both of you home with me. As understanding as Mario is about Sid and his personal life, I don't think he'll appreciate it if I drop him and some girl off at his house after a night of drinking." I blushed. "Besides, I have to drive Sid's vehicle, and then I wouldn't be able to get home." He must have seen the disappointed look on my face, because he added, "I hope that's okay, because it's the best I can do."
"No, that's great. I was worried about what was going to happen, since obviously neither Sid nor I can drive tonight. You saved us from a huge headache. Or, at least you saved me, because Sid's clearly couldn't care about anything right now." I looked at Sidney, and he was smiling and laughing with TK. I wondered how often he got to relax like this and just be a normal guy. For at least seven months out of the year, he was hard at work in the rink, and I knew that his off season was spent in the gym and on the ice as he determinedly toiled to improve his game.
"Well, that being said, we can't be too late. I hate to cut his celebration short, but I have rehab and regular training for tomorrow, so I wasn't planning on staying out for too much longer."
"Rehab on a Sunday?"
"Eh, I guess you could say it's a perk of being a professional athlete," he commented. I loved his accent and the way he said athlete, with a hard "t" plosive instead of a "th" fricative. "The doctors work with my schedule. But it could be a downside, too, since I have to do rehab on the weekend."
"Well, I guess the downside of being a pro athlete is that you get injured."
Max laughed. "The big goal is always worth the risk."
Those last words echoed in my head. Sure, that mantra applied to hockey. But didn't it apply in real life, too?
At quarter to one, I could tell Max was getting anxious and was ready to leave. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to get Sidney to leave, since he still looked like he was having the time of his life. "Hey, Sid," I interrupted, "we should really start thinking about getting out of here. We're staying over Max's tonight, and we shouldn't keep him out too late."
I could tell that he was torn: he was having a great time and wanted to continue with his night, but he also knew that staying would be an inconvenience to Max and that he should go. Luckily, the other guys picked up on it and helped me out.
"Yeah, it is kind of getting late. And we have to pack for our trip home to Quebec," said Marc-André.
"I'm feeling kind of tired," said Kelsey. "We should probably leave soon, too, Tyler."
I mouthed "thank you" to them, because they made it easier to end the night while it was still young. Everyone said their goodbyes, and we headed for the door.
"Didn't you drive tonight, Max?" I asked. I wondered why he was able to drive Sid's car.
"No, I came with Marc, Véro, and Kris."
I laughed. "The Frenchies like to stick together, don't they?"
"Marc and I are great friends, and Kris is so shy. He needs to be around people who make him feel comfortable."
We piled into the Range Rover and headed over to Max's. Once we were out of the club atmosphere, I realized how tired I was. The day had been emotionally draining, and my feet were killing me. Max unlocked the front door and ushered us inside. "You look exhausted, so I'll spare you the tour. I'll show you to the guest bedroom." Up the stairs we went, and he pointed out the bathroom and the guest bedroom.
"Um, do you have something I could change into?"
"You mean you don't want to sleep in that dress? Sure, follow me." We walked into Max's master bedroom. I tried not to be too nosy, but the room definitely had a bachelor's feel to it. He opened his dresser and pulled out a gray shirt and a pair of black basketball shorts. "This'll do."
He tossed the clothes at me and my mouth dropped. The shirt he gave me had the punisher skull on one arm and the Pens logo on the other. This was the locker room shirt made exclusively for the players during the 2009 playoffs. Max smiled when he saw the expression on my face. I had been trying to play it cool, but the hockey fan in me bubbled over.
"Oh my goodness, do you know what this is?"
"It's just a shirt, to me. Go change and get to bed. I probably won't be here when you finally wake up in the morning, but I'll be back after rehab. If you want to shower or anything, there's towels in the bathroom."
"Can I have a pair of socks?" I asked. "I hate sleeping in bare feet." He pulled out a pair of socks, which I knew would be too big for me, and tossed them in my direction. I thanked him again and bade him good night, and walked into the guest bedroom. I was surprised to see Sid there, lying on the bed.
"You're going to wrinkle your suit," I said. "Unzip me?"
As he slowly got up from his position, I kicked off my heels, pulled on the black shorts and tied the waist so they wouldn't fall off my hips, and slipped on the socks. He made his way around to me and I turned my back to him and swept my hair off to one side. I felt his hands trail down my back as he undid my dress, and it sent a shiver up my spine.
I quickly threw the shirt over my head and down the length of my body without putting my arms through the sleeves. Instead, I pulled the straps of the dress over my shoulders, effectively undressing under the cover of the shirt. The dress fell to the floor, and I stepped out of it, hung up the dress in the closet, and swiftly unfastened my strapless bra and hung it up, too. "I'm going to wash my face, and when I come back, you better be on the couch."
When I came back, fresh faced and ready to sink into the comfy bed, I found Sid stripped down to his black boxer briefs and ready to lie back down.
"What do you think you're doing? You're on the couch, buddy-boy."
"But it's my birthday! You wouldn't want to make the birthday boy sleep on the uncomfortable sofa. The bed's more than big enough for the both of us."
Sidney stretched out on the bed, propped his elbow up, and rested his head on his hand. He looked adorable in that position, or at least he would have looked adorable if he had been wearing clothes. In just his boxer briefs, he was dead sexy.
It was hard for me to keep my head straight. Part of me wanted to jump straight into bed, and the other part wanted me to evacuate in a quick and calm manner. Finally, I relented. "Okay. But only because it's your birthday. And you're staying over the covers," I added, while I pulled back the sheets. I turned off the lamp and snuggled in for the night.
"I just can't figure you out, Nelly," he said. With his speech so slurred, I wondered if he was consciously using my nickname or if he was beyond the capability of pronouncing it properly.
"And what's to figure out about little ole me?" I asked. I was on my left side, looking at him as he was lying on his back with his hands behind his head.
"Everything. You're a mystery to me."
"Do you want to know what's a mystery to me?"
"Yes." He rolled over onto his side so he could look at me. The room was dark, but I could just feel his eyes on me.
"The dress you bought me. How did you know what size to get?"
"I have a sister, so I know a little about girlie things. And I asked Nathalie to help me. I showed her your picture, and we went shopping."
I was dumbfounded. Nathalie Lemieux helped pick out my dress? A mere month ago, I never would have imagined anything like this could have happened. "Oh. You'll have to thank her for me."
"You can thank her yourself, whenever you meet her."
I tried not to read too much into what he was saying; after all, he was drunk and we were both tired.
"So," I said, before we fell asleep, "best birthday ever?"
I sat up a little and looked down at his face. "Almost?"
He smiled and leaned up off the bed. I was reminded of the movie Hitch—you go ninety percent, and let the other person come ten. Sid's face was so close to mine, and I could feel the heat radiating from his body and smell the liquor on his breath. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in the following two seconds: do I want this? Hell yeah, I want this. But will he remember it in the morning? I don't care if he remembers, I'll remember. It's been a while since I kissed anyone, will I remember how? What if I'm a bad kisser? No one's ever complained before. What if he's a bad kisser? I wonder what his lips feel like, and if they're as soft as they look.
I stopped thinking and just acted. I leaned down and erased the distance between our lips. The kiss began pure and chaste, just our lips pressed together, until I felt his mouth curve into a smile. He placed one hand on the back of my head, tangling his fingers in my hair, and he sucked my bottom lip into his mouth. When I felt his tongue trail the length of my lip, I instinctively let out a soft moan. Sidney took advantage of my now open mouth and deepened the kiss. I placed one hand on his chest and tried to push away. Reluctantly, he let me go.
"Now, it's the best birthday ever."
My Favorite Five (2015)
1 year ago