Sunday, July 12, 2009

15: Good Morning

Slowly, I regained consciousness and became aware of my surroundings. Before my eyes were even open, I knew I was not lying in my own bed. First of all, the sheets felt different beneath me. Second, the bed itself was firmer than what I was accustomed to. And third, there was someone keeping me company.

I was on my left side, curled up against the broad chest of a man with my legs entwined in his. In my own bed, I slept with a body pillow in a similar position, but it felt much better with a person than a sack of cotton.

As I woke up more, I realized that we didn't have sheets or blankets between us—the only barrier between our bodies was the few clothes we were wearing. I began to panic. As I tried to move, several things stopped me. My head was killing me, and I felt a little sick to my stomach. Damn it, I was hung over. Plus, his arms were wrapped around me, and they weren't letting go. I felt like I was prey being constricted by a snake; the more I struggled to free myself, the tighter he held on.

"Stop moving," came a gruff voice from the man beside me. I wondered if Sid’s voice always sounded like this in the morning, or if this was a side effect from a long night of drinking.

"Stop yelling," I said, his voice pounding in my ears.

He chuckled, and the motion of his body was transferred to me. "We’re hung over."

"I need to go find some aspirin," I said, but I didn't try to move again, because whenever I tried, my head only throbbed more.

"We need some carbs. Guaranteed to help."

"Pancakes sound good right about now."

"Mm hmm."

"You should really let me go. So I can find some aspirin."

"You don't need to find it, I know where it is. Medicine cabinet."

"Then you should let me go so I can get some."

"But I’m so comfortable."

"Come on, Crosby," I prodded, and he rolled onto his back. Slowly I sat up and tried to get my bearings. I wasn't sure I remembered where the bathroom was in Max’s house. Then I realized that if Max were awake, he would notice that one of us had not slept on the couch. He would infer, then, that we were both sleeping in the guest bedroom. That terrified me. What else would he infer transpired last night?

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," I lied. "My head is just killing me. How do you feel?"

"About the same. Last night was such a blur."

A blur? Was it possible he didn’t remember everything from last night—specifically, that kiss? Don’t think about it, I told myself, as I pushed off the bed and made it my mission to find the pain killers.

When I made it to the bathroom, I gasped at myself in the mirror. Some remnants of my make-up were streaked down my face, and my hair was knotted into a rat's nest. I washed my face again and tried to brush my hair in an attempt to look respectable. With the knots out, my hair frizzed out, so I dampened the brush and ran it through my hair again. I wasn't very pretty, and most of the compliments I received were about my hair—that it was thick and full, and a beautiful auburn color. But really, it was a pain to handle.

I opened the medicine cabinet and found acetaminophen and ibuprofen. I took two pills of each and swallowed them with a big gulp of water and then made my way back to the guest bedroom. Sidney had made the bed, but his suit was still hanging into the closet next to my dress—and my bra. I put that back on under my tee shirt, er, Max’s tee shirt, and then wandered around trying to find Sidney and to see if Max was still around, too.

"I'm in the kitchen," I heard Sid call, and I took the stairs and searched for the kitchen.

Sidney was dressed in navy blue shorts and a white shirt, which was much less distracting than his underwear, even though that was appealing. "What are you doing?"

"Making pancakes."

"Don't you think Max will mind?"

"He's not here to tell me otherwise," he joked. "Is he still sleeping?"

I looked at the clock on the microwave, which read 9:18. "No, I think he’s at rehab. He said he'd be back after though."

Sid took a large mixing bowl from the cupboard, placed it on the counter, and then began to measure Bisquick into the bowl. I opened the refrigerator door and found the milk and eggs. I poured milk in with the mix and also cracked two eggs in the bowl. He found the mixer and began to blend the ingredients.

"I bet he has some sausage or bacon in the freezer."

"Do you think we should eat all his food?" I joked.

"Eh, we'll make enough for him, too. Then he won't care."

"That settles that. How do you take your eggs?"

We made a great team in the kitchen, working in silence until the pain meds kicked in. In the meantime, sizzling sounds reverberated in the room. Sidney took care of the pancakes while I scrambled some eggs, cooked the sausage, and poured two glasses of orange juice.

Max arrived home just as we were setting the table. "Ah, it smells so good in here! You look good in my clothes," he said, pulling me in for a hug. "I could get used to having a woman in my home, cooking my meals, and taking care of me like this."

"Oh, Maxime, you only wish that you could get a girl like me to act like your wifey. Sid's the one who decided we should make breakfast. He's the one you should marry," I laughed.

Sid joked, "I feel so under-appreciated, Max. I cook and clean for you, and you ignore me. Where's my hug?"

Max stretched out his arms and approached Sid, who laughed and threw a towel at him.

"Here, Max, why don't you finish setting the table?" I suggested, getting another glass of orange juice. Soon, we were all eating around the table, enjoying breakfast and each other's company.

"So tell me, Kid, did you have fun yesterday?"

"Yeah, it was the best birthday ever," he replied, and his comment caught me off guard. I inhaled sharply, and a piece of sausage caught in my throat. I coughed and drank some orange juice as I tried to recover. He had remembered last night's kiss.

"Are you okay?" Max asked, concerned.

I nodded, and Sid added, "She does this all the time. She'll be fine." Not only was I mortified at my reaction to his comment about his birthday, but his other comment about my reaction made me relive the first time I choked, during our first meeting.

"Thanks, Andy, great," I said, which garnered a confused look from Max. "Please feel free to taunt me while I die." He opened his mouth to say something, but I held up my hand and interjected before he could. I loved teasing him. "No, no, that's okay. Max, please tell everyone at my funeral how Sidney Crosby laughed as I asphyxiated and died." I finished my breakfast and excused myself as they sat laughing at the table, and I rinsed my plate, and placed it in the sink.

"Well, I guess we should get going soon," Sid announced. "We wouldn't want to impose on Max's hospitality."

"Any more," Max added.

"I just have to get changed, then," I said.

"It's okay, Noelle, you can wear that home."

"Thanks. I'll wash them and return 'em to you."

"Just give me the shorts back. You can keep the shirt."

My mouth was agape. "Are you sure? This was for the team. It's sacred. I don't even feel right wearing it, let alone keeping it."

He shrugged. "I have more than one, and it’s old now since the season is over. And the look on your face that you get to keep it is priceless."

Moments like this, moments when I was truly speechless, were rare. The seconds ticked by before I could even eke out a mere "thank you."

I went back up to the guest bedroom to gather my things so we could leave. First, I peeled off the socks and balled them up together. I felt silly putting my heels on while wearing guy's clothing, but they were all I had. Then I retrieved my dress from the closet and made sure I had my clutch, phone, and everything I came in with.

"Okay, I have everything," I said, coming back down the stairs. However, I didn’t say it loudly enough, because they were still talking as I approached the entry to the kitchen.

"—home to Canada. It's horrible timing, but how was I supposed to know that?"

"All I'm saying is, don't leave without speaking your peace. You'll regret it."

"It's only for a month though, that's not bad. Just a few weeks."

"Don't wait. Do it before you leave."

I didn't know what I was interrupting, but I tried to make some noise before walking in the kitchen. I was worried that they would think I was eavesdropping. Well, I had been eavesdropping, but I didn't want them to know that. Tapping my heel to the floor a few times, I walked in loudly. "I've got everything I need. Ready when you are, Sid."

They looked up, and I could tell that they had been so engrossed in their conversation that they had forgotten about me.

"Let me grab my suit, and we're off. Thanks again, Talbo, for helping out with last night. I don't know what we would have done otherwise."

Suddenly, a connection went off in my head. "Hey! How's uh, Jordan's sister-in-law doing? Um, what's her name, Tanya? Have you heard?"

The guys must have forgotten, too, because they whipped out their cell phones. "I haven't heard anything, have you?" Max asked.

"No, but I'll send him a text."

Within moments, Sidney's phone was ringing. When he picked it up, he handed it straight to me. I looked at him, very confused. "Hello?" It was Jordan's girlfriend. She was talking a mile a minute. "Whoa, whoa, slow down. First off, tell me, is Tanya okay? And the baby?" When I heard that mother and child were both doing well, I gave the guys a thumbs up so they could relax.

I listened to the long version, that the doctors had tried to stop the premature labor, but the baby had other plans. At around three in the morning, Tanya and Eric's first child, a daughter, was born. Her lungs were well-developed, but she was going to be in the NICU for three weeks, and she would then be assessed for release.

"I'm glad to hear that things are going well. Will you keep me updated? Here, let me give you my cell number so I won't have to hear this through Sid. You know how guys are," I said, partially seriously to Jordan's girlfriend and partially jokingly to be overheard by Sid and Max. "Thanks, I'll talk to you soon. Bye."

I handed Sid back his phone and thanked him, too. He went up the stairs to get his suit so we could finally leave and I could get home.

As I waited for him, I thanked Max. "It was so wonderful for you to come to our rescue last night. And I'm just as excited about the shirt." Even though my arms were full, I hugged him.

"You know when I joke with you, that I'm just joking, right?"

I was very confused. "I never take anything you say seriously."

"Good. Because that's just me, I don't really mean it. I have a bad reputation because of it, but that's not who I am."

"Okay," I said. "I don't know where this little speech is coming from."

"I just wanted us to be clear that we're friends."

"Of course."

"Good. How far away from Pittsburgh are you? A long car trip ahead of you?"

"Forty-five minutes to an hour, depending on traffic and depending on if we obey the speed limit."

"Have a good trip then, and I'll see you soon, right?"

I shrugged. "I hope."

We hugged again, and Sid headed for the door. "Let's go!"

I went out to the car, and followed Sid's lead as he hung his suit in the back seat by hanging my dress in the back before sliding into the front passenger's seat. He started the engine, and we were headed east.

The car ride seemed painstakingly long. Not only had the pain medicine taken only the edge off my throbbing headache, but I also wanted to avoid an awkward conversation with Sidney. I wasn't sure if we could talk without mentioning last night and what happened last night. Sure, that kiss was mind-blowingly amazing, but I didn't know what it meant—and I was terrified that it meant more to me than it did to him.

Sid turned on the radio and that was enough to preoccupy us for the trip. When we arrived at my house and he pulled into my driveway, I tried to find the easiest way to get out of the car. I looked over at him, and he was clutching the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white.

"I want to thank you again for last night. I mean, for the dress, for taking me out. Everyone was so nice."

"I'm glad you had a good time. You know, you could make it a regular habit."

"What do you mean?"

"The season starts up in about a month. I didn't forget about your tickets. We'll get everyone together again."

"That sounds great. Well, I won't keep you any longer, I'm sure you want to get back and get on with your day." I leaned over, and we half-hugged in our seated positions. Without thinking, I gave him a quick peck on the cheek. He smiled, but I didn't let him say anything. I quickly leapt out of the car and grabbed my dress from the back. "Be careful driving back," I said, waving.

He waved back, put the car in reverse, and backed out of the driveway.

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