I knew on Sunday, when Sid called me after I sent him my usual, pregame "play well" text, that something was bothering him.
"Shouldn't you be napping?"
"I can't sleep."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just really worked up for this game."
Even though it pained me to say it, I told him, "You know it's just a preseason game—"
"But isn't to me. It doesn't feel that way. This is unfinished business for me."
Then it dawned on me. Sid never got to finish Game 7; he had to watch impotently from the bench as the Wings feverishly tried to score a goal to tie the game. This meant Sid wasn't like the rest of the Penguins having to compete in a rematch—he had to replay game seven. Unfortunately, he had to prove to himself over anyone else that he was capable to defeat Detroit. Sid was his own biggest motivator, and he needed no external drive or push. Unfortunately, that meant his biggest obstacle to overcome was himself.
I knew nothing I could say would erase the thoughts spinning through his head. "I know that the last time you had to face Detroit, things didn't go the way you wanted them to. I can't even imagine how you feel right now, and I'm not going to pretend to. That said, I don't want you to go crazy tonight, overexerting yourself and—"
"You don't get it. The biggest game of my life, and I had to—"
"Hey, shut up for a second," I demanded. "You called me, so you're going to listen to what I have to say before you start ranting and raving." He was silent, so I knew he was going to try to listen. I didn't mean to get snappy with him, but at least he was taking me seriously. "The Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Not in spite of your injury. Not because of your contributions all season and playoffs long. The Pens won because of the team effort and the roles every guy played during each shift, each game, each series. So don't think that you have to be Superman tonight. Go out there and play like you always do, play your role, and let the team do its collective job. Don't let what happened last season get under your skin and affect you this season."
"It sounds so easy when you put it that way," he sighed.
"Let me tell you something, it's not easy. Hell, why do you think my pro tennis career never took off?" I tried to joke to ease the mood, but I don't think it worked. "The game is as much mental as it is physical. Just try to treat this like a game against any other team."
"Thanks. I'll try. So, what are you up to today?"
I didn't want to linger on the phone with Sidney, because I didn't want to mess with his routine; however, I figured if he was willing to talk to me, he must be okay with the deviation. "Oh, not too much of anything. I went out to the courts this morning to hit the ball around, and then I tried to read some of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The book is really quite boring, to tell you the truth."
"I can't believe it. It's a classic!"
"I know, I feel so blasphemous. But it's true—Victor Hugo rambles for pages about the architecture of the damn church. It's painful to read. I mean, I skim through pages, almost chapters at a time. I might as well be reading it in the original French."
"Oh, I didn't know you could read French."
"I can't," I laughed, and so did he. We talked a few more minutes about nothing before Sid said he thought he was ready for his nap. Again, I told him to play well, and we got off the phone. I tried turning back to Hunchback, but I was too nervous for him. This was a big game for all the guys, regardless of whether it took place in the preseason, regular season, or playoffs. Telling him not to worry just wasn't going to cut it, but I hoped that he would realize that he didn't need to kill himself for a game when he had nothing to prove and everything to lose.
I popped open a bottle of Miller Lite and sat on the couch, anxiously awaiting the five o'clock puck drop. This game was different: as much as I was rooting for the team, my heart was with Sid. I was with him as he skated on the ice, passed the puck, took some shots, and sat on the bench. He played with a focus I had never seen in him before, as if he were wearing blinders and could only see the game. Both teams were playing with an intensity reserved for interdivisional rivals.
The fans in Detroit were ruthless and tasteless with their Cindy Crysby signs, calling him a whiner and a diver. I was livid and outraged, but I was also worried about a repeat hit on Crosby that would leave him struggling to get to the bench. Hockey is physical and painful, I knew that, but this was the first game I winced at every check and every hack.
Even with Zetterberg on his tail, Crosby still managed to score the only goal of the game. He was named second star, with Fleury getting the first for his shutout. I watched his postgame interview, in which he said that the team played as well as they did because they got to their game, executed, and treated this game like every other. Not my words exactly, but close enough to make me feel like I had helped when he called earlier.
My phone rang that night as I was in bed skimming through more pages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I answered, "Congratulations, second star."
"Thanks. The plane just landed, and I'm on my way home. What did you think of the game?"
"Good. A nailbiter, for sure. But do I get to say I told you so?"
He laughed. "No, but I do get to thank you."
"Hey, sorry to have to cut this short, but I need to get home. I'll call you tomorrow. 'Night, Nelly."
Without me having a chance to say goodnight, he hung up the phone. That was bizarre, I thought. I paid no mind to it and went to bed, dreading Monday morning, which was just as bad as I imagined it would be. It felt like I hadn't gotten a wink of sleep as I rolled out of bed and climbed into the shower.
I dressed in black slacks and a white, green, and gold striped button down shirt and slipped on my black ballet flats. I brushed my hair but didn't style it, since I was running late. I packed my usual lunch, peanut butter sandwich, apple, and Coke, and was out the door in under thirty minutes. Still, I was late for work, but as long as I beat the boss in, I was in the clear.
At ten thirty, my extension rang. I never received personal calls at work, and immediately I wondered what had happened to whomever. "Hello?"
"Hey," I tried to say casually. Steve sat at the desk beside me and could hear anything I said. "What's up?"
"I hope you don't mind me calling you at work, but I called your cell and it went straight to voicemail."
"I must have forgotten to charge it. You don't usually call me when I'm at work, though."
"I know, I figure I shouldn't bother you. Plus, you don't bother me while I'm at work."
Giggling, I responded, "That would be kind of hard to do."
"I guess so. Anyhow, I don't want to keep you, but I wanted to see what you were doing tonight."
"Well, work til five, go home, and then probably nothing."
"Then have dinner with me."
"Is that a question or a demand?"
"I should say question, but I really must insist. A movie, too. How does that sound?"
"Sounds tempting. But by the time I drive out to you, I don't know if I'll have time for all that."
"Well, I'll come out your way, we can meet as soon as you're done with work. Please say yes."
"Yes! Where do you want to go, and what do you want to see?" Right away, I started pulling up movie times and fantasizing about the evening.
"I don't care. You pick, just tell me where to go."
"Hm, I like all this control." I chose the restaurant, a small place called the Brick Oven, and gave him directions to get there before hanging up the phone. As I printed out a list of the movie times, so we could chose the flick over dinner, Steve asked who I had spoken to. "A friend."
"Didn't sound like a friend. Sounded like a boy."
"Don't be jealous, Steve," I teased. "You'll still get to see me forty hours a week no matter who I see outside of work."
"You never talk about your life outside of this building. I was starting to think you lived here."
"Sometimes, it feels like that," I answered.
In the afternoon, I checked my e-mails, and saw one from an unknown address. The subject read "Hi Noelle its Lynne." I knew from the grammatical mistake that it was Alex Goligoski's girlfriend, and I was tempted to delete it before opening it. Something, however, changed my mind, and I was glad for it.
Hi Noelle! This is Lynne, Gogo's gf. We've spoken a few times. You may remember me from the game on Friday. I hope you don't mind that that I've asked for your email addy. I came across something you'd might like to see.
I followed the link she provided and was shocked at the result. I couldn't do this sitting at my desk, so I printed the pages and took them into the restroom, where I could have some privacy.
Pictures. Sidney and I at Diesel posing for a picture with Marc-André holding my camera, the night we met there serendipitously. Sid and I at Diesel the night of his birthday, dancing so close to each other, gazing into each other's eyes, just moments before I freaked out and abandoned him on the dance floor. The two of us at the volleyball court, when he fell to the ground in the sand and I landed on top of him in a somewhat compromising position.
I could have handled that. We had spent time together, and those pictures were relatively innocent. At that point, the accompanying article discussed the mystery woman who had been recently spending so much time with Pittsburgh's superstar hockey player. Until it continued: But apparently, one superstar isn't enough! Then two more pictures followed, both from the first preseason game. Max and I hugging after Sidney's first goal, the 25 on my jersey in plain sight in the picture. And then me, planting a kiss on Max's cheek, a smile across his face. While one boyfriend was scoring on the ice, another was scoring in the stands.
I thought I was going to vomit. I knew the story was garbage, but how many people would see this? My friends and family? Sid's friends and family? I know that there was bound to be some sort of repercussion from dating Sidney, but I wasn't expecting this type of story nor expecting it so fast. I only had to get through an hour of looking cheerful at work. I allowed myself five more minutes to wallow in my self-pity in the restroom. After that, I dried my tears, washed my face, furiously finger-combed my hair (it figures, the day I don't care is the day I have a date!), and went back to my desk.
When five o'clock hit, I was out the door, papers in hand. Sidney was waiting for me inside the Brick Oven with a booth reserved in the corner—which happened to be my favorite seat in the place. I approached Sid and he stood up to greet me, pulling me into a hug and kissing my cheek. We seemed to have the same attitude toward PDA—no kisses on the mouth with other people around. Thank goodness for our discretion, or my predicament could have been worse. I slid into the side of the booth that gave me a view of the entire restaurant, and Sid seemed content to not face the room.
"Hey, Nelly, how was work?"
"Fine, until I stumbled upon this," I said, not hesitating and not even saying hello. I threw the pages on the table and asked him if he'd seen this yet. His reaction was to laugh. "This isn't funny," I hissed quietly.
"I'm sorry, I'm used to ridiculous stories like this. They don't bother me anymore. And really, you shouldn't let it bother you either. People are going to write stories about you, for none other than the simple fact that I like you. But we know what happened, and that this is all a farce," he said, waving his hands over the article.
"I know that and you know that, but everyone's going to see this! Your parents, for crying out loud!"
"They don't see things like this."
"My parents may see this!"
"Don't they already know about us?"
"No," I admitted quietly. Sid didn't respond, and I knew that he wasn't pleased with my answer. I continued, "Do your parents know about us?"
"They know about you, but not about us. That's up to you. I was hoping you'd have your answer for me. I was planning on a barbecue, and some of the guys could come too, so you wouldn't feel alone and so pressured."
"I'm kind of freaking out right now. Can we not talk about your parents?"
"It's important to me," he said in a low voice.
I decided to come clean with him. "I know it's important to you, but this isn't the way I wanted word to get out about us. You may be okay with this being spread across the internet, but I'm worried. Not only haven't I told my parents about you, but I haven't even told my friends. I was not planning on having them learn about it this way."
He was quiet for a moment. "Is that why you were so short with me on the phone? Why you wouldn't even say my name?"
"I'm not embarrassed by you or anything—quite the opposite, in fact—I just don't want to explain anything to anyone. I shouldn't have to. But there's going to be so many questions. We've got a good thing going here, and this is just going to complicate things and ruin it." I was close to tears, but I knew that everything I was saying wasn't truly expressing my emotions and fears.
"Wow, I think you're more worked up than I am about this."
"I can't believe you aren't freaking out. Doesn't this bother you?"
"Honestly, not a whole lot. Because I like you, and I don't care who knows. These aren't incriminating photos, we aren't doing anything bad in them, and I have no reason to be ashamed of them, or ashamed of how I feel about you. But I am bothered about it since it's so obviously bothering you."
"I just don't want everyone to get this impression of me, that I'm some slutty puck making my way through the team."
"You aren't. In everyone's esteem that matters, we know you aren't. Anyone who knows you wouldn't believe this story for a second." He ripped those printed sheets in half and then reached across the table and took my hand. "If this is going to bother you, let me talk to my agent and see if we can take these pictures down."
"You're honestly okay with this? I mean, someone was there at each place we were, taking pictures of us—of you! And now everyone can see them!"
"I'm used to that, cameras everywhere I go. I guess this is your first exposure to my life in the media spotlight. It's an invasion of my—our—privacy, but I have to live with it, because it comes hand-in-hand with my playing hockey. It happened to Geno and Oksana when they went to Miami, so I guess it's my turn on the media merry-go-round." He shrugged and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "But it's not all bad. I kind of have to introduce you to my parents now, because if they see these, they're going to insist on it."
I laughed, and it felt good to let go of some of the emotions coursing through me. Sidney had the amazing ability to calm me down, soothe me, and distract me. "I thought you said they wouldn't see something like this?"
"Theoretically, they could somehow hear through the grapevine, or someone could e-mail them the website...." He had a cheeky grin on his face as he implied that he would do anything it takes for me to meet his parents.
"All right," I agreed. "I'll meet them. But you'll tell them that I am a friend. I've had enough drama to last the rest of the month." Before he could say anything, I changed the subject. "I think we're definitely going to have to see a comedy tonight, what do you think?"
"That sounds appropriate. This isn't how I wanted tonight to start. This was supposed to be my big thank you."
"Really? A thank you for what?"
"Yesterday. You served as a great distraction for me before the game. I was so lost in my head that I never would have gotten my pregame nap. But talking to you, and not having to talk about anything specific, was just so relaxing. It gave me a bit of perspective...." He shrugged as if unsure how to explain. "You really helped a lot."
I smiled and winked. "Anything for the team."
He laughed, and we ordered dinner. I loved the Brick Oven because the food was good and came in large portions. My calzone was huge, and even though I was starving, I could barely get through half. Sidney finished his plate of pasta and the rest of my dinner.
We headed over to the theater for a 7:15 showing of the latest Judd Apatow flick. Some of the patrons stared at us, but no one approached us. I let him pay for the tickets, and I offered to purchase any concession snacks.
We settled into the last row for the movie. Sidney pushed up the armrest between us so he could put his arm around me. I snuggled in next to him, resting my head on his shoulder and placing my hand on his knee, and I could feel his muscles beneath his specially-made jeans. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"You all right?"
"I mean it, are you okay with everything? Do you want me to talk to Pat?"
"Well, you're kind of right. In that we don't have anything to be ashamed of. And, eventually, I guess people would find out about a girl spending time with the Face of the NHL." He winced when I said that, but I laughed and continued. "So, I guess given the circumstances, I can live with these pictures, even if the story is total fiction." I then added while rolling my eyes, "This has been a great first date."
"This isn't our first date," he said.
"It's our first real date," I explained. "The weekend before last doesn't count."
"Aren't you counting my birthday?"
I thought about it. "No. Your friends were all there."
"That still doesn't make sense, given your definition of a date. Our lunch together should count, since it was just you and me."
"No, it was residual hanging-out from the night before. Don't try to make sense of my reasoning, just trust me," I laughed.
"You're such a mystery to me, do you know that?"
"I can only imagine what it's like to put up with me."
He kissed the top of my head as the lights dimmed and the previews began. "It's actually a lot of fun."
The movie was funny, but I was sad when it ended because that meant an end to our first date. Even though we were in public, I let him kiss me good night as he escorted me to my car. It was brief, but it was still enough to leave me wanting more.
"So, the barbecue's on Wednesday. I'm really excited for you to come."
"Should I bring anything?"
"I don't know, potato salad? Deviled eggs?"
Sid shrugged. "Whatever you want, Nelly."
"You need to tell me, because I don't want to bring anything you are already going to provide."
"I'll get back to you, okay?"
"Okay." We kissed one more time before getting into our cars, and I drove home on cloud nine. I still had a lot on mind and a lot of phone calls to make before people's feelings got hurt, but I tried to not let it bother me anymore. I doubted everything when Sidney and I were apart, but things made sense when we were together. All I had to do was get through to Wednesday, when I would see him again.
And his parents.
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago