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?"
"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?"
"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.
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago