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?"
"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.
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.
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