You guys are fucking awesome.
In all seriousness, I'm blown away by your support. I'm grateful to you all for your encouragement and wonderfully sweet words. I'm being very selfish by posting one update per day, because I love your reactions and take them into consideration for future chapters. Speaking of which, the posts to come were obviously a little difficult to write, so here's hoping you enjoy them just as much. Thanks again and I hope you enjoy!
oh, and of course: Happy birthday, Evgeni!
Eva never answered my message. I called Megan and Nat, hoping that I could hang out with someone and get my mind off what happened that morning, but they told me that they had plans with Eva that night, and it would just be weird if I tagged along. They weren't rude or excluding, insinuating they didn't want to hang out with me at all, but they just didn't want to deal with the drama of the disagreement between Eva and myself. They suggested we get together sometime later in the week. I felt slightly betrayed; Eva and I had met in high school, and I met Megan and Nat in a class at Pitt. Those three were friends because of me, and now I was the odd man out.
Sidney never tried to reach me. Ever since I drove off, he let me go without a word. No calls, texts, e-mails. I can't say I blame him—we were both pretty brutal. We said harsh things, things that we couldn't retract and or easily forget had crossed our lips.
What hurt most of all was how Sidney was dead right. Of course he would get that impression of me. Hell, I still hadn't told my parents about us. I was afraid to let him get close to me. Afraid to let him into my world if he wouldn't become a permanent fixture in it. But as much as that was true, I felt that it was okay for me to feel that way. Our relationship was still so new.
And I was stubborn. When I believed in something, I didn't back down. That's why I was able to kiss Sidney good night and head home on the night of the regular season opener. It was why I forced myself to walk away from him Sunday morning, refusing to accept his charity. Call it a character flaw or call it a value, but it is what it is, and I'm not changing.
I should have been completely honest with him. I should have told him why it was so hard to accept his presents and otherwise philanthropic gestures. Sidney was understanding and patient, but I couldn't expect him to follow my lead if I didn't clue him in on my motivations.
On Monday, I took a last-minute personal day; I had something very personal to take care of, and I had to take care of it during the day. First, I packed my car for one last trip to the city, and then I called V. I knew that she should be the last person I should be asking for a favor, especially this favor, but I had alienated so many people I cared about in the past few days that I didn't have many left to turn to. She agreed to meet me for lunch, and I told her I would pick her up around noon. I took her to the last place I knew I could possibly run into Sidney: McDonald's.
At first, we small-talked, but Véro didn't tolerate this for long. "When are you going to tell me why you're out here? You're supposed to be working."
"I took a personal day. What time is practice for the guys today?"
"One." Her face lit up. "Are you going to talk to him? We can go to the arena now and meet them before practice starts."
I shook my head. "No. I'm doing this now so I don't have to face him. I'm giving him his stuff back, and I'm getting mine. This is a lot to ask of you, but I want you to come with me to Sid's house. I want a witness there that I'm only taking my things, and I'm not doing anything crazy like writing graffiti on his walls or gutting his couch or going psycho-bitch on him."
"You don't honestly think he'd think that about you, do you?"
"I work for a lawyer, so I'm just being overly cautious. Things can turn ugly very quickly, and I'm just covering my own ass, even though I highly suspect I'm being paranoid. Please just come along?"
"How are you even going to get in his house?"
"He gave me a key. Actually, he had Max give it to me that night we watched the game at your place, the weekend before last. I haven't used it, but he told me to hold onto it in case I ever needed it."
"You never told me that! He gave you a house key?"
"Yeah, V, I just explained that." I rolled my eyes. She was making such a big deal out of this.
"I know, but that's such a big step. Isn't it obvious how much he adores you? You can't seriously be considering calling it quits?"
"I think I'm past the 'considering' stage. I think it's a done deal." I dipped a fry into my chocolate shake. Ah, nothing like comfort food to steel you for the day ahead.
Véro sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I don't have to tell you that I don't like this one bit. You know that. But you're a friend, and you obviously need someone around with her head on straight. I'll tag along, but I don't like it. Just let me go to the restroom."
"Thanks V, you have no idea what this means to me."
After lunch, I drove over to Sid's place. The driveway was empty. Véro had mentioned that it was an optional practice, but I knew Sidney never opted out of anything if it held the allure of giving him an advantage or edge over the competition. I grabbed my things—er, Sid's things—out of the trunk and unlocked his front door with the silver key on my key chain. This certainly wasn't how I imagined using it.
I went up to Sid's bedroom, where I was sure he'd see that I'd returned what he'd given me. This was it; once this swap was finished, our relationship was done for. First, I hung up his Crosby jersey, the number 83 Steelers jersey, and then the dress he had given me on his birthday.
"He's not going to be happy that you're giving those back. They're not his—they're his presents to you," Véro commented.
"I don't care. I'll never wear them, because they'll just remind me of him. He can make use out of them somehow."
"Even the dress? I don't think it would fit him."
I was glad that V was keeping her humor through the ordeal, even if I didn't show it. "Do you want it?" I asked, earnestly handing the dress to her. "You'd probably have to have it taken in, but I bet it would look nice on you."
"No, I don't want it."
I shrugged and hung it up in the closet with everything else. Most of all, I was loathe to give back the black hoodie. I practically lived in it anymore. I quickly hung it over the door knob of the closet and turned away, and then opened the top drawer of his dresser and began to pull out my things.
"He even cleared out room for you? I swear, Noelle, if you can't make it work with Sid, then there is just no hope for the rest of us."
"Yeah right. Look at you and Marc. You guys are so freakin' adorable together that I want to hurl. You've been together so long, and you still look at each other like you've just met."
"Yeah, but you and Sid? There's just something about your story, the way you guys just came together."
Before I could say anything else, I heard a car in the street, the engine shut off, and a door slam. I closed my eyes. "Véro, please don't tell me you called him."
"I didn't! I sent a message to Marc, just to let him know what was going on." She looked out the window, and I knew she saw his Range Rover. "He must have told him, Noelle, because I swear to you that I didn't."
I heard another car. Sid's house was on a secluded street of a gated community. We never heard this much traffic. Now who was here? The front door of the house opened, and his voice rang through the foyer. "Nelly?"
Get my stuff and get out. That was the plan, and I fiercely tried to finish it, grabbing my clothes and shoving them into my empty bag on his bed. Footsteps on the stairs. Hurry up! I was panicked and frantic. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen, he wasn't supposed to show up. I was supposed to have closure.
"Where is she, V?" I could hear him in the hallway. Something in his voice gave me the chills. Desperation? Anguish? I knew I'd have to face him; there was no way I could get out of it now. He appeared in the doorway, wearing his shin guards, hockey pants, compression shirt, and his obnoxiously yellow crocs. I guessed he had been getting ready for practice and gave up halfway through. He stood there, staring at me, Véro blocking him. Not that he couldn't get past her, but I appreciated her symbolic gesture.
He watched me, wide-eyed, not moving. I could see in his eyes that he was processing the scene. The jerseys in the closet, the empty drawer. Marc ran up the stairs, yelling, "I'm sorry, it was an accident!" He bumped into Sid in the doorway and looked around at the three of us who stood unwavering, motionless.
I was the first to speak. "You guys should get back to practice."
"It's optional," Sid said.
"You never not go to a practice, regardless if you have to."
"This is different. I have a reason to not be there."
"I won't be that reason," I told him. "I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I wouldn't interfere with your game."
"Well, it's kinda late for that. We need to talk. You're here and I'm here, so let's talk."
"I don't feel like it." We weren't yelling, but our words were icy and impersonal.
"Don't be a hypocrite. You're the one that said we need to be more open."
"That was different. We don't have anything further to discuss. Please just go and let me finish here." I did want him to be at practice, for his own sake as much as mine.
"Not a chance. I'm not going anywhere unless you're coming, too. If you want me to go to practice, then you're coming to the arena, too."
"That's not fair, Crosby. You're using my love for the team against me."
He shrugged, not even a hint of a smirk on his face. "Whatever it takes to get you to talk to me."
I looked at V, who was actively avoiding my gaze, but I knew what she would have instructed me to do anyway: talk to him. I had the advantage if I went to the rink, because I could think about what I wanted to say, whereas now everything was in the air. If I didn't have time to think, I would only get emotional, and who knows where that would lead.
No! Stop trying to think rationally! Nothing good could come out of talking this over. I knew I'd only get worked up even more. Things were just simpler this way, if I could just avoid him all together. I knew this wasn't going to end well. Too bad my mouth was operatively connected to my brain, and not my heart. "Okay, fine. But I'm only agreeing so you can go to practice."
Still not thinking clearly, I left my packed bag on his bed, and no one corrected my error. Sid looked a little relieved, but I was shaking inside. I didn't think I could drive, so Marc drove me to the arena in my Neon. V offered to accompany me to practice, but I told her to go home. I had already gotten her deeper in my mess than I had wanted. She wished me luck and drove home in Marc's SUV.
At first, my temperamental baby wouldn't start. I told Marc to sweet talk my car—he would especially have luck with her with that accent of his. He smiled at me and said something in French, and the engine turned over. After we were on our way, he turned to say something.
"I'm honestly sorry about that, Noelle. He was standing behind me, and I thought it was Max. Before I even realized it was him, he was out the door in half his hockey gear."
"Why did you follow him out here?"
"He was possessed. I've never seen him like that before. I didn't know what he was going to do, and I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."
I leaned back against the headrest. It felt so unnatural to be in the passenger seat of my own car. "Nothing's okay. I'm so sorry I got you and V mixed up in this, too. I hope this doesn't make things weird between you and Sid on the ice."
"Don't worry about us. I'd worry about you for now, and how you guys are going to work through this."
Snorting, I said, "I don't know if I want to work through this."
"You don't mean that."
"I wish I did. My life would be so much easier."
"Nothing worth winning ever came easy."
For the first time in two days, I laughed from somewhere deep inside. "Hockey players are so unoriginal."
When we got to practice at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, Sid was already there. I pushed past him and headed for Jay's Sportsbar and Restaurant. If I was going to have to do this today, I needed a drink. As I watched practice from the bar, I scribbled a few thoughts on a napkin. I wanted to make sure I said everything I wanted to him.
After my thoughts were on paper, I sat in the stands and watched the end of practice. I plugged in my iPod and hit shuffle. Jason Mraz's "Details in the Fabric" appropriately played in my ears. Even on the best of days, the song brought tears to my eyes, but it hardened my resolve and I used those beautifully sung words as motivation to stay strong and hold my own.
The guys skated off the ice and headed to change into street clothes. My stomach somersaulted; my moment was coming. I headed toward the door and waited for Sid, who was one of the last to come out of the dressing room. Maybe he was just a slow poke, or maybe he was waiting for everyone else to leave. As some of the other guys filtered out, they gave me knowing glances. A lot of them didn't say anything, but some did. Marc wished me luck, Jordan said that he needed me around to pick on, because Heather hated being the brunt of his jokes, and Max hugged me and told me to be open and honest, and things would work out for the best.
Sidney came out finally, and we mostly stared at each other for a while. "Um, thanks for coming out here. I'm glad you're giving me this chance to talk to you. I know my words were callous, and you probably hate me now—"
"I don't hate you, Sid. If I did, that would make this so much easier on me."
"Well, good. Remember that time at lunch when you came over after my parents left? And you told me that I was 'damn near perfect?' And I asked you to remember that, because there would be a time I'd screw up?"
"You aren't the only one who screwed up, Sid. I made a mess of things, too."
"Listen, I'm sorry about what I said, and how I said it. You didn't deserve that. I was feeling frustrated, because it just hurts when I try to do something nice for you and you throw it right back in my face."
"I'm sorry I called you a prick. And I'm sorry that I kind of flipped out without explaining. I should have told you before why this bothers me." I took a deep breath before I began my lengthy confession. I hoped he knew what I was trusting him with, how monumental it was for me to reveal my painful past. "When I was fifteen, my dad lost his job. My mother was a housewife, fully dependent on my dad. But it wasn't a big deal, because he'd made enough to save for retirement, provide me with a college fund, and even put money aside in a rainy day savings account. But instead of finding another job, he decided to go out on his own and start his own company. I don't even remember what it was, some stupid hare-brained scheme or whatever.
"He invested all my parents' money into his endeavor. It failed miserably. We had nothing. I mean nothing. My mom had to get a job for the first time in her life, and I worked after my high school classes to help pay the bills while my dad struggled to pick up the pieces of his decimated pride.
"My future was gone, just like that," I continued, snapping my fingers. "I studied so hard for scholarships, but five years of college was really expensive, and I had no help from my parents. After the stunt my father pulled, their credit was ruined and they couldn't even cosign my loans. I don't have to tell you how hard I worked to get where I am today, taking classes and working two jobs to afford books, meal plans, bus fare to get to class, and to make sure the water or electricity didn't get shut off at home. After years of struggling, my parents are back on track. But I will have to work for years to dig myself out of my student loans.
"I learned from my mother's mistake. You don't let yourself think that someone is going to take care of you, even your family, because you don't know what the future holds. That's why I can't accept money from you. I won't end up like my mother. My job pays decent money, and I budget well and spend within my means. Anything I receive from you is like wasting what I've worked so hard for. If you support me, my struggles though high school and college will have meant nothing. That was such a difficult time in my life—I have to think that I went through it for a reason." I took a deep breath, finally finishing the story about my past.
"Wow, Nelly, I didn't know."
"It's not something I choose to advertise. I hate that I had to go through that, I hated my life every day I woke up and had to bust my ass, but I made the best out of it and I put my heart and soul into making it through. I gave up my adolescence, and a lot of my future is focused on trying to get ahead and making a name for myself." It felt good to get that off my chest. I checked the notes on my napkin to make sure I had said everything.
"I'm glad you shared that with me. But I don't feel sorry for you."
I looked at him, confused. I just poured out my heart to him, and now he was going to belittle me?
He continued, "You aren't the only one who's worked hard to get where you are now. I've been playing since I could walk. I didn't have a childhood, even though I spent it doing something I loved. There was so much more involved than just playing hockey: special camps, lessons on how to deal with the media, strength coaches. I didn't even get to live at home for high school, going away to prep school in Minnesota and billeting in juniors. My parents are working class, they instilled in me the drive to work hard. And I've earned everything I've gotten. So I feel like I should be able to spend it how I want to—and that includes on you."
"Didn't you hear a word I said?"
"Yes, and I understand why you feel the way you do. It's noble, and I respect you for standing up for what you believe in. It's one of your qualities that I admire so much. So why can't you do the same for me?"
"Because you say you want to spend your money to show me how 'appreciative' you are. That's not how you show someone you care about them."
"I try to show you all the time! I tell you how wonderful I think you are, and you burst into tears as if I told you I just ran over your dog! And in case you forgot, I love you. I'm in love with you. I'm okay with it if you need more time to say it back. I just want us to find some kind of compromise."
"Yeah, you know, when two or more people reach a common understanding?" he joked.
"Very funny," I replied. I couldn't help but a smile a little. "I don't know, Sid, I still need some time. I feel like we rushed into this too fast."
"Is this because of what I said? I swear, Nelly—"
"No, Sidney, you're absolutely right. I was having a hard time letting you in. I just don't want to get swept up in some kind of fairy tale only to fall flat on my face."
"If you expect disappointment, then disappointment is all you'll ever know."
"Is that another hockey saying? It sounds too well rehearsed."
"Ah, there's the cynical humor I know." He stepped closer to me to pull me into a hug, but he hesitated to make sure I was okay with it. I was, and it felt good to be in his arms where I fit so nicely.
With his arms wrapped around me, I said, "I still need some time. Just to process everything."
"You can have all the time you need, just as long as you tell me this isn't over."
"I can't make any promises. I just need some time to think. I need some space. No pressure."
"You can have space in five minutes. Right now, I just need you here. Stay with me, five minutes."
I gave Sidney his five minutes, but I honestly was unsure if he needed to hold me or if he knew I needed to be held. When we pulled apart, I told him I'd be in touch. He nodded without a word and watched me walk to my car and pull out of the parking lot. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove away. He still hadn't moved.
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