Tuesday, July 7, 2009

9: On a Hot Afternoon

For the first time since I could remember, I won a service game. That was monumental for me! Really, all I had to do was make the serve, because Sidney played the rest of the game at the net. It was true, what he had said: he really did make me better.

We tied the set 6-6, and Sid was itching to play a tie-breaker. I knew that this could not possibly end well; I was not good enough to reliably score during the tie-breaker, and Sid was too competitive to handle losing. To me, this was a game among friends, but I wasn't sure how well Sidney would handle losing to anyone.

Vero came to my rescue as she walked from her side of the net to mine. "I'm too tired to keep playing. We're all winners in my book. Besides, I came to hang out with my new friend, not run around with sweaty guys. Come on, Noelle, let's let the boys handle this, eh?"

"You're my hero, V." I grinned as she put an arm around my shoulders and escorted me off the court.

"Hey, where are you going?" Sid asked. "This game isn't over!"

"It is for us," Vero said, and I stuck my tongue out at the guys. "They just get too carried away. I am not emotionally invested in the game, which can make being emotionally invested in Marc a little difficult."

We didn't wander far--as the guys debated how to find the winner of the match, my new friend and I walked off the tennis courts and onto the sand volleyball court. I took off my sneakers and socks, squishing my toes into the white sand.

I took a deep breath. "I can only imagine how tough it would be to date a pro athlete. When winning is your job, nights after a loss must be tough."

Vero shrugged. "I've been with Marc for so long that I know when he needs time alone or needs a distraction. He's really very good at compartmentalizing his hockey emotions. Win or lose, he leaves it at the arena, so when it's just me and him, he's really with me and not stuck in his head."

"I'm sure you make it easy for him to forget about hockey, too." She smirked and raised her eyebrows at me. I laughed, "I'm just saying that you guys have the cutest relationship I've ever seen. You're like the couple that never fights and is the envy of everyone around them. I can't see him misdirecting any frustrations and taking them out on you."

It was her turn to laugh. "Well, I had to train him. Especially after the World Junior Championships, when he was just so devastated. It hurt me to see him take the loss so hard. Now, he's much more confident and lighthearted about the game, which is really to his benefit."

"I guess winning a Stanley Cup will do that for you."

"Here's hoping it mellows Sidney out, too. When Marc told you that he lives, breathes, and sleeps hockey, he was not exaggerating. He's the first one at the rink, last one off the ice at practice, and constantly talking about what he needs to do to 'up his game.' Honestly, I don't know how his teammates can stand it, because it gets on my nerves, and I'm only ever around him a little bit each day."

Her exasperation was hilarious. "I guess that's why you don't have what it takes to play in the NHL," I joked. "But maybe now Sid will calm down. He's won the big prize, and now he can take life a little less seriously."

Vero rolled her eyes. "I don't think that will ever happen. But I have to say, I like seeing the boys just be boys. The pressure they handle during the season is incredible. And that Sid's here having fun with us instead of training in Canada is good to see. It's good for him to get a break."

"Yeah, it's really good to see," I commented, as Sidney removed his shirt and hat between points with Marc-André. He used the shirt to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and I felt my temperature rise.

"Oh, he's showing off now," she giggled. She yelled to Sidney, "It's not that hot out here!"

"I know," he hollered back. "I'm trying to distract Marc with my incredible muscles."

"He's distracting someone," I said, so only Vero could hear. I couldn't tear my eyes from his body. His abs were so defined that I could see every chiseled detail. As he wound up to serve, I could see the muscles in his arms, chest, and back working with controlled movement. Wow. "How can you stand it?"

"Stand what?"

"Seeing stuff like this, day in and day out, surrounded by guys like this? As you can tell, I live in the middle of no where. Guys built like that don't exist out here."

Vero giggled, as I brought out the adolescent girl in her. "It has its perks, believe me. But I only have eyes for my Marc."

"Of course," I teased, and we burst into a fit of giggles again.

"What's going on over there?" called Marc, in the midst of a volley.

"Yeah," agreed Sid. "I don't like the sound of all that laughing."

"Just girl talk," Vero explained.

We continued to watch the match between the boys as we sat on the grass that abutted the sand court so we could still keep our feet in the sand, but we changed our conversation topic. She talked about how difficult it had been when Marc had initially been drafted, because it was the first time they had been apart for an extended period of time. After Marc moved out of Mario's and into his own house, she had moved down to be with him, but that it was just as difficult for her then because she only knew Marc in Pittsburgh, and her English wasn't that good at that point.

"I was so hungry for social interaction. I was at home all day, and then Marc would come home, exhausted after practice, and I wanted to talk to him. Thank goodness there is a decent amount of Frenchies on the team that I could talk to, like Maxime. I would have lost my mind."

"That's a huge step, moving into a new country and having to learn a new language, just to be with your boyfriend."

"I think my parents thought I was crazy, but I knew it was the only thing to do. There was never a question in my mind when it came to it--I had to be with him."

"That's dedication."

"No, that's love."

After a few more volleys, the guys quit their game, packed their gear, and came over to the volleyball court with us.

"Who won?" I asked.

Marc rolled his eyes. "Do you need to ask?"

I looked at Sidney, and he just smiled. "Way to go, Andy," I said. He laughed dismissively and looked away, and I cackled.

"I don't get it," said Vero. I just shook my head. "Would you care to explain?" she asked Sid.

"Nope." And so began our first inside joke between Sidney and me.

If Marc and Vero felt left out because of they weren't involved in out little joke, then they decided to make Sid and I feel alienated by sharing an intimate kiss. I tried to lighten the atmosphere by pointing my finger toward my open mouth in a "gag me" gesture. Sidney chuckled, which made me smile.

"Did you kick his ass?" I asked him.

"Blew him out of the water," Sid replied. I watched as he opened his bottle water and took a drink. His eyes were closed as he gulped, I drank in the sight of him without worrying about him noticing. Oh, those muscles. Any thoughts I had in my head just melted away--I couldn't think about anything, I could only look.

I took a deep breath and looked away, and Vero knew without asking what was running through my head. Maybe I was absolutely translucent, but I don't think any straight woman could stand in his presence and not lose all mental capabilities.

"Hey, Noelle," she said to get my attention.

"Yeah, V?"

"You have a little something..." she wiped at the corner of her mouth, miming that I was drooling.

"Very funny, V," I said, pretending to be offended, but I laughed.

"What's going on?" Sid asked. "It's like you girls have been friends forever. I hate feeling out of the loop."

"Don't worry about it, kid," I said, trying to sound condescending. "It doesn't concern you."

"Oh yeah?" he countered, but he couldn't think of a witty comeback. Instead of using words, he kicked some sand in my direction.

"Real mature, kid." I was no better as I kicked sand at him, too.

"Coming down to my level, I see," he laughed. We battled for a moment, but the fight intensified and some high sand landed in my eye. I flinched and brought my hand to my eye. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry!"

"It's okay," I said, and I turned away from him as he approached. He took the cue and backed off. I felt bad for how I acted, so I tried to joke to let him no I harbored no hard feelings. "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." That was a bad choice of words on my part. From what I could see out of my other eye, his was face was full of concern.

I nudged him in the ribs, which caught him offguard. He stumbled backward, lost his balance, and reached for me to steady him. Instead, he took me down with him, pulling me down, and I landed right on top of him.

"Well, this is a compromising position," he said.

"It's disgusting," I teased. "You're all sweaty and sandy."

He laughed, and I rose and fell with his chest. I laughed, too, and our eyes met. For a moment, we just looked at each other, unaware of the outside world. Finally, Sidney let go of my arm, which he had grabbed as he fell, so I could roll off him and get to my feet.

As I brushed the sand off me, I looked at Vero. Her smile spanned her entire face. I shook my head at her and wondered what could possibly be going through her mind.

Sidney stood and tried to wipe the sand from his shorts and body, but the sweat made everything stick to him. "Ugh, I think I need a shower now." His face lit up like a Christmas tree. "You live around here, right? Do you think I could use your shower?"

I didn't know what to say. I was scared to take them back to my house. I knew that my parents were spending the day visiting my grandparents, and therefore wouldn't be home, but I still thought it would be awkward to let them into my house and let Sidney Crosby use my shower!

In the end, I only had one answer. "Yes."

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