Monday, August 31, 2009

70: The English Experiment

I don't know if it was all that turkey or what, but when I slept on Thursday night, it was like the sleep of the dead. If I dreamt, I don't remember about what. I don't even think I rolled over once, because I woke up in exactly the same position I fell asleep in.

After waking up on Friday, I proceeded through my day groggily and on autopilot. I hated working on Black Friday. It's not like I wanted to go shopping at the stores or anything like that; it's just that I didn't understand the point of enjoying a Thursday off, going back to work for one stupid day, and then having the weekend off. It seemed so asinine.

As soon as I got into work, the first thing I did was head to the coffee pot and start brewing a strong cup. I was simply not awake.

Steve strolled in around nine, and he regaled us with stories of his disastrous Thanksgiving. His holidays were always catastrophic because he hated his mother-in-law. When he finished his nightmarish tale, he asked me, "How was your Turkey Day?"

"Oh, good," I said, still not clearheaded enough to process everything. "You know how it is when you get the family together. It's loud and obnoxious."

"Didn't you tell me you were bringing Sid along? How did that go?"

"Besides from my grandfather accusing Sid of wanting to be a sperm donor before asking when he was planning on popping the question? Really well," I laughed. Steve made a face like my family was way crazier than his. "But Sid fit in just great. He knows how to make people love him, that's for sure. But he didn't get to stay late after dinner, because he had to fly out this morning for the game in New York against the Islanders."

"It must be nice to know that he fits in well with your family," Steve sighed. "Because my mother-in-law is insane. Just wait until your family meets his family. That's always fun."

I smiled at him and agreed, but I was so thankful that I still wasn't awake enough to let my mind wander where it usually would. I was downright sick of hearing about families and futures, and how that all applied to Sidney and myself. Things had happened so fast that we needed to just slow it down a bit and enjoy what we had in the present. If it worked out, then we'd deal with it when we needed to.

No one really felt like working in the office today. The boss was out of town visiting his family, which meant no one else was able to take vacation days. But, since he was out of the office, we got to goof off and didn't really need to be too productive. We ordered in from the local deli and took a long lunch break. I didn't participate much in the ongoing conversations because I didn't have a lot in common with my coworkers. They were all in their late twenties or thirties, with spouses and kids to greet them at the end of the day. I had been hired a month after my graduation and still had that party-streak left in me. They mostly talked about family portraits and birthday parties.

It's not that they weren't nice people; my coworkers were quite possibly the nicest folks on the planet. Lisa was an English major, like me, so we talked about the good books we read in our spare time and gave each other recommendations. And Steve was one of the few hockey fans I knew, so he was my main person to talk to about the game and the team. Except the boys, of course.

After work, I headed straight to Pittsburgh, which had become so routine for me. I had turned down Véro's offer to come over and watch the game with The Girlfriends because I was looking forward to a quiet night to myself for a change. No busying myself with research for my attempt to help Evgeni, no sold-out arena full of seventeen thousand like-minded hockey fans, no packed house for a hectic holiday. Just myself, a hockey game on TV, a beer, and a frozen supreme pizza.

When I got to Sid's, I let myself in and really enjoyed the feeling of doing that. I wasn't doing that because I had a reason to stop by, and Sidney didn't even know that I was doing this either. The temptation of relaxing alone in his house was too much for me to resist. The first thing I did was slip into a pair of his sweatpants and one of his old tee shirts. Then I started to preheat the oven, twisted off the crown cap of a Miller Lite, and curled up on the couch. This was going to be the perfect Friday night.

During the first intermission of the game, while the Pens were up one nothing against the Islanders, I texted back and forth with Eva to see what she was up to. She was using the school break over Thanksgiving to put in some extra hours at work and also to hammer out a paper for her psychology class. We promised that we'd get together soon, since it had been a while since we'd last seen each other. In a few weeks, her semester would be over, and although her work schedule would pick up again, we'd have more opportunities to hang out and enjoy each other's company again.

The second period began, and I screamed at the refs and linesmen between bites of slightly burnt pizza and guzzles of beer. It felt so good to do nothing, and especially to not worry about appearances. At the arena, I had to watch my language and tame my fanaticism. In the confines of these walls, I could yell and cheer as loudly as I wanted. Oh, I missed this simplicity.

Sidney gave a quick interview as he left the ice for the second intermission after a scoreless second period. He seemed so different on the ice, in his uniform, as his image was being broadcasted through the airwaves. Perhaps it was because he made playing look so effortless. Like all the training he did in the gym only served to make the ice his home; like he truly was a penguin that only was whole when he was in the Igloo. But as much as I knew how he was at peace on the ice, he never smiled for the camera. Sid gave his roundabout, politically correct answers, nodded his head and said thank you to Dan Potash, and headed for the dressing room for his twenty minutes before the third period.

Even though I had seen Sidney on television since we had begun dating, this was the first time that I had faced the juxtaposition of Sidney Crosby, Captain of the Penguins and Sid, my boyfriend. I guess it was seeing him on the screen while I was sitting in his house. It was so... weird. There was no other way to describe it. Since I had gotten to know him, he had become less of the superstar hockey player and more like a normal, everyday guy.

The Pens gave up their one-goal lead and ended up losing the game. I didn't want to watch the interviews after the loss, so I clicked the power button on the remote and headed up to Sidney's bedroom. His bed was so soft and inviting, and I crawled in and spread out, enjoying sleeping in the middle of the mattress without worrying about hogging the blankets or sleeping on his arm and ultimately making it fall asleep.

Sidney nudged me when he made it home. Immediately, I could tell he wasn't in the mood for me to playfully continue to take up the entire bed. I rolled to one side and allowed him to slide under the covers next to me.

"Hey," I whispered, afraid to mention the game for fear of his reaction.

"Hey," he said back. And that was it. No "good night," no "sweet dreams." Not even a kiss on the cheek. Sidney tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep; his restlessness prevented me from returning to my own dreamland. Which caused us both to roll out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning.

I tried to let it go; I knew that Sidney was distraught about the loss, and that all he needed was a little time to work through it. After all, I knew exactly what it was like to need space to overcome feelings of frustration and uncertainty. We were very alike that way.

Besides, I had my own anxieties eating away at my nerves. Geno was coming over to Sid's after his pregame nap for his first English lesson. I had my lesson plan and all my materials, but I was still worried that this afternoon would dissolve into disaster.

We didn't stray from the routine: morning skate, pregame meal, nap. Except I didn't join Sidney as he left for the arena, because Evgeni showed up, eager to learn. "You ready Noelle? I ready too!" he said, as I led him into the kitchen as Sid was finishing up his pregame snack. "Oh hi, Sid. You here learn English too?"

I snickered, but Sidney was off in his own world and had no time for the Russian's jokes. He left the room, and I immediately got down to business. "Okay, Evgeni, what do you say we get started?"

"You the boss," he smiled, sitting down at the table and finding my Russian-English dictionary and a blank notebook.

"You are the boss," I corrected him. Geno nodded, and we delved into what I had planned. I asked him the questions I had written as if I were a reporter, for example, "Are you surprised at how well you're playing? How do you feel about how so-and-so is playing?" I let him think of what he would like to say, so he wouldn't feel like I was putting words in his mouth, and then I just helped him round out his answers. "I can't guarantee that these will be questions you'll be asked, but they seem to be pretty standard," I explained.

After we worked on the hockey-related portion of my lesson, I gave him some homework. "Everyday, I want you to look up a new English word. I want you to write it down in your notebook, and write out the definition, too. Then, you have to use that word at least once in your conversations that day. Do you understand?"

"Yeah. You make me work every day. No fun," he laughed.

"It will be plenty of fun, I promise. Do you have any questions for me?" I asked, glancing at the time on the microwave. Evgeni really should be heading for the arena, and I was going to ride with him.

"Um, yes. You help Max? You help me, too?"

I was utterly confused, and not just because of the poor syntax. "I don't know what you're talking about, G. You have to be a little more specific."

"Max say you give girl advice. You give me, too?"

"Oh, you want me to give you advice on Oksana?" I asked, and he nodded feverishly. "I'm not sure I'm the best one to be asking, Geno."

"Why not? I see you and Sid. You can help."

I wanted to laugh at his logic. Sidney and I were far from perfect, but I guess it would appear that way to some people. "Okay, I'll do my best. What's up?"

"Okana not want me learn English. She say I dump her for American girl."

"She thinks that if you learn English, you won't want to date a Russian girl anymore?" He nodded. "That's silly. I mean, you're learning the language for your job, not because you're going on some two-week cruise to pick up chicks. And besides, no American girl is ever going to fully understand your culture and background like Oksana can."

"See, I tell her that. She not believe me. The guys say I should dump her. She not understand. She, uh. She... goal digger?"

"Um, a gold digger?"

His eyes lit up. "Yeah, that. But I don't know."

I paused and bit my lip. This wasn't what I was expecting with giving my first English lesson. "I can't tell you whether or not you should be with her. You've got to decide that on your own."

"You think she gold digger?"

I really didn't want to get wrangled into this. Oksana and I had met only once, and that was back in August. I didn't get the greatest impression from her, but first impressions shouldn't always be given much weight—I had read Pride and Prejudice enough times to know that. "I don't know her. It's not fair for me to pass judgment. The only thing I know about her is that she's divorcing her rich husband for a richer boyfriend. So, I can see why the guys think she's shady. But you're the one that knows her, Geno. You know in your heart if she loves you, and you know if you feel like you should be with her."

He nodded, but he still seemed disappointed, like he wanted me to give him a definitive answer. But I knew just how hard relationships could be, especially when everyone around you wanted to put in their two cents. Geno grabbed the blank notebook and dictionary, and we started to head out to his Jag so we could go to the Mellon.

I noticed an envelope on the table. "Yo, Evgeni, I think this is yours."

This time, he shook his head. "No. It yours. It your... Sid tell me. Uh." I watched as the gears turned in his head as he searched for the word he wanted, enunciating it very carefully. "Compensation." Geno beamed, evidently proud of himself.

"I don't want it, Evgeni. I'm not doing this for money," I explained. "And if Sidney told you to do this, I'm going to—"

"No, Noelle. I want to. You help me."

When Geno turned his back, my curiosity got the best of me, and I peeked into the envelope. I saw three crisp bills, and I gasped. I computed quickly in my head and figured that this was practically twenty times what I make per hour at my full-time job. Reaching out, I grabbed Evgeni's arm. "I absolutely, positively cannot take this from you," I stated, handing him back that amount.

"Too bad," he said with that lopsided grin. "Sid say you fight me. But I bigger than you. I make you. You take. I ask, and that much fair."

I shook my head. There's no use arguing with some people, and Evgeni is one of those guys that just doesn't take no for an answer. I felt horrible taking his money, because I didn't even know if any of what I was doing was going to help him. In the end, I decided that I'd put the money aside, vowing to return it if his English didn't begin to improve after a few more sessions.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

69: Thanksgiving, Part II

Thank you to everyone for the absurd amount of comments I received on the last post. You're angels, and I want you to know that I appreciate each of you. :D Enjoy!

"Hey Nelly, are you okay?" I heard a knock on my door, but I didn't have to look to know it was Sid. Probably about five minutes had passed since I evacuated the interrogation room—I mean living room.

"Minor freak out, I promise," I tried to joke. "It's my time of the month to go crazy." How else was I supposed to explain my lunatic hormones? I had managed to calm down mostly, but I was still surprised at the strength of what I was feeling. I knew I should have told him that I was thinking the same thing that he was earlier, but that I was still keen on waiting.

"Are you sure that's all that's going on?" he asked, looking at me knowingly.

"Yes," I lied. I wanted to tell him how I was feeling, but this was not the place nor the time to delve into those emotions.

"If you say so." He stepped farther into my room and jumped on my bed, not believing me but letting the matter slide, for which I was so thankful. "So what are you still doing up here? Let's go back downstairs. Unless you wanna join me," he whispered, patting the spot on the bed next to him.

"Um, no," I laughed. "Not with my family downstairs."

"I remember you saying something similar to that when you met my parents. But we did it anyways."

"Yeah, well, you were being incredibly persuasive."

"And I'm not now?" he asked, pouting those perfectly pink lips and looking at me with those brown, puppy-dog eyes.

"You're still incredibly persuasive. I'm just getting better at telling you no," I giggled. I did my best to put my PMS behind me, but we girls know that's easier said than done. Just because I knew I was acting irrationally didn't mean that I could automatically stop. I sat next to him on the bed and groaned. "I'm sorry that this is so awkward. I didn't think that my family would be this dysfunctional. I mean, I know they're not perfect, but I wasn't expecting them to be like this. Or that Grandpa is being so...." I couldn't find the right word.

"It's okay, Nelly. I know he's just looking out for you. But it's kind of funny that he's more protective of you than your dad is. Red," he teased.

"Yeah, my dad is kind of oblivious to stuff like this. And me and Grandpa are pretty close. But still, the things he said... I never thought he'd be like that."

"Yeah, he's definitely a character. But I can see why you like him so much, and it's going to take a lot more than that to scare me away. We talked a little more downstairs, and I think we've come to an understanding." When Sid said that, my eyes went wide and I was worried to ask what had happened down there. He laughed and continued, "It's okay. We're on the same page. We both care about you and want what's best for you. He told me to come up here check up on you. And he asked me to join him for a round of golf when the weather turns nice again."

Laughing, I said, "He loves to golf. He'd golf with anyone with halfway decent handicap, so I wouldn't read too much into that."

"Well, he also told me to call him George. I think that's a good sign, right?"

I smiled. "A very good sign. But I swear, if one more person mentions rings, marriage, and/or kids, I think I'll explode."

"Oh, come on. It's not that bad," he coaxed, reaching over and beginning to rub my shoulders.

"Things are just starting to get good between us again," I murmured, melting into putty in his strong, oh so capable hands. "Why can't people just take it for what it is? Why do they keep bringing up what could happen in the future?"

"It's the natural progression for a relationship. There's always something on the horizon to look forward to."

"That horizon is still a few years in the future," I continued with his metaphor. "Things just happened so fast, and I'm coming to grips with that, but I just think we need time to make sure that this, us, works. You know?"

"No problem," he said. I felt his lips on the back of my neck, moving as he spoke. "The next year and a half will fly by faster than you know."

I smiled to myself and my two-year requirement. At least Sidney wasn't pushing the issue or pushing me down the aisle. "Why can't everyone else think like you?"

"Let's face it. Not everyone can be as awesome as me. But they're your family. They just want what's best for you."

"And that's supposed to be you?" I teased.

Sidney worked his hands down to my shoulder blades and before I could stop myself, I left out a soft moan. The only thing I could think about was Heart's song "Magic Man." Oh, he's got the magic hands. He spoke again, and his voice made the skin on my nape vibrate. "Hmm, well, I'd say I'm doing something pretty good for you right now."

"A little higher. That's the spot. Now you're doing something pretty good." I was teasing him, but I was seriously considering pushing him down on my bed and having my way with him, regardless of who was downstairs.

He worked his hands at the base of my neck for a while, allowing me sufficient time to calm down. It's like I really was putty, and he was molding me back into shape in preparation to face my relatives again. When he felt like I was ready, he suggested, "Let's go back downstairs, eh?"

"Back to my crazy family," I sighed.

"I can't wait for dinner," Sidney told me. "If everyone in your family cooks as good as you, tonight is going to be amazing."

"Where do you think I learned it from?" I joked, and he pulled his hands away from shoulders so we could return downstairs. Sid stayed in the living room with the men, and I joined my mother, grandmother, aunt, and cousin to help peel potatoes.

The rest of the afternoon progressed reasonably well. While it probably doesn't seem fair that we cooked while the guys drank and watched the game, this was Lambert family tradition at its best. I loved the quality time with my family and I loved to cook, so it never bothered me. I loved Thanksgiving. There weren't any presents during this holiday to make us feel materialistic; instead, we use the time to think about that for which we're thankful and grateful. This year, I had something new to reflect on, and he was in the other room.

The traditions in my family were simple: dinner around three, engorge yourself with more food than you'd usually eat in three days in one sitting, digest it for a few hours, and then eat pumpkin pie. Everyone else would leave after dessert, and so my mother and I would clean up the kitchen and watch Christmas movies for the rest of the evening. Not complex by any means, but Sidney rolled with the punches and seamlessly fit into our routine like he had been a part of it for years. After that slight hiccup in the morning, of course.

To make it even better, no one mentioned the status or potential of my relationship with Sidney again. I don't know if everyone else just had more social tact than my grandfather or if they had heard about what Grandpa George said, but they kept their traps shut, and for that I was extremely grateful. No one grilled him or us, and we just enjoyed the simplicity of each other's company and good food.

When it was time for everyone to leave, Sidney shook hands with them as I said my goodbyes. As Jane packed the kids away in their minivan, Tim asked if Sidney could score Steelers tickets for him and some of his buddies.

"You do know he plays hockey, not football, right?"

"Yeah, but he's a professional athlete for Pittsburgh. Surely he has some connections, right? I could use an afternoon away from the house and the twins."

I pursed my lips and bit back the words that wanted to escape from my mouth. He worked fifty hours a week while Jane stayed home full-time to take care of those infant boys—what could he possibly need to escape from? At that moment, I was deliriously happy to be unmarried and childless and so thankful that Sidney was so understanding to not push me and rush me, even if it went against what he wanted for himself. I made a mental note to tell him how grateful I was later.

I shook my head and erased that question from my consciousness. "I don't know if he can get you Steelers tickets," I lied.

My aunt left next, and then my grandparents. As I hugged Grandpa, he made sure to play the role of protector. "I like him, Red. But don't forget what I said. Don't let yourself get carried away before you know he's serious, too."

"He is," I told him, feeling the scruff of his almost-beard and smelling the Old Spice he always wore. I was so glad that he liked Sidney. I wasn't the type of girl that planned her wedding before the question was asked, but I wanted in my heart of hearts to be given away by my father and my grandfather. He meant that much to me. So that Grandpa George liked Sidney was a weight off my chest. "It's not a question of whether or not we're serious. We have to make sure we can stand the test of time. It's only been a few months so far."

"And how have those months gone?"

I laughed and pulled out of our familiar embrace. How could I possibly sum up our past in a few words? "How have they gone? They've gone every possible which way they could. They've been the best days of my life, and sometimes simultaneously the worst. I don't how else to describe it."

His grin spanned his face from ear to ear, and he stepped to shake Sidney's hand. "I don't know how you did it, but you've obviously won her heart."

Sidney laughed. "I wish I knew how, sir. It wasn't easy."

"It never is, son. Nothing worth winning ever is."

I rolled my eyes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

68: Thanksgiving, Part I

Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday flew by in what felt like a matter of hours. When I wasn't at work, I was trying to come up with a lesson plan. I bought a Russian-English dictionary, which I figured would come in handy, and I watched YouTube videos upon YouTube videos of interviews with hockey players.

I figured that Evgeni and I would focus a lot on potential questions he might get asked during interviews. Then we could expand his repertoire of responses, which would hopefully involve using proper grammar. Also, I'd work on building up his vocabulary. Let's face it; reporters ask dumb questions sometimes, and who knows what they'd pull out of their asses. Gonch couldn't be around all the time to interpret for him.

Geno was pleased as punch that I was going to help him but was sad that our first lesson would take place on Saturday afternoon. I loved his enthusiasm though. I knew I would have an easier time of this with an eager student, but I was still nervous as hell. What if I couldn't do a good enough job? What if I just let Evgeni down?

Luckily for me, I didn't have a lot of time to worry about it. My evenings were filled with research. I felt like I was back in college and doing homework. It felt good to have something to occupy my time, and something that was contributing to a bigger picture than just me.

On Wednesday, I left for the game after work to see the Pens host the Canadiens. I relaxed with The Girlfriends and cheered for the team. Even though Crosby put up two points, the Pens still lost to Montréal. I ran into that flock of fans again that I had seen the Saturday before. They shrugged at me, and I said, "Tough break tonight."

"But against the Habs? Why did we have to lose against the Habs?" one of them groused with his head hanging low.

"Are you kidding?" I asked, trying to lighten the mood. "At least it's not the Caps. Or worse, the Flyers."

They nodded but left not feeling any more consoled with the loss. I appreciated that Pens fans were so emotionally invested in the team's wins and losses, but I knew if they were this upset, Sidney would be in a worse mood. I waited patiently in the lounge for him, but all the other players had left by the time he emerged from the dressing room. I knew he had media stuff, but he never kept me waiting like this before.

When he finally met up with me, he didn't crack a smile or even kiss me in greeting. Sidney just breezed past me, barely saying hello, and I had to scramble to catch up to his determined strides out of the lounge.

"Good game, Sid," I said. He turned around, and I held up my hand to stop him from whatever self-deprecating comment he was about to unleash. "Take it for what it is. You played well, which can be completely unrelated to the outcome of the game."

Sidney shrugged at me. I knew he'd trade his two points for a W for the team. I wanted to tell him that it's physically impossible for a hockey team to win every game in the regular season and still expect to have the stamina required to make it to the playoffs and win, but I knew that would be wasted breath. He wouldn't listen to anything positive I had to say about a loss.

"I've gotta pick up a copy of the game. Just gimme a few minutes," he said, walking down the hallway to the tech room. He talked to someone for a few moments, got a DVD, and then he charged by and headed toward the parking lot. I followed him like a lost puppy, afraid to say anything that might sour his mood even more.

The ride home was silent, but he held my hand over the center console. It didn't make up for his crappy disposition, but I knew he was doing the best that he could. I squeezed his hand to let him know that I understood. He squeezed back and talked, without taking his eyes off the road.

"I'm sorry. I know it's not fair that I take this out on you. But I'm just pissed, and I need some time to work through it."

"Okay." I worried that Sidney was taking this so hard. He did play well this game, so it's not like he needed to worry about what he needed to do to improve his own strategy.

When we got back to his house, I started up the stairs only to find that Sidney planted himself in front of the TV to watch the DVD of the game. "Go on upstairs. I'll be up shortly," he dismissed.

"Are you sure?" I questioned. I wasn't asking if it was okay that I head up to bed without him, but if he was sure that he'd join me soon.

"Yeah, go ahead."

I nodded and got ready for bed, brushing my teeth, pulling my hair back, and slipping into one of his dress shirts before climbing into bed. His button-downs were quickly becoming my favorite sleepwear. I managed to stay awake for half an hour before I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore, and Sid still hadn't retired for the night.

In the morning, I woke up and found Sidney beside me. I hardly ever woke up before him. Nudging him, I encouraged him to get up and start getting ready.

"What the hell? It's seven. Let's sleep in."

"Did you forget? It's Thanksgiving. We've got to drive back to my house. I told my parents to expect us around nine."

"Fuck," he groaned.

"You did forget," I chastised him. "You were probably up half the night watching that damn game."

"Baby, I told you—"

"And I told you, do not call me 'baby,'" I grumbled, throwing the covers off me and swinging my legs over the bed. Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. It's the reason I came to Wednesday's game, and he was supposed to meet members of my extended family; how could he just forget about it?

"What bug crawled up your ass?" he hissed.

I shot him a look that I hoped conveyed the girth of my anger and then headed for the guest bathroom in the hallway to shower and get ready. I was so angry that I could hardly stand to be in the same room with him. Sid was grumpy and tired, and we hurriedly got ready and left without a word. The car ride was awkward, but as soon as we walked into my house, he turned on that Crosby charm that made everyone fall in love with him.

The bird was already stuffed and in the oven, so we all sat in the living room and watched bits and parts of the Macy's parade. My parents had taken the couch, and when I had tried to step away from Sid and sit alone in the rocking chair, he pulled on my hand and made me sit on the love seat with him. Sidney didn't let go of my hand once I was beside him; instead, he rested our hands on his knee.

His thumb rubbed circles on the palm of my hand, and I tried to ignore the tingling sensation that his touch burned into my flesh as well as the calm that washed over me. Sid was smiling and laughing with my parents, and I looked at him. As much as I couldn't stay mad at him, I was mad at him for making me not stay mad at him. Does that make any sense? Even I was not immune to the infectious Crosby charm.

When other members of my family began to arrive, my cousin Jane gladly handed one of the twins to me. She was exhausted and loved family functions, because it meant she got some peace from the kids. They were only a few months old, which is the perfect age for babies. They aren't newborns, but their cries aren't obnoxiously loud yet either. I cooed at Thomas. Or was this Jacob?

I made the grand introductions. "So, Sidney, I would like you to meet my cousin Jane, her husband Tim, my Aunt Linda, and my grandparents Dorothy and George. Everyone, this is my boyfriend Sidney."

Sid stood up and shook hands with everyone, being polite and charismatic, and they all shot me approving looks. Which in turn made me feel crazy for getting so pissed this morning. The womenfolk headed into the kitchen to start the preparation of the day's feast. Every other year, I would join them as the guys tuned into the football game, but they all insisted that I stay with Sid and make sure Grandpa George didn't lay into the new guest.

Despite my earlier outburst, I felt quite contented to sit on the loveseat with Thomas in my arms and Sidney beside me. Babies always made me feel maternal, but I liked handing them back when I was finished holding them. Despite telling myself to not go there, my mind wandered anyway and I wondered what it would be like if Thomas was our son. Sid turned to me and hung his arm around the back of the loveseat, and I spied an unrecognizable emotion in his eyes when I caught his gaze.

"So, Sidney, tell us about yourself," Grandpa began. Here it comes.

"Well, I play hock—"

"Yeah, yeah, I reckon you play for the Penguins. That's not what I asked."


"I want to know why you're looking at Red that way."

"Red?" Sidney questioned, looking at me with a smirk. Grandpa had called me that ever since my hair grew in. As a kid, I was a ginger, but even though my hair had darkened to a deep auburn with age, he still called me Red. "I'm not sure what way you're referring to, sir."

"Like you're looking at her and imagining she's holding your own son."

Even his ears turned pink. "No, I wasn't. I mean, maybe for a second I—"

"Grandpa," I said sternly. "Don't scare him. Please? I really like this one," I joked. "That's why I brought him to dinner."

"I don't want you even thinking about kids until there's a big diamond ring on my granddaughter's left hand."

"Grandpa!" I cried.

"What? I don't want you getting knocked up by some professional athlete who's going to act like nothing more than a sperm donor." I knew he was forward, but this wasn't what I expected.

Sid looked shocked. "I assure you, sir, that that will not happen. I'm appalled you'd even think I'd do something like that to Noelle."

"Me too, Grandpa," I groaned. "Don't you think I'd be wise enough to pick someone better than that?"

"I don't know," he countered. "You've never brought anyone around for us to meet."

My cheeks burned. "I've never been this serious about someone before."

Grandpa grinned, as if getting the answer he was looking for. He turned to Sidney and said, "Then when are you going to put a ring on my granddaughter's finger?"

I didn't wait around to hear anything else, because not only did I want to spare myself the embarrassment of my grandfather's brazen comments, but I also didn't want to have to go through this whole thing again. I stood from my seat, gave Thomas back to his father, and ran up the stairs to my room. I paced and told myself to breathe, trying to ward off this panicky feeling.

It was too soon for my family to think like this. It was too soon for me to think like this. I mean, normal people didn't worry about this stuff yet, did they? Oh, screw normal. Like anything about this relationship with Sidney has been normal.

An idea struck me, and I looked at my calendar. Yup, I was due for my period. This was all just crazy PMS fucking with my emotions. That explained why I got so angry with him this morning (even though I had every reason to—or was that the hormones talking again?). That explained why I did a complete one-eighty and felt all domesticated just minutes ago. But I just didn't have the time to freak out right now and get emotional. We had guests. This was Thanksgiving, and this was the most important family holiday to me, moreso than Christmas, and Sid's first real American Thanksgiving. I didn't want to ruin this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

67: Go My Way

Mel insisted on driving us to the hotel instead of having to take a cab back. "You came to all the trouble of stopping by to see us, so why shouldn't we repay the favor?"

Colby stayed behind to get ready for his morning skate while Mel drove us to the Ritz-Carlton so I could collect my things and check out. "It was so nice to meet you, Mel. Thank you for breakfast," I said graciously.

"Oh, it was nothing. I'm glad that you were able to come down to visit. I'm so glad we were able to meet you and place a face to the girl Sid was talking about," she replied.

Sid blushed beside me. "All right, that's enough girl talk. Maybe you can come up when we host the Thrashers? And then we can have you over," he offered.

Mel smiled. "I'd like that. It would be nice to see Pittsburgh and everyone again. I love Atlanta, don't get me wrong, but I fell in love with the Burgh and everyone there."

"The girls speak very highly of you," I said of V and Heather.

When Sid and I got back to my room, I finished packing up my things. When my suitcase was zipped up and locked, I sat next to Sidney on the bed and put my hand on his knee. "So, do you think he liked me?"

"Who, Army? He likes everyone. Don't worry about it. I like you, and really that's all that matters anyway."

I felt kind of sheepish. "I just want to fit into your life," I mumbled.

"You do," he whispered, grabbing a hold of me and pushing me against the bed, but in a fun, playful manner. Sid grabbed my sides and started to tickle me.

"Please, stop!" I cried, struggling to inhale and keep my composure as he employed his torturous techniques to distract me from myself.

"Hm, that's not what you were saying last night. Or should I say, that's not what you were screaming last night."

"It's not funny," I continued to whine, fidgeting beneath him in an attempt to get away from his fiendish hands.

"I think it's funny," he laughed, relenting his attack. I scooted up toward the head of the bed, not trusting him to be finished with me yet.

"You would. Just because you don't have a ticklish spot on you, you think it's okay." My sides hurt from laughing and my lungs burned from lack of air. "But it's torture!"

Sidney laughed again. "Aw, come on, baby. You know it's all in good fun." He crawled further up the bed toward me, and I curled up in anticipation of another attack. "You act like you're afraid of me."

"I'm not afraid of you," I giggled, "I'm afraid of that look in your eye that says you're about to come at me again."

He smiled and let out a high-pitched, infectious laugh. "You know I won't hurt you. Just don't fight me."

Sid launched himself toward me, and I rolled to my side to avoid his reach, falling off the bed and landing on my tailbone in the process. I groaned and rubbed my ass, trying to massage away the pain. "Look what you did to me."

"I told you not to fight me," he chastised, leaning over the bed to see if I was okay.

I smiled to let him know I was all right. "And I told you to stop. It's all fun and games until I break my ass."

"You'd better let me check it out. You know, make sure it's okay." This time I had to bat away his way-too-friendly hands. "Aw, come on, baby."

"If you say 'aw, come on, baby' one more time, I'm gonna shove a pair of Cooke's nasty socks down your throat."

I let Sid grab my wrists and pull me to my feet. "Sorry, but are you really okay?"

"Yeah. Wish I had more padding back there," I laughed, "to cushion my falls. Kinda like yours."

"Hmm, don't wish that. I like yours just the way it is. And don't make fun of my butt."

"I'm not making fun of it, I like it," I teased, reaching around him and grabbing as much of his ass in my hands that would fit. "You really know how to fill out a pair of pants." I stood on my tip toes, gave him a peck on the nose, and then let go and walked across the room to grab my suitcase. "So, I need to go check out and head out to the airport."

"You know, I love seeing you like this, when you come into town for an away game, but we don't get to spend a lot of time together."

"Well, of course not. Half the time is spent with you on the ice and us sleeping. But don't forget that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. You can come over around nine or ten if you want to get there before the rest of my family does."

He interrupted me before I could continue. "I thought about this, and I was thinking you'd come to Wednesday's game? Spend the night, and then we'll go to your place for the big turkey dinner?"

"I could do that. But we'll have to make sure to get home early on Thursday morning. You see, my maternal grandparents will be there, my aunt, and my cousin will be there with her husband and their twin infants. So, to have some quiet time with my parents, we'll need to be there before the circus begins around noon. They'll all leave after dinner, but I don't know how late you can stay, since you've got to be in New York on Friday."

We walked out of the room, and he asked some questions about my family and what he was going to expect meeting everyone. I told him a little bit about everyone, but I knew he'd fit in smashingly so I didn't want to worry him with too many details. This was a big step for me, since he'd be meeting my grandfather—my favorite relative.

"He's the one you're going to need to impress," I warned. "He's kind of a hard ass. He was in the military, a very no-nonsense kind of guy. But as long as you're straight with him, he'll like you."

"I'm really looking forward to it, Nelly. I can't wait to get to learn more about you."

I rolled my eyes. "Then you're going to have a blast, because I'm sure they can't wait to embarrass me with stories from my youth."

"I can't wait. Because I know my mom will whip out the photo albums and show you all these horrifying pictures of me."

"I can't wait," I mocked him. "One holiday at a time, though."

We rode the elevator down to the ground floor and stepped up to the front desk. I looked around for any little kids, and if I needed to be on my best behavior. That made me a little worried, but Sidney kept talking to me and I wasn't able to put much thought into it. "So, did you decide if you're going to help Geno or not? He's been pestering me all week about this."

"Yeah. He asked me last night, before you showed up, and I told him yes. I had a feeling he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."

"Good, I'm glad you came around to this. I promised Geno that I wouldn't let you say no to him."

I cocked an eyebrow. "You wouldn't let me say no? What's that supposed to mean?"

"What? He was really excited that you might help him. He really does want to get better at speaking English, and this is a really great opportunity for you, too."

"How do you even know that?" I didn't mean to get an attitude with him, but it just kind of happened. "How do you know what's good for me?"

"Calm down, babe," he said.

"Stop calling me that! I'm not 'babe' or 'baby,'" I grunted quietly through my teeth.

"Where is this coming from?" he asked, taking a step back. "I just think this would be good for you, good for Geno, and good for the team. There's no need to get all uppity."

I didn't apologize, but I didn't keep yelling at him either. "Just stop pushing me. I said I'd do it, but you're not helping when you think you're being encouraging. You act like I know what I'm doing, but I don't. If you keep thinking that I can do this, then you're just going to end up disappointed. I don't know how to teach English. I speak it and I read it, but I certainly don't know how to teach it."

Sid smiled, knowing that since I had backed down, that was as good of an apology as he was going to get. "You don't back down from a challenge. You're like me that way. I know you'll take this on and work through it. And you'll do great."

I paid the bill for the room with Sid's card that was under my name, and then we split a cab. The driver dropped him off at the team's hotel, and then we sped away, leaving Sidney on the curb at the main entrance. I turned around and watched through the rear window as he walked into the building.

Even though I thought about it, I don't know why I got so angry with him when he suggested how good for me this chance was. I hated how he pushed me; I didn't need that from him. I needed support, not pressure.

Maybe it was because I was getting so swept up in his world, his perfect world. Things in my life never came easy for me, and I wasn't used to opportunities just... falling at my feet. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, maybe, it was time that things started going my way, for once. Maybe it was time things got a little easier for me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

66: Breakfast of Champions

"I'm telling you, Nelly, you just need to calm down. I can feel your pulse," Sidney told me, as we got out of the cab and were walking up to the front door of the Armstrongs' house. He squeezed my hand, and I tried to squeeze back. "Your heart is racing."

"I'm sorry," I whispered. I couldn't speak any louder. "But I don't know how you can't think that this is a big deal."

He chuckled, and I resented that he could be so relaxed while I was sweating bullets. "It's... Army. I don't know what you're so worried about. The guy gets along with everyone."

I squeezed Sidney's hand even harder. "I just want him to like me. I want to fit in," I groaned, feeling like I was back in elementary school. Before he or I could say anything else, the front door flew open and I saw a tiny woman with dark brown hair beaming at us.

"Sidney! It's so good to see you again!" she said, and Sid let go of my hand to step forward and pull her into a hug.

"I haven't seen you since the wedding. How was the honeymoon?"

"Oh, good. You know, honeymoon-ish." She pulled away and fidgeted, looking at me. "Sid, aren't you going to introduce us?"

"Of course. Melissa, this is my girl Noelle. Noelle, this is Army's wife Mel."

"I'm his girlfriend," I said, smiling but speaking through clenched teeth. "Not his girl." Sid didn't understand the distinction, but I minded the way he referred to me sometimes. I held out my hand, but Mel batted it away and hugged me, too.

"It's nice to meet you," she replied with sparkling eyes. Why did I suddenly feel like I was in over my head? We were escorted into their gorgeous house and sat in their formal dining room. Mel had prepared a continental breakfast, with all kinds of fruit, juices, coffee, croissants, yogurt, and so much more. "Colby's waking up, he should be down here any minute."

Walking in on cue, Colby appeared with bedhead hair and Superman pajamas, like a twelve-year-old trapped in a twenty-six-year old's body. I did my best to suppress the giggle in my throat, but I couldn't stop the smile.

"What are you guys doing here so early?" he asked, rubbing his eye with the back of his hand. Yup, just a like a kid. "I thought you weren't going to be here until nine."

"It is nine," Mel commented, rolling her eyes.

Colby looked at me for a moment before opening his mouth again. "So you're the girl, eh?"

I looked from Colby to Sid, to back at Colby. Shrugging, I said, "I guess so."

Still unmoving, he smiled. "Nice pick, Kid. You know what they say about redheads." Sidney shook his head, and Colby continued. "You can sleep with a blonde, and you can sleep with a brunette. But you get no sleep with a redhead."

We both blushed, but Sid answered, "Yeah, that sounds about right." I punched his arm playfully. I was finally meeting one of his friends who didn't know all about our sex life, and our business was being broadcasted anyway. Couldn't I get a reprieve? But I saw how Colby brought out the goofy side of Sid, and that's why they were such good friends.

"Okay, that's enough of poking fun at our guest. Why don't you all sit down?"

"Thanks, Mel," I said, quickly taking a seat at the table and helping myself to a croissant and some Nutella, quite possibly my biggest weakness. Soo good.

I had a blast as I listened to Colby and Mel talk about how they met in Wilkes-Barre when Colby was playing for the Baby Pens, and then about how she had moved to Pittsburgh with him and later moved to Atlanta. Just another story about how distance couldn't break up the love of a hockey player and his girlfriend.

It still surprised me how Mel could follow Colby across Pennsylvania, just like Véro followed Marc-André into another country. I realized that when you truly love someone, you can easily leave behind your life for someone else. Especially when that meant allowing him to fulfill his dream. Nevertheless, I was glad that I would never be put in that position. Sidney would be able to stay in Pittsburgh for as long as he chose. He was the type of player that franchises were built around; he could play his entire career for the Penguins, as long as he decided to stay there.

After Mel finished her story, she insisted on hearing the details of how Sidney and I met. "You can't rely on the guys to get their stories straight," she reasoned. "I can't trust anything Colbs told me."

Sid rolled his eyes. "You'll love this story, because it's so unromantic and pathetic."

"It's not that bad," I reasoned. "My friend and I went out for dinner, and he happened to be at the bar. But I mistook him for the comedian Andy Samberg."

"How is that possible?" Colby asked, laughing at me and shaking his head in disbelief. "I mean, from what Sid's said about you, you're a Pens fan. And you just happen to mistake the face of the frickin' NHL for some actor on a late night comedy show?"

I laughed. "I know, it sounds stupid, right? But I guess my brain just didn't want to process that it was the Sidney Crosby that walked into my favorite restaurant. It just seemed more probable for me to meet Andy Samberg than for me to meet Sidney. Anyway, I guess it makes for a great story."

"Something to tell your grandkids," Mel joked whimsically. I giggled nervously, wanting to be polite, but what the hell was all this talk about kids and grandchildren for? It's like all I heard about this week was marriage and children. I thought I had a lot of time before this matter would have to weigh on my mind.

"Ugh, Mel, stop it," Colby added, shaking his head again. "I don't want to think about him procreating. I had to move all the way to Atlanta to get away from that huge ass of his, and it followed me here."

"Oh Army, you know you miss me," Sid chuckled.

"You're right. All those nights on the road. Just you, me, and Friends."

"Hey, now, it's better than Ellen."

"Ellen DeGeneres is a funny woman. There's nothing wrong with enjoying her show."

"No, but there is something very wrong about how you would dance in our hotel room while she danced on stage."

"How many times do I have to explain this to you? I was limbering up for the game. Let me show you," Colby offered, standing up from his chair and dancing around the table. Mel and I were practically rolling on the floor in fits of giggles and tears. Colby was a riot. "So, you must be something," he said to me after our collective laughter abated.

"I don't get it," I replied.

"Get what?" Colby asked.

"The joke."

"It's not a joke."

"I thought you were supposed to be funny."

"I am funny."

"Funny looking maybe," I quipped. "Speaking of your big nose, thanks for not breaking Fedotenko's hand during the game."

We all laughed, but Colby turned serious again. "I mean it. You must be something to have captured Sid's eye. And you must really be something to have captured his heart."

Mel let out a soft sigh, and Sidney said, "I see marriage turned you into a real sap, Army."

"Nah," he dismissed. "I just have to watch out for you, buddy. Make sure she lives up to the high demands of," he paused as he folded his hands under his chin and batted his eyelashes before continuing, "the Future Mrs. Crosby."

"Whatever, Army," Sid offered while rolling his eyes.

"And how am I doing?" I inquired.

"Well, let's see. First, you knocked down the Kid's ego by mistaking him for an actor and not fawning over him for being a hockey superstar. So you get points for that. Second, you're kinda hot. So, you get more points for that. And third, you're doing a pretty good job of handling the media stuff. So, I'd say so far, so good."

I leaned back against my chair and eyed him up. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

"Like what?"

"Well, I'm putting up with you. Doesn't that count for something?"

Colby laughed, and the others chimed in, too. I was having a great time with Colby, and I think he liked me. I allowed myself to relax as we continued to joke around and enjoy each others' company. Yeah, I'd say so far, so good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

65: Going to Atlanta

Thanks again, heleneli, for the French lesson!

I was so incredibly nervous. More nervous than I was to meet Sidney's parents. More nervous than I was standing in front of all those cameras. I thought I was going to implode from the sinking sensation in my stomach. This wasn't supposed to be this big of a deal. Sid told me how foolish I was being, but I couldn't help it.

How else was I supposed to react, though? He told me he would be introducing me to Colby, and I really, really wanted Colby to like me. I knew he was just a goofball that got along with everyone. And as long as I wasn't a bitch, there wouldn't be any reason for him not to like me. But still. I was nervous.

Sid's teammates liked me, and his family did, too. Well, I knew for sure that Trina and Taylor did; Troy, I still wasn't certain how he felt about me. But I knew that Sid had become fast friends with Colby Armstrong before he was traded to the Thrashers. I had to win his approval.

If he had told me earlier in the week that he wanted to introduce us, maybe I wouldn't have been so nervous. But instead, it wasn't until I had arrived in Atlanta that Sidney told me I'd be meeting him. I never put two-and-two together until after my flight had landed. Ugh, how do I get myself into these situations?

It all started when he insisted that I take advantage of his abnormal perks. He told me to book myself a first-class flight to Atlanta and a room at whatever hotel I wanted. We were both riding off the high of seeing a short paragraph in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about how the reporter's anonymous source was now backing down from her side of the story, as well as a story from The Pensblog, which asked people to respect Sid's private life and leave him alone as long as he was doing his job on the ice.

My favorite lines from The Pensblog staff: It has always been our stance to not comment on the players' personal lives. But we've seen pictures of Bing's girlfriend, especially after Sid's hat trick during the home game against Bruins. Her tears of joy are enough to make us love her. We couldn't imagine anyone better for Bing than a girl who's this much of a hockey fan. 'Nuff said.

We were both relieved that things were finally starting to go our way, and Sidney wanted to celebrate. "This is too much," I told him, sitting in front of my computer at work, but definitely not working. I was trolling Orbitz and Travelocity, looking for a cheap, last-minute package deal. "I can fly coach. And it doesn't matter to me where we stay, as long as you're there."

Steve made a gagging sound and distracted me from my conversation. I shot him a look, but I laughed at him, too. At the rate Steve talked to his wife on company time, and all the things those two talked about, he should be the last one to comment on my personal call.

Sid pulled me back into our bargaining arrangement. "Baby, it's fine."

"Please don't call me 'baby.'"

"Okay, Nelly. I've done pretty good about not buying you things, just like you wanted, so how about you let me spoil you a little?"

"What about when we went to California? Doesn't that count as something?"

"That wasn't my idea. Not that I didn't like having you there. Obviously I did, because otherwise I wouldn't be inviting you to that again. But that was a publicity thing that Pat orchestrated. This time, this is for us."

"You know I feel bad just taking stuff like this from you. I shouldn't have let you sweet-talk me into this. Maybe we should just forget about this weekend...."

"No," he said. I swear, I shouldn't have let him get so bossy this weekend. Now he thinks he can tell me what to do. "I want you to let me do this for you. For you, and for me. It's not a big deal, so don't make it into one."

I smiled from deep inside. "Compromise?"

Sid laughed so hard I thought he might pass out from lack of oxygen. "You're the one suggesting a compromise? I think hell just froze over. Look out the window! I bet pigs are flying!"

"You're so funny," I sighed. "Stop being a drama queen. How about I fly coach, and then we book a nice room? What hotel are you staying at when you're in Atlanta?"

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know?"

"Because the team gets herded like cattle or sheep or something. I don't pay attention to the details of the schedule."

"But wouldn't it be easier to pull this off if we were supposed to be in the same hotel?"

"No. What difference does it make?"

"What if Disco Dan finds out you're sneaking around after the game?"

"We're adults, Nelly. We're trusted to make our own decisions. We don't have a game the day after, and I bet some of the guys will probably be going out afterward. I think my spending the night with my girl is better than hanging out at some bar or club. Coach won't mind."

"I'm your girlfriend, Sidney. Not your girl. If you wanted to, we could go out with the guys after the game. We don't have to stay in."

"Maybe. But I think you and I both know how we'll be spending the night."

We agreed on the compromise and I booked a flight from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport down to the Atlanta airport, with a layover in Raleigh. I didn't mind the inconvenience of the coach flight or the two-hour wait in between plane rides, because that was the way I was used to traveling when I had to fly.

Actually, I enjoyed this trip a lot more. I didn't feel guilty for enjoying the pampering and superstar treatment. Once I landed in Georgia, I grabbed my suitcase from baggage claim and hailed a taxi to the Ritz-Carlton. The taxi driver navigated the streets from the airport to the hotel, where I checked in—under my own name, this time—and then headed up to my room to freshen up.

The game was close, but the Pens won three to two. I waited for Sid after the game so we could travel back to the hotel. As I watched the reporters interview Sidney, Geno and Max popped over to say hello. "Hey guys," I said.

"Hey, Noelle," Evgeni greeted. "You think about it? You ready say yes?"

"Okay, Geno. I'll try to help you. We'll figure something out after your road trip is over."

He beamed and walked away, and Max said, "I haven't spoken to you in a while, Noelle. How are you?"

"I'm doing very well, now that things are... well, I was about to say that things were returning to normal with Sid, but I realize that there is no normal with him. But things are good. How about you? If I remember correctly, you and Charlotte were looking pretty cozy at Véro's surprise birthday party."

He blushed. Maxime Talbot, blushing again over a girl. That would never cease to amaze me. "Yeah, things are good. We just needed to talk. She was just embarrassed and scared."

"Scared of what? Of you?" I laughed. "Oh, she doesn't know you very well then, does she? You're just a big softie," I joked, poking him in his sides.

"Don't let that get out," he laughed back. "I have a reputation to uphold around here."

"Hé! Est-ce que nous sortons ce soir?" Kris sauntered over to Max before he realized I had been standing there. He reddened to a shade of tomato and avoided looking any higher than my knees. "Sorry, Noelle. I didn't see you here."

"It's okay, Kris," I laughed. He shifted his weight back and forth from foot to foot, and his anxiety was making me nervous. "Let's just forget about what happened."

"What happened?" asked Max.

"Nothing," Kris and I said simultaneously.

"Are you kidding?" came a voice behind us. Jordan. "Every time I see this girl, I can only see her 'Oh face,'" he laughed, mimicking Drew from Office Space.

Kris and I both blushed, Max was confused as hell, and Jordan was cackling hysterically. I shook my head. "Too far, Staal."

"Wait, what?" Max was scratching his head. "I'm missing something here."

"It's nothing," I mumbled.

"Tanger and I walked in on a little something-something going on in Sid's kitchen last weekend before the Bruins game."

"Jordan! You need a filter! Why can't you just drop it?"

He shrugged. "Because it's funny."

"In the kitchen?" Max asked. "That doesn't sound very sanitary. Remind me never to eat at Sid's again."

Jordan and Max were having a great laugh at my expense when Sidney finally showed up. "Hey guys, what's happening?"

"Don't even ask," I grunted, rolling my eyes. "Can we go now?"

"Sure. See you guys later," Sid said, snaking his arm around my waist and starting for the door.

"Aren't you coming out with us?" Max asked.

"No, we have an early morning," Sidney called back to them.

"Yeah?" Jordan asked.

"Yeah?" I asked, unaware of our plans.

"Yeah. We have a breakfast date with Army and Mel."

It took a second for it to sink in. "Army. Armstrong. Colby Armstrong. And his wife."

Sid laughed. "Yeah. He's got another home game tomorrow, and an early one. So we're going over to their place for breakfast."

"Oh. Okay," I said, trying to sound confident and happy, but I knew that I tensed and that Sidney noticed.

"It's no big deal. He's no different than any of the other guys you've met. He's just not on the team anymore." Sid pulled me to him and leaned over to plant a kiss on the top of my head.

I nodded, still trying to make it seem like I was all right with this. But I knew that when Colbs was a Penguin, he and Sid were roommates on the road, and friends both on and off the ice. I don't know if Sid was bringing me around to get Army's approval or not, but I knew that I had to make a great impression on him. And I had all night to worry about it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

64: The Talk

I was reluctant to say goodbye to Sidney. I knew that our separation this time would be different. We weren't fighting, we weren't skirting around any issues, and we weren't not talking. We were good again; the way we were supposed to be.

But I couldn't help but be scared. I knew how much I cared about him now, and that frightened me. Scared the living shit out of me, really. It took losing him to make me see how much I needed him. During our previous fights, I was the one that had left in anger. First, when he took gave me a credit card and accused me of using him, and then when he didn't listen to me about Lynne. I was the one needing time and space to sort through what was going on in my head. But this time around, I thought he was the one finished with me. I was the one left waiting in the wings, feeling like my still-beating heart had been ripped out.

Falling in love, and then being in love, is a hard thing to learn to do at twenty-four. Maybe if I had had more practice in high school or something, I would have been able to go with the flow better. But that wasn't the case.

As I contemplated my circumstances, I wondered if this would get easier, eventually. If the longer we were together, the simpler it would become to say goodbye for days or weeks at a time. I bet if we could stop fighting every other time we got see each other, this would be easier.

I realized that there was no turning back. Now, I was in this for the long haul, ready and willing to do whatever it took to make it work with Sidney. Not because I wanted to or because hanging out with him was fun, but because I had to. It was essential for my happiness and my mental and emotional well-being. We didn't get to dip our toes in the water and test the temperature; we jumped into this cannonball-style, with no looking back. We were in over our heads, but in the best way possible.

This was the first time I cried when I had to leave. Every time we parted, I was sad and desperately wished that I could rewind the previous days and live them over again, but this was the first time I actually cried. Sid grabbed me and pulled me against his chest, where I fit so nicely. "Hey, what's all this about?"

"I'm sorry," I apologized with a quaking voice. "This time, it's just really hard. I mean, I'm excited for Thanksgiving, but I hate that I don't get to see you before then. I'm going to miss you."

He twirled his fingers around my hair. "Me, too. Why don't you come see me next weekend? We're playing down in Atlanta next Saturday. It could be a repeat of San José. Fly down for the game, hang out a little on Sunday?"

I pulled away and looked up at Sid. It sounded so nice, another weekend getaway, but I was reluctant to accept. "I thought you agreed to keep the presents to a minimum?"

"Well, this is why I'm asking you and not just telling you or surprising you with tickets. You know I want you there. I'd love for you to come down. The distance and the time apart is hard for me, too."

"Yeah, but you have road schedules and routines."

"That doesn't make it any less difficult. Sure, I have practices and flights and games, and I'm surrounded by the guys, but there's still a lot of time for me to think about you and miss you. And it's not like I get to sit back and think that you'll be waiting for me at home when the road trip is over."

"I come to see you when you're at home."

"Yeah, on the weekends. But you can't come to the home games when you have to work. It's not like you're waiting for me at home, like some of the other guys' girls are."

"Is that what you want?" I asked, trying to sound innocent but really being skeptical. I could never be that girl who could wait at home for her man. Sure, I cooked his pregame meal, but that was because I loved to cook. And I helped out around the house when needed, but that was because I was here so often on the weekends that it only made sense to take some of the responsibility. But I needed to work, to do something to feel productive and like I was contributing to society.

Sid laughed. "I know exactly what you're trying to do. No, it's not fair for me to ask that you be available when I want you to be, since I have so many previous commitments and demands on my time. I like that you're independent and patient, because that takes the pressure off me some when I can't be around for you. Even though, I will admit, it would be nice to have you here all the time."

I smiled at him and nestled back into his chest. Yes, it would be nice to be there all the time, so I could see him whenever he was in town. It sucked, only being able to see him on the weekends when he had home games.

He continued, "It could be that way. Maybe it's too early now, but when you're ready."

"Sidney Crosby, what are you getting at?" I stayed in my position, curled up against his chest so he wouldn't have to see my face.

"It's an open invitation, an open-door policy. I mean, you still have my key. Anytime you want to come over, you can. And if you wanted to take up permanent residence here, you could. I know what you're going to say, that it's really early on in our relationship. And maybe to you, it is. But my parents got married after only knowing each other for four months. So really, by those standards, we're taking it slow."

I couldn't help but laugh. "Four months? How are you supposed to know if you're meant to be with someone after sixteen weeks?"

Sid puckered his mouth, not liking my reaction. It probably wasn't a good idea to laugh when I heard his parents got hitched after four months. "If you know it, then you know. Why wait?"

"Because. Can you honestly know someone after four months?" This was it. He wrangled me into The Talk. I let out a deep sigh. "You know, just because you've been all take-charge, do-as-I-say today, doesn't mean you're going to make me talk about this. But, just so you know where I'm coming from, I think it's fair for you to know that I don't think you can truly know someone after a few months. I think that people should only get engaged after being together for a minimum of two years. And if you've been with someone for three, and you still don't know if you're ready to take that next step, then you'll never be ready."

"Wow. That's pretty specific. Two to three years? You've put a lot of thought into this."

"Well, I've had a lot of time to think about it. It just makes sense to me."

"But love isn't supposed to make sense."

I thought about all my experiences with Sid, and how very few of them involved rational thinking. He drove me crazy, he made me crazy, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. And I was a thinker, a reasoner, which made being in love with him so hard, yet so rewarding. "You can't control how you feel, for sure, but I read somewhere that it takes a year and a half for the feelings of infatuation to dissipate. So you can't know if you really love someone until after that."

"Maybe you shouldn't believe everything you read."

That made me smile. All I did was read. "I can't believe that you would think it's okay to pop the question after a few months. Especially with being in the situation you are. How could you be so sure that the girl wasn't using you for your money or for who you are?"

"I like to think I'm a good judge of character."

"Really? And you still think that, even after Lynne fooled you?"

He frowned. "One time, one girl. She's the only one that pulled the wool over my eyes. I had to learn at an early age how to discern the good people from the bad seeds. But why are you complaining about it? I mean, I picked you." Sidney reached down and held my chin in place as he slowly brought his lips to mine. Just as soon as I was really getting into it, he pulled back. "What do you think about a family?"

"It's really too soon for me to think about it. I'm not sure how I feel about a family. Kids are nice, but I'm not sure if I want my own yet. I'm too young to need to have it all figured out." In all honesty, kids scared the living daylights out of me. I wasn't sure if I could be a good mother. Especially if it involved raising kids with a husband that traveled a lot, which would leave a lot of the burden of child-rearing on me.

"I thought girls planned this stuff out since they were five."

I laughed. "That's so sexist, Crosby. It depends. It depends on the guy, if he'd make a good hands-on dad, and the situation we're in. I mean, after all, it's not up to me. It's a decision that both of the potential parents need to make. But what's the big deal? You're young and you have the world at your feet. Plus, you're twenty-freakin'-two. You couldn't have put a lot of thought into this." When he didn't answer me, I blushed. "You have put a lot of thought into this."

"You think because I play hockey that that is where my only priority lies. Yes, the game is important to me. But only because I had the great support system of my family to encourage me and get me through it. Family's important to me. I want one, some day. You're right, I'm young, so I don't have to worry about it right now. But I know I want it in my future."

"Yeah? You want enough boys to make your own hockey team?"

"No," he laughed heartily. "Maybe a boy or two, who I can teach the game to. Do you think you can handle being a hockey mom?" He continued to laugh, as if picturing it in his head. "But I want a girl, too. A little princess."

I pulled back, ignored his question altogether, and came up with my own. "Yeah? And what if your little princess wanted to play hockey?"

Sid looked sheepish. "Then of course she would play. Hell, maybe she'd even become the first female NHL player. My skill and teaching, and your stubborn drive. She'd be able to do anything."

We laughed together, but a part of me was shocked by his statement. He wasn't just talking about the possibility of having a daughter, he was talking about our daughter, our future possible child. It was scary that he was thinking of our future and so scary that he was so comfortable thinking about it. I wasn't there yet. I wasn't ready to think about what time might have in store for us. Thanksgiving was looming on my calendar, and that was the furthest date I had in mind. Except that Trina was still planning on seeing me in Cole Harbour for Christmas.

"Okay, so now I know how you feel about that. Let's go back in time. Tell me about your old boyfriends."

"You can't be serious. What man in his right mind would want to hear about his girlfriend's past relationships?"

"I'm in love. I never said I was in my right mind," he chuckled. Sid made this whole discussion seem so easy, but I was freaking out internally. "It's a part of you. It's what made you who you are today. That's why it's important to me."

"But it is what it is. I mean, it's in the past. I don't want to know about the girls you've known and been with. Because it has nothing to do with us right now."

Sidney squeezed me. "You aren't the least bit curious?"

Now that he was dangling that tidbit of information in front of my face, I was a little curious. But I lied. "No. I don't want to know about them. As far as I'm concerned, there's a reason they aren't with you anymore, and there's a reason I'm with you now. I don't need to know about those reasons."

We kissed again and I pulled away, knowing I need to start the drive home. As I walked to my car, Sidney called after me. "You never gave me your answer."

"About what?"

"The game on Saturday. Do you want to come to Atlanta or not?"

I didn't need to think about it. "Yes!"

Monday, August 24, 2009

63: Mess with the Bull, and You Get the Horns

"You're going to fire Pat?"

"Um, yes. Should that even be a question?"

I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes for a second. Was I pissed at Pat? Hell yes. Was I sure that firing him was the best step to take? No. "Why are you going to fire him?"

"Isn't the reason obvious? Aren't you as mad at him as I am? He lied to me. As my agent, I'm not paying him to lie to me. And he's supposed to be my friend, too. Even if he was trying to do what was best for me as his client, it wasn't what was best for me as his friend."

"I don't know, Sidney. I'm mad at him, I am, but I don't know all of what happened. Maybe it was all some kind of miscommunication?"

"Then that's one huge miscommunication. Usually, you're the one telling me I'm being naïve."

"I'm not being naïve, I just feel like I'm screwing up the good thing you had. Pat's done an incredible job of making you this, like, hockey ambassador to the world."

"You didn't screw anything up. He's the one that made the mistake."

"It's just that, I know he's been there for you since you were the little hockey phenom that all of Canada was abuzz about. I mean, it's like you're breaking up with him. Like a divorce, or something."

Sidney laughed. "That is one interesting way to look at it."

"He's never done something like this to you before, though, right?"

"Not to my knowledge. I just.... I mean, I'm so angry that he would lie. He knew how much I cared about you, and he told you to leave, and then he made it seem like you left all pissed off and of your own accord. He let me thinking we were over."

"I'm sure Pat had a reason. I hate to think that you'd have to fire him and find someone brand new who will do his job just as well as Pat did, because I don't know if you can. So let's just enjoy lunch together, and then you can call him and ream him out or fire him or whatever. But, just. Oh, I don't know. Give him a chance to explain?"

"Do you really care that much?"

I shrugged. "I told you, it's just that he's been such a big part of your life since you were, like, fourteen. And he's done such a good job getting you to where you are, with your sponsors and stuff."

"You act like I had no part in earning those. I worked really hard."

I laughed and nudged him again. "Look at you, trying to take all the credit for being the NHL's poster boy. Like it has everything to do with your hard work and nothing to do with your talent and your boyish good looks. You're an agent's wet dream—you practically market yourself."

He smirked. "Boyish good looks? Try rugged and handsome."

Laughter bubbled up and I exploded into giggles. Sid shot me a look to let me know that it wasn't that funny, that it wasn't funny at all, but to me it was. He had the amazing, sexy body of a professional athlete, but his face was still so young. It made me feel like the cradle robber I was; the age difference wasn't too much of a big deal since he was so mature, but he certainly didn't look older than his twenty-two years.

"Seriously, Nelly, you can stop laughing. There's nothing funny about the way I look."

"You're right," I sighed, wiping the excess water from my eyes. "My rugged, handsome prince," I said wistfully and teasingly as I kissed him. The waitress brought over our meals, and I liked eating side-by-side with Sidney. We didn't really talk, knowing that more serious tasks were at hand. After we ate, we left the restaurant and headed back to Sid's.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and played with it in his hands as we tried to relax and steel ourselves for the stressful situation awaiting us. We sat on the couch, my legs stretched across his lap. Sid dialed Pat's number as he rubbed my legs. I heard the line ring as Sid put it on speaker.

I wasn't going to participate in the conversation; I was only there to listen. Which was perfectly fine with me. This was between Sidney and his agent, something that Sid had to take care of. Honestly, I liked seeing him take charge of the situation. Usually, Sidney was so laid back and easy-going, eager to go with the flow as the people around him put together his schedule and handled the details. His go-with-the-flow attitude was one of the things I loved most about him. After all, that's how he could so easily calm me down when I got all neurotic. But seeing him get angry and grab the bull by the horns was... hot.

Pat answered on the first ring, as if he were waiting specifically for this call. "Sidn—"

"So, Pat, did you see the game last night?"

"Yeah, I did, Sid. Congrats on the hat trick—"

"And I'm guessing you saw who was in the stands? I'm sure they showed it on the broadcast." I felt like Geno's parents. They always showed Vladimir and Natalia whenever they came to see their son play, and they turned into local celebrities almost as famous as Evgeni himself.

Pat paused on his end of the line. The gears were turning. He knew this conversation was going to happen, but he still didn't know what to say. "Yes."

If Pat was going to continue with his explanation, Sidney didn't let him. "How could you, Pat?"

"Listen, Sid, you don't understand."

"Make me understand." When Sid said that, I tingled. It's not that I approve of anyone losing their tempers, but this take-charge Sid was seriously turning me on. I was having a hard time concentrating on the important matter currently being discussed.

"Obviously, no one was letting this go. It was clear that what we were doing wasn't going to sway public favor in your direction. Like it or not, you two needed to spend some time apart. You needed to calm down, Sidney, or else you never would have thought about this rationally. And Noelle was just too angry to allow us to be rational. When she left, and you asked where she went, I didn't have the chance to explain. You saw she wasn't around, and you jumped to your own conclusions."

Sid reddened, I think in both anger and embarrassment. "But you didn't bother correcting me."

"I know. I should have, but it just seemed easier with her out of the picture."

I was mad. I wanted to scream at Pat, but I knew to leave this up to Sid. And Sidney was more than willing to give him a piece of his mind. "Noelle is not out of the picture. She never was. Even when you let me think she left me, she weighed just as much on my mind. I played like shit because of I was worried about her, and you know it. And when I called to ask you for advice, you could have come clean about it all. Still, you didn't. Letting me think she left was in no way good for me.

"But the worst part is that you told her to leave. Forget about what's best for my career, Pat. I thought you were my friend, too. You should have been thinking about what's best for me, not my sponsors. I'm sorry, Pat, but I don't need you anymore. You're fired."

The line was silent for a long time. "Sidney, do you mean that?"

"Hell yeah, I mean it! It's time I get more hands on with this stuff. You were great for me, Pat, you truly were. When I was a kid, you knew all the right moves to help me make my name. But I don't need you to do that anymore. I don't need someone to treat me like a chess piece."

"No one out there knows you like I do, Sid. I know what you want, and how to get you what you want."

"Apparently not, because you let the only thing I want walk out the door, under your direction," he said, squeezing my calf. I had to swallow the contented sigh I wanted to let out. Mr. Perfect, at it again.

"Well, I get it now. Give me a second chance, Sid, and we'll fix this yet."

Sid looked over at me. I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded. He let out a deep breath before he continued. "I'll have you know that if this was up to me, you'd be fired. You should thank Noelle, because she's willing to overlook your major mistake."

"Thanks, Noelle," Pat sighed, somehow knowing that I was listening.

"You're welcome," I spoke up. "I have the feeling that you've never crossed Sidney before, so I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, that you just had a temporary lapse of judgment since you've never had to deal with this kind of publicity problem before."

"But I'm taking care of it," Sid said, taking over the conversation again. "I talked to Lynne, and she's going to get the reporter to issue a retraction."

"You realize that it will be a tiny blurb on page E9? No one will read that."

"It's a step in the right direction," Sid grunted. "It's better than skirting around the issue. I'm trying to get the truth out there. What's the saying, 'The truth will set you free'?"

I nodded at him, and he smiled. He was wise beyond his years.

"It's not that simple. I think you started a good thing, though. That was a great game, and seeing you in there cheering, Noelle, will do wonders for Sid now. What we should do now is—"

"No," Sidney moaned. "No more schemes. When we try to set it up to look like everything is magical and happy, it just blows up in our faces. So, no creating this façade for people to see. Things are magical and happy, we don't need to pretend. We'll just let them see the real us, and it'll be fine."

Pat didn't like the sound of it, but he agreed nonetheless to what Sid decided. Not like he had a choice—it was that, or no percentage of Sidney Crosby's hefty paycheck. Sidney made it perfectly clear that he was the one in charge now, and any slip up on Pat's end would result in his ultimate termination.

When he hung up the phone and laid down with me on the couch, I kissed his nose and teased him. "'Magical and happy'? Those were the best adjectives you could think of?"

Sid laughed at me. "Sorry, we can't all be experts on the English language like you."

"Hey, I'm no expert, but I can think of something better than 'magical and happy.' Speaking of experts on the English language, guess what?"


"Aren't you going to guess?"

"No. With you, it could be anything. Just tell me."

"Geno asked if I would help him with his English."

"Really? When did this happen?"

"Before the game yesterday. He was mad when he came into the lounge, and he was complaining about the interviews, and how people make fun of his English. Turns out, my mouthy boyfriend was apparently bragging that I was smart, so he wants me to help him."

"You are smart. I think this is a really good idea, actually. Are you going to do it?"

"I told him I'd think about it, and he thinks that means I said yes. I guess I thought his comprehension of the language was better than it really is," I laughed.

"Nelly, I really think you should do it. I mean, I bet Geno would pay for an English tutor. You could quit your job, since you hate it anyway." I tensed in Sid's arms as he said this. "What's wrong? Don't you think this is as brilliant as I do?"

"In theory, it sounds perfect. But I wouldn't charge him, I'd do it as a favor to him. And, yeah, I do hate my job, but it's not like I can just give it up that easily. It's a steady paycheck, and in this economy, I just can't give that up on a whim. Besides, I wouldn't even know how to go begin helping him. If he's willing to pay, he should be paying for a professional."

Sid leaned toward me and kissed me. "Well, it's like I told Geno. You're smart. I know you can figure it out."

Sid made it sound so easy, like I could suddenly become an amazing teacher. But thinking I could instantly become an English tutor would be the same as if any other English speaker could do the same job; without a proper background in education, how I expect to teach Geno? It seems everyone had faith in me that I could do it, but I wasn't sure. So I decided not to think about it. I placed my hands on the back of his neck and brushed my lips softly against his. "Are the doors locked?" I asked.

"I think so. Why?"

"I want to make sure we aren't interrupted this time," I answered. Between our schedules, I knew that I wouldn't get to see him again until Thanksgiving. On our last day together for practically the next two weeks, I planned on taking full advantage of him.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

62: Tying Up Loose Ends

I wanted Sunday to be a quiet, lazy day, spent doing nothing but existing with Sid among cartons of Chinese food and horribly hilarious movies. By the time he cried "uncle" and told me that I had held up my end of the deal, that I had made it up to him after he scored me those goals, we had stayed up a good portion of the night and I was exhausted. When I finally rolled out of bed—alone, of course—it was almost noon. I didn't want to leave his house or change into respectable clothes, but Sidney insisted.

"It's just been crazy. I want to relax with you. No date, no drama. Just you," I whined, sashaying up to him and wrapping my arms around his waist. This just felt so good, too good to do anything else.

"I have to run some errands today. I've got a lot of things to take care of, and I want you with me when I do them."

"It's Sunday. What could you possibly have to do on a Sunday?"

"Well, I guess you'll just have to put some clothes on and find out!" he encouraged with a slap on my ass, pointing me in the direction of his bedroom so I could change. Reluctantly, I threw on some jeans and a plain black top and pulled back the sides of my messy hair, revealing the beautiful curls underneath. I don't know why my hair would curl so nicely in the areas no one ever saw. I put on some make-up. Before Sid, I never would wear this much make-up this often, but just the idea of someone taking a picture of me without it gave me the shivers.

I clunked back down the stairs, and then we were out the door. Sid still didn't tell me what was on the agenda for the day, but he promised to feed me, and my stomach liked the idea of that.

"Where are we going?"


"Okay. I've never been there before. Any particular reason we're going there?"


"Can you be a little more specific than one-word answers?"

"Maybe," he quipped back with that half-grin.

"You're such a smart ass!" I laughed at him.

"Better than being a dumb ass."

I loved the way that we could poke fun at each other and banter back and forth. Sid was so easy to get along with; he made it easy for me to joke around and be myself around him. I felt more at ease when I was with him than when I was alone.

When we got to Morton's, Sid clasped my hand in his and tangled his fingers in between mine. He brought my hand up to his perfectly pursed lips. It was a very sweet gesture—and not that Sidney wasn't generally so adorable—but he usually didn't act this way in public. That was our unstated rule against PDA. Something was up.

The hostess greeted us. I mean, she greeted Sid and ignored me. "Mr. Crosby, it's nice to see you again. It's been a while."

"It has, hasn't it? I know Lynne's on today. Would you mind seating us in her section?"

"Sure thing, Mr. Crosby. Right this way," she called over her shoulder as she lead us to a booth tucked into a corner. Sid started following her, but I was reluctant to move. He had to squeeze my hand tightly and tug on my arm several times before I could put one foot in front of the other and move to where the hostess was indicating.

I took the seat that faced the whole restaurant, expecting Sid to take the seat across from me so he wouldn't feel exposed to the room. Instead, he slid in next to me, trapping me between him and the wall. I felt instantly claustrophobic.

"Sidney, what's going on? Why are you doing this?"

He wrapped his left arm around my shoulders and pulled me against his body. "I'm taking care of business, like I should have done a long time ago. I thought you had made up my mind for me by leaving. But since you're back, we've got to figure this out. So I thought about it, and this is my course of action."

Before I could rebut, Lynne was at our table with her notepad out and pen poised to write. "Hello, my name's Lynne and I'll be taking care of you..." she began, but she stopped as she looked up and saw who was sitting at her table. I couldn't help but feel a little smug when I saw surprise and worry in her eyes. "What are you guys doing here?"

It was a good thing that Sid had slid in next to me and blocked me from reaching over and clawing her eyes out. She had the audacity to ask what we were doing there, like we were ruining her day by showing up? When she had ruined so much for us? Sidney rubbed my arm, and I gladly relinquished the talking to him. I wondered what he had up his sleeve.

"We'll start off with two waters, no lemon, and a formal apology, if you don't mind."

The stupid psycho bitch stood there, mouth still agape, as she racked her brain for something to say. After a moment, she eked out, "I'm sorry?" I wasn't sure if she was trying to apologize, or if that was her way of saying she didn't understand.

Sid let out a calculated chuckle, like he was in complete control of the situation. "Don't say 'I'm sorry' to me. Say it to Noelle. I know you were behind the story. I don't even know why, because it's not like you got your fifteen minutes of fame since you remained anonymous. But I want you to issue a retraction."

"I can't make the reporters listen to me—"

"Yes you can, Lynne. And yes you will. We all know this was bullshit. I don't care if it becomes a one-line note at the end of another story. You're still going to do it."

"You know, you're lucky that was the only story that came out. Your girlfriend," she said, turning up her nose at me, "put me in the emergency room. I'm sure the press would love to get a hold of that information."

I felt Sid's body stiffen against mine. Alex was sure to keep that information on the down-low, as his own way of protecting me when Lynne went psycho and attacked me. Sidney had no idea that I had caused so much physical damage. When he was slow with his response, I took my turn and stood up for myself. "We both know what happened that night, Lynne. And if you don't remember, we can ask every other girl that was at Kelsey's that night. You attacked me, and everyone will back me up on that. So you'd better watch it before you run your mouth again."

She narrowed her eyes at me, not willing to let this slide. "Sounds like a threat. What are you going to do about it? Hit me again?"

I wanted to. Of course I did. I hated her for kissing Sid at Diesel, but I absolutely loathed and detested her for opening her mouth to the media. Sidney kept his hold on me, but I didn't need him to restrain me. This time, I was going to handle this with my words, not my clenched fist.

"No. I'm not like you. I don't resort to violence when I don't get my way."

Sid overcame his temporary loss of words. "You know it's the right thing to do, Lynne. I don't care what your motivation is, just do it. You have until Tuesday, or you'll be hearing from my lawyers."

Lynne snapped her mouth shut and spun around, leaving us alone.

"Sidney," I whispered, "you know you can't sue her for anything."

"I know that, and you know that, but she doesn't know that," he said out of the side of his mouth.

I giggled quietly and kissed his cheek. "Do you really think that she's going to do it?"

"I think so."

"But do you think it'll fix anything?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I've never had to worry about publicity or anything. Pat always did that. But I'm also not sure that there's any real answer to this problem. I feel like, no matter what we do, we're not going to automatically get some peace."

"But you think we'll get some peace eventually?"

That made Sidney laugh. "I don't think anyone will leave us—me—alone until I'm married."

"Well, that sucks! Who knows when that will be," I joked, nudging him, "because it's not like you have girls fawning all over you or something."

"Who says it has to be that far away?"

I looked at him, and I know I looked like a deer in headlights. "You are joking, aren't you?" I couldn't tell by the tone of his voice if he was continuing with our banter or not.

The mood soured. "Well, at least I know your viewpoint on marriage now. Or, is that your viewpoint on me?"

Another waitress came over with our waters and explained that Lynne had suddenly fell ill, and she'd take our orders. We told her that we needed a few more minutes, but when she left, we didn't look at the menus.

"You're serious about this?"

"We need to have this talk, Nelly. We need to talk about this, about our pasts and our futures. I want to know if you want kids, how many you want, where you see yourself in five, ten years. I need to know if when I picture my life that far down the road, whether or not I should see you there, too."

I shrugged out of Sid's grasp and picked up his hand, closing it in both of mine. "Isn't it enough to know that I want to be here now? That I'm willing to fight to be with you in this moment?"

"I like knowing that. I mean, I know you love me and all that, but I want to know what you see when you think about life in the future."

"Later? Please, Sid, I beg you. I cannot do the big relationship talk now."

"When? We can't keep putting this off."

"At least after lunch?" I asked with a pleading smile. Seriously, I couldn't handle this now. Maybe if we hadn't come to Lynne's restaurant to confront her, I would be in the state of mind to think about a future with Sidney and what that would be like. But now, I was worried if we could manage to get through the next week without a fight.

"All right, after I finish my errands. But I'm not letting you off the hook this time," he said, bringing my hand back up to his lips for a kiss. Our waitress returned and we ordered our lunch.

"So, what else is on your to-do list for today? What other errands do you have to run?" I asked.

"Fire my agent."