Monday, August 3, 2009

40: No Surprise

I hope it doesn't seem too over the top or too theatrical. I'm kind of proud of it. I'd appreciate your honest assessment. ~Jay



Everyone had told me: relationships are hard work. And then there was the favorite saying of the Pens: nothing worth winning ever came easy. After days of battling with myself, I made my decision. Now, I had to tell him, but I didn't know how. Should I wait until after the game on Friday to call? Better yet, maybe I should wait until after Saturday's game, so his weekend games wouldn't be affected by my answer.

By Friday afternoon, I was still unsure. I felt bad that I had made up my mind, and Sidney was still unaware of the conclusion I had come to. It wasn't fair to him.

Véro called while I was procrastinating at work, pretending to read a file when my eyes were really unfocused and blurring the words on the page. It was the first time I had spoken to her since Monday. I took the call at my desk knowing I wouldn't have to censor myself, since Steve was in the boss's office reviewing a case.

"I just wanted to check in, see how things are, and if you're coming to the game tonight."

"Uh, no. I haven't spoken to Sidney since Monday, so I don't have a ticket."

"Sid's not the only one with connections, you know. If you wanted to come, we can find you a seat. Hell, everyone there knows you by now. You could get in on that alone."

"Ha, well, thanks for the offer. But I don't want him to know I'm there if I haven't spoken with him yet. I mean, you saw his reaction on Monday during practice, I don't want to know what he'd do before a game."

"He doesn't have to know. You and I obviously need to talk and catch up with what's going on, and Kels and I need someone to help buffer our interactions with Lynne. And you know how much Lynne likes you, so that takes a lot of pressure off us," she laughed, and I couldn't help but giggle back a little.

"I would love to come to the game and see you, but I really don't want to risk a run-in with him until I talk to him."

"We'll keep it a secret. And then you guys can have your magical reunion after the game! It will be so romantic," she urged.

I snorted. "Just like Marc kept it a secret on Monday?"

"That was an accident. It was my fault, really. Since you were acting all paranoid, I thought it would be a good idea to let him know what was going on. I can't help it he opened that big mouth of his. Those guys gossip more than we ever did."

"I still don't know, V...."

"You know you want to come, if only to watch some hockey, so why are you fighting it?"

"You're right. Fine. But I probably won't be able to get there until after the game starts. I'll have to go home and get my jersey."

"You know the drill, we'll have a ticket waiting for you at will call."

"Okay, I'll see you at the game. We'll chat during intermission." I hung up the phone and wondered if this plan would be successful tonight. After all, it seemed every time I hoped for a certain outcome or tried to get away with something, it never worked out in my favor. First, I wanted—no, needed—last weekend to go smoothly, and that blew up in my face. Then, I tried on Monday to symbolically end this twisted relationship by reclaiming my things, and that turned into a fiasco faster than it takes Tanger to score a goal from the point with a slapshot on the power play.

After work, I drove back home, changed into jeans and my trusty-rusty Talbot jersey, threw on my Pens cap that Max had bought me, and drove into the city. It was a waste to drive home in the opposite direction of Pittsburgh, only to have to double back and pass my office building again, but I wanted to make sure I'd blend into the crowd tonight. Sure, I had to talk to Sidney, but I would do it when I was ready. I wasn't going to let him corner me again and force me into something I didn't want to say or do. Not this time.

The clock on my dash read quarter til eight when I pulled into the parking lot at the Mellon. I was so far from the gate, but at least a parking space by the exit meant I might be able to sneak out and beat the traffic at the end of the night. With my I.D. ready, I got my ticket at will call and headed to the family section. I had to step over Lynne to take my seat between Kelsey and Véro.

"Uh oh, back to the Mad Max jersey? I hope that doesn't mean trouble in paradise," Lynne chirped as I past her.

I stomped on her foot. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Lynne! I'm such a klutz. I hope I didn't hurt you." When I got to my seat, I looked back at her. She was red-faced. "But things with Sidney are just great, thanks for asking." I hated that I lied and acted so childishly, but I didn't want her to have any knowledge about how things were between us. That would only fuel her desire to interfere.

The scoreboard displayed that the Panthers were winning, 2-1. I had listened to Mike Lange and Phil Borque on The X on the way into the city, and I knew who scored the Pens' goal. However Kelsey volunteered the information to me. "Billy scored in the first five minutes of the period, and Sid had the assist." Those girls were one of a kind. Well, I guess they were two of a kind. They couldn't let me enjoy the game without pestering me for information or bringing up the topic of Sidney.

"Can we do this during the first intermission?" I asked, inching forward in my seat as Malkin looked like he was getting a breakway. "Come on, Geno!"

At the end of the period, both girls turned to face me, one on either side of me, sandwiching me and trapping me with stares. I noticed that Lynne was still in her seat next to Kelsey. "Can we not do this here?" I asked, nodding my head in Lynne's direction.

We stood up and they lead me somewhere. They obviously knew where they were going, but I was clueless. We ended up outside of a suite where the Lemieuxs and some of the injured players were watching the game. It was a restricted area, and I knew we could speak without worrying about eavesdropping.

"So, what happened after practice?" Véro asked.

I shrugged. "We talked. We apologized. We explained ourselves and tried to justify our actions. Isn't that how most reconciliations go?"

"So you're reconciled?" Kelsey.

"Well, not exactly. Not at all, in fact. We're still kind of in limbo. He said he was willing to compromise, but I told him I needed to think about it and make up my mind before I could commit to finding a solution."

"Wait, so you didn't even find a solution?" Kelsey.

"Do you know how much like my mother you sound? No, because I wasn't sure if I wanted to compromise."

"Why not?" Véro.

"Wow, I think in a past life, you guys were involved in the Spanish Inquisition. Because I didn't think I should have to compromise. Why can't he just listen to me? I mean, I made it clear that I don't like these extravagant surprises and him spending his money on me. So he should just stop like I asked him to."

"Stop being so stubborn." Kelsey.

"Don't you know how to make relationships work?" Véro.

"So what's going to happen now?" Kelsey.

"Well, I made up my mind and I was going to talk to him, but I don't know if I should do it after tonight's game or tomorrow's."

"Tonight!" they cried in unison.

I laughed at their behavior but turned serious when I answered them. "But what if I upset him, and he can't focus for the game?"

"Will you stop worrying about the games! This is your happiness, for crying out loud! He'll be ecstatic to hear from you, because Marc's said he's been miserable all week!" Véro.

"Unless you're giving him bad news, that would upset him." Kelsey.

"You're not giving him bad news, are you?" Véro.

I would have said anything to those girls to get them to stop looking at me like that. As if this whole situation weren't uncomfortable enough, they were making me feel one hundred times worse. I thought they were supposed to be my friends, so why were they taking Sid's side? "I'm not exactly sure what kind of news I'm giving him."

"What do you mean you don't know?" Véro.

"I thought you said you made up your mind!" Kelsey.

"Yeah, I did, but I only decided that I was going to give him a chance to find an arrangement we could both live with. And if not, then, well...." The girls just stared at me. "What? What else do you want from me? I'm trying here to be reasonable."

"You call that being reasonable?" Kelsey asked.

"Yes. You guys don't understand. You've been with your boyfriends, or have known them, since you were young. They've always been in the picture, somehow. I'm a grown-ass woman, and I cemented my standards and morals before he was ever involved in my life. He's calling into question everything I've known and told myself was true. This is the best I can do at this juncture." I was close to tears. I really thought I had come up with the best solution I could, and they made me feel like it was too inadequate.

They still didn't look pleased with me, but they backed off a little when they saw my eyes water and suggested we return to our seats. I knew this wasn't the end of this battle with them.

As we passed by Mario's box, I saw Max talking into his phone in French. He saw me, ended his call, and approached with raised eyebrows. "Not that I should be complaining, but you're wearing my number tonight?"

I lost it. I didn't need someone else commenting on my life again. My eyes overflowed with tears, and I squeaked, "Et tu, Maxime?"

I'm not sure if Max understood my Shakespeare reference, but he damn sure knew I was upset. He pulled me into his arms, and I let myself cry hot tears while silently cursing myself. It felt so unnatural to be in his arms; I didn't fit into them like I did in Sid's. The girls returned to their seats while Max comforted me.

"Woah, Noelle, where is this coming from?"

Pulling away, I wiped my face with the sleeve of my jersey. "I'm sorry. I just can't take any more criticism today. You all act like this is so easy, and I'm just retarded for not being able to figure it out." Political correctness went out the window.

"I don't think that. Hell, I don't even know what's going on. I mean, I knew you guys were fighting because the Kid was so grumpy. I didn't realize it was this bad. What happened?"

"I'd really not rather go through this again," I hiccuped. "Do you know how many times I played those scenes over in my head? How many countless ways I tried to reason through what happened and what I should do about it? My brain's going to explode—that's how many times. So please, don't make me relive it. Don't make me talk about it."

He nodded. "Fair enough. I think the second period's going to start."

I wiped my face again and pulled my cap down over my eyes. "Ugh. That stupid bitch is going to know something's wrong."

"What?"

"Lynne. She's always on my case, and if I show up back to my seat and she sees I've been crying, she'll know for sure that something's up between me and Sid." He still looked confused. "You aren't the only one who noticed I'm wearing twenty-five tonight instead of eighty-seven."

"Well, why don't you watch from the suite? At least until you calm down."

"But aren't Mario and Nathalie in there? I don't want them to see me upset, either."

Max wrapped an arm around my shoulders and started to lead me into the box. "Once the game starts up again, they won't even know you exist. They're Lemieuxs, after all."

I laughed and let him take control of me. After the past week, it was nice to let someone handle things. He sat me in a chair and handed me a beer. Mario and Nathalie noticed my entrance and said hello. I waved and told them how nice it was to see them again and thanked them for letting me gatecrash. As I talked, I kept my face down and let the brim of the cap hide my eyes. On the plus side, I wouldn't have to see Véro and Kelsey and defend my decision again.

I turned to look at my savior, now sitting beside me with his own beer. I loved hanging out with Sid's teammates, but Max was by far my favorite of the Pens, player-wise and friend-wise. He was nothing but caring and considerate from the moment I met him. "How is it you don't have a girl of your own, Max?"

He looked at me with wide eyes. "Where is this coming from? You sound just like my mother, if my mother spoke English."

"No, I mean it. You're such a nice guy. I don't know how you're still single."

He shrugged. "I guess it's going to take one hell of a girl to make me settle down."

I laughed and diverted my attention to the ice. Once the game started, we all followed the puck and didn't talk. It was a nice reprieve to concentrate on the game. The Penguins left the dressing room and skated onto the ice with fresh determination in the second period. Sidney especially looked particularly motivated, and I knew he was going to do something special tonight.

I was right—he was amazing. I've seen his puck-handling skills; I knew how good he was. But as the defenders surrounded him, I couldn't believe how he protected the puck and spun around those chumps. He passed the puck to himself by hitting it against the boards and doing a 180, completely blowing away those so-called pro hockey players. He came around the net and shot the puck with a flick of his wrist, which the goalie deflected but did not scoop up. Crosby then got his own rebound and shot it again, going five hole.

"Holy shit," I cried, jumping out of my seat. "Did I really just see that?"

Max laughed at me, still in his seat beside me. "There's a reason he's been dubbed 'The Next One.'"

"I know, but that was... magical. That was highlight-reel material! I mean, moreso than usual!"

He laughed again, and so did the Lemieuxs. I felt so foolish, so I sat back down and blushed.

The rest of the team seemed to be spurred on by Crosby's enthusiasm. By the middle of the third, the Pens were up 5-2 over the Panthers, so I decided to leave. I knew the team was going to win, so I decided I would use the time to prepare my speech before seeing Sidney. I squeezed Max's arm as I stood. "Thanks a lot, Max. I'm going to head out."

"Hey," he responded, grabbing my hand in his. "I know you don't want to hear it, but I'm going to say it anyway because you need to listen. This week when you two have been apart, you've been miserable and so has he. That's all you need to know."

I nodded to him and said my goodbyes to the Lemieuxs. They didn't seem to notice I was leaving because they were so engrossed in the game. I smiled to myself at how entranced they were by the dancing puck on the ice.

I drove to Sidney's with Daughtry playing on my stereo and let myself in. I couldn't wait anymore; I had to get this over with. Max was totally correct: I was miserable stuck in this purgatory between with-Sidney-heaven and without-Sidney-hell. Now, I only had to wait for him to come home and see if we could some up with some bargain. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was worth a try. The lyrics from the song rang in my ear:

If I could see the future and how this plays out
I bet it's better than where we are now

It was foolish of me to rush over, considering by the time the game ended and Sidney did his interviews, showered, and dressed, he wouldn't be home for at least another hour. Not to mention he'd go out with his teammates to celebrate. He was on fire tonight; surely he'd want to go out and have a good time, regardless of the fact that he'd have to play tomorrow night. The way he was playing, I knew Sid wasn't affected by my absence at all.

I closed my eyes and sat Indian-style on the couch in the darkness of his living room. I didn't bother turning on any lights. He'd see my car in the driveway and know I was here. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the back of the couch and thought about what I had planned to say to him.

I've practiced this for hours, gone round and round
And now I think that I've got it all down
And as I say it louder I love how it sounds
Cause I'm not taking the easy way out
Not wrapping this in ribbons
Shouldn't have to give a reason why

It wasn't even midnight when I saw his headlights pull in. This was it.

Keys jingled and he unlocked the front door. "Nelly?"

I stood and turned my body to face him, as if preparing for battle. It was awkward to see him again because I missed him, even though I hadn't wanted to. I didn't realize how desperately I had missed him until I saw him before me, and my stomach knotted. "I didn't expect you to be here so soon. I thought you'd be out with the guys."

Sidney frowned and shook his head. "I didn't feel like it." He turned on the overhead light but didn't budge from that position. I could tell he was giving me my space and waiting for me to make the first move.

"Good game tonight."

"Oh, did you see it?"

I blushed. "I was there."

He tilted his head, perplexed. "Really?"

"Yeah, V persuaded me to come and I guess Marc got the ticket for me. You were really something else tonight," I gushed.

He shrugged, not in modesty, but because he wanted to change the subject. "I don't think you're here to talk about the game." He slid off his suit jacket, threw it over the chair, untucked his dress shirt, and loosened his tie. Then he sat down. I bit my lip, half because I was nervous, half because he looked so sexy like that. I didn't want to talk or bargain with him; I just wanted to run into his arms and be with him.

"Yeah, um, obviously," I replied, suddenly tongue-twisted. I had to look away in order to remember what I had planned to say. "So, I did a lot of thinking, and I decided that you were right—"

"Wait," he said, holding up his hand with a smile on his face. "You're saying I'm right? Maybe I should get a tape-recorder and make you repeat that."

Despite myself, I chuckled. "Too late, because you'll never hear me say that again." He laughed, and I was glad that he was making this easier on me. The tension in the room lifted, but only a little. "I mean, you're right in that we should talk about this with a level head, and see if we can reach a consensus. If we can, then, well, good. If not...." I trailed off and let him think about that.

Sidney took a deep breath. "Okay. So, what do you have in mind?"

I shook my head. "No. You're the one who wouldn't cave to my demands," I reminded him. "I want to hear what your idea of what this compromise would be."

"Only if you don't flip out before I can finish and fully explain?" I nodded, and he continued. "Okay, I thought if I promised to cut down on the presents and expensive surprises, you could promise to keep the credit card with you and use it for what I call 'boyfriend-related' expenses."

He paused, and I thought he was finished. I opened my mouth to rebut, but he cut me off. "I know you. I know you budget your money. I know how anal-retentive you are about sticking to it, because you're anal about everything. And I know you do it because you're trying to pay off your student loans in a ridiculously short amount of time. You've got a plan, and there is no way on this earth I want to interfere with that.

"Nelly, I want to be a part of your plan, and that is why I'm offering to help in such a small way. You're the one who puts up with all the traveling to come see me because of my hectic schedule. This is my compensation. Because I know that if you couldn't afford to come out and visit me, then you wouldn't. And if you don't visit me and I don't get to see you, then I'd be heartbroken. So, you see, I'm doing this for me, and not for you at all."

When he stopped, he looked at me with a satisfied and proud grin. For a moment, I thought about forgetting this little discussion and jumping into his arms, just from seeing that smile on his face. It made me melt, but I tried to focus on the task at hand.

"What do you consider 'boyfriend-related' expenses?"

Sidney smiled again, and he knew I was slowly beginning to acquiesce. If I was willing to listen instead of flip out on him and say no, then we were headed in the right direction. "Well, like I said, I know you budget your money, so I thought that if you were going overbudget on gas, or if I ran up your phone bill because I use up all your minutes, you could use the card. To me, that seems fair."

That didn't seem so bad. I was not a phone person; I had been wasting all my minutes until I found someone to talk to, anyway. So all I would need to do is charge a tank of gas here and there? I nodded. "I suppose that's reasonable."

His confidence shot up. "I figured you could use it to purchase things for the house, too. You know I don't keep my shelves stocked. I can't cook, and I don't know what you like to eat anyway." Sid's eyes widened. "And you can buy that conditioner I like so much! It makes your hair smell so good, and it really made my hair feel soft. I tried smelling some bottles at the store, but I couldn't figure out what it was."

I couldn't help it, I burst into laughter. He was so damn adorable. Still, I tried to refocus. We weren't done yet. "Okay, don't push your luck. I think I can hold up my end of the bargain. But what about you? What do you mean by 'cut down' on the presents?"

"Well, I'm not going to stop completely. I just can't do that. But I do promise that I won't overdo it. You know, I just can't help it. I want to give you the world, Nelly, so I don't think twice when something reminds me of you, or I want to do something nice for you."

I blushed. "If I tell you it makes me uncomfortable, though, you'd have to stop. I know that it doesn't bother you, but it makes me feel like I'm taking advantage of you, even though I know that's not the case and you do it because you want to. Honestly, Sid, it's about getting to spend time with you, not what we do in that time or what you give me. It's about you."

He nodded. "I know. It's because you're so unassuming and un-, um, undemanding?" He laughed. "Is that even a word?" I shrugged and laughed with him. "But those things don't matter to you, so I don't mind giving them to you." Deep breath. "So, what do you think? Can you live with these terms?"

"I think you have presented a logical and valid argument that I consent to. However, I have a few stipulations I would like to add to our agreement that you must do for me." His face fell, and I laughed internally. Sid was so worried. "First, I know you're busy, but you're going to have to find some time to hang out with me and my friends sometime soon. This is non-negotiable."

The goofy grin returned. "I'll check my calendar. I look forward to it."

"Good."

"Is that it?"

"No, one more. This one is just as important. Thanksgiving."

"What about it?" he asked. "That was two weeks ago."

"Not your Thanksgiving, my Thanksgiving. Next month." I took a deep breath.

It came out like a river once I let it out
When I thought that I wouldn't know how
Held onto it forever just pushing it down
Felt so good to let go of it now
Not wrapping this in ribbons
Shouldn't have to give a reason why

And then I told him, "I want you to come spend the holiday with me, in my home, and meet my family."

I waited for his reaction. In my head, I knew that I had already met his parents and his sister, but this was a huge step for me. It took me days to decide to meet the Crosby family. Would he have to consider it, too?

"Is that it? Are those all your stipulations?"

"Yes." I closed my eyes and waited to hear him agree or disagree. Instead, I felt his arms crush my body into his and my feet leave the floor.

"Thank God. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!" He laughed, and I covered him with kisses. Things weren't perfect, but right now, they felt better than ever. It felt so good to be back where I belonged. His lips found mine, and I simultaneously felt like it had been both forever since I'd kissed him and like no time had passed at all between the last time we embraced.

The warm embrace that no one knows.


Sid deepened the kiss, and as much as I enjoyed it, I pulled away. "What's wrong?"

"I can't—"

"It's okay, I didn't expect things to go back to the way they were right away. As long as you're with me, I don't care what we do."

I smiled. "That's nice to know, Crosby, but I was just going to tell you it's that time of the month."

He laughed. Those dark chocolate eyes peered into mine and I turned to mush. "I love you."

I felt the way I was supposed to feel after hearing those words. Warmth washed over my body and my insides smiled. Even so, I was haunted by the question in the back of my head: did I love him back?

I opened my mouth to speak, but he pressed his lips to mine again to shut me up. "I meant what I said before. You don't need to say it back until you feel it, too. So don't ruin the moment by analyzing anything or making excuses."

But after going through this, it's easier to see the reason why.

I kept my mouth clamped shut. I guess I could wait for another time to tell Sidney that I loved him, too.

12 comments:

  1. I got a mental image of Sid going around the grocery store sniffing different shampoo bottles. I don't think I stopped laughing for 10 minutes.

    Great update as usual!! I can't wait for 7:00 tomorrow haha!

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  2. *sigh of absolute bliss* I'm reading this mere seconds before I dash out the door to see my darling boyfriend. And this chapter just made me appreciate boyfriends in general a little bit more. :D

    Great job Jay! Kudos!

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  3. Definitely not too theatrical! I loved it!
    Great update!
    You rock*

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  4. I'm squealing like a little girl. Seriously, I don't do that. I'm not a "squealer". I'm damn near speechless, this was perfect. Everything about it was damn perfect.

    I want a guy like that... and if he looked like Crosby, that'd be an added bonus. haha.

    Bravo!

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  5. eeeeep!!!
    i'm like jumping up && down on my bed haha
    that was AWESOME!!!
    definately not too theatrical at all.
    jeeze, i love them so much.
    they deserve like the cutest couple award <3
    perfect!

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  6. ahhhhh.....bliss

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  7. YAY!!! Great update! SO glad that they worked it out!! Can't wait for more!!

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  8. That was divine... You made my day. And don't worry, it wasn't theatrical at all, it was her and him,simple as that :)

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  9. PERFECT!!

    WTB a Sidney of my own now...

    So, SO glad that they worked it out =D I still wish someone had of punched Lynn though lol

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  10. AHHH i loved it! It was not theatrical at all...I was expecting it to take a turn for the worse when I read your note initially.
    Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!

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  11. OMG! So perfect. That's all you need to know :D

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