I was so incredibly nervous. I had done my best to appear strong for Sidney as we drove to the Igloo when Pat beckoned, but I was not a good public speaker. Even though I had my statement printed out on a piece of paper and all I technically had to do was read directly from it, I was so devastatingly anxious.
Pat had pulled out all the stops. Mario was here, too, to show that the team supported Sid throughout this horrible allegations, stating that everyone in the Penguins organization was standing behind him. My turn was to come after Mario's, and Sidney rubbed my back to try to relax me.
"As for me personally, I have known Sidney since he was drafted. I'm more than the owner of his team or his ex-teammate; I am his former landlord and also his friend. I know that Sidney would never raise a hand to anyone. Off the ice, that is," he added with a chuckle. The reporters laughed with him. It was amazing to see how Mario could command a room. They were all eating out of the palm of his hand.
Mario finished up, and then Sid gently nudged me in the direction of the podium. The lights were so bright and everyone was looking at me so expectantly. My throat ran dry, but I swallowed anyway and peered down at the paper in my hands. I ran through everything that Sid had told me. Look people in the eye when you address them. Speak slowly and clearly. And remember: you have the upper hand here. They're here to listen to you, not the other way around.
Pat had okayed my statement. If I do say so myself, I think I got on his good side by proving I could handle the task at hand. He still hated me for corrupting his cash cow, but at least not as much now. My actions may have gotten us into this, but my words could get us out. At least, I hoped they would. I poured over this damn statement, but I felt disappointed in its inadequacy. I couldn't easily find what I wanted to say, and no thesarus or dictionary helped. For once in my life, my words failed me. Nothing I could think of could accurately portray the devastation I felt when this story was broadcasted to the world or my anger at the people who actually believed Sidney was capable of such malicious actions.
I took one last deep breath and then spoke. This was now or never, my one shot at redemption and atonement. "As you all know by now, my name is Noelle, and I'm dating Sidney Crosby. That, however, is the extent of the knowledge that the public has of our relationship."
Now that I began my speech, I felt slightly more comfortable and began to ease up a bit. "I can't refute the pictures that have been circulating, but I can in fact tell you that the stories accompanying them are one-hundred-percent fabricated. Sidney Crosby has been nothing but a perfect gentleman since the day I met him. He has never hit me or abused me, nor would he ever. These lies are malicious and hurtful, and I'm disgusted that someone thought to contrive such nonsense about him.
"Sidney gives everything to the city of Pittsburgh. This team means the world to him, and he would never do anything to jeopardize his right to play, the team's image, or his own reputation. We ask that you give a little back to Sidney and be generous with your forgiveness, just as we must forgive the liars that verbally attacked us. Please keep an open mind regarding this issue and do not pass judgment. We ask that you put a little faith in Sidney and respect his—and my—privacy as we deal with this issue.
"'The best apology against false accusers is silence and sufferance, and honest deeds set against dishonest words.' Following Milton's wise advice, Sid and I will not speak of this matter again. To spend our time arguing and fighting against this outrageous gossip will only lend credence to it. Instead, Sidney and I are putting this whole mess behind us, and we will continue to live our lives knowing that we have done nothing wrong. We know that in time, you all will come to agree with us. Thank you."
With another deep breath, I backed away from the podium as flashes went off and reporters shouted questions like "Is it true he cheated on you?" and "Does he have anger management problems?" I couldn't believe these so-called respectable reporters were asking such questions and being so accusatory. I wanted to turn back to the mics and tell them exactly what was going on, but Pat's words echoed in my ears. I couldn't misstep again, so I stuck with the plan and walked back next to Sid.
He reached out and squeezed my arm, said "Good job, Nelly" under his breath, then moved to the podium. I blocked out what he was saying, but I knew his words were well-chosen and prepared. Sid was poised and calm, just like he always was when in front of a camera. How did he manage it? I felt like my world was falling apart, and this was as easy for him as it was to answer questions after a practice.
I closed my eyes and felt myself start to sway in my spot. Mario placed a hand on my back and leaned down to whisper, "Are you okay?" I nodded and opened my eyes. I told myself to remember Operation Stay Strong, for Sidney's sake; I had something to prove to all these people. That I wasn't about to look like I couldn't handle this. I'm not weak; I don't condone violence. I would never be the type of person to put up with abuse, so I wouldn't be here if Sidney really did hit me.
Sid finished his statement, and he walked to me and grabbed my hand. We walked off the makeshift stage with Mario behind us. The reporters kept yelling questions, even after we had left the room. They weren't going to stop so easily.
All three of us kept walking until we were in the dressing room. Sidney finally let out the breath he had been holding. As my nervousness began to dissipate, I let a few tears spill onto my cheeks now that we were away from the spotlight. Sid's phone rang, and he answered the call from Pat.
Mario nodded at me and told me that I had done well, considering the circumstances. "I remember when Nathalie was thrust into the media. As pro hockey players, we're used to it or we at least learn to expect it to some degree, but I'm sure this is never something you imagined for yourself."
"I'm not a fan of public speaking, for sure, but I never imagined myself in this position, period."
Sid joined us, his short call already over. He wrapped his arms around my waist, and I leaned back against his chest. This was my little piece of solace, my eye of the storm. I wished I could turn back time, so none of this would have ever happened. Then he kissed my cheek. "Pat said it went well."
"So, what do we do now?" I asked the man behind me.
I could feel as he shrugged behind me. "Nothing. We wait. See how the people respond. And then decide the course of action from there."
"Okay," I said quietly. We wait? I thought having to stand in front of those cameras was hard, but waiting suddenly seemed so much worse. "So, are we going to leave?"
"Yeah, let's just wait a few minutes, give the reporters a chance to leave. And then I need to go home and finish packing."
I nodded. I was really going to get sick of waiting.
Mario left us, and I sat at Sidney's stall. He sat beside me in Max's, and I could tell by his expression that he didn't like me sitting there, but that he was too afraid to say anything. I laughed and switched positions with him, and then draped my legs over his lap. Sid rubbed the area on my thighs right above the knees.
"This is horrible timing," he said. "I hate that I have to leave tonight."
"Yeah, me too."
"Now, if something happens, I can't protect you."
"What do you need to protect me from? I told you before, you're not my bodyguard."
"But the reporters! I don't know what they're going to be like with you. And who knows what Lynne's going to scheme up next. She was probably behind this from the beginning!"
"No, I don't think so," I rationalized. "I mean, she hates me, but in the other articles about me, the writer didn't even know my name. But this time, they knew my name, how old I am, what I do.... That's Lynne. She's the anonymous source they're talking about. But even I didn't expect this from her."
"I wish we could just tell everyone she's behind this whole thing. That she kissed me when that picture was taken, and then she's the one that did this to you," he said, brushing the back of his fingers against my bruise. "It would make this so much easier."
"First of all, if we bring her into this, her ugly mug and beat-up face will get just as much exposure as mine. And then the story turns around so I become the abusive one, and how I'm going to hurt your career. So even though you're no longer the bad guy, that doesn't fix our situation. And second, that drags Alex into this, too. I don't want there to be drama within the team."
"There won't be any drama. Gogo feels horrible about this whole thing and how he can't do anything about it. He wishes he could help out somehow."
"If we drag him and Lynne into this, then everyone's going to know I punched her. We can say that what they're accusing you of is a lie, but I did get violent. That's all true. They're going to say how bad I am for you."
"That's not true! You're not bad for me! When I'm with you, I forget about hockey for a little while, which let's me concentrate more when I'm on the ice. I play to win for you, to make you proud of me. You're good for me."
"That's debatable," I snorted, thinking about that damn article and all these consequences. "I don't think your dad or your agent would agree that I'm doing you any good right now."
"Don't do that. Don't try to figure out for me what's good for me. Then you're just as bad as they are. I'm a grown man, and I can make my own decisions and do what I think is best for me without anyone else throwing in their two cents, or twenty cents, or whatever."
I didn't mean to make him grouchy. I thought about apologizing, but I had done that so much already that saying it again would probably just make this situation worse, so I changed the subject. "Well, you're going to be on the road, so you'll have the distraction of travel and then the games to get your mind off all of this. And we won't be spotted together all week, so hopefully everyone will just forget about it."
"The media never forgets," he warned. "And besides, that's just 'til Saturday, anyway, because you'll be out to see the game against the Sharks and I'm sure Pat will arrange for us to be seen together in California."
I blushed. "I hope that doesn't mess with your road schedule, having to accommodate me."
"Actually, I'm looking forward to you coming out to see an away game. Penguin fans are great, because they're everywhere, but it'll be like having an aspect of home-ice advantage with you there." He always knows the perfect things to say to make my insides somersault. I kissed the tip of his nose, and he scrunched up his face as my lips touched his skin. "You missed."
I raised an eyebrow. "No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did," he stubbornly repeated, and he crushed my lips with his. Sid tried to move away, but I grabbed the sides of his face and didn't let him stop. Kissing Sidney was the only thing that cleared my head from the crazy thoughts that pestered me nonstop, so I wanted to do it for as long as possible.
Finally, I let go and we separated, gasping for air. "Can we leave now?" I asked him, using my best seductive voice.
"Yeah," he said, not thinking because he was ready to leave with me. Glancing at his watch, he nodded and reinforced his original answer. "Yeah, it's been about fifteen, twenty minutes. Let's go."
We held hands as we wove our way through the hallways of the arena to the parking lot. However, a few sneaky reporters, who apparently lived under the wrong impression that they were working for TMZ, tried to bar our departure. I felt like tabloid fodder, like Angelina Jolie or Britney Spears.
Sid squeezed my hand like a vice and pulled me after him. I had to jog to keep up with his long strides. I wanted to shout back at those assholes that they got the story all wrong, but I clamped my mouth shut. For Sidney's sake, I told myself.
We quickly got into his SUV and sped away from the arena. When we were back at his house, we shuffled back inside and collapsed on the couch. "Is that what it's like for you all the time? Is this the glimpse into the life of Sidney Crosby you've been keeping from me?"
He shrugged. "I don't usually get hounded with questions like that, but yeah, people following me around with cameras, that's normal." Sid turned to face me. "I'm sorry. It's because of me that you're getting this kind of exposure. I guess I thought we could avoid this kind of stuff forever."
"All we seem to be do is apologize to each other. Can we just stop that? As much as I hate it, we just need to wait and see what happens now." I can't believe those words came out of my own mouth. I wanted to slap myself.
"You're right. I need to finish packing."
"And I should probably get some work done," I sighed. I hated the idea of tackling those files I brought. "I should get going."
"Can't you stay here and work? I mean, I have to leave in a few hours, so we might as well spend them together."
"Fine," I agreed. I got up from my seat and grabbed a big folder to open it and read.
Sidney leaned over my shoulder. "So this is what you do all day? Sit around and read?"
Letting out a laugh, I told him, "No, not really. This is a new case we got, and I have to review it so I can tell the boss about it and then decide the best course of action."
"Oh." He continued to peer over my shoulder.
"These are confidential, you know. You're not supposed to read them."
"Good, because it's boring," he chuckled. "I'm going to go pack. I'm kind of hungry, too."
"I'll see what's in the fridge," I said, taking my folder into the kitchen with me. Sidney headed up the stairs. Instead of cooking, I sat on the counter and allowed myself to cry again. Just for a few minutes. I had to sob and let the emotions out before they bubbled over and I lost my composure again. I couldn't let Sidney see me get so emotional, not after I vowed to stay strong for him.
After my few allotted minutes, I wiped my cheeks and dried my eyes. Then I slid off the counter and checked out the food situation. My appetite was non-existent, but Sid wanted to eat. I couldn't do a lot for him at this point, but making lunch? That I could handle.
My Favorite Five (2015)
1 year ago