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.
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