Sidney and I rode to the Mellon in painful silence. He was grumpy. He was grumpy not only because he was concerned with getting a W for the team tonight, but also because his routine was ruined and he was going to be late. Additionally, I don't know if he was still brooding over the scene he had witnessed between Geno and me.
I was a wreck, too. I replayed that scene over and over again in my head, searching for clues to his meaning. "Why silly?" Why wasn't it silly? Geno couldn't possibly have any interest in me. It just didn't make sense. But then I thought about how he squeezed my hand. I didn't know why he did that. But I was the captain's girlfriend, so I was no doubt off-limits, not only because I was taken but also because of the unspoken rules of hockey players.
It had been so long since I'd had to deal with the uncertain guessing game of "Does he, does he not like me" that I wasn't sure how to read him or his actions. But he was Evgeni freakin' Malkin! No way Oksana's worries were founded in reality. I think the hockey gods were smoking crack when they made Sidney walk into my favorite restaurant that fateful night in July; now they were playing jokes on Geno, too. I still wasn't sure what Sidney saw in me; it just wasn't possible for two of the Pens to be interested in me. Just not possible.
What if, even though I know it's not true, but what if Geno maybe liked me just a little? I'd have to stop tutoring him. I didn't want a part in this. This wouldn't be my fault. But how could I explain it to Sid? He had tried so hard to encourage me to tutor Evgeni, that if I just suddenly gave it up, he's ask questions. Questions I couldn't answer without him reacting, and I wasn't sure how he'd react. Then again, this could all be nothing, just a figment of imagination.
Just another instance of how I had to overthink and overanalyze everything. Fuck me, why couldn't I push this out of my mind? Sid had a game and he needed me for support, so I didn't have the luxury of being able to retreat into my mind and mull this over until I was sick to my stomach, like I normally would do.
When Sidney and I arrived at the arena, I tugged on his arm so he'd face me. "Play well," I told him, standing on my toes to kiss him. He kissed me back, and it was hungry and possessive, like he was making sure I knew that I was his. Telling me through his kiss, you're mine. My stomach flip-flopped in response, and I had to push him away before I pulled him into the equipment closet to ravage him. He needed his energy for the game. That take-charge attitude got me feeling hot and bothered, every time.
Sid left for the dressing room, and even though I had hoped to avoid them, The Girlfriends approached me. I listened to them say how they had heard and how sorry they were, and I nodded and smiled even though I wanted to scream inside. The memory of my grandfather began to numb the tension in my chest caused by Evgeni; I wasn't sure which I preferred.
"Are you coming?" Véro asked, as the girls began to head toward their seats.
"No, I'm actually sitting up in the box tonight."
She looked at me with penetrating eyes. "Why?"
I shrugged in response. "I just wanna hide out. I don't feel like being put on display. If I don't smile every time Sid's skate touches the ice, someone's going to find something to say about it, and I just don't feel like dealing with it with everything else that's going on right now."
Véro accepted that answer. "I'll see you after the game, then."
I headed toward the entrances to the suites, eyes on the floor. If I didn't acknowledge anyone else, they wouldn't have to say anything to me. Childish, maybe, but effective. Apparently, if half the team is in the same building as you when you get the news that a relative passes away, the entire organization finds out.
The box was empty when I got there, and I was thankful for that. I plopped in one of the nice chairs, closed my eyes, and relived the past few days. Sid's anxiety over the losing streak and the Olympics. Grandpa George, who I still didn't really believe was gone except for the hollow sensation between my lungs where my heart should be. Now Evgeni and the maybe-crush, which I hoped was nothing and that I was just being stupid about it.
When it rains, it pours.
A hand on my shoulder startled me, and I realized I fell asleep in the box. "Mario! Oh, I'm so embarrassed," I mumbled, shaking my head and sitting up straight.
"Oh, don't worry about it. Sid told me you've been having a rough couple of days." I hoped Sid didn't tell him, but he didn't say anything about my grandfather, for which I was incredibly grateful. "It's good to see you again."
"You too," I told him. "How are Nathalie and the kids?" I asked, sounding ridiculous if I say so myself, like I was an old family friend.
"Fine," he chuckled, as if realizing my own perceived gaffe. "I have to admit, I was a little excited when Sid mentioned you would be sitting up here tonight. I have a proposition for you."
I raised my eyebrows. I should have been excited, but I couldn't help but wonder: what now?
"I've noticed an improvement in Geno's English as well as his attitude toward interviews. So, imagine my surprise when I find out it's all because of you." He smiled at me and I blushed. "You've done an amazing job with him."
I fumbled over my tongue as I thought about what I should say to that. An idea flashed through my mind as I wondered if he had really been that anxious to learn English after all. "Well, it's not a reflection on the teacher; it's a reflection on the student."
Mario showed me that million-dollar smile he was so famous for. "I expected a modest comment like that from you. But as impressed as I am with Geno, I am moreso with you. He dreaded interviews, and I know that this is all because of you. I think that a lot of guys on the team would benefit from some coaching with the media, and especially the guys whose first language isn't English. Which is why I thought you'd might like to join the organization."
"Excuse me?" Pinch me—I'm dreaming. A position with the fucking Pittsburgh Penguins?
"Director of Player Media Relations? It's a working title, but the longer the name, the more important it seems, non?"
"I'm sorry, Mario, but I still don't think I quite understand. So you basically want me to do what I do with Evgeni for the whole team?"
He shrugged. "Well, players like Sid have undergone extensive prep, but guys who need help with learning English and gaining competency for interviews, yes. Especially new guys who will be coming up through the system, like Simon Després. They have some working knowledge of the language, but I think working with someone like you will give them more confidence. Hell, even Max needs some help with learning what he shouldn't say on camera."
I nodded. Wow. This sounded... perfect. My dream job. I loved the whole thing I had going on with Geno. That came out wrong; that's not what I meant. I loved teaching English to him and helping him prepare for potential interviews, and this was just an expanded opportunity. It combined my love of words with my love of hockey. Except if I had to keep teaching him, because I couldn't work one-on-one with Geno anymore. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck. I wanted this job, but I couldn't take it if it meant seeing Evgeni on a regular basis.
Mario noticed my hesitance and spoke up before I could reluctantly turn him down. "You don't have to accept now. Take some to think about it, and get back to me." He handed me a business card. Never in a million, billion years did I ever expect Mario Lemieux's business card, with his personal phone number on it. What world was I living in? "We'd need time to set everything set up for you anyway. I just wanted to see how receptive you were to the idea."
Nathalie walked in and so did a few other people, some of whom I recognized and some I didn't. I gave a slight nod to Mario to let him know I'd consider it, folding the card and shoving it in my pocket. As if I didn't have enough on my mind already.
This should have been a no-brainer. I should have been jumping up and down, hugging Mario ferociously and thanking him from the bottom of my heart. Instead, I was mulling it over, leaning toward telling Mario "no," that I couldn't take the position.
I wondered if Sid knew about this. If he knew and I turned this down, he'd ask countless questions about why I didn't accept it. What was I supposed to tell him? That I was afraid of spending time alone with Evgeni? Afraid of what he might say next? No, I couldn't tell Sidney.
The game against the Carolina Hurricanes began, and I wondered if I could play the Staal Brothers Drinking Game in the box. It was mighty tempting, but I knew that even though I was hiding in Mario's box, I was still under the microscope and had to keep up appearances. I kept that fake smile plastered on my face as the Canes skated out to take the opening face-off. Eric Staal sailed to center ice, and Bylsma sent Jordan out against him. Yes, this would certainly be the first shot of the night.
Soon, the smile that I had been faking morphed into a genuine grin. Crosby and Talbot, my two favorite guys, bested Cam Ward and took a two-goal lead in the first period. My worries melted away as the emotions of the fans became my own. By the end of the game, the score was four to one in favor of the Pens, and I was out of my seat and going hoarse from screaming. The losing streak was over; as happy as I was for the team, I was overwhelmed for Sidney. I laughed to myself, thinking that I was becoming the girl who cheered for a player and not the team. My allegiance was shifting to my boyfriend. Then again, who would blame me. He'd be in a good mood, and I really needed that from him today. Sid had done his best to keep his chin up for me, because of everything I had been going through, even though that meant he was wearing a mask. Tonight, that would change.
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago