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I walked into Sid's house to find him pacing the floor. The tension in the room was immediately palpable as he heard the door and saw me enter the room, his eyes focusing on me with the intensity of lasers, burning into me.
"It's about damn time you got back! What took you so long?" He was angry; there was no denying that. But I think I detected a hint of hurt in his voice, too. Maybe that's the reason for all the anger; he was really just compensating for feeling hurt.
"Sorry," I apologized, knowing I'd be doing a lot of that in the next few minutes. "I got sidetracked." I brushed past him and into the kitchen to set down the bag of our take-out, trying to put off this confrontation.
"So?" He continued, stalking me into the other room. He was so mad, and here I was, just grateful that any Geno-related disaster had been avoided. I didn't want to fight with him now. There was so much going on that I wanted to come here and feel safe, not attacked. "Do you care to explain yourself?"
I tried to be as cool and calm as I could be. Getting upset would only exacerbate the situation. I pulled the Styrofoam packages from the plastic bag and then opened the silverware drawer for forks. Sidney was horrible with chopsticks. "Mario talked to me before the game yesterday. He said that he was impressed at the quick progress Evgeni was making with his English and with his attitude toward giving interviews. So he asked if I would consider taking a position with the Penguins organization, doing the same thing for all the players that needed the help."
"Yeah, Mario told me all that when I called him today," he grumbled.
"Why would Mario tell you that?"
"Well, I was telling him why I couldn't play against Montreal—"
"I'm the one asking the questions here. Not you," he spat. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, as if the volume and timbre of his voice was affecting my tear production. "Don't cry," he said a little softer. "I was telling him—"
"No, I heard you," I whispered, stopping what I was doing. "Why aren't you playing in the game?"
"Because it's on Thursday, in Montreal."
"So?" I asked, not getting his point.
He looked at his feet for a second and ran his hand through his hair, like he was saying something he didn't want to. "The funeral."
I made an O with my mouth, but I didn't say anything. With everything that was going on, I had forgotten. There was a funny feeling in my stomach. "You don't have to go," I whispered. "You can play."
All of a sudden, his anger was instantly gone. "No, I want to be there for you. It's just one game."
"I feel bad that you have to miss a game because of me. I mean, I don't want to get in the way of the team. You just beat Carolina. They need you against the Habs."
"You need me, too."
"Yeah, but I don't want to make you choose. You should never have to choose between me or hockey."
"It's not a choice. Nelly, it never was. If it came between you or hockey, it would be you every time."
My lungs stopped, but my heart pounded away. I could hear it in my ears, blocking out every other sound. Sid's lips were moving, but I couldn't hear a word. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Yes, I was touched. It was the perfect thing to say and just what I needed to hear even when he was mad at me, but it meant so much more to me because I knew he meant it. Regardless of how those words made me feel, I knew I couldn't let him do that. "No. Hockey first. As much as I want you with me, Sidney, I'll feel guilty every moment you're with me and not with the team."
"But I know this is hard on you. I can't let you go alone. I promised him to take care of you and to always look out for you." Sid paused and let that sink in before he continued. "They'll move Geno to the first line. I talked to Mario, it's fine." His face changed, and he went from sad and caring to upset again. The mention of the team owner and his teammate made him remember the point of our discussion. "I'm supposed to be mad at you."
I wanted him to be mad at me. I could handle that a lot better than I could handle his sympathy. "Why did Mario tell you? It was none of your business," I spat out, not meaning it but knowing it would provoke his ire.
"Of course it's my business! You think that just because it's your job that it doesn't affect me. Well, it does. Everything you decide affects me now!"
"How does my job affect you? Huh? Why are you turning this into The Sidney Crosby Show, where everything's about you?"
"We're together, and every part of you is a part of me, too." Wow, I had never thought of it like that. "When you work, where you work. It defines when I get to see you, if you can come to my games, and what mood you're in. It's a big deal to you, a big deal for you. So that automatically makes it a big deal to me, too."
"I'd always make time for you. You know that."
"If you took this job, you wouldn't have to make time for me. I'm not a fucking extracurricular activity. Why is it that I'm the one who is always the first to get serious when it comes to us?"
"Where is this coming from?" I asked, taken aback.
"Because I don't get it," he sighed, the anger once again ebbing. "I don't even understand what the problem is here. He said you were thinking about it. I don't understand why you're not pounding down Mario's door begging for the job. You can't tell me you're scared that you can't do it, because you've proven that you can. So I can only think that you don't want to take the job because you don't want to be closer to me."
My heart went out to him. It wasn't that at all. But if I tried to explain my hesitance, if I told him it was Evgeni, not him, who made me afraid to say yes, that wouldn't make him feel any better. I never knew he was this insecure and unaware about the way I felt about him. He must have been really worried that he had found competition in Geno, and now he thought that I would turn down Mario's offer because I didn't want to be nearer to him.
"Sid, it's not like that at all," I said, trying to put all my emotions in my voice so he would just know my sincerity. "I love you. You know that. Don't ever, ever question that. What sparked this?"
I grabbed his hand, and made him look at me. I looked into those deep, chocolate-brown eyes that were searching mine for something. Usually, he could see through me. Couldn't he see how I felt about him? Wasn't it obvious? I mean, ever since we met, it was like I was the last one to admit my feelings. Every one else around me could see how crazy I was for him.
He shook his head and didn't reply. So I continued. "I wasn't going to tell you about Mario's offer until I figured out whether or not I really wanted it. I mean, yes it's perfect, but I still had to think about it," I tried to say casually, once again avoiding the real reason. He didn't need to be hurt anymore right now. "But I thought about it, and I want it. I'm gonna talk to Mario when I get some time to breathe. And I was going to tell you, but to be honest I kind of have a lot going on right now."
"I thought you would have been so excited about it that you'd be bubbling over, impatient to tell me. When he first told me about it, I thought we could finally have it all. You'd be working in the city. And I thought that you could stay here full time, and we could start seeing more of each other on a regular basis. I hate that we've got to pencil each other into our schedules and calendars."
"I thought that you liked that I had my own life."
"I do. I did. I mean, yes. When I'm on a road trip, I like that you're working and hanging out with your friends and being busy. But when I'm home, I want to be around you as much as possible. And maybe that's me being greedy and selfish, but I can't help it. Spending every other weekend with you, and an occasional week night, that just doesn't cut it for me."
"So, if I say yes, will that turn your frown upside-down?"
The right side of his smile curled up a little. "I want you to take this job because you want it, not because I want it for you."
I shook my head. "I already told you I'm going to talk to Mario about it, that I'm going to take it. I meant, if I say yes to moving in with you."
A full smile bloomed on his face. "You want to?"
"If the offer still stands."
"You know it does."
I leaned into his chest and felt his arms around me. Could this have been any crazier? I still didn't understand why he second-guessed the way I felt about him. Maybe it's because he's Sidney Crosby, which makes it hard for him to know who really cares about him as a person rather than as the hockey star. I smiled to myself; what a pair we make. Sometimes, I wondered what he ever saw in me, and apparently he did, too.
We ate in peace, almost afraid to talk, and I got through about half of my lunch before I couldn't take another bite. Sid frowned when I pushed my plate away, but I didn't let him know that I had to force down what I had eaten. My appetite was nonexistent, but I did it for him, to get him to stop worrying and to get him off my back. We relaxed for a good bit of the afternoon before we had to get ready to leave.
Inside, I just wanted to cry. So much had happened in the past few days, I was just exhausted. I wasn't ready for what I had to do tonight, either. I didn't want to go. I know that my cowardice was evident, but it was hard to picture my grandfather lying in the cold coffin. When we walked into the parlor, Sid's hand found mine. His fingers tangled between mine and held them tightly. He never left my side. "Do you want to go see him?" he asked, bending down to speak in my ear.
I closed my eyes and shook my head quickly. "No. I don't want to see him like that. I don't want that to be my last memory of him."
"Okay," he said, squeezing my hand, as if telling me I could do it tomorrow.
But I couldn't do it on Wednesday either. Even with Sidney beside me, passing his strength to me through his closeness, I couldn't bear to see him. Everyone said it looked like he was sleeping, but I knew better. He wouldn't look the same; he wouldn't look like my Grandpa George. It was senseless to think so. He'd look cold, lifeless, sad, everything Grandpa wasn't.
This was so impersonal. There were so many relatives here that I had never met before, all from either Tennessee or Florida, and I hated the fakeness of having to be introduced to them under these circumstances. Why is it families only come together in times of death? So many of them were crying. I didn't doubt that they were upset, but they only visited rarely that I wondered how well they even knew him.
"I don't want this for me, when my time comes," I told Sid. "I don't want people forced into uncomfortable clothes and suits to look at my dead body. Grandpa wouldn't have wanted this, either. He was so happy-go-lucky when he wasn't so stern. He wouldn't want us to cry over him in this stuffy funeral parlor."
"Maybe not. But it gives people a sense of closure. It's for them, not for him."
"Closure? Looking at him in his casket is supposed to give me closure?"
"Maybe not for you, but for others. A chance to say goodbye. You should do it," he advised. "You'll regret not saying goodbye."
"Tomorrow," I told him, knowing it was my last chance. "I'll do it tomorrow."
"Do you want me to be here? As far as Mario knows, I'm not catching the flight."
"No. This is something I need to do for myself. I appreciate what you did for me—what you're doing—but you can't do it all for me. I need to do it on my own."
"Are you sure?" he asked one more time, to make sure I wouldn't require his presence.
"Yeah. I'm sure." I wasn't sure if I could do it on my own, but I knew that I had to try. Sidney was a great support, but I couldn't lean on him forever. It was time to cast aside my crutch and say goodbye, on my own.
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