Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chapter Twelve

My Crosby shirt did no good in game 2 and the Pens lost, evening the series with Montreal 1-1. Laura and I left immediately following the game, knowing that no one would be in the mood to see us. I was new to hockey but it didn’t take a genius to understand that loses at this point in the season were akin to car crashes – you relived them endlessly, every detail clear as day until you got back behind the wheel. The pressure was almost too much for me and I wished there was something I could do to help.

“Hey,” Sidney said in a tired voice about two hours later.

“I didn’t think I would hear from you. Sorry about the game.”

“Do you… do you think you could come over? I don’t want to think about the game.”

Now I was really surprised, but also flattered. I wanted so badly to help. “I’m on my way.”

He was on the couch in sweat pants and a t-shirt when I used my key to access his side of the house. A smile came unbidden when he saw me, but the concentrated frown soon returned. I dropped my stuff and climbed in behind him, settling him back against my chest. He was so broad the couch could barely contain him. He dropped his head to my shoulder and closed his eyes.

“Thanks for coming,” he said.

“Thanks for calling.”

We didn’t talk or even move, but fell asleep like we’d been hit with a spell. An hour later, he rolled and almost took us to the floor so we moved upstairs. We shed our clothes but kept underthings on – not that we’d have gotten much done anyway. He curled around me and was asleep in minutes.

Morning found him lying across me, fingers tucked inside the waistband of my panties. We hadn’t closed the curtains and it was bright as day in his room. The plane left at 12 PM.

“What time is it?” he mumbled without lifting his head.

“9:30.”

Without a word he pulled himself on top of me. I gathered him in my arms and kissed him, morning breath and all. He returned the favor, his hands slowly waking my body as they traveled down my sides. My panties went with them, then his shorts. A few gentle nips and touches had me as ready for him as I’d ever been. We made love almost silently, barely breathing as we fit together in the protective warmth of his bed. I’d never known him to move so slowly, the tiniest shift of his body bringing me immense pleasure.

“I’ll miss you,” I whispered.

“Come to Montreal,” he said. And he was serious.

“I can’t, Sidney, I….”

He smiled. “Can I call your job and request vacation time? Think that would work?”

That got him a little smack on the ass. “It’s not that, I’m too nervous! I would be afraid to distract you, and I’d be a hysterical mess.”

A little roll of his hips made me gasp – he was showing me what I’d be missing. “I knew you’d say no. I think you’re right, but I want you to know that I want you there. I want you with me, Grace. All the time.”

That worked, almost making me tear up. Romantic fool. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”

“Right here, five days.” He finished what we’d started in this bed six weeks ago, heard me whisper his name like a magic word when my body gave out. His voice was soft too. “Grace, Grace.”
____

We won one and lost one on the road. We were not playing the great game I wanted, and Montreal was stronger than I’d ever dreamed. That fucking Halak was denying us left and right and you can only get stonewalled for so long before you stop shooting. I wanted to win both games but deep down I knew we were lucky to get one.

We’d played to the Cup final two years in a row, which was half my NHL career. That’s a lot of hockey every year and my whole consciousness thought we should be playing into June. I expected to be around that long. For the first time in years, losing seemed a very real possibility. We had the skill but the magic of the last two years was missing. I hated to admit it even to myself, so I sure as hell didn’t say anything to the team.

Grace texted me after each game. The first win in Montreal earned me “I knew you were awesome” and the loss got me “Next time.” She never forgot anything, and when she mentioned one of our inside jokes or referenced something in our brief history together, it made me feel like glue. We were stuck fast to each other and holding.

When we landed, my excitement was almost enough to drown my exhaustion. I didn’t call her – have a little faith, I told myself. I drove straight home and she was, as promised, asleep in my bed.

“Hi baby,” I whispered, climbing in next to her. I lifted the blanket – she wore a sexy black satin slip that felt like water beneath my hands. I may have been beaten and battered, but I was hard in a second. She rolled languidly in my arms, half-awake.

“Mmmmm, good dream,” she smiled with her eyes closed and fingers on my chest. “So real.”

I had to laugh, some of the pressure of the series lifting as I rolled on top of her. “This might be a dirty dream.”

She shimmied under me, sliding the lingerie up to her hips and revealing her bare skin beneath. “Have to be pretty good to beat the one I was having.”

I explored her soft skin with my hands. Her creamy white inner thighs flinched as I dragged a finger back and forth across her slit. The pink skin of her peach begged for my mouth, but she didn’t need any help from me to be ready. I slipped the tip of my dick just past her entrance and prodded the dampening folds.

“Sidney,” she had her eyes open now. “I missed you.”

I slid myself all the way into her, settling into what I decided was my favorite place on earth. “I missed you too, baby.”

A smile crossed her face. “I like it when you call me that.”

My hips gave her a tiny push, widening her grin. “You’re my girl.”

I stroked a few times, reveling in how much I had longed for her on the road. Not just her body, which was heaven, but for her smile and wit, her compliments and her constancy. She had stood by while I fucked everything up, she had believed in me when I didn’t believe in her. And here she was, sleeping in my bed waiting for me to come home. I could parade her before the world and I’d never repay what she’d done for me. I could tell everyone, everywhere she was mine and it would never be enough for me.

“Come to Nova Scotia with me this summer.” I hadn’t planned to say that in the middle of sex. But I meant it.

“Wait till summer comes and ask me again,” she said. I almost panicked, like she wasn’t sure enough to make me a promise, but she caught my lips in a kiss.

“I hope your summer doesn’t come for a long time. But I’ll be here when it does.”
____

I though back on that moment a lot, when I told him that I hoped summer was a long way off. Because it truth, it was right around the corner. The Pens won game 5 in Pittsburgh and I felt so sure it was fate, that they would obviously win the series. That’s how it was supposed to be. The euphoria last a few hours, then it was time for them to pack up for Montreal again.

“You’re not staying over,” I told Sidney as he drove me home after the game.

“Probably a good idea.”

“My ideas are always good. Haven’t you learned anything?”

We ate and talked hockey. I listened to Sidney dissect the game, get the specifics off his chest that I could tell he hadn’t talked about to anyone else yet. He was practicing his captain speech for the next game.

“Sorry Grace. I just can’t get it out of my head.”

I reached for a napkin. “I like to listen to you. I learn a lot every time you talk about the game. How else will I ever apply for a coaching position? Now tell me what you meant about the power play.”

The time quickly came for him to leave. I walked around to where he sat at the kitchen counter and stood between his knees, put my hands into his hair and looked right into his eyes. That alone was enough to undo me.

“You can’t do everything yourself.”

He smiled like he heard that all the time. “I can try.” His pulled me in close. “I’ll be back in two days no matter what.”

He sighed, searching my face like he was working up to something. I didn’t want him to invite me to Montreal again – I was more scared now and he didn’t need that around. He needed whatever had worked for him the last two seasons and I was fine to admit that hadn’t included me. I was not part of this formula. I could be the loudest cheerleader but I needed to stay on the sidelines.

Vero called out of the blue and invited me over to watch game 6. It was just me and her – I thought that was nice but awkward, until I arrived. She was even more nervous that I was.

“The pressure on Marc is so, so much. I thought you might understand a little because of Sidney,” she said.

“I don’t understand anything about Sid, but I am freaking out too.”

By the third period, the Pens were down 3-2 and Vero and I shared a single couch cushion, practically clinging to each other. Montreal scored a 4th goal and then the Pens got it back with less than 2 minutes left. The fight was not gone from them, but they ran out of time and lost game 5.

Now the fear was real. They were down in the series and Montreal seemed to be getting stronger at the smell of blood. I texted Sidney at the end: Here if you need me. We were into uncharted territory now. Vero watched me hit send.

“Think he’ll call?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t. How is Marc after?”

She shrugged. “Awful. I just sit and wait.”

I was right, Sid didn’t call for almost a whole day. When he did the first thing he said was sorry. And he was coming over with dinner. The next day would be game 7 in Pittsburgh and I was so scared. He
looked tired, with slight dark circles under his eyes as he lifted a bag of takeout in my doorway. I put it down, threw my arms around him and tried to hug the look off his face. He gave me a half a smile.

“I want to tell you something before whatever happens in this game. Just in case.” He waited for my response though he hadn’t asked a question. I nodded.

“I’m crazy about you, Grace. I know it’s hard to be part of my life but it’s a much, much better place with you in it. I never knew I could think about anything but hockey this much. If we lose this series, it may take me a few days to get my shit together.” He paused, like he was waiting again. “And thank you for not saying that we won’t lose. Part of being with you has taught me that reality is not what I say it is. We can still win, and I think we will. But either way, even if it takes a little while for me to get through it, I will come back to you. I hate to ask you for anything more but please, please wait for me. If we lose this series, but I don’t want to lose you.”

I was silent, afraid if I spoke I would cry. I knew he could taste it when I kissed him, the start of tears.

“I will be here. How could I leave? Legions of girls love the idea of you, they wish they could find a guy who would be their real-life Sidney Crosby. Well you’re my Sidney Crosby. And I’m not going anywhere.”

I love you, I thought. Maybe I should have said it.
____

I wanted to tell Grace that I loved her. I knew that I did. Not just at that moment, but since the first time she called me out on the shit I had pulled, the first time she wasn’t afraid to treat me like a normal person. That’s all I wanted to be – a normal person in love with this extraordinary woman.

I promised myself that I would tell her as soon as hockey was over.

Once I was back at the rink, concentration came easily and I welcomed it to block out everything else. Like putting a hood over my head I sank into hockey the way I’d always done, hoping to exert the force of my mind on the game itself. I envisioned us playing well and winning right up until the moment we stepped on the ice.

It didn’t work. No amount of mind-control could have saved us in game six. Two and half hours after I had seen victory in my head, we were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. To say I’d never known something so devastating would have been an understatement. When we lost in the Cup final, at least I knew we’d reached almost every goal, beaten almost every opponent. We had exceeded our promise. Not this year.

“Fuck,” Flower said under his breath as he dropped onto the locker room bench. I felt obliterated – too sad to cry, too tired to by angry. It was just numb and it was endless. The things we’d done wrong and the things Montreal had done right flickered in my mind like a film on fast forward, ultimately the story ends the same, but the pieces appear broken and confused. The breath was knocked out of me and I thought I might never get it back.

I sat in my car in the parking lot for a long time in the dark silence. No thoughts crossed my mind, I was just catatonic. When I finally gathered myself enough to drive, I knew right where I was going. Mario and his family would be home, my parents would be there too. They’d all been at the game but no one had come to see me after. That would be the worst – seeing my mom’s sad face, my dad’s disappointment, Mario’s caring and Nathalie’s concern. I had to be strong in front of them and I just didn’t have it in me.

All that can wait till morning.

Grace came outside as soon as I pulled in – she must have seen my headlights. I wondered if she’d been watching for them. I was barely out of the car before she was wrapped around me. Way in the back of my brain I thought it was probably the best hug I’d ever gotten from someone other than my mom; the most sincere and caring. I held her tight and prayed for the strength the make it inside before I fell apart. As if she could read my mind, Grace pulled me by the hand right up to her room. I ditched my suit and crawled into her bed just as the tears started to flow.

There was nothing I could do. She held on to me with arms and legs like she’d expected this, like she’d float me to shore if I started to sink. It wasn’t manly to cry in front of someone and as attractive as she might find me I am an ugly crier. But there was no stopping it. My heart was broken, my stomach in knots and I had gone to the only place I knew I would find comfort.

“I love you,” she whispered over and over, brushing my hair back and holding on tight. I could feel her crying too. “I love you so much, Sidney.”
____

Watching the Pens lose game 7 was among the worst experiences of my life. It didn’t even have the redeeming quality of being a good game – they had no fire and lost 5-2. When the buzzer finally signaled the end of the Penguins season, it had already been over for a while. I went home, said nothing and waited for Sidney to make good on the promise he’d given me.

When headlights turned into my driveway I nearly killed myself skidding down the stairs. He hadn’t thought he’d want to see me for days, but he was here barely hours after the loss. I still felt horrible for them but it definitely stopped being the worst day of my life. I did the only thing I could, understanding what Vero had said about sitting and waiting. I hugged him tightly and let him cry.

“I love you,” I told him honestly. “I love you so much, Sidney.”

I kept myself awake until he cried himself to sleep. Having a big, strong man cry in your arms is a draining experience. Physically and mentally I was a wreck, probably from the last six weeks of ups and downs. All I wanted was more – more highs and lows, more chances for him to achieve his dreams. I wanted it for him. When I woke he was still sleeping silently, heavy as a stone. I stayed near and tried to send good energy his way.

It was after 10 AM when he woke. His cell phone had been ringing for hours and I’d turned it to vibrate without needing to look at the screen. Everyone he knew would be calling and only a few of them even knew about me. Eventually someone figured it out.

“Morning Maxime,” I said when my mobile beeped.

His voice was gruff, I knew he’d probably had a similar night. So French, he probably cried like a girl. “Is he with you?”

“Sound asleep.”

I could hear him smile. “I’ll call off the search and rescue. Just get him home before noon, okay? His parents are there and everyone is really worried.”

“What will you tell them about where he went?” They hadn’t even heard of me.

Max didn’t even pause. “He went where he wanted to go.”

At 11:15 Sidney rolled over and groaned. “Guess all that really happened, eh? I was hoping it was a bad dream.” He rolled onto his side and reached for me. “But then you wouldn’t be here, so at least there’s that.”

I kissed his lips, his eyelids, his forehead. “Max called and said everyone is worried about you.”

“I don’t care about them.”

I tutted. “You do, and they care about you. They must feel like I felt.”

He lifted onto an elbow and leaned over me. “Thank you, Grace, for taking care of me. I didn’t want to see anyone but you.” I just smiled sadly, wishing he hadn’t had anything to be sad about but glad that he knew he could come to me.

“I love you, Grace.”

My heart skipped a beat. “I love you, Sidney.”

He smiled, flicking a piece of hair from my face. “I know, you said it eight hundred times last night.” I giggled, embarrassed. He kissed me. “It helped me more than you could know. Now go shower, you can’t take this hair home to meet my parents.”

“What?! I can’t meet your parents today! I…”

He was already sitting up. “You can and you will. Otherwise it’ll be weird when we move in next door to them this summer.”
____

This is probably a terrible idea. But I didn’t give two shits about it that morning. When you’re out of the race, there’s nothing left to lose. I parked in the driveway and we went right into Mario’s side of the house. I laced my fingers into Grace’s, both to comfort her and to keep her from running away. Mario was in the front room; he must have heard us pull in but he hadn’t told anyone else.

The sight of him almost made me cry again. He was like a second father to me, and in some ways more like my first. He’d lived my life, he was the only one who really understood. I stepped into a hug from him, another not-so-manly side of me for Grace to see. There were sure to be more that day.

“You must be Grace,” he said, reaching out his hand. If I could have her reaction tattooed in my mind, I would. Her face lit up unlike anything I’d ever seen – she was so surprised to find that I’d spoken about her to anyone. I thought back to my midnight conversation with Mario, where he’d said that whether or not Grace was worth it was up to me. It was the only thing he’d ever been wrong about – it had always been up to Grace, she had always been worth it.

“Nice to meet you. Sorry it’s a sad day.”

He shook his head and pulled her into a hug. She always said the right things. “Grace, it’s just a game. Don’t you go forgetting that too.”

When I took Grace’s hand again it was more for myself. My parents were here. I loved them dearly but our relationship had been strained like all my other personal, non-hockey relationships. Especially with my father. Never one to mince words, he would be disappointed and he would let me know it. He would also not be happy to see Grace.

My father thought women were a distraction. He loved my mother and they’d been together 23 years, but sometimes when he got upset at me for not being focused enough I thought he was really angry at himself. Drafted my Montreal in his youth, he’d never made it to the NHL. Ridiculous as it was, I always thought that he blamed part of that on my mother. It was easier than being honest with himself.

Grace squeezed my hand as we followed Mario through the door.

Everyone turned at once. I instantly felt sick with worry for Grace – I should not have done this. Not like this. My mom was on me in a second, smothering me with a hug. My little sister Taylor ran in from the other room and actually smiled at Grace before wheedling herself between my mom and me for a hug. My father stood behind the counter with his arms across his chest, glaring at the pair of us.

“This is Grace,” I said simply. She gave them a flat, tight smile.

“Hi. Wish I were meeting you all on a better day.”

If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never repay Taylor for what she did. She hugged Grace like Grace had lost something too, saying that everything would be okay. I wanted to hug them both but my mom beat me to it.

“Nice to meet you, Grace,” my mother said. She introduced Grace to everyone, Nathalie hugged her and my dad merely nodded in her direction. He was looking at me. Then my mom led Grace and Taylor out of the room; Nathalie followed.

“She’s a fox,” my dad said, eyebrows raised. “Good to know you had something better to do with your time than play hockey.”

Mario started to protest but I cut him off. “This has nothing to do with Grace. We lost. We didn’t play well, didn’t play our game and we lost. Without Grace, I would have been a lot worse.”

“When’s the last time you got a whole night’s sleep?” he sneered.

“Damn it, Dad. Don’t be an asshole. I’m pissed that we lost too – pissed at myself, mostly. But that’s not Grace’s fault. It’s mine.”

He leaned forward onto his hands. “You didn’t seem to have any problems in the playoffs last year.”

I looked at Mario. He was always neutral territory and if not for him, I think my dad would have had some more choice words. He shrugged slightly – we both knew exactly what we’d been expecting.

“Grace is coming to Nova Scotia for the summer. If she wants.”

“Like hell she is. You’ve got a lot of work to do this summer and….”

I interrupted him with a growl – the one thing my father hated as much as losing. “I wasn’t asking for your permission.”
____

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chapter Eleven

I pulled into her driveway. Invite me in, invite me in, I chanted internally just in case I’d somehow misread the situation. There were beds in there. And floors and tables and definitely a shower. Maybe even a bathtub.

“Let me get the garage.” She was out and hurrying toward the house then lights popped on as she made her way through. The metal door started retracting seconds later. As it lifted, she was standing in the beam of my headlights. Stripping.

Her shoes were gone. She pulled her t-shirt slowly over her head and tossed her hair out as it as it cleared. Then she unbuttoned her jeans, folding them down one side at a time at the fly before turning halfway and sliding them over her ass. She couldn’t see my face behind the lights or she’d have seen my mouth and eyes both wide open, one hand on the wheel and one already in my lap. Her bra and panties were matching dark blue with light blue trim and I thought for a second of the Winter Classic uniforms. She turned the rest of the way, her back to me and slowly bent all the way over at the hip to collect her clothes. With a smile in my direction, she ran into the house.

I parked so quickly I almost crashed into the back of the garage. I hit the ground running – not easy with a growing hard-on – jumped the three steps to the door and skidded into the kitchen. She was nowhere. My feet pounded through the house, up the stairs and into her room. She lay on her stomach, head supported on one hand, like she’d been waiting ages for me.

“No so much on the sprints, Crosby.”

I loved her in that second for surprising me so much. “Out of practice,” I shrugged, whipping my clothes off in a flash. She smirked then rolled onto her back, tipped her head watched me from upside down. I kissed her mouth that way, then her neck, her chest and climbed onto the bed as I worked my way down her body. She’d seen how hard I was and reached for my cock as soon as I put a knee to the mattress. The touch of her hand nearly made me black out. I reached her stomach, pausing to drag my tongue along the waistband of her panties then pushed them off as I worked farther south. I wanted to take my time, I swear I meant to, but she spread her legs and I buried my face inside the treasure I’d been missing. There was barely a moment to get my bearings, to taste the warm honey of her before I felt a wet lap of tongue on my dick and moaned loudly. The vibration made her squirm, then she licked me again and I moaned louder. She giggled and slid me into her mouth.

I barely concentrated on what I was doing. A silent prayer that I was pleasing her probably fell on deaf ears – I don’t think prayers get answered when your cock is lodged at the back of a beautiful woman’s throat. My mouth moved itself, finding enjoyment yes but nothing compared to what Grace was doing to me. I’d jerked off so many times in the days since she threw me out that I could count it as an endurance drill. Each stroke of my hand had taken the feel of her further away. Now her mouth, her tongue and the dark, deep place where the tip of my dick slipped past choking her – it was like falling off a boat and realizing you can’t swim. She held my shaft in a firm grip and wheeled her tongue around my head like it was made of ice cream.

“Jesus, Grace, holy shit.” I don’t know if she heard it with my face pressed to her leg but I was so close already. And she was not about to stop. Back up she came, taking me all the way in with two strokes before deep throating me again. Hard and soft, sucking and blowing – every move unpredictable and perfect. Her fingers caressed my balls and I moaned again, this time into the soft flesh of her thigh. She laughed again I think, and the vibration did me in.

I cried out as the orgasm hit me like a freight train. My body locked then burst, load after load of cum pulsing onto her tongue. She stayed wrapped tight and held deep, fingers gently milking my balls to make sure she got every drop.

“Grace, oh my God.” I heard my voice but didn’t remember speaking. My body drained 10 days of frustration and fear down her throat. When it finally stopped I was whimpering. I collapsed next to her, beaching my body like a ship on shore. My eyes settled on the back of her knee and I knew there had never been a more perfect piece of skin in the world.

“Miss me?” She spun around until we were aligned the same way.

“You can have anything you want. Anything,” I panted.

“All I want is you.”
____

It took Sid so long to regain his sense that I was really, really proud of myself. Of course he’d come about three times in my mouth, so I knew it would take a moment. But to wear out Sidney Crosby in the sack – there should be a merit badge for that.

I had missed him. My decision to strip in front of his car hadn’t been made until I was halfway out of my clothes already. I just wanted to make this fun, relieve the pressure and prove to both of us that we could be good for each other with no stress. He wanted me as much as he had the first night, in the bar when we’d barely made it out alive. I wanted him so much that I couldn’t make him mine fast enough. As he crawled down over me I greedily admired his incredible body, knowing the real thing was better than anything that had woken me up wet in the night.

I lay there, thinking of everything we’d been through in a month when his finger started making light circles on my thigh. It moved higher, motion getting smaller until he found my clit. I moaned and pressed into his hand. He continued to stroke, never touching anywhere else, not so much as grazing my stomach or my thigh. It was agony – my body rocked in desperation to have him inside. It had been far too long.

“Grace,” he said quietly. I turned my head to look at him, my lips open to breathe. “Tell me you want me.”

I would beg if that’s what he wanted, because everything word would be true. “Sidney, please. I need you.”

He rolled on top of me and pushed himself up and into me without hesitation. We both groaned with pleasure as his cock forced its way slowly up to the hilt. All his weight was on me, I felt him in and on every part of my body. He paused a moment and I savored the sensation of being totally overwhelmed by him. Then he moved and my whole world collapsed.

Sidney slid himself along me, like a sled on snow, rocking up and down and taking my whole body with him. His pelvic bone hit my clit on every stroke, a single press of my hot button before he forced the air from my body. Then he lifted himself on both arms, push-up formation, and I let go of my mind. His massive upper body flexed and coiled before me. His eyes were black, so intense and if I didn’t know him I might have been scared.

“God, you are so beautiful,” I said between strokes that made my hips roll up to meet him. He pressed his lips hard against mine, eyes open with that same focused gaze. The heat in my lower back and stomach started to pool. I writhed beneath him, twisting my hips along his length and drawing him almost all the way out on the downstroke. He kept pace and kept his eyes locked to mine. His strokes got deeper, more insistent. I touched his face and he kissed the palm of my hand in return. My brain was not getting enough oxygen.

“Grace,” he said, leaning down next to my ear. “I want to make you come. I want to feel you. I’ve missed you. Show me that you missed me.”

I wasn’t going to have any trouble with that. He dropped his hips, pelvic bone again touching my clit, and ground himself hard inside me. I squeaked so he did it again. On the third time, I dug my nails into his perfect ass, held him down and lifted my hips off the mattress to find his. He thrust hard and I broke.

I moaned something that may have been his name as my body dropped to the bed. He landed on me, all 200 pounds of him bottoming out inside me as I came all at once. No slow roll, not peaks and valleys. I came like an explosion and in the aftermath, there was silence.

“Yes, yes,” I breathed. I barely heard him, but he choked a cry into my hair and came, throbbing inside me. I felt his cock beat itself out nestled deep into my pussy, proving he’d reclaimed every ounce of me in one night. He lay atop me, dick still throbbing inside my body, and sighed.

“Don’t ever let me be that stupid again,” he said. I didn’t know if it was a statement or a question.

“Yes Captain.”
____

I couldn’t do enough to her or for her that night. I carried her into the guest room where we’d slept side by side after a fight and laid her out on that foreign bed. I stood at her feet and lifted one, kissing along the inside of her ankle. She rubbed it playfully against my face.

“Just because we’re not fighting doesn’t mean you have to get all vanilla on me,” she smiled.

I left her there as I went back and grabbed a scarf from the closet. She didn’t say anything as I tied her hands together and looped the scarf over the railing at the top of the headboard. Dark hair fell into her face and I brushed it away with my thumb, then kissed the spot. My lips worked down her body and I repaid the favor I’d been interrupted doing before. I spread her legs wide and held them down with my forearms while I plunged my tongue into her soaking wet pussy. She was sitting up, watching my tongue dance over her trembling lips as I spelled out the names of all the teams I’ve ever played for. By the time I finished the letters in Shattuck Sainte Marie….

“Oh God, you’re such a shit,” she squealed, bucking her hips against my face. I laughed, the vibrations making her shriek. I slipped a thick, rough finger in under my tongue. “Oh God, oh God…,” she said. A second finger forced its way inside, stretching her delicate lips. “Holy hell, oh my….” I pointed my tongue and drove it straight into her clit. She screamed out loud. I worked my fingers, plumbing her sweet spot, as I lifted up to whisper.

“Let me hear you say my name.” I brushed her g-spot, just for a second. She gasped.

“Please, please.”

“Say it.” I grazed the spot again.

“Sidney, please.”

“Please what, baby? Please do this?” I stroked again. “Please do this?” I slid my thumb over her clit, the barest of contact but she moaned and squeezed her eyes shut. “Open your eyes, Grace.” She did, liquid dark centers swimming into focus on my face. “I want you to see my face when you come. I want to hear my name when I make you scream.” I brushed the spot again and silenced her cry with my lips.

She was reclined, hands behind her head with her knees bent to give me total access. I kneeled between her legs, holding them apart as she filled my hand with her sweet honey. Her body had so much to give I couldn’t see myself ever stopping. But I would give her release. I owed her for the way I’d behaved and planning to pay it back a hundred times over. I brushed her clit again, earning a curse. My right hand went behind her neck and pulled her face in close to mine. Our eyes were open.

“I like the way you feel all slick and hot, Grace. You’ve got the sweetest little cunt,” I pulled my fingers out with a wet pop and sucked them into my mouth. She tasted delicious. Her gaze held mine till I pushed both fingers back in, she rolled her head back and moaned. I brought her mouth almost to mine.

“Beg me, Grace.”

It was more like a whisper. “Please, Sidney. Please baby I want to come for you. You’re the only one, the only one….”

I cut her off with a hard stroke to her g-spot, then a second that held down. Her back arched but I gripped her fast, eyes locked to mine as she came. Her body flopped around onto my hand, trying to fuck itself out, but I pulled back just a shade. “Say it.” Then I rang her buzzer again.

“Sidney!” she sobbed as she broke, hard for the second time barely before the first had run out. She strained against the ties that bound her but I loved the control, loved being the one to give her so much pleasure. Only when she had moaned and twisted her way out, did I take my fingers away and press a kiss to her throbbing slit.

“That’s my girl,” I said.
____

His girl. I woke up thinking about it, Sid sprawled out next to me on his back snoring lightly. I lifted the covers and peeked under – yup, definitely that fucking hot. Ridiculous.

When he came downstairs to find me eating a bowl of cereal, he pressed me against the kitchen counter and kissed my face off while one hand cheated up under my shirt. I felt him start to get hard against my hip, which is when he excused himself for practice.

That night and the next he was back in my bed. The third night was before the first game of round 2.

“Sorry I can’t come over tonight,” he said on the phone.

“Tomorrow’s game is more important than me giving you a blow job.”

He groaned. “Now you’ve ruined it and I have to go jerk off with that pair of underwear I stole from your hamper.”

“Perv.”

“Slut.”

“Oh Sidney, give it me. Oh God… yeah, harder…” I did a reasonable impersonation of myself. He hung up on me. Then he called right back.

“Tomorrow night I’m not going to forget that you tormented me.”

“Tomorrow night I’ll make forget your own name,” I teased. Click. And he didn’t call back.

I couldn’t see him that afternoon before game five. He and I both knew what would happen. The flood gates were open and we couldn’t keep our hands off each other, but I was not going to jeopardize his game. I went to work and tried to pretend like I had everything under control. At 5:30 PM, I met Laura for dinner before.

“Where’d you get that?” she asked when she saw what I was wearing.

“The store.”

“You’re ridiculous. You could have all the game-worn Crosby jerseys you want and instead you buy that.”

I smiled down at my black top. “Think he’s worn any women’s size medium t-shirts? I’d like to see that.”

“You two all loved-up now, you think it’s okay to wear his number?”

“I think he needs to see me in it.”

Defying the laws of physics, the energy in the arena was somehow greater than the last series. We were both pretty hyper and I hadn’t seen Sidney in 36 hours, so we went near the glass for the pre-game skate. I told myself he never looked at the stands, so he wouldn’t see me. I wouldn’t distract him. But I didn’t count on everyone else. They weren’t on the ice five minutes before Max skated over, dropped to his knees right in front of us and did a series of stretches that made Laura blush. Every woman in our section had to double-up on birth control for three days after. When his show was over, he skated to Sid and slapped him with a stick.

Sid flicked his eyes up like he only wanted to glance, but they locked on mine. Then he saw my shirt, big Pens logo and a tiny C just below my shoulder. He was twenty feet away but the whole place could see the look that flashed across his face – lust, possession, excitement. His pupils went black like a werewolf at full moon and I think he growled. If there hadn’t been glass I’d have jumped onto the ice and then onto him. I settled for pressing my palm flat against it, like I couldn’t wait to be near him, then I ducked back into the crowd. Laura caught me three steps up.

“Holy shit. He just went Edward Cullen there for a second. Is he like that all the time?”

I nodded, blushing slightly. My panties were wet.

“No wonder you two never leave the house.”

The Penguins won 6-3. Four goals came on the power play and Sidney was named first star. As he took the obligatory skate lap after the announcement, Laura leaned over. “You should wear that shirt every game.”

We went to the packed lounge. I knew Sid would be the last one out so I helped myself to a brownie and sat down to wait. A very tall, broad figure came in and I wondered which of the players could be done so early.

“ERIC!”

He lifted me up into a hug then hugged Laura as well. “I was hoping you guys would be here. Jordan was supposed to sit us together but…,” he leaned down to keep from announcing it to the whole place, “I hear you and the Kid got back together.”

I nodded and shrugged at the same time, appreciating the genetic supernova that allowed him and Jordan to be brothers. He put his arm around me and looked at Laura. “What are you teaching your friends? Didn’t you tell her a Staal is the best catch in the NHL?”

Laura made a face at me. “Oh she knows.”

He made a face like it was my loss and simply said, “Make him earn it, Grace.”

Max finally came for us, kissed Laura grandly and said he’d drive us to all to Flower’s. She looked at me like I should be worried – did Sid forget me again? Why wasn’t he here? But I was not concerned in the least. In fact, it was probably a good thing he stayed away.

Lots of people were at Marc’s when we arrived. I hugged them all as I made the rounds. Marc was in the kitchen, took my hug and said, “He’s upstairs.” I went as directed and found the last door open a sliver, as far as you could get from the crowd below. Sidney was looking out the window into the night. The carpet muffled my steps until I was right next to him.

“Flower told me you were here,” I laid my hand on his lower back. “Does that mean we have permission to have sex in his house?”

Sid’s mouth was on mine and his hands working my jeans like he didn’t give a shit about permission. Or property, as he tore my pants open probably shredding the zipper. His massive erection pressed into my hip and I knew why he hadn’t been downstairs. My hands made quick work of his tie and shirt, then went for his belt. He kicked his feet free, pressed my back to the wall and raked a finger across my slit.

“Wet for me already, Grace? You know I like that,” he licked his fingertip.

“Since the warm-up skate. The way you looked at me…”

He smiled seductively. “I was thinking about fucking you in front of 18,000 people.” His hands worked the back of my bra. “Would you like that? I’d make you mine in front of the whole world?”

“First star for sure,” I nipped at his earlobe. He got my bra open and cupped my breasts. The straps were tangled beneath my #87 t-shirt shirt so I moved to take it off.

“Leave it on,” he growled, thumbs flicking my nipples.

I kissed him, hitched my leg up on his hip and fit his throbbing staff into my cleft so he could feel my heat along his length. Over his shoulder, I saw something and smiled. As he sucked the soft skin of my neck, I climbed off him and pulled him in that direction.

“Where are you…,” then he didn’t ask anymore. One wall of the sliding closet door was all mirror. I planned to kneel in front of him but he had other ideas. He roughly pressed my hands to the nearest wall, aligning us with the mirror about three feet in front of it. Then he kicked my feet apart and splayed me out, watching himself work.

I watched him too, scarcely believing I might actually be the girl in the picture with a guy like him. Every inch of his body was magnificent, he was like Adonis. The simple act of running his hand down my thigh flexed a hundred perfectly defined muscles. His number was clearly visible on the back of my shirt. I smiled to myself.

“Like what you see?” He stood back a bit, stroking his impossible length and looking us both in the mirror. I leaned over farther and wiggled my ass high in the air.

“I’ll like it better when I feel it.”

Oh I felt it. He dropped to his knees and gave me one long lick, spearing the tip of his tongue into my clit then dragging it slowly along my soaked pussy. He didn’t stop, using his hands to make room, and lapped his way right over my backdoor. My body jerked but he held me close and did it again. Then he stood. He held my thighs against his and guided himself inside, watching his reflection. It felt incredible – he filled me to bursting, not a molecule left untouched, his big warm hands on my body. I moaned in a low voice and my head dropped, the pleasure overwhelming me. He wrapped a hand into my hair and pulled my head up.

“I want to see you,” he said as he began to move. My fingers went white against the wall with the power of his strokes. Everything I looked at – his thighs thrusting, hands squeezing, arms flexing – made my vision blur. “I want to watch you.” His eyes were bottomless black with intensity, the way they’d been the night we made up. The way they’d been on the ice.

He moved strongly, not always hard but with authority. My blood was a rolling boil. He knew I wouldn’t really come until he touched me, but his hands never left my back. I tried to do it myself but I couldn’t hold the wall and touch myself at the same time. His balls slapped against my clit as he hammered himself home, every knock sending a tiny dagger of pleasure through my lap. It wasn’t hard or fast enough, no matter what he did. I whimpered.

“Tell me Grace, tell me what you want,” he said hoarsely, leaning down but still looking in the mirror.

“Touch me Sid. You make me want to come so hard.”

He laughed, flicking his way once across my clit. “You’ll come when I let you. You’ll beg me for it first.” He went on coring me with his huge, smooth cock. When he raised onto his tiptoes and bottomed out inside my pussy I shouted. My body was jelly.

“Fuck. Fuck, please Sidney. Please let me come.”

“You’re nowhere near done, baby.” He pulled out, spilling wetness all down my legs, and knelt. When his abrasive tongue slicked across my quivering flesh, I cursed again.

“Oh God, please.” My legs were getting wobbly and I would soon collapse, release or not. “I can’t stand.”

His thick arm wrapped around my waist and pulled me down on top of him. He kneeled and my ass fit right into his lap. Then he started bouncing. “You’re so fucking hot Grace,” he said into my neck. “You make me crazy. I want to pound your sweet little cunt all night, you’re never leaving this room. I can’t stop thinking about you.”

He met my eyes in the mirror and I almost shivered despite our heat. The sweet, playful guy who made appearances was not in residence tonight. This was Sidney Crosby’s world and I just lived in it. It was hard to argue with that logic when his second most popular stick had be begging for my life.

Without effort he lifted me along his shaft and slammed me down, spearing me with his massive dick. I touched my breasts, the nipples so hard they ached then ran my fingers up my thighs. Before I could reach my hot spot, Sid caught them.

“Put your arms around my neck,” he growled. I whined in protest so he did it for me, catching my wrists over my head and running his palm over my underarms. His rough thumbs raked my nipples and I hissed. Then he touched me. It was just twice but I almost came. I was so, so close. A third touch and I’d have burst like a grape. But he wouldn’t let me.

“Oooh,” he almost laughed. “So hot, baby. You love it when I fuck you.”

“I love it when you make me come.”

“I wanted to come all day, the whole game I kept feeling your tight pussy squeezing me off. Coming inside you, burying it so deep in your…”

“Uuhhhhh,” I moaned. I was going to pass out before I came. “Fucking bastard, I will fucking kill you.”

He whispered sharply into my hair. “Not before I finish.”

Sidney set me on the floor on all fours, rose onto his knees and took me again from behind. I dropped my forearms to the carpet and put my head down, changing the angle. I rocked back against him, trying to bring him off faster so I could finally get mine. He pushed my knees so far apart I was almost lying prone and kept on fucking me hard. My tender nipples scraped the carpet as I tossed, making me gasp. His balls were no longer slapping against me – they were high and tight, he was almost finished.

“God, oh my God,” it was me, though I don’t remember saying it.

“Grace, holy hell baby, you are so tight, so wet.” His breath caught, choking his words.

I was desperate. “It’s all for you, Sid. I’m so wet for you, please fuck me hard, fuck me all night. I want your huge cock to pound….”

His left hand came from behind and covered my mouth at the same moment his right forefingers pressed into my clit. I screamed into his palm. He rubbed, jerking those slightly rough tips against my swollen, heated skin. It felt like I was being electrocuted. His dick pounded into my lungs, driving the last of my air out with the scream. I couldn’t get a breath, but I didn’t need it.

He spread the slick skin slightly and touched my hard little pearl. This time I yelled his name. My back arched, my body froze in his arms and the floor opened up beneath me. I fell screaming and hit the ground with a spectacular crash.

“Fuck, Grace, oh God, Grace,” he said as the orgasm took him, bursting like a balloon and pouring himself into me. I felt him pump and spurt, his chest to my back and heart pounding. I collapsed in his arms and he dropped on top of me.

“I’m addicted to you,” he said quietly, face pressed to the rug. One of his eyes fluttered open – brown again, the spell broken.

“Welcome to your support group,” I whimpered.
____

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chapter Ten

I wanted to go to game five, but I was inching in. I was letting myself get closer, get sloppy. I didn’t want to let him off the hook but I knew now was not the time for us to duke it out. I refused to be a distraction when I saw how much was on the line. He called me the night before and for the first time in seven days, I picked up.

“Welcome home,” I said.

“You didn’t come over and water my plants.”

“You don’t have any plants.”

“Good thing, they’d be dead,” he laughed. “Come to tomorrow’s game.”

I tried to be coy. “Aren’t you superstitious? You’re winning because I’m watching on TV.”

“I want you there.” That was all, loud and clear.

“Sid, I…”

He cut in. “I know I missed up, Grace. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it, but let me do this. The guys are all pissed at me because they want you there too. Please, I owe you at least one right?”

A window opened in my heart and my resolve flew right out. “Can you get a lot of goals in the first period so I don’t have a panic attack?”

“I’ll try, baby.”

I let it slide, wondering if he’d even heard himself call me ‘baby.’ I wished him goodnight and good luck, called Laura and made a plan. At lunch the next day, I drove to the mall and bought a Penguins sweatshirt.

Our seats were perfect as ever, it was the arena that changed. I swore the roof would come off when the team took the ice for the pre-game skate. I didn’t go down near the glass but I watched him all the same. Most of the guys sported some facial hair, even Sid if you could call it that. “Oh jeez,” was all I said.

“Judging by Max’s playoff beard, this should be the finals.”

Laura laughed. “I think he shaved yesterday.”

Game five was the most intense experience of my life. The Penguins lost in triple overtime, long after I was sure I couldn’t take another second. It was devastating and I hadn’t even played. We left right after, not wanting to bother anyone. I texted Sid.

Me: My fault.

Sid: Next time.

I wasn’t home ten minutes when he called me. I was surprised until I heard his voice. He sounded every bit as bad as I would have expected. Still my heart was all a-flutter that he’d called me anyway.

“If I’m going to be a normal person,” he said exhaling like it was a meditation exercise, “these are the times I need to behave like a normal person. Once upon a time, there was a horrible guy who forgot his date because he lost a hockey game.”

“Glad I don’t know that guy,” I said. It worked, I could hear him smile. Then he sighed again and said goodnight. It hadn’t been three minutes on the phone but it was the farthest we’d ever come.

I could barely sleep the night before the 6th game. I’d stopped having the fever dreams, stopped waking up in mid-orgasm with his face in my mind. But I still felt his presence like a ghost. That night I just flopped around with increasing frustration, never able to get comfortable or stay still. It was after 1 AM when my phone vibrated on silent.

Sid: Can’t sleep.

“Hey.” I don’t know why I whispered when he answered on the first ring.

“Sorry to wake you.”

“No, I was up too. Thinking about the game.” Come over, I wanted to say, knowing he couldn’t. I want you back.

He laughed. “I’ve turned you into a crazy person! Next you’ll be dreaming about line changes.”

“Is that the part where you jump onto the ice?” I said in a ditzy voice. “How do you tell who’s coming toward you anyway? What if you accidentally swap for a defenseman?”

He actually started to explain, saying they’re all trained at every position and in a mix-up… “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” I droned. “Problem solved, I’m out. I could talk about trends in denim for the under-20 set if you’d like to fall asleep too.”

“I miss you, Grace,” he said suddenly. A late-night confession. My heart cracked like a piece of glass.

“I miss you too, Sid. But not yet. Not right now.”

He sighed, he knew it wasn’t the time for this discussion either. “But I’m getting better, right? You don’t hate me?”

“No, Sidney. I don’t hate you,” I whispered. I want you. I want you here right now, I didn’t say.

When we hung up the phone, I finally drifted off.

The next night took forever to arrive, but when it did I wanted to give it back. The Senators had a 3-0 lead in the second period and Mellon Arena was silent as a tomb. Then the Pens clawed their way back with a goal in the 2nd and two in the 3rd to tie the game. I had never been so distressed in my entire life, feeling my heart would beat right out of my chest. I barely had breath to scream and cheer their goals and I dropped into my chair lightheaded and dizzy after every one. Laura held my hand as the last three minutes ticked off the clock.

“I will age prematurely if they keep this up,” I told Laura and Shiri. “Do you see wrinkles?”

We braced ourselves for another 2-hour overtime marathon, but Pascal Dupuis put us out of our misery less than 10 minutes in with an OT game-winner. The arena went ballistic, filled with enough energy to launch the whole thing into space. I couldn’t hear if I was actually screaming.

An usher brought us downstairs quickly, right to the locker room. It was packed with family, media, everyone. I was so amped I threw my arms around everyone I saw: Jordan, Tyler, Brooks, Flower still with his leg pads on. They were all sweaty and elated and perfect. Finally, the knot of press around Sid broke just a little.

I didn’t think, I just jumped on him. He caught me in midair, laughing, and hugged me hard in front of everyone. I’d just hugged half the team that way and not a single person seemed to care. His eyes were so, so brown and that smile took up half his face. I shuddered to feel his body between my thighs and my eyes might have rolled back for a second.

“I knew you were lucky!” he said, lips inches from mine and those dark eyes threatening to drown me.

“I knew you were awesome!” I untangled myself and climbed off him before I could embarrass us.

“Did you buy this?” He ran his hand down the arm of my sweatshirt. “You know I get this stuff for free, right?”

I reached out and rubbed his chin. “Is this your idea of a beard? Or did you join a boy band?”

He slapped my fingers away just as Max barreled into me from behind and crushed us all into the wall. “Wahoo!” he shouted. “Let’s party!”
____

It was only one round, I kept telling myself not to get to far ahead. But we had at least four days off and judging by her excitement, Grace was at least going to let me sit next to her. I might get another hug, even if it wasn’t the full body wrap that had nearly sent me to the ground on top of her and right into the Hall of Shame for what would have happened next. That was more than enough reason to go out with the team. I knew what I wanted to do, I’d known it all along. I wasn’t sure of the timing, or if she’d even still want me, but between her and the win, I felt invincible. I wouldn’t do anything yet, I’d just be near her.

Grace danced with Jordan and TK, then Laura and Vero dragged her away to laugh at Flower’s slick moves. I watched, sipped and smiled.

Max appeared at my elbow. “You did the right thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Nothing. If you’re not sure, don’t move.” It was as much a compliment as a warning, but I wasn’t going to fuck this up again.

“Jordan says your dancing is worse that your beard. I say impossible,” she stood really close to me, almost touching my side. The smell of her skin rose in the heat – cream, lemon, something delicious. My mouth watered.

“Are you asking me to dance?” I teased.

“Don’t make me regret it.”

She was right about my dancing, but it was too crowded to do much anyway. A few people slapped me on the back in congratulations as we made our way to the floor, but none of them seemed to care who I was with. Grace stayed a few inches away from me, only occasionally letting our bodies touch. Just like she’d danced in Max’s house with the Staal brothers, her movements made my want to kiss her into oblivion. I stopped my train of thought there – if I got to the rest of the things I wanted to do to Grace, she’d never get out of that club alive. The song changed to something slower. Without thinking, I slid my arm around her waist.

“Sorry,” I said was she was pressed into my chest. One f her arms went around my neck. She didn’t say anything. Just tilted her face until her dark eyes met mine. Her lips parted slightly and it took every ounce of my strength not to kiss her. Instead I said, “Thanks for coming tonight.”

Her mouth wrinkled like she was admitting something she didn’t want me to know. “I can’t believe I missed the other ones. Stupid me.”
____

The night wasn’t over until we’d partied ourselves out. I was sober but my body hummed with the energy of the game and being so close to Sidney that I could barely sit still. Maybe the dancing had been a bad idea, because I was starting to forget why we were fighting. Why I wasn’t in the back of his car right now, begging for mercy and naming the saints. Instead we hit a 24-hour diner and laughed as the guys ate plain chicken breasts and salads while Laura, Vero and I polished off a mountain of onion rings and nachos.

“That is evil,” Jordan said as Vero hit his hand away from the sour cream.

It was a big booth with long bench seats. I had climbed in after Laura and saw from the corner of my eye that Sidney practically pushed Kris out of the way to get in next to me. We were squished closely but comfortably. Or as comfortable as you could be having full body contact with someone you desperately wanted to fuck.

“Have you ever had an onion ring?” I asked him.

“When I was like 12. It was memorable.”

Laura allowed Max to grab a nacho. “No wonder you guys have so much sex. Everything else is off limits.” Max choked, Kris snorted a laugh and Jordan slapped the table top.

“Our waitress is looking better and better,” Jordan said, hooking his thumb toward our fifty-something server named Peg. “Think she makes onion rings for breakfast?” After that, no one was hungry anymore.

I caught Flower making meaningful faces, like he was having a silent conversation with Sidney on my right. A moment later, he said, “Everyone should come over tomorrow to watch game 6 of the Caps/Habs series. We’ll have a hockey party.” Then with no preamble, he added, “Grace, you can bring chips.”

Vero slapped herself on the forehead, the sound ringing across the table. Jordan roared a laugh and I felt Sidney sag next to me, embarrassed. Flower raised his shoulders like what? I tried not to laugh.

“Okay, I’ll bring chips if Jordan brings the waitress.”
____

I spent the day hours leading up to the game trying to figure out my next steps. Grace was obviously open to hanging out with me, maybe being friends. She was not ready to try again, not yet at least. But I needed to know for sure if there was still a chance before it slipped away forever. I needed a plan, so I called in the big guns.

“Tanger, wanna grab lunch?”

We hit a nearby health food place and ordered two salads each. I’d figured out how to fuck the situation up on my own. I obviously wouldn’t be able to fix it on my own – everything I did went to shit in a second. Kris was a hopeless romantic. He’d have some ideas.

Kris shrugged and tossed his hair back. “I’m not going to bail you out,” he said as our food arrived. “I like Grace. I think you should like her too. But if you’re fucking around, I will not help you hurt her.” He stared at me in that way of his, when you didn’t know if he’d burst out laughing or punch you in the face.

“I haven’t decided to do anything yet. But if I did, what should I do? Go on Sportscenter and talk about her? Call up People Magazine?” I was serious.

“Sid, stop freaking out. Just do something normal, like sit next to her in a restaurant. You did last night at the diner and it was fine. Take her out to dinner, go to the movies. Why are you attacking this like it’s a battle?”

“It’s not that easy.” Why can no one understand what it will be like? my brain whined as a reflex. But even I was starting to tire of hearing myself say that.

Kris put his fork down. “I know. I know it’ll be front page news. But that will take a couple of days and in the meantime, you can get a little ground underneath you. Show her you’re serious. The rest – I think Grace can handle it.”

It wasn’t Grace I was worried about.

“You could just try being nice to her, Sid. Be yourself. Whoever you thought you were being for a while there – he was a dick. Sorry to say it, but no one liked him. It’s like a bad impersonation of Max only Max would never, ever insult someone the way you insulted Grace. You can’t roll like Max because you’re too emotional. You are crazy about this girl and you’re the only person who can’t see it. I’m glad she kicked your ass to the curb because that proves she’s the one you want.”

Ugh. When soft-spoken Kris Letang read you the riot act… there was no worse feeling. You had to be a prize piece of shit to make Kris hate you. And everything he said was right.

“I know. I know.” I put my head in my hands, wondering how I could have been so fucking stupid. So full of myself. The only thing I’d ever worried about was hockey and since I met Grace, I was playing better than ever. She wasn’t taking the game away from me. The only person who was ruining anything was me.

“How do I do it?” I asked.

“No idea, mon frère. You’re at the bottom of an awfully big hole. But at least she’s talking to you again.”

She was already at Flower’s when I arrived. Her hair was pinned back at her forehead in a little bump and she wore no makeup but rosy lip gloss. A faded UCLA v-neck t-shirt gave just a hint of her body and her jeans looked comfortably lived-in. Bright blue Converse sneakers stuck out below. She was in the kitchen cutting veggies when I came in behind her.

Jeans… sneakers… oh boy. How? I wanted to press her against the counter, fold myself along her side and run my hand down the length of her. Being nice had proven to be easy, but being hands-off had not. My tongue stuck to the top of my mouth as I willed away the taste of Grace’s body, the heat and scent of her sex that I’d been kept from so long. The curve of her breast begged to be caressed and I knew just how hard to lick that exposed spot just behind her ear to make her scream. A low growl rose from my throat and I covered it quickly with a cough, getting her attention.

“Hiya, captain,” she said brightly. I wondered if she called me that for lack of something else to say. I really liked to hear her say my name, preferably at the top of her lungs as she came hard. She offered me a slice of red pepper, sticking it right into my mouth. Her finger brushed my lip and I nearly sucked it in.

“Would you rather play Boston, Montreal or Philly in the next round?”

“Montreal is a lower seed,” I said uselessly.

“But they were your favorite team growing up. If you play, I’m going to say some terrible things about them.”

“How’d you know that?” Had I told her that?

“Somebody’s famous,” she shrugged. “I know all about you.”

So stupid, I told myself as my heart did a little flip at the thought of her in her room, definitely in panties and a bra or maybe a towel, looking me up online. “You know everything?”

The look she gave me said yes, everything and my gut clenched. I’d gotten through the last few nights without humping the mattress, but I instantly knew tonight would be back to the same. I wanted her so much because she did know, she was the only one who knew. Everything.

“One question. What’s a timbit?”

We must have been laughing too loud. The moment Grace went out, three people came into the kitchen like they’d been waiting. Jordan rolled his eyes at me. “You’re not good enough for her.”

I turned my palms up like I had nothing to hide. I hadn’t been and he was right. Maybe I still could be.

“Eric is coming up for round two. You’ll never get to Grace with him in the way.”

I shrugged at him and went to the couch. Grace sat on the floor, her back leaning against one of my legs and one of TK’s. I wanted to twist her hair in my fingers and missed all the pre-game chatter thinking about how soft it would feel. I transferred my glass of water to that hand to keep from reaching out. The Canadiens beat the Capitals soundly and we were maybe a little worried. But at least they were going 7 games. We made a plan to come back to Flower’s in two days for the end of that series.

“I hear your boyfriend is coming to town,” I said as I handed Grace two plates for the sink.

“Better behave yourself then.”

For game seven, we went all out. We ordered food and invited the whole team over. Vero must have called a few of the other girls to come early, because they were in full swing when I arrived with a case of beer. The bedroom TV had been moved into the living room, the couch from the rec room set up in front of it and a lot of people were already there. I went toward the backyard where the coolers were being filled.

“Sidney Patrick Crosby,” TK shouted, hauling a bag of ice up from the driveway. “You would bring beer.”

“Is it Yuengling?” It was Grace’s voice, but I couldn’t see her. She came around the way TK had come, carrying two grocery bags. I tried to take them but she tutted me away. “All these people and no one brought any Yuengling.” I held up my arm – it was in fact Yuengling because I knew it was her favorite. She handed the bags to TK and threw her arms around me. “Thank you!!!”

I was surprised, but not too surprised to hug her back. I made it count – full body contact, deep whiff of her hair. She smelled like melted caramel. “How is it you always smell so good?” I had to ask. If she left me for good, I’d buy the scent and spray it all over my room.

“Girl tricks,” she backed away coyly, but not too far. “I was just looking for an excuse to hug you anyway. I’m nervous about today. This whole damned thing makes me so nervous… I’m sorry. I feel weird. Are you freaking out?”

I would have if I thought she’d stay that close to me. “Not yet. Once I know who we’re playing, my brain won’t shut up.”

“I’m spastic enough for both of us, I guess.”

A lot of the team was there, along with plenty of WAGs and friends. I took up as much space as possible on the couch, trying to save Grace a spot to sit down. She came in behind us carrying two beers and I waved to her. She climbed right over the back of the couch and squeezed herself in between me and Kris. “Best seat in the house!” she declared, putting and arm around each of us.
___

What has gotten into me today? I needed to be careful and not let my nerves get the best of me. What I really wanted to do was wind myself up in Sidney’s arms and bury my face in his chest. The sounds from the crowd could tell me what was happening on TV. It wasn’t my fault that he was so gorgeous, so big and strong and that staying away from him was like trying to swim against a whirlpool. Every time he was nice it sucked me deeper and deeper. Since he’d started being normal, the tension between us had been building exponentially. We’d never fought it before, so I didn’t know it would be so unbearable but when our eyes met, I felt his hands, his tongue on my body. I felt him move inside me, those giant shoulders looming above as his massive thighs held me down. His hair between my fingers, his breath on my skin… Jesus Christ. I could come standing in the kitchen just thinking about him. Forget the way he walked, like he could lift me off the floor and fuck me standing against the fridge. I knew he could; it was practically the only way he hadn’t fucked me. It felt like ages since I’d known the release of actually having him force my body to submit. When I saw his light blue t-shirt and those ass-hugging jeans, I nearly fainted. Between that and the uncertainty of not knowing who they would play next, I was near to breaking.

While the horn blared inside the arena on TV, Kris whispered through his hair, “Are you okay?”

“I’m really not. Your sex hair is not helping.”

He snickered with made me giggle. Without turning his head, Sidney said, “I can hear you!”

The game was very tight. By the time Montreal scored with 30 seconds left in the first, I had my knees up and feet tucked under Sid’s leg. He was warmer than a blanket. During the first intermission, I walked the cramps off outside.

“You’re worse than I am,” he said, leaning his linebacker’s shoulders again the doorframe.

My brain purred mushily but I just smiled and followed him back to the couch. The second period was just as tense, with the Habs goalie absolutely standing on his head and making the whole room gasp and holler.

“Who the fuck is this guy?” I blurted out. Sid full-on laughed like a girl, which set everyone else off. A handful of popcorn came flying my way and I gave him the TV the finger. Grumbling continued, along with some very intricate critique of the game that I could not follow. The second intermission could not come quickly enough. Everyone got up and I laid myself out on the couch like a corpse. Jordan tried to sit on me, then tickle me but I shrieked with hyperactivity ran out of the house. I bumped right into Sidney coming in the back door.

“Woah,” he said, catching me in mid-stride. Jordan was gone and good thing. Sid’s hands were on my waist, the momentum of my run had carried me right into his dance space. I was gasping a little when I turned toward his face.

I just kissed him. Or he kissed me. The earth stopped turning. Someone came into the kitchen behind me, said “Whoops!” and went right back out. I didn’t move my arms to hold him, but I stood there in his grasp and kissed him back.

“Grace,” he breathed as he finally broke away, forehead pressed to mine and lips still in kissing distance.

At that moment someone shouted, “Game’s on!”

I turned and rushed back into the living room. Sidney was hot on my heels – I felt him reach for my back, like if I got too far ahead he’d never catch me. Tyler looked up, clearly he’d been the one to walk in. Everyone else’s eyes were glued to the TV.

Our space on the couch seemed smaller by half and I ended up as much on Sidney’s lap as I was next to him. He put his arm over the back, as the game went on his fingers cheated into my hair. By the time Montreal scored again in the 16th minute, his hand rested protectively at the back of my neck. The room was total silence – even though these guys hated the Capitals, there was a brotherhood of hockey players that understood what it was like to lose, to drop a heavy, fragile dream and watch it shatter at your feet. My brain didn’t get it, but my heart did.

One minute later, the Capitals scored. The tension rose, knowing that a single goal could put this game, this whole series, back to the beginning. Sidney wasn’t shy – he took my hand from my mouth and twisted his fingers into it. I squeezed back, hard.

The Capitals couldn’t do it. The first seed and President’s Trophy winning team was eliminated in the first round. The Penguins would play Montreal and this goalie we’d seen stonewall one of the NHL’s biggest offensive threats.

“Wow,” Max said. Chatter erupted from everywhere – suggested plans of attack, points of weakness and set plays to exploit. I just closed my eyes and put my head onto Sid’s shoulder. His hand left my neck and snaked around till it hung over my far side.

“Poor Ovi,” I said, elbowing him in the ribs. He barked a laugh and pushed me up to standing.

“I need a drink,” he announced.

Half an hour later, the party broke up. The next day’s practice would be a serious affair with a direct focus. I could tell Sidney was already miles away. He had a terabyte of hockey knowledge memorized and his brain scanned it for useful information. I helped clear up the place as Flower and Jordan moved the couches back. Sidney was gone when I returned, which I thought was a little rude. Maybe I should give him a pass under the circumstances but I could still taste his kiss on my lips.

“Hey.” He was on the front porch, sitting on a chair, when I came out with my bag and coat. “Leaving without saying goodbye?”

“Thought you had, although after today….”

A single light above the door cast a weak light onto the long porch. Sidney was halfway down in the shadows and didn’t appear to be getting up. I went over, planning to sit down across but he caught me with a huge arm and pulled me into his lap.

“All I know about today is you kissed me.”

I smiled down at him, wondering if I had. “I think you kissed me.”

“That’s your story, eh? No one will ever believe it.”

“Too bad Tyler saw.”

He pretended to groan. “Radio Kennedy? It’s over now, the whole team will know we’re back together.”

“Are we?”

He stared right up at me, his gaze so frank I almost shrank from the intensity. His hand played at my front pocket, where it bent beneath my hip as I sat down. His other was somewhere beneath my ass.

“Do you want to be?”

It came out as a whisper, almost tearful, and surprised me more than it surprised him. “What happens when you leave?”

Summer was coming and no one knew when. It was a taboo subject, as if it were Beetlejuice and saying it would bring it quicker. But sometime in the future, the guys would all leave for their off-season homes and I’d be here. Alone.

He pulled my face down and kissed me, hard but sweet. A tear slipped from my eye onto his cheek.

“I don’t know, Grace. I don’t want to make a promise I can’t keep but I want to be with you. I will figure out what to do. If you’ll have me, I will figure out how we can be together.”

“I do,” I said, “I do.” We were kissing, really kissing as I repeated my words over and over. He shifted me deeper into his lap and wrapped his strong arms around me, holding me close as we kissed for what felt like the first time.

“Good. Then let’s go.”
____

Please say yes, please say yes.

I hadn’t been expecting this turn of events but when she ended up in my arms in the kitchen, I’d have been a fool to miss a chance at tasting her lips. I could barely get through the third period, her weight resting so close to my crotch and her hair silky in my hand. Kris caught my eye behind her back and smiled.

On the porch, I thought about what to say. I practiced a few things but they evaporated as soon as she arrived. Pulling her into my lap was bold, but it had worked. I was as worried as Grace was about everything. I had no answers and no ideas, only intentions. I wanted to be with her and so I would.

The kiss on the porch reminded me of something from a movie my little sister always watched. Something about a Princess Bride and the Top 10 kisses ever. I wondered if there was really a highlight reel for that and if we would maybe qualify.

We left her car at Flower’s without asking permission. I couldn’t be away from her for even the drive to her house. She’d seen me naked. She’d had me eating out of her hand, begging for her favor, saying her name in my sleep. She’d had me, all the way. And now she’d have me back.

“Take me home,” she said softly, curling toward me and putting her hand on my thigh. I made a mental offer to buy every single house we passed so I could carry her inside and christen every single flat surface. The universe didn’t want to sell.
____

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chapter Nine

I was really proud of myself for about ten minutes. Then I pulled the covers up over my head and cried myself to sleep. A million songs sing about the idea of feeling pain vs. feeling nothing at all. I didn’t know which was the lesser of two evils, but I didn’t like either option. I just threw Sidney Crosby out of my house. Naked Sidney Crosby. I must be crazy. But my head told me I’d done the right thing, turned the tables and shown him just what it felt like to be treated like shit. Only I felt like shit too.

My phone rang at 1:30 AM. It was Sidney and I turned it off without answering.
____

I had to pull over a mile down the street. It was stupid, insane really, but the only thing I could compare the feeling to was that last goal that eliminates you from the playoffs. The disappearance of the last breath of hope, the last chance to be the one who saves the day.

I put my head down on the steering wheel. What did I expect? I made a deal with the devil, picked a fruit I couldn’t eat. I walked on thin ice knowing I would fall through, then had the nerve to act surprised when it stole my breath and left me for dead.

Well fuck her. If she doesn’t want me then I don’t want her. I’m Sidney fucking Crosby and I’ll be damned if some girl is going to make a fool out of me. Right? Then why did I open my phone and call Flower of all people?

“‘Ello? Oui Sid?” Marc said. It wasn’t even midnight, he wasn’t sleeping. But he was surprised to get my call. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting on his couch taking a cup of tea from a very worried-looking Vero. Flower and Vero had been together forever – he’d never known the NHL without her. He never strayed, never wavered even under the immense pressure of being our goalie. To all of the guys, even the older married ones, Flower was the model citizen.

“Sidney,” Vero said, “are you alright? Please, I’m too scared to sleep now.”

I motioned that she should stay and she squeezed into a loveseat next to Marc. His hair fell into his face – he always wore a hat, I could forget that he had hair like Kris. His ever-smiling mouth was pressed into a thin line of concern.

“It’s her, n’est pas?”

I just nodded.

“Who?” Vero asked.

“Grace, from the cocktail party, from dinner the other night,” Marc told her, looking at me. “I thought I saw her at the restaurant.”

Vero was confused. “Jordan’s cousin? I thought she came to the party with TK?”

I sighed into the mug of green tea. “I met her three weeks ago.”

Vero was a sharp cookie and she didn’t take shit from any of the guys. She’d practically grown up giving us a hard time for our antics. And by “our” I meant “their,” since I had never really pulled anything ridiculous before.

“You made her lie?”

I nodded, head down to show I was not proud of myself.

“And she kept seeing you?”

I nodded again, but had to tell the truth. “Until tonight. She was at the restaurant we went to for team dinner, only she was on a date with someone else. I… I was angry. And then I went to her house.”

“And?” Vero asked, fully expecting to hate Grace if she’d given in to me again.

“She… she kicked me out,” I admitted.

Vero leaned back and crossed her arms, satisfied. Marc put a hand on her leg to keep her from reading me the riot act. She tutted, but left the room.

“Sid. She is important, non?”

I shrugged. Of course she was, but without my permission. Shouldn’t it be my decision what is important to me? “What should I do?” I asked him.

“Does she like you?”

I thought she did. I thought she’d be with me all the way if only I could do the same for her.

“And you like her?”

More than anything I’d known in a long time. I hadn’t allowed myself to like anything but hockey, and training, and winning. I really liked winning. Without my noticing, I really liked Grace. Flower moved next to me on the couch.

“Your whole life is pressure. Why do you think this will be harder?”

“I just don’t want to make a mistake,” I told him honestly. He patted my shoulder like I was a little kid.

“I think you already have, mon ami.”

I drove home and went to the kitchen, the only part of the house I really shared with the Lemieux family. I must have been noisy, searching around for something to snack on.

“Sidney?” Mario came in wearing a robe over his pajamas. “Is everything okay?”

I was seated at the counter, halfway through a single chocolate chip and a glass of milk. I must have looked 10 years old and that’s how I felt. Mario took a chair next to me and helped himself to some of my food.

“Who is she?”

I stared at him, mouth open. Can everybody read me like a damned street sign? Is it so obvious that I would fuck something like this up? His smile was indulgent and fatherly. There was little in my life he hadn’t seen before, having pretty much lived it himself.

“You’re 22 and up in the middle of the night looking like you’ve been run over by a bus. Plus, you’re eating a cookie. I know you didn’t lose a playoff game, so there must be a girl.”

“Her name is Grace. And she hates me.” There was no use in lying to him – he always could read my mind.

“Should she?”

I took a long swig of milk. I hated to admit it because saying out loud made it sound even worse. “Yes. But I don’t care. I need to focus on the playoffs.” I sat up straight like I meant business.

Mario shrugged like that might well be true. “How long have you known her?”

“Three weeks. Less,” I said flippantly, like it was nothing.

“Over the last two weeks, you’ve scored 7 goals and look to tie for the Richard Trophy. You’ve moved up a spot in the standings and will probably have home ice for the first round. And all that time, you’ve been going through the wringer about this girl?”

Well when you put it like that… “Yes.”

He stole a sip from my drink. “Now or later, it doesn’t get any easier. It’s always going to be a rough road. Whether or not she’s worth it, that’s up to you.”

Shit . Thanks a lot, Yoda. Fucking talking in riddles and right about everything.

It was a long night. I was emotionally exhausted and fell into a messy, restless sleep. I half-woke a few times, rolled over and slipped back under. The third or fourth time, Grace was there. We were in the locker room, Grace on her knees with ten inches of my cock sliding across her tongue. I panicked – anyone could walk in and see us! I was fresh from the ice and wiped a hand across my sweaty face as I watched her swallow me whole. She just looked up at me, eyes flashing, and smiled around my shaft. She felt so good – warm and dark, like a place you’d lose yourself forever. I knew it was a dream, somewhere in the tiny corner of my mind: the locker room for Christ’s sake! But I wanted it to be real and had no control over myself. I woke up panting and sticky, hands twisted into the sheets. I rolled to the other side of the bed to escape my own mess.

I spent the next day considering the definition of “worth it.” I had managed to push the pressure of the playoffs to the corner of my mind, as a result I was probably playing better. I knew I wanted to put this back together, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. Either way, if I planned to try I’d need a place to start. The next night was the last regular season game and I sent Grace a text inviting her. She never answered. We won the game and took a fourth place seed for the impending playoff series.

During the three days off, I called Grace a few times but she never answered. It was a test – was she thinking about me? Was she as miserable and conflicted as I was? I silently thanked God every time she didn’t answer, because I had no idea what I was going to say. I stopped leaving messages.

“What is your fucking problem?” Max shouted at me as he stormed into the locker room before the first game of the playoffs. “I finally talked to Laura last night – she’s giving me the cold shoulder because you’re a complete pussy.” He was fired up. “You’re lucky is the damned playoffs and she really wants to come to the game. Otherwise I’d kill you for keeping me from a fine piece of ass.”

“Is Grace coming?” The hopeful, pitiful tone of my voice turned my stomach.

“Fuck if I know. Did you really break up her date then go to her house?!”

I had wanted to talk to Max, but not like this. He was Mr. Love ‘em and Leave ‘em, I thought he might have ideas on how to get over someone. He could teach me how to act like it was nothing. I followed him into the trainer’s room.

“She won’t talk to me,” I admitted.

He softened a bit – he really was a mush. “I know, Sid. To be honest neither would I.”

“But you… you do the short-term thing with girls all the time! Tell me how this works. It’s only been two weeks, I can walk away right? Thanks for the memories and just move on. I’ve seen you do it a hundred times. You always act like the girls don’t matter.”

His expression was blank, like I’d reached over and punched him for no reason. Max started to speak, then closed his mouth and shook his head. “You are a world-class asshole, mon capitain. If you ever said that to someone else, they’d kill you. And if you ever say it to me again, I’ll do the same.”

I sat on the physio bench next to him, pulled up my knees and put my head in my hands.

He went on. “Let me tell you something, you never know if she will matter. You could spend a minute or a night with her – it’s always different. When you finally know she won’t matter, maybe you stay just to get what you came for. But let me tell you something, Sid: It’s not up to you. You don’t decide whether or not this is the one that gets a hold of you.” He winced as the trainer tightened the wrap around his elbow. “I know you’ve been a little sheltered, kid, but you misunderstand what goes on here. We’re all looking for the one that matters. Even me, mon ami. Even me.”

I put my head into the morning skate and tried to think about the playoffs and all the other things I stood to lose in the near future. Physically playing the game had always been a refuge for me – when everything else got to be too much, it helped to be on the ice. That day was no different and I felt a little better when Coach blew the final whistle. No closer to a decision, but better. It was time for the playoffs.
____

“Last chance. Coming?” Laura asked me. I was home, on my couch, staring at the spot on the floor where Sidney and I had… stop it. Stop it.

“No. Go on.”

I hadn’t been sleeping well. He was always there, always with me, but never looking into my eyes. We’d get all the way, my heart pounding and body trembling. I’d say him name, feel his skin, taste him. Then he’d look at me with those dark, intense eyes and I’d wake up coming. It happened every night.

I was standing my ground, doing the right thing and I felt pretty good about it. He’d called I don’t know how many times I had stared at the ringing phone as it vibrated itself across the table, desk, my hand. It weighed fifty pounds and burned like a meteorite. Every time it rang, it got harder and harder not to open.

I watched the game on TV instead, my stomach in a knot like I had never known before. Good thing I hadn’t gone or I would have lost my mind. Sidney had 3 assists and the Pens were down only 1 goal with 2+ minutes left in the third. I had tears in my eyes when they lost. Sidney was interviewed from the locker room on the post-game show – I didn’t listen to anything but the look on his face. If I’d been there, I’d have climbed right back into his arms.

My phone sat on the kitchen counter as I pretended to ignore the fact that it wasn’t ringing. I don’t know that I would have answered, but I wanted him to call. I wanted to matter that much to him. But you can only ignore the ringing so long before it stops.
____

I’m a bad loser. I shut down, get angry for things I imagine having done wrong and things I cannot change. Even I don’t want to be around myself.

I knew Grace had been watching. She hadn’t picked up the tickets at will call – two empty seats in the sea of fans because that’s what I deserved. But there was no way she wasn’t home, glued to the TV. I was confident I had at least that much effect on her. She’d be sad and I thought if ever she’d pick up the phone it would be now. I had the phone open before I stopped myself, Max’s voice ringing in my ears: I had exploited her feelings enough. And I still had no idea what I was going to say. So until I did, I would say nothing. Maybe I would never be able to give her what she wanted, though not so deep down I wanted it too. But Max and Flower and Jordo and Tanger were right – I didn’t have to be an asshole. So I drove myself home in silence.

My part of the Lemieux’s house was huge. It was empty and full of echoes. After a loss I usually gave myself the night to wallow and resolved to wake up the next morning focused and ready for the next match-up. I sat on the couch in the dark and closed my eyes. It was past 11 when my phone beeped up in my room.

Grace: Next time.

I could have cried. Grown man, crying over a text message. But there it was, the olive branch. I hit the call button and it dialed her phone. She didn’t answer. Okay, too soon. Baby steps.

Me: Come to tomorrow’s game.

She didn’t respond, but I went to bed feeling better.  Maybe I was just beaten, not dead.

It was easier to practice when I could look the guys in the eye. I passed Mario in the hallway and he gave me a raised eyebrow, but didn’t question. We had a lot to do to overcome a 1-game deficit in the first round and I felt hungry for a win, to get back to myself, to get my head into the game. If Grace could forgive me, even a little, then I could do this. On the afternoon of game 2, I made one last ditch effort. It was unnecessary, but sometimes you just needed to pick a scab.

Me: Tickets waiting, if you want.

She didn’t reply and when I stepped onto the ice for the pre-game skate, I knew she wasn’t there. My heart fell a little, but not too much. She was watching.

I scored one, Tanger scored the game-winner and we won a tightly contested 2-1 game. Flower only had to make 19 saves, something the defense would not shut up about. It was too soon to celebrate, but we were thrilled to start the series over at one game apiece. I agreed to go out for a couple drinks, knowing I’d be home early and ready for the travel day. Truth be told I had a little bit of steam to blow off. We picked a place nearby that knew us well and grabbed some tables at the back. I went to the bar myself, knowing Jordan or TK would come back with shots and straight-ups and other things I wasn’t ready for. Things like Grace.

I turned around and she was there. Laura came in first, ahead of Max, then Grace was taking off her jacket. She wore a white top, clingy dark jeans and knee-high brown boots with heels. She brushed the hair from her face and caught me staring. I gulped comically, sure my Adam’s Apple was bopping like a cartoon character. The glass nearly slipped from my suddenly sweaty palm.

A little shout when up from TK and Flower. Kris hugged her, then Marc, and TK spun her around till she kicked her heels up. They were all looking at me. She broke the tension, walking right over to me. Her perfect lips curled into a tiny smile and I saw pride in her eyes – she was excited for us. Not just for me, but genuinely excited for the team. I took a deep breath.

“Nice game, captain.” She hesitated a moment, then lifted onto her toes and kissed my cheek. Her hands didn’t touch me – her lips to my skin were the only point of contact.

“Thanks.” Then I whispered without really meaning to speak, “Hi.”

“Hi Sid,” she said quietly, before heading to the bar.

Max caught my eye with a warning glance and a tiny shake of his head. He was right – whatever was going to happen, this was not the time. I sat next to an empty chair, but Grace took a spot across between Laura and TK. It was funny to watch TK being polite, until he forgot himself and made a lewd joke. Grace nearly spit her beer out laughing. Jordan took orders and went to the bar. Grace declined, but two minutes later she got up and went anyway. I check with Max, he said go.

“I’ve been leaving tickets for you,” I said.

“Thanks. I… too nervous.” She licked her lips, which shone with gloss. I knew what it tasted like.

“Of the game or me?”

“Both.”

It was time to be honest with her and myself. “Me too. I had no idea what I was going to say to you.”

Satisfaction passed quickly across her face. “Figured it out yet?”

“No,” I admitted, looking down into my glass. “Other than sorry.”

A real smile lit up her face, cracking the ice around my heart. “BORING!”

We both laughed, sudden and surprised. Her hand touched my arm and a hot flash of electricity bolted through my body. Her eyes went wide and she wrenched her hand away. At least she’d felt it too. We looked at each other breathless for a moment.

“Too soon,” I tried to make light, stars still popping in my field of vision.

She flexed her fingers like they might be burned. “But maybe not too late.”
____

Max had called me right after the game 2 win. “Come out, Grace. Everyone wants to see you. Poor TK, he’s like a sad puppy. Jordan’s threatening to tell Eric everything.”

“I don’t think I should…”

“Grace. You didn’t do anything wrong. Sidney did. Don’t let his mistake keep you from all the free drinks and inappropriate comments we’ve been saving up.”

I told myself I wasn’t giving in, that in the end I wanted to be with Sidney. But he was a long way from that. Remember, he’s a long way from back, I told myself on the way over. A long way. Yet the second I saw him, I wanted to run. The door hadn’t quite closed and I could be out before was I even in. Then out of nowhere, Jordan was hugging me.

“Missed you, cuz. Eric says hi,” he drilled me with those baby blue eyes as if to say I was only allowed to be happy, Staal’s orders. So I smiled. Then Tyler gave me a whirl around the bar and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Sid was different, I could tell immediately. The messages he’d left had been increasingly normal. They started out a little manic, like he could still control the situation: Call me now. But over the course of a few days, they’d gone to Please pick up and I’ll make it up to you. Then they stopped altogether. Now he just looked embarrassed, like a puppy who knew he’d peed on the floor, downcast with this tail between his legs. I had stayed away long enough.

Thank God, it was fucking hard work ignoring him.

“Go easy on Sid, he’s pretty messed up,” Flower said. So I did, but I didn't go out of my way for him. And when we touched – well, nothing had changed there. I sat across from him and paid equal attention to everyone at the table. We pretended not to be looking at each other but when our eyes accidentally met, he blushed.

At the end of the night, I hugged everyone goodbye and wished them luck. I was completely invested in the team and the series, something I had never felt for sports before. My heart beat a little harder as I thought about them playing on the road, or maybe that was just being near Sidney. My sense memory burst with the feeling of him holding me – but he hadn’t even touched me yet. I wasn’t sure I could take that right now. He stepped back until he was last.

“Good luck in Ottawa, Sid.”

“You still have your key and I have the biggest TV in town.”

I didn’t take the bait, but I didn’t shoot him down either. “Be safe.” Then I touched his face for a second and left.
____

She cupped my cheek like she was thinking about kissing me. She didn’t, then she was gone.

“Miss you,” I said to no one.

Max gave me a little nod as I headed for my car. Feeling better didn’t keep me from feeling bad. I could have had that, could have had her, here and now. I’d wrecked it and would be lucky to get another chance. But I had no plan, no strategy and I was standing barefoot in a minefield.

I called my agent at 9:01 AM the next morning. He was probably not to the office yet but the man made a lot of money off me and this might be his first chance to really earn it. “There’s this girl…” I started.

“There was always going to be. How long have you known her?”

I told him almost everything – leaving out the sex – including that it had only been three weeks, her family was rich and she’d dumped me at least once, possibly twice. Also we were not currently dating.

“Walk away,” he advised. I started to protest but he cut me off. “You’ve known her three weeks. She’s got money but you don’t know what from. Her dad could be a porn producer. Plus, are you done with the first round of playoffs already? Did we win three more and I missed them? I’m sure you don’t need reminding that all eyes are on the sophomore slumping Penguins.”

“But I….”

“Sidney, listen to me. I know you don’t want to hear this, but she can wait. It can wait. Get through the playoffs – hopefully two months more – then worry about girls in the off-season. You’re too close now to get distracted. This is the time to focus, because everyone will be focused on you.”

“Dick,” I muttered under my breath as I hung up the phone. I was going to need to take care of that situation too.
____

The two games they won in Ottawa nearly killed me. I sat between Laura and Shiri on the couch at Max’s house – his TV was almost as big as Sid’s and he’d left us a key as well. My screaming would have brought the cops to my house. When they didn’t cause a stir with Max’s neighbors, I wondered what usually went on here.

“You don’t want to know,” Laura smiled fantastically.

After each win, I sent Sidney a short text message.

Game three when they won 4-2, Sid had the game-winning goal: Deep breath.

Game four when they won 7-4 and Sid had two goals: Amazing.

He called me after each, but I didn’t answer. That was our dance. Sidney still had plenty of work to do if he wanted back into my life.
____