“Time for work.” I heard her voice, felt her rolling beneath me. She was wrapped right to my chest, trying to shake herself free. I squeezed her in.
“Quit. I have money.”
“So do I, Champ. Not the point.”
I loosened my grip a little. My huge mistake and our big fight came back to me slowly. She’d let me sleep next to her, but she could still be plenty angry.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“You should be. I don’t deserve you, Grace.”
She sighed. “So you say. But you deserve to be happy, Sidney. Hockey’s not the only thing that can make you happy.”
I hugged her tight. There was nothing else to do. We lay quiet for a few minutes and when she tried to get up again, I let her. She pulled on a dress and flats – that was two days in a row I knew what her underwear looked like. I redressed in another rumpled suit and followed her outside.
“You forgot to park in the garage.”
“I didn’t think you would let me in.”
She pursed her lips. “Next time I won’t.”
“You and your next times,” I mocked.
We practiced in the afternoon. Max chirped about me leaving Grace behind the night before – I realized how embarrassed she must have been. To his credit, Max didn’t tell anyone else what I’d done. They would have forcibly removed her from my company forever. I waited until dinnertime to call her.
“Game tomorrow night and then we have a road trip. If I ask you to come to the game tomorrow, will you yell at me?”
“No, but I’ll wear your cell number pinned to my shirt. ‘If lost, please return to Sidney Crosby.’”
“Max won’t let me forget again.” I don’t know what possessed me to ask. “Are you sleeping in your room tonight?”
“Yeah. I did some laundry.”
My heart fell but she didn’t pick it up. I guess I’d earned that and worse. I said goodnight, hoping that she’d soften a little overnight.
I got to the rink early the next morning and went to the corporate partnership office. They looked a little surprised to see me wandering around the upper floors. “Don’t we have a deal with American Eagle for rush tickets?”
“Can you give me their office address?”
I rolled my eyes when I saw them, but the gesture made me happy. A dozen yellow Gerber daisies mixed with a dozen dyed black. Black flowers. Only from a hockey player. The card read: Who could ever forget you?
“Who are those from?” my boss asked, leaning into my office.
I shrugged. “Secret admirer.”
Shiri was my date for the game since Laura was out of town for work. She hadn’t seen Kris in a few days, but he’d been excited when she said she was coming. They hadn’t really left things any particular way after Max’s party.
“He’s ridiculously sexy,” she said. “But we didn’t have sex. Just got kinda drunk and made out, then fell asleep. But he was really flirty the next morning.” We watched the Pens skate, standing a few rows off the ice. Kris had his helmet off and that hair was giving every woman in the arena a reason to change her panties.
“He’ll be glad to see you tonight.”
The Penguins won. The game was fast and easy – a 4-1 victory over Edmonton. I found myself talking like I knew the game, recognized some of what was going on with the plays and could actually contribute an opinion. Shiri noticed too.
“Someone’s talking like they’ve been dating an All-Star,” she smiled.
“I wouldn’t call it dating. I think you have to leave the house for that.”
An usher came for us immediately after Flower was named first star and interviewed on the ice. We were almost first into the lounge and I helped myself to a cookie.
“Hi there,” a smiling blonde woman a few years old than me said as she approached. “I’ve seen you down here a few times now. I’m Kara, Billy Guerin’s wife.”
“I’m Grace, and this is Shiri. I’m Jordan’s cousin.”
Kara nodded and I wondered if she believed me. “You were both at the cocktail party too. It’s nice to have some new faces around. We’ll have to recruit you for some of the wives-and-girlfriends stuff. We can add cousins to the list.”
Guys started coming in from the locker room. I made a big show about greeting Jordan and it took him a minute to catch on. “You are in love with me, I know it,” he said.
“I’m in love with your brother. You are my cousin.”
“Right, got it. Good plan.” He rolled his eyes but kept one arm around my shoulders. Sidney came in, said hi to everyone then got to us. I had a yellow daisy tucked behind my ear.
“Nice flower,” he said.
“I have a stalker,” I smirked.
Some of the guys lobbied for a big steakhouse in the middle of the city. They served dinner late and had a busy bar area. Sidney pleaded for somewhere quieter, but lost. When we arrived they pushed some tables together in the middle of the main dining room. There were twelve of us and the whole restaurant watched as we filed in. I sat next to Shiri, with Kris on her other side. The chair next to me moved and I was surprised when Jordan dropped into it. Sidney had been right behind me. Now he was across the table, already seated, giving me a warning stare. I gave him a look that said eat shit and die.
Dinner was fun for everyone but us. Jordan did his best to engage me, but my mind kept drifting. Sidney didn’t talk much, just ate and pretended to listen to the people around him. Duper leaned across him to talk to Chris Kunitz and Sidney barely noticed. Shiri giggled to my right, head close to Kris’ in some private conversation. I squashed a roll between my fingers and thought about throwing it at Sidney. Jordan reached across without looking at took it from my hand.
“Grace,” was all he said.
A couple of people approached the table for autographs. The forty-something waitress made eyes at everyone, but she practically climbed into Sidney’s lap to take his order. His drink was never more than a few sips down and I think he got every side dish they made on the house. Every time she left the table, he looked at me. I excused myself to the restroom and while in there, my phone buzzed.
Sid: I didn’t want to come here.
I went back to my seat, his eyes searching mine for response. I shrugged – there were always going to be people around. When we were finally done, some of the guys opted to stay at the bar. Sidney couldn’t get out of there quickly enough.
“Did you drive?”
“I brought Shiri.” We both looked over to the bar where she squeezed in close to Kris with a full glass of wine in her hand.
“Your place or mine?” he asked. I hesitated, my frustration getting the better of me as I watched Kris and Shiri, on their second-and-a-half date, nuzzling each other and talking close. Sid put his hand on my arm. “Come on.” I got in the car and followed him. Two minutes out we were obviously going to his place. When we arrived, he motioned for me to go first.
“Try your key.” It worked.
I spent every minute of my life doing damage control. Whenever I got one step ahead with Grace, something sent us sliding backward even farther. As soon as we got on the plane I would lay into the guys for taking us to such a crowded place. She remembered the way to my room and helped herself to my closet, rummaging around for a t-shirt. I watched as she stripped out of her clothes and put mine on. The shirt covered just enough so I couldn’t see her underwear. When she was done, she turned toward me.
There were tears in her eyes.
“Oh Grace,” I gathered her right into my chest. She didn’t break down, didn’t actually cry, she just stood there as I tried to soak up all her sadness. I knew I couldn’t make her happy. Why am I fucking around with something so important?
“Shhhh,” I said, stroking her hair. I took her into the bathroom, put toothpaste on my toothbrush and handed it to her. When she finished, I laid her down on my side of my bed and covered her. “Be right back.” I kissed her forehead then hurried to brush my own teeth. I stripped to my t-shirt and boxer briefs and she slid over to make just enough room so I could fit next to her. I rolled her in and held her tight.
“I didn’t want to do that, but I got nervous, Grace. I cannot make a mistake.”
“I am not a mistake.”
“No, no,” I told her. But this is. What I’m doing right now is a mistake. It feels so good, so right and I know everything about it is wrong. “You’re not a mistake.”
She got an elbow under her and levered herself up a little. “Tell me one thing, Sid. God’s honest truth. Can you do that?”
“Is it just the sex?”
I closed my eyes. I’d been sucker punched on the ice before, by someone trying to draw me into a fight. But Grace wasn’t fishing for anything. She was really asking. Again an easy exit loomed in front of me – say yes, it’s just the sex. She’d probably leave but I’d be out of the danger zone. I should have let her go after the breakfast that never was. I should have stayed home from Max’s party, I should have left last night when she slammed the door on my apology. But if I really wanted an out, I’d have taken it already.
“No. God no, Grace.”
She sagged in my embrace, so relieved that I felt worse than ever. I like you a lot, now hide in this corner.
She fell asleep like that, puddled against me. Her even breathing lulled me, but not until I’d had a sobering thought: I’d known her nine days. I’d been with her seven of those nights. And the last two, all we’d done was sleep.
I woke up knowing it was the 10th day. No time at all in the grand scheme of things, but plenty of time for me to be in serious trouble. He was asleep against me. He smelled like clean, like a boy – soap and deodorant and something deliciously warm. The arm around my waist was heavy and I wondered if it was comforting me or crushing. Already I felt his body stirring, waking before he did. Not that we’d had any problems with that part. At least I knew I wasn’t crazy; it wasn’t just the sex for him either.
His room was big and filled with stuff: a huge TV, two video game consoles, a shelf full of awards. I wondered if his gold medal is here. On the wall above his desk hung two photos, the Pens Stanley Cup team photo and the 2010 Team Canada team photo. Sidney Crosby, the hockey star. He had a photo printer with a memory card reader, but no pictures of friends or life off the ice.
“Sid, I have to go to work.” I shook him gently. He burrowed his head like a puppy, long, thick eyelashes falling touching his cheeks as he refused to open his eyes.
“I leave today. Five days.”
“When I open my eyes, you’ll leave.”
“Same as if you don’t.”
“And when I come back?”
I’d been thinking about that in my sleep, my subconscious trying to reason out the appropriate response. Emotionally, I was wiped out from the short time I’d spent with him. We’d been up and down more times than a roller coaster.
“I think we need a little break,” I said.
He blinked at me, those bottomless brown eyes coming into focus on my face. “You’ll never want to see me again.”
I touched his face. He let go of me all at once, like he was giving up. He lay on his side, shoulder slumped over, eyes open but looking at nothing. I knew this part was going to be hard. Watery light penetrated the curtain and cast a gray hue into the room. He was so perfect that his sad, pinched frown was especially hard to see.
“You’re so, so beautiful,” I said. I don’t know why but I couldn’t let him go away without knowing that. My heart ached to take the worry from him.
Sidney rolled on top of me, settled himself all along my body and lay still for a few moments. I wanted him so much and my heart pounded with the idea that it might be our last time. He seemed a little embarrassed to be so ready. I guided him into me, he moved slowly until we fit together like a lock and key. The last two nights he’d slept next to me and I hated myself for wanting him even then, when he’d hurt me and been careless with my feelings. Now it felt right, even if it felt like we were saying goodbye. He was gentle.
“I’m so sorry, Grace. So sorry,” he whispered like a mantra. I didn’t know if he meant for what had happened or what would happen next.
“Sidney,” I said. A tear rolled down my cheek and he kissed it, dragging his lips up the tiny wet trail it left of my skin. Another followed until I was crying, really crying, as he made love to me. I came with a small cry, like the sound a stone makes when it’s dropped into water. The ripples flowed outward through my fingers and toes. I pressed my lips to his ear and whispered his name. He came then, as if I’d asked him to. With a small groan and a sigh, he pumped twice and drained himself inside me.
His lips found mine with no urgency, just a slow kiss. “Five days. Right back here.”
I almost smiled. “You and your next times.”
I dressed for work, Sidney fell back to sleep. For a moment I looked at him, mouth slightly open and breathing low. It was crazy to think I hadn’t known him two weeks ago. And even crazier to think I might not know him two weeks from now. I fished my camera out of my bag, snapped a picture of myself and one of him sleeping then plugged the memory card into his printer. The photos whirred out. Mine was cute - I looked a little tired, a little sad and maybe a tiny bit hopeful, the corner of my lip curling into the barest hint of a smile. I left it on his desk and took the other with me.
“You still fucking up with Grace?” Jordan asked, stuffing his bag into the overhead compartment. “Nice move last night at the restaurant.”
I mumbled something at him, not really words just a general feeling.
He dropped into his seat. “You’re going to miss her.”
Hand in my pocket, I thumbed the picture she’d left for me.
My mind kept coming back to something Laura said at the game, before Sidney forgot about me. “If you don’t, he never will.” If I didn’t make him choose, he never would. If I pushed his hand he would chose the life he’d always known, the safety of doing nothing. But the last 10 days had put me through the wringer and I had five days to get my head on straight. I wanted Sidney like crazy and I liked him despite his split personality. But right now I was being two people as well: someone who stood up for herself and someone who got walked all over. I needed to pick one.
Sid called me once during the road trip, respecting my wishes to take a break. He scored two goals in Carolina and wanted to make sure I had seen them. Of course I’d been watching. I’d fretted and cheered, but I’d also experienced something new – watching a game when he wasn’t around. In the arena, I could feel him as the game clock ticked off the seconds until I’d see him again, be inside his gravitational field. On TV, the effect was lessened. The camera still followed him and every close-up made my mouth dry, but the sweating and butterflies eased. Those reflex emotions were replaced by something that felt a lot like perspective.
That was, until I tried to sleep. The bed where he’d dominated and destroyed me so many times in such a short span was like lying on a bed of nails. The first night I was awake for hours, pushing thoughts of his mouth and hands from my mind. Eventually, I’d had to give in just to keep from seeing sunrise. My memory was almost too vivid; I came, cursing his name. The next few nights, I let him have me right away so I could be free of the desire. It scared me.
On day 3 when a cute guy at the bookstore asked me out, I made a life decision in the fiction aisle. I said yes. We made plans for the fifth night, the day Sidney would be back in town. Now if I said I had plans, I really would. It was a bold move but I felt ready to get a grip back on my life.
The Penguins played great in Atlanta for a matinee game. Plenty of time for Ben to pick me up at 6. We went for a drink, then to an Italian place downtown. He was funny and smart, perfectly normal in a way I’d never appreciated before. The date was nice and remarkably free of the urge to rip his clothes off. Part of me missed that, but a larger part did not. Ben was something I could handle, a situation I could read. We laughed and had those awkward first-date conversations about siblings and college adventures. We were halfway through our entrees when the entire Penguins team walked in the door.
I should have registered the flurry of activity between the hostess stand and the back room, noticed the waitstaff pouring extra water and straightening aprons. But for the first time in two weeks, I was not on red alert. I saw Jordan first – as inconspicuous as a nuclear missile silo. Brooks was behind him, then someone I didn’t know, nursing fresh stitches along his cheek.
Our table was on the aisle and there was no other way past. Blurting out something, I got up and rushed for the restroom. I barely missed a waitress with a full tray, ducked around the corner and ran smack into Sidney, blocking the hallway.
Motherfuckinghellcompletelyimpossible… my brain just melted. I’d forgotten how beautiful, how massive he was. I’d never really seen him before that moment. My quicksilver blood flew toward him like a magnet, threatening to pass right out of my body.
He raised an eyebrow at me. “What are you doing here?
“Uh…,” I had no voice box, no speech skills.
“Let me rephrase. Are you on a date?”
He flicked his eyes over my shoulder. “With that guy?”
I found my voice, quietly. “He’s nice.”
Sidney snorted, an ugly sneer marring his perfect face. “I bet he’s nice. I bet he takes a paper bag lunch to work . Does he know about us?”
That got me. A hot bolt of adrenaline flash-flooded my system, replacing all the hormones that he’d drained away. Fuck you, I thought sharply. Fuck me for being so pathetic. A little bit of indignity goes a long way.
“Us,” I scoffed. “Are we telling people now? Should we have sex in the middle of the restaurant so everyone can see how much us there is?”
He stepped in, twice my size and trying to intimidate me. His lips were inches from my face as he hissed, “Every time we have this fight you lose.”
Beneath his cologne I could smell his skin. The taste of him came unbidden to my lips. My breath faltered, but I took a half-second to compose myself. “He does not know about us, Sidney,” I spit his name, “because there is no us. We fuck. You made it very clear that’s all you want. Well I am a whole person and I deserve more than to be your dirty little secret.”
I spun on my heel and marched right back to my table. The rest of the team was safely ensconced in the back room. If we finished before them, only Sidney would have seen me.
I slammed the bathroom door as hard as I could – it swung both ways and flew outward, hitting the far wall. That should keep anyone else out.
Mad looked so good on Grace. Better than the purple dress she wore or the single gemstone that lay on the soft, creamy skin below the hollow of her throat. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes shone – the only other time she looked like that, I was buried inside her and breathing her name. I was furious because I didn’t have a leg to stand on. She lost our fights because she gave in, because she let me win. The minute she decided to stand her ground I was history.
Something in the air made me search the restaurant as they organized our seating. I’d been thinking about her so much – telling myself I couldn’t call, wondering why she hadn’t called me – I knew when she back in my orbit. I scanned the bar and tables as if I knew I’d find her inside. She sat facing the window, eyes half-closed as she laughed at something a light-haired guy was saying. Their table was so small they were almost in each other’s laps. I hadn’t even been able to sit next to her.
Red mist filled my mind, my vision. It was straight from the ice – where beating someone senseless was a perfectly acceptable solution to a problem. Not that I ever fought, but I take my frustrations out physically. At that moment I could have thrown the valet stand through the front window.
I knew she’d run. She had to see us and there was no other way out. But I didn’t want the guys to know; I’d already taken five days of shit from Staalsy and Talbo about being a pussy and fucking around. Tell me something I don’t know. If they saw her here it would really be over for good. Her words stung me: “There is no us. I deserve a little more.”
I’d been trying to ignore the obvious truth for two weeks. She was right.
“Did I just see you fighting with Sidney Crosby?” Ben asked, leaning over the table. His whisper was awed, like arguing with the Penguins captain would be the coolest possible thing. I shut him down with a tight smile.
“I used to date one of Sidney’s teammates,” I lied. “And he gets a little overprotective about his boyfriends.”
The date was over then. We finished our food and maybe I even did a passable job of pretending to pay attention. My mind was thirty feet away behind the closed door, picturing Sidney glowering at his pasta and wondering if this was the end of our story.
I don’t remember dinner and I doubt I said a word. I’d wanted to find her as soon as we landed, but we had a team dinner for some stupid reason. Five days had felt like forever and I needed to touch her. I needed to know she was still there, preferably naked and tied to a bed, waiting for me like a starstruck fangirl and saying she’d do anything to be with me. Every shower had been a torture chamber, every night in a generic hotel bed with my hands on myself and her image in my mind. The second night, after hearing her praise my goals in Atlanta, I’d come so hard that I passed out instantly and woke up covered by my own sticky mess. In my mind, she was missing me just as much. But I’d been wrong.
I didn’t even think. It was wrong in a million ways, so I simply ignored the other options and drove from the arena right to her house. This time she answered the bell on the first ring, like she’d been sitting just inside waiting for me.
“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve coming here.” She held the door in her hand, like she could stop me from coming in if I really wanted to. And I did.
The door slid from her grip as I shouldered my way inside. I spared a quick thought that she probably had a baseball bat or maybe even a gun – if she didn’t, she should. Beautiful young girl living alone, anyone could bust in here and do what I was about to do to her.
Grace wore wearing a tank top and pajama shorts. I kicked the door shut and picked her up. She was so shocked at being actually lifted off the ground that she didn’t fight at first. She tried to grab the kitchen counter as I carried her past: no luck. I reached far ahead to open the door to the backyard and angled through it so she missed that too. It was a bit crisp outside, but it had been so warm lately and I knew the pool was heated, I’d seen the heat rising off the surface the other night. Without slowing, I threw her right into the water.
Before she could come up sputtering, I was out of my pants and shoes, shirt over my head. She gasped in a couple breaths and made for the stairs in slow motion. Three good strokes and I caught her in the middle of the pool, where I could just stand. I ducked under the water and pulled her shorts down around her knees, then reached out and hauled her back into me.
She was trapped, weightless in my arms and unable to touch the bottom. I slid a hand down her stomach and my finger dipped right into her pussy. She cursed but couldn’t get away. I worked into her hard and it was barely thirty seconds before I felt her wetness, different from the water of the pool: warmer, thicker. I squeezed another finger inside her and kept pumping. The more she struggled the more of me she got. My thumb grazed her clit and she cursed.
“I fucking hate you.”
“I missed you too, baby,” I growled into her ear.
Her nipples were hard and I didn’t think it was the temperature of the pool. I twitched across her swollen nub with varying pressure, like I was guessing the password to her body. The way her pussy tugged at my huge fingers told me I was getting close.
“Motherfucking piece of shit,” she hissed. Her hips bucked, riding my hand like I planned to ride her in a minute. But first, she had to be subdued. Grace would scratch my eyes out if I tried to fuck her now.
“Did your date get a chance to touch you like this? Show you what it’s like when you want it so bad?” I whispered. I twisted my hand and ran my thumb down the crack of her ass. She tried to escape. I slid the finger between her cheeks and brushed it over her backdoor, making her jump.
“Oh God,” she gulped, actual fear in her voice. I could hurt her but I would never do that. I just wanted to remind her that it wasn’t so easy to forget about me. The soft, puckered flesh was completely virgin and it quivered at my touch. I stroked it a few times, seeing how much it freaked her out then I returned to coring her from the front. Her head fell back a little against my shoulder. The pad of my thumb was rough like sandpaper. She gasped and panted, milky in my hand and spilling all over me. I shifted her body so she could feel the monster hard-on I was packing beneath my useless shorts. I ground her against my cock as I searched for her g-spot. When I found it I went all out.
“No no no no,” she panted. Whether she wanted me to stop or keep going didn’t matter.
I lifted a leg beneath her, floating her weight so I could keep my fingers pressed inside her. I rubbed them over the spongy hot spot and she almost jumped from my arms. Her whole body spasmed, fighting the burst even as it rolled through her. Her toes curled, back arched, lips parted in a cry that was half anger, half ecstasy. I juiced her until she slumped forward, whimpering.
Still carrying her featherweight body, I moved to the wall and pressed her against the side of the pool. I worked out of my shorts, spread her thighs with my knee and slipped my cock right into her. Her eyes were closed but she moaned softly.
“I knew you missed me,” I whispered, “I knew you were waiting for me.”
She cracked an eyelid. “I know you jerked off a hundred times on the road, imagining me saying, ‘Please Sidney, more Sidney.’”
I was balls deep in her and so hard it hurt to move. The warm water trickled down her bare skin every time my thrust lifted her shoulders above the surface. I caught a drop with my tongue.
“I’ll make you beg tonight,” I promised, hands spreading her ass cheeks against the wall.
“You’ve been begging all along.”
I drilled her for that one and she sobbed out a cry. She was so deep and I managed to bottom her out, reach all the way in and take everything she had. Weightless in the water I pulled her hard against me, her breasts bobbing past my lips as I tried to bite down. When I caught one, I twisted my lips hard enough to bruise the pale skin.
“Ow! Bastard.” For that she bit my earlobe and pulled it roughly.
I gave up my grip on her and held the edge of the pool instead. She bounced easily against my pounding strokes while I lifted and dropped using my arms. The way up was like blasting off into space and the way down like an amusement park ride that plummeted fifty stories at terminal velocity. She didn’t even hold on, her hips rolled and twisted with the water, giving me pussy like I’d never felt before.
“God. Fuck,” I heard myself say out loud.
“Who likes it now, hot shot?” She put her hands behind me neck and pulled me into a violent kiss. Our tongues battled as we tried to wrestle each other out of the ring.
Grace was getting ragged. Her breathing was more moaning than anything, short tiny sounds she tried to stifle. They rang in my ears like the goal buzzer. Each one sounded like my name, like a tiny little prayer. I kissed her neck, every kiss and an apology, a promise, a lie. I needed her to go first. One hand moved to the flat of her back and pressed her hips down onto my stroke.
“Give in to me Grace.”
She cried out as I felt her body turn to putty. Her pussy trembled and pulsed, trying to pull my shaft off my body. Three rolls of her hips and I lost control way before I meant to. My cock detonated deep inside her, frustration, anger and fear rocketing out of my body in huge spurts. She was still feeling her orgasm but I felt both, her pleasure and mine cresting at the same time. Everything about her body made me want to let go.
Tears ran down my face as I came the hardest I ever had. Sidney was punishing me, taking it all out on my body and I hated him even as he owned me. I bit my tongue, drawing blood, trying stop. His name was halfway from my lips when his mouth crushed over mine. He came so hard it was like a house dropped out of a tornado and fell right on me. Finally, the spinning and shaking stopped.
He didn’t move. We stayed there, like starfish stuck to the side of the pool. My whole system was overwhelmed and I cried silently without even realizing. Hot tears seemed to sizzle in the cool night air.
“Grace,” he finally said, lips below my ear. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“Next time I’ll make sure you know when I’ve dumped you first.”
He actually laughed, body moving gently against mine. “You and your next times.”
Stark naked Sidney Crosby helped me out of the pool, grabbed his clothes then walked across the yard with his hand on my back. I waited until we were at the foot of the stairs to turn and face him.
“You should go,” I said, trying to sound firm.
“What? Grace, I…”
His face was pure shock. In that moment I knew that he’d always gotten away with everything. He thought that his nice words every once in a while were enough, claiming he didn’t deserve me and he was sorry for circumstance. He full expected me to be here every time he chose to grace me with his presence. And it was my fault – I had done exactly that.
Until then no one had ever told Sidney Crosby no. Not when he wanted something this much.
“Go home, Sidney.”
Third Time's the Charm
4 years ago