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.”
____

3 comments:

  1. Good for Sid for standing up for Grace with his Dad! I totally love that they admitted that they loved each other!

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  2. this story is so good. probably the best sid story ive read. its so believeable. can wait for more updates!

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  3. Get verbal smacked

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