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.
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?”
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.”
“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.
Third Time's the Charm
3 years ago