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.
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.”
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.
Third Time's the Charm
4 years ago