Video Bonus Round! This is ghetto (pointed my camera at the TV), but still. Like WOAH.
I deposited myself on the couch in the Lemieux’s surprisingly comfortable living room. I had never been in their side of the house and it was more lived-in than I’d expected. Taylor sat close – I already felt like she wanted to protect me.
“I’ve heard a bit about you, Grace. I’m sorry we haven’t met until now,” Nathalie said. I was stunned that Sidney had spoken of me, but I guess they would have wondered who car was parked outside.
“Well I haven’t so tell us about yourself,” Sidney’s mom prompted. She had a kind face but she was wary – this was her million-dollar baby we were talking about. Only Taylor seemed willing to take me at Sid’s word. Maybe he said something to her?
“I didn’t want to cause trouble on a bad day. Sidney insisted that I come,” I said by way of apology.
That made his mom smile. “Always gets his way, that one.”
“I met Sid almost two months ago. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who he was, but I’d only lived here about three weeks then. My parents moved to Chicago for my dad’s job, so I moved from LA to live in their big empty house. My job was able to move too.” I paused, because this part was a little weird. “Mrs. Lemieux, you might know them. Dan and Kathy Rosalind from American Eagle? I work there as a buyer.”
“Your parents work for AE?” Taylor looked me up and down to check my outfit – in truth we were wearing almost the same thing.
“They own the company,” Nathalie corrected. “And they’re very nice people. We’ve met them quite a few times, they’ve been a Pens sponsor for several years.”
Sid’s mom relaxed instantly – I had money of my own-ish. “Does Sidney know that?”
I shook my head. She patted my shoulder and motioned for Nathalie to follow her back into the kitchen. When they were gone I gave Taylor and grimace.
Taylor said, “I hope you kill Sid for this. He could have warned them! Now it’ll be the NATO Summit in there.”
“In case you missed it, I’m an adult and have been making my own decisions for a while now. No part of this is open for discussion,” I said.
My father had never backed down a day in his life. “Two months? Is she pregnant that you’re in such a hurry?”
I spun as if to leave but my mom caught me coming in.
“Mario,” Nathalie said calmly though I knew they’d heard my father’s last remark, “it seems we know Grace’s parents. Dan and Kathy Rosalind who own American Eagle.”
If he was surprised, I was stunned. But it made sense – that big house, switching her job from LA. Not a lot of companies had corporate offices in Pittsburgh but most would have some presence in LA. And all of her clothes….
“See,” I hissed, “she’s not after my money.”
My dad deflated just a bit. The war would rage but he’d lost this battle. Mario went on about how great her parents were, but everyone was looking at me. It was obvious I hadn’t known. Before my father could point it out, I leaned toward the door and shouted in the direction of the living room.
“You could have told me that!”
“Could have told me you were such a big deal!” Grace hollered back. Even my dad laughed.
Nathalie offered to order lunch and sent me to invite Grace to stay. Taylor gave me a stern look as I came into the room. “You couldn’t figure out what to do with a girl if she had laces and a blade.”
Grace looked up at me. Her short dark hair looked the way it did after a game, mussed because she touched it when she was nervous. She was smiling, but not her eyes.
“It’s okay,” I sank down and pulled her close. “They’re just skittish about new people.”
“Can’t be any worse than you were at first. Must be genetic.” She bumped against me, her words sharp but her expression gentle. I kissed her softly.
“Still love me?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Were you sticking up for me?”
I nodded. “Big time.”
“Okay. Still love you.”
I made to stand but she held me down. “You know this is crazy, right? Two months? Who falls in love in two months? I think we should leave that part out for now. They’re just scared and I don’t want them to hate me before they even know me.”
“Are you scared?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, barely above a whisper.
I kissed her temple. “Me too.” She gave me her hand and we moved toward the kitchen. Just outside I teased her in a whisper, “What if they hate you after they know you?” She gasped and tried to hit me but I walked her into the wall. “Shhh, only kidding. No one likes their in-laws anyway.” I let go and ran into the next room.
Ha! In-laws. I’m lucky to get lunch, forget married.
Once everyone had a moment to digest my surprise appearance, they were mostly very nice. Nathalie sat next to me and Mario smiled whenever he caught my eye. If it had been the beginning of the season, I would only have had them to look forward to. As it was, Sid’s invitation to come to Nova Scotia for the summer still rang in my head.
“Have I ever met Grace’s parents?” Sidney asked with a mouthful of honey mustard chicken sandwich.
Nathalie shrugged. “I’m sure you must have, all those sponsor events. They would remember. Grace?”
My eyes darted left then right across the group. Of all people, Sidney’s father laughed. “At least her parents don’t know either!”
“I bet they loved me. I probably complimented your mom’s jewelry and talked golf with your dad,” Sid said. “I’m very charming, you know.”
I deadpanned. “Oh, is that how I ended up here?”
Later Sidney took me home, after I promised his mom and Nathalie I’d come for dinner the next night. We drove home in silence. Sid had one hand on the wheel and one on my leg. In the driveway, we sat for a moment. “I think you’re right about not telling them we’re using the L word,” he made dopey air quotes, “but that doesn’t change anything. What about us isn’t crazy, Grace? I am in love with you. If you want, I will tell everyone.”
I unbuckled my seatbelt and hauled myself into his lap, squeezing between his massive chest and the steering wheel. It was not comfortable. “Have you ever been in love?” I asked softly. He rubbed my back and shook his head no. “How do you know this is it?”
Sidney put his forehead against mine. “Because of all the times I’ve ever wanted to tell my dad that he doesn’t get to interfere, this is the first time I’ve ever actually done it.”
Grace kissed me, half-laughing like it might turn to tears. I almost didn’t want to ask the next question but I had to. “Have you ever?”
Please say no. I was flying blind, feeling lost and surprised at every turn. I didn’t want to be the only one stumbling.
“No,” she whispered. “Just you.”
I smiled hugely and kissed her again. “Rookie.”
“Of the year!” She rolled her eyes.
I wanted to take her inside and never leave. I wanted to drive to the nearest church, marry her and not stop again until we reached Cole Harbour. But duty called. “Can I come over later?”
“Wait one minute.” She opened my door and untangled herself from me and the wheel to run around the side of the house. A minute later, she ran back and leaned in my window holding a single key on a simple silver ring. “Use this.”
I kissed her again, more tempted than ever to stay, but she could read my mind. “Good luck, baby,” she said. When I got back to the house, my parents were alone in the kitchen.
“She’s very sweet,” my mom said. No use beating around the bush. “She really didn’t know who you were?”
I took a stool. “Nope. And when she found out, she dumped me. Twice. I pretty much had to beg her to take me back.”
My dad arched an eyebrow. “Twice? Wow, sounds unstable.” He’d take any opening.
“I was a total jerk. Horrible. She told me to get my shit together or get out. So I did.” With a flat, even tone I told him, “I won’t make that mistake again.”
But I would.
I was in the living room staring out the back door at night falling over the yard. Canada, Canada. I knew it would come up that night – he hadn’t said but he planned to leave for home soon. He let himself in, carrying a carton of ice cream. He got two spoons, sat next to me on the floor. One big scoop of strawberry went straight into his mouth then he leaned over and kissed me. The sweet cream was sharp against the heat of his lips.
“Is this how you eat in the off season?”
Never taking his eyes off mine, he tossed the spoon over his shoulder and it clattered across the kitchen floor. “Yes, but I don’t need that. I’m eating the rest of this off your body.” I laughed and passed him my spoon. He chose the chocolate side of the neopolitan this time.
“So… Nova Scotia?”
He held up a bite, effectively silencing me. “Let me clarify. I have my own house. It has no personality but it does have a lake, a dock and a jet ski. We can barbeque every night and I promise you, City Mouse, that you have never seen so many stars.”
“It sounds amazing. But I don’t get a summer vacation, Sid. And I can’t take five months off from work.”
He gave me a ‘well duh’ look. “You should have tried that one before I knew about your parents.”
I had been telling myself the same thing, but that wasn’t the point. In my short time as a hockey fan I knew that people talked shit about Sidney getting preferential treatment on and off the ice because he was the face of the NHL. So I got a little annoyed. “That is more reason to stay. I didn’t get this job because of my parents. I’m good at it, I have experience and I work hard. I should get to take advantage of the system. You should understand that.”
“I believe you. But I think in this case, you should appreciate the opportunity. I’m not trying to take you away from your life but I’ll always pick the option that keeps us together.”
“So stay here,” I counter.
He shrugged. “I can’t. My training program is all set in Cole Harbour.”
“And you, of all people, can’t get it moved.”
“Not after four years.”
“That’s how long I’ve been at my job too. So I can leave mine before you can change yours? I want to be with you, Sidney, but two months? And they haven’t been easy months. What if we hate each other by June and I have given up everything for you?’’
He put the ice cream down and turned toward me, sitting cross-legged against the couch. “Stop being melodramatic. Even if that happened, they would give you back your job right? So what exactly are you giving up?”
“Right, because you let me make all the decisions.”
“Well you say you’ll choose the option that keeps us together but you really mean the option where I follow you. It’s not an option if there’s only one answer.”
He looked tired again, the weight of last night’s game was creeping back. I was so caught up in the day that last night’s devastating loss actually slipped from my mind.
“I knew you’d fight me. Get out of your own way, Grace! I was an asshole when we met and I hope I’ve made up for that. But not everything is wrong just because I want it. Life with me can be pretty good.”
I didn’t know how to say what I meant. “But it’s not my life.”
“When I said I love you, I thought that made it our life.”
“As long as our life fits into your plans.”
Sidney stood up. He wasn’t mad but I knew he was getting close. He was leaving before this turned into a full-blown argument. “Think about it, baby. You pointed out my mistakes once, now I’m pointing out yours. Call me if you’d rather be happy than be right.”
I didn’t look back as I drove from Grace’s house. I had known she’d fight me and spent all day reasoning out her arguments. Still, she had a point. I wanted her to walk away from this and into my arms. We were good fighters, Grace and I, so I left before it came to that. Even with that heated discussion behind us, I still hoped to convince her. I had given up before when I was wrong, but this time I really wanted to be right. The light was on in Taylor’s room.
“Did you bring it?”
My sister dug a packet from her bag. It was every tourist brochure and map of Cole Harbour and Nova Scotia she could find at home. I’d asked her last week to start collecting them. “Now I know why you wanted these. I like her.”
“Think it’ll work?”
“Dunno, Sid. I hope so.”
It was hard not to call Grace and apologize. I was so tired, still hurting from the team’s loss and the weight of fighting with my father. There was nowhere I wanted to be more than in her arms. She was afraid of me bossing her around and that’s exactly what I was doing. But I wanted my intentions to be clear: I love you. Be with me.
Tomorrow would be hard enough.
I tossed and turned most of the night. I wanted to be with Sidney, especially when the adrenaline of the day drained away and the sadness of the previous night was so near. He’d been right there, crying himself to sleep, just a day before. But once his arrogance has almost ended us before we began. If I let it back in… if I resented following him to Canada, we’d fight all summer. I knew myself. If I went, it had to be my decision.
The next morning I wasn’t at my desk twenty minutes before a package arrived via courier. Inside were at least 20 pamphlets and color maps of Sidney’s hometown and province, postcards with moose on them and photos of lighthouses and tidal plains. There was a small, unsigned note. I love you.
I snuck into the conference room and called Shiri.
“Stop acting like they won’t give you back your job. Right? They absolutely will?” she said when I explained.
“Probably. But am I the kind of girl who does that? Gets her job back because her daddy is the boss man? Gives up her life for some guy she’s known two months?”
She cut in. “He is not some guy.”
“I don’t care if he’s Sidney Crosby,” I hissed in a whisper to keep everyone from hearing. “That is not the point.”
“I don’t care if he’s a garbage man! You love him. You’ve been here three months and spent two of those with him. Shiri and I loved you from LA, we’ll love you from Nova Scotia. Sidney is your life here, Grace. What would you be giving up?”
Again, like I had with Sidney, I started to lose the thread of my own argument. “I just don’t….”
Shiri knew me well enough to stop me or I’d work myself into some other strain of disagreement. “Grace. I love you, so allow me to be honest. Stop being so proud. You and Sidney are so much alike it’s ridiculous. He did the right thing when he did what you wanted. Now do what he wants. It’s the right thing too.”
I said a sullen thank you and dialed Laura. She picked up on the first ring. “Are you here?” she said. “Max is looking for Sid.”
“At the Mellon. Sid didn’t say? The guys are cleaning out their lockers – it’s so sad, Grace. Last day ever in this arena.”
“We had a fight,” I admitted.
She sighed. “Well this place is full of media and it’s awful. Everyone is depressed. Max looks like someone kicked his puppy. I was surprised he asked me to come – maybe Sid didn’t want to put you through… wait, hang on.” She came right back. “Sid’s here, I can see him down the hall. Just follow the cameras.”
“Don’t let him leave.” I already had my purse and was at the elevator. The irony of leaving work to be with him after saying that I couldn’t do that was not lost on me. As I drove to the arena I knew exactly what I was going to do. Laura was right. I was being a brat. In the beginning I made Sidney come to me if he wanted to be together. Now I would do the same thing for him.
The security guard recognized me. I followed the windy hallway to the locker room area. People were everywhere, including lots of photographers, news crews and reporters. I slipped in amongst them and stood at the back. A few of the stalls had been stripped bare. Others were being emptied by their owners who stopped to share a few quiet words with teammates or do short interviews. If it could have rained inside, it would have. I could practically see the black cloud of disappointment. I snuck up behind Kris and tapped his shoulder. He wasn’t surprised to see me, just pulled me into a heavy hug. Somewhere behind feeling bad, I noted how amazing he smelled.
“Ca va, Grace?”
I kissed his furry cheek. “Shitty.” That got a small smile. Jordan approached us, bag over his shoulder.
“Hi cuz.” I hugged him too. “Want to come over tonight? After dinner, having some of the guys over before we all leave. Bring your boyfriend.”
“Definitely,” I squeezed a bicep I could hardly get my hand around. The guys headed out and I found an equipment cart to sit on. Sid’s stuff was still in his locker.
“Grace,” Tyler said coming in. “Hi. What are you doing in here alone? Come on.” I didn’t even ask, just took his hand and walked to the ice. There was some kind of ceremony going on – Mario, Sid and some of the facilities guys were at center ice. “They’re melting a little of the ice and bottling it. We’ll take it to the new arena for luck,” he explained quietly. “Think it’ll work?”
I squeezed his hand. “Hope so.”
When it was over, the media followed en masse to the locker room. I stepped behind Tyler until they were all past.
“Everything okay?” he asked. I smiled a yes. He stayed with me, watching Sid take his name plate and a couple things from his locker. Cameras rolled on the morbid scene. Finally Geno and Flower turned up and most of the press turned their attention. Tyler pulled me over near Sid.
“Need a hand?” I asked. He was tucking the last few items into a bag. He looked up and I thought he might cry. Or maybe that was me. Sid dropped the deodorant and the bag strap and hugged me hard. I felt Tyler step away.
“You’re my Sidney Crosby.”
I saw it happen in my mind so I knew exactly what to do. Sidney leaned in and kissed me, square and sure. A jolt of surprise went through everyone but us and by the time most of the press and cameras spun around, we were hand-in-hand, bags on shoulders, headed for the door.
“Let’s go home,” he said as we dashed away. I jumped right into his car, intentionally forgetting my own. He closed the door, cranked the engine and put his head back with a giggle.
“Does this mean you’ll come to Cole Harbour?” he asked. I nodded. “Thank God.”
Her house wasn’t close enough. Every mile was torture. She let me open the door with my key and before she could lock it I was all over her. We hadn’t been together since before game six in Montreal and that seemed like a lifetime ago. Suddenly it was all the energy I had – to be with her or collapse. She took us to the living room and right down onto the floor. Full sunlight shone in and I didn’t care if there might be people who could see. I undressed her quickly and she did the same to me, mouths moving over each piece of skin revealed. Her fingers traced over my body like hot coals leaving charcoal trails. She lay on the carpet and looked up at me.
“I need you, Grace. Don’t be afraid to need me.”
She sobbed out a tiny, wordless noise when I entered her. I went so, so slowly, my arms screaming to release my weight before I reached all the way inside. The sound of her breathing was as beautiful as the way she felt.
“I love you,” she whispered on my first stroke. Like a promise, she sealed it with a kiss.
We ramped up our pace – we were emotionally exhausted from the previous few days and what little physical energy remained would soon be depleted. I pushed and pulled against the lift of her hips, taking her with me on every thrust. Her nails dug into the hard planes of my back. I was close to coming within minutes, but I needed to take her with me.
“Come with me, baby,” I said, nipping her earlobe.
Her breath was already catching. I kept moving, her body clenching and rolling along my shaft. I twisted my hip to brush my pelvic bone against her clit and she gasped, “Do that again.” I did.
“Oh God, Sidney.” She came like a chocolate candy breaking open and spilling liquor from the middle. My name was on her lips when it rolled through.
“I love you,” I said. It was almost lost in a moan that flowed from my lungs as I spurted deep into the comfort of her body. My mind went blank as I came, total release, and when thoughts came back they were raw and fresh.
“Shhhhh,” she whispered and I realized that I was crying. Her arms tightened around my shoulders as I lay sprawled across her on the floor. I sniffled, trying to stop, but everything hurt. The pleasure of Grace, of having her not only here and now but with me in every way was overwhelming in the face of the bitter disappointment and regret of an early playoff exit. I felt as if I’d let down everyone in my life except her. As I had the night before, I clung to her and let it out. She stroked my neck, calming me and my mood swing lasted only a few minutes.
“Sorry,” I sniffled again. “Some boyfriend you’ve got, cries all the time.”
She closed her eyes against my joke. “Robot Boy, if you didn’t cry after the last couple days then I’d worry.
We eventually peeled ourselves apart and showered. I was getting some water when Grace came downstairs in a red wrap dress I’d never seen. It wasn’t fancy but it took my breath away. Her hair was slinky and she wore just a hint more makeup than usual. The look on my face made her smile.
“Wow. How am I supposed to sit next to you? I mean…,” I gulped. My blood pressure was already rising.
She just giggled. “Payback for how good you always look.”
At the Lemieux’s I changed quickly in my room, more to get out of there without mauling Grace than from being hungry. Nathalie had made spinach pasta, one of my favorites. We followed the smell.
“Hello!” My mom hugged me and did the same for Grace. Mario kissed her cheek and then we all held our breath as my dad came around the table. He shook my hand and clapped my shoulder – very manly – then he gave Grace a quick, awkwardly stiff hug. We all sighed in relief. Nathalie came back with the last dish and I waited until everyone was down a glass of wine before bringing up the subject.
“Grace has agreed to come to Cole Harbour for the summer.”
“Yes!” Taylor shouted. Grace laughed and everyone else remarked politely that it was very nice.
“What about your job?” my dad asked. He gave me a look like he thought that was a reasonable question.
Grace smoothly answered. “I hope they’ll let me take a sabbatical. If not, I’ll look for something new when I get back. I’ve been rent-free for five three months, so I have money saved.” It was enough and no one brought it up again. After dessert, which I actually ate, Nathalie gave us leftovers to take to Jordan’s.
“You’re wearing that?” I asked, admiring her dress again. She blew me a kiss. We weren’t in Jordan’s house ten seconds before I regretted the dress.
“Eric!” She dashed through the living room and threw herself on Jordan’s brother. I rolled my eyes. He spun her around and whistled.
“No way Crosby knows what to do with all of you,” Eric teased.
“I have all summer in Cole Harbour to practice,” I announced. Vero squealed and jumped in to hug Grace. Everyone else congratulated us both while Eric just smiled.
“I supposed even you can figure it out in give months.”
No one forgot the afternoon of saying goodbye to the Mellon and many toasts were raised to the old building. People told stories – most of us had played our entire careers there, but a player has as many firsts on the road as he does at home.
“I scored my first goal there,” I said.
“My first hat trick,” Geno added.
“First shutout,” Flower said.
“I saw my first hockey game there,” Grace offered. “Ever.”
We all looked at each other. Only the newest member of our little family could say that. I pulled her into a kiss, everyone hooting and hollering.
“Sid dialed his first fake phone number there,” TK laughed.
“I got my first fake cousin there,” Jordan boomed, swinging a pillow at me.
Eric facepalmed in Grace’s direction. “You’re really moving in with this guy?”
I helped Laura fix some of Nathalie’s leftovers in the kitchen while Max stocked the refrigerator with beer. They took the first round of dishes into the living room, passing by Geno on his way in. I hadn’t talked to the big Russian a lot, but he had a completely disarming smile.
“Smell good,” he said. Then with no preamble, “Grace, I glad you go with Sid for summer. He more happy when you here.”
I looked way up at his crooked grin. “Thanks Geno. Will you visit us?”
“Okay. You visit Russia? Is very nice, no cold in summer,” he paused. “In Russia, I big star!”
I handed him a bowl of pasta. “You’re a big star here!” Laura came in and took the bowl right from his hands so he leaned back against the counter, kicking his feet against the tile floor.
“Your friend with Max nice too. When hockey season come back, maybe you have more friend for me?” He looked adorably embarrassed.
“If you don’t bring someone back from Russia, I will let my friends fight over you.”
Sid came looking for more food. Geno informed him that we’d be going to Russia, grabbed some garlic bread and left. Sid looked confused as he trapped me against the counter and nuzzled my neck. “Could you stop making all my teammates fall in love with you? I saw my first hockey game there,” he imitated me. “You’re so perfect.” Those lips connected with my skin like two ends of a magnet.
“Eric’s not on your team,” I whispered.
He laughed even after he flattened his hips against me, catching his knee between mine and his hand on my arm. “I will make you forget all about him.
I kissed his smile. “I already have.” Sidney’s tongue slipped into my mouth, twisting like his left hand did in the hem of my dress. In heels my body fit against his in a dangerous way. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kept kissing.
“GROSS!” Flower shouted, immediately turning back from the door. “Why do I always see you two making out?!”
The round of applause we received was not for the food.
I snuck outside later when it was dinnertime in Chicago and called my parents. It’s weird to call your dad to quit your job. We exchanged the usual news before I started. “When you guys were here, did you ever meet Sidney Crosby?”
“Yup, a couple times. Nice kid. Hell of a hockey player. Is living in Pittsburgh turning you into a hockey fan? No better place for it!” my dad said.
“He was nice,” my mom remembered. “Seemed a little overwhelmed, but this was a year ago. Before the Cup. Why?”
Deep breath. “Okay, this sounds weird however I say it. Sidney is my boyfriend. I want to take the summer off from work to live with him in Canada.”
About a month later, my mom said, “Oh my God” at the exact moment my dad said, “Are you pregnant?”
“NO! Why does everyone think that?!”
“Who is everyone?”
“His parents, the Lemieuxs…”
My dad cut in. “You met Mario? He’s a stand up guy. What does he say?”
I rolled my eyes like they could see me. “He doesn’t really get a vote.”
My dad took on that father tone of voice. “Grace. Mario gets a vote in everything. Trust me.”
“Well then I guess he said yes. He and his wife remembered you guys.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“Dad! You don’t have to….”
“Honey,” my mom interrupted. “If we say no, are you going anyway?”
She laughed. “So let us pretend to be important, okay?”
The end of the night was all promises to get together soon. I squeezed Laura’s hand – she and Max would be saying goodbye for real. I bet should wouldn’t be able to walk for a week. Sid put his arm around me as we left.
“I always get to leave the party with the hottest girl.”
I pretended to look back. “Guess I did alright too.”
My phone rang early the next morning. I twisted away from Grace to keep from waking her and spoke quietly before searching the floor for my shorts and running downstairs. Two minutes later I climbed back in next to her with the newspaper.
“What?” she mumbled, facedown in the pillow. I put it near her eyes. It was a photo of us kissing in the locker room the day before – I’d half-hoped some lucky photographer had been paying attention after all.
Sidney Crosby said goodbye to Mellon Arena yesterday and hello to an unidentified young woman. The Penguins will take their new home in the CONSOL Energy center in October.
I caught the worried look on her face – not for her, for me. “Welcome to the circus,” I said.
“I’m all packed.”
And she was. We had stayed up very late gathering her stuff, then fallen into bed too tired for anything but cuddling. I’d arranged for a jet to Cole Harbour. It was extravagant, but with five of us and having to connect in NY or Toronto to was much easier. Grace had never been on a jet before. When we finally got out of bed, showered and picked up my parents, she was giddy. On board, her face was pure delight.
“Too bad your parents are here,” she wiggled her eyebrows as she sank into the cushy seat next to mine.
“I’m pretty sure the bathroom is sound-proofed,” I winked.
She giggled and joking asked the flight attendant for lobster. Twenty minutes later we were all eating lobster and laughing as she blushed.
Third Time's the Charm
4 years ago