It’s a fucking palace. No matter how much he tries to convince me it’s not, it is. It’s a fucking castle. It’s clearly bigger than anything in Coal Harbor, or almost anything, but it’s definitely bigger than even the way too big house Sid has on the lake and some of those houses are big. For fuck sakes it’s even bigger than our high-school back home.
To make it worse, the Lemieux’s house is old money big. It’s got that solidity that says ‘we’re important’. It doesn’t scream family home, unless by family you mean the Kennedys or Rockefellers. No wonder Sid doesn’t want to move out of the place.
“I’m sorry I didn’t meet you at the airport,” he apologizes again, for like the third time as we stand there on the front steps, he on the cold marble floor and me on the welcome mat, and I can’t help but think that he shouldn’t be apologizing for that so much as the fact that he’s answered the door in socks and jeans and a ratty old t-shirt. Especially when I’m wearing what should have been my class project, a black cocktail dress with red lace overlay and high heels that look great but are pinching the shit out of my feet. “There was this scrum after practice and I didn’t get in the shower until you were landing and…”
“That’s okay, Jordan found me just fine,” I mutter, wishing he wouldn’t just stand there in the doorway and wishing Jordan would just drive away and take Kennedy with him instead of idling in the driveway watching me squirm. It’s probably at Kensie’s insistence, which should make me feel better about it except for the fact that she’s betting that Sid’s thought better about this meet the folks moment and doesn’t think that his old friend from the Harbor is up to the task and the truth of the matter is, if that is why I’m still standing on the welcome mat, I don’t really blame him. If they have more than one fork on the dinner table, I’m fucked. “Sooo, are you gonna stand there staring or am I coming in? Cuz I think Jordan’s pretty eager to get Kennedy alone.”
“Sorry,” he manages to look flustered as he stands aside to let me in to the marble foyer before waving Jordy away. “It’s just…,” he tilts his head to one side as he looks at me and then sort of shrugs before closing the door. “I guess I’m still getting used to seeing you in a dress.”
“Oh…that again,” I mutter, now feeling even more self conscious than I was before. I’d agonized over what to wear, wanting to be sure not to let him down and now he tells me that I could have worn my overalls. Or at least I think that’s what he’s trying to tell me.
“Sorry,” he apologizes again, proving that all the ‘good Canadian kid-ness’ hasn’t been knocked out of him. “It’s still a big change for me to get used to.” I bite my lip and keep my smart ass comments to myself. I’m on my best behavior after all and besides, the way his t-shirt is worn and frayed around his neck keeps distracting me and making me think of the other night on my couch and then it’s hard for me to stay mad at him. “But you look…beautiful,” he adds, finally closing the gap between the two of us and reaching forward, wraps one of my curls around his finger before leaning in to press a gentle, soft kiss on my lips that makes my entire body tingle.
It makes me smile, it really does, even if there’s still a part of me that hates that I light up when he approves of something I’ve done. As if I’m one of those carnival hammer games waiting for him to hit just the right spot just hard enough to make the light go on.
“So is this her? The one you keep telling us about?” My cheeks heat and I feel my knees get weak for an entirely different reason as I find Mario Lemieux bearing down on us with that big, easy smile of his. As if he knows, and maybe he does, Sid’s hand curls around mine and the solid strength of his body pressed up against mine lends me enough strength to stand there and smile back at Sid’s benefactor.
“I’m not bringing any sand in from the sandbox, I promise,” I grin up at the tall French Canadian and Mario laughs, a deep rich sound that makes it easy to smile back at him.
“I was just trying to imagine the girl Sidney talks about with the pig tails and the glasses,” he admits, holding his hand out to me and I slide my hand out of Sid’s to take it, taking a step forward, doing it on my own without his help. “I don’t know what you mean at all Sid. She’s lovely,” Mario adds, causing me to glance back at Sidney, darkly. What the fuck does that even mean? “Come in Melody, the girls are looking forward to meeting you.”
I take Mario’s offered arm and let him lead me inside, my brain working over what he’s just said and trying to interpret the flush that had coloured Sidney’s cheeks when he said it.
She talks brightly and effortlessly about her year at École Superieure de mode de Montréal, which I know nothing about and the girls gush over her seamstress skills and they and Nathalie ask about designers I’ve never heard of and for once, hockey isn’t mentioned at the table. Not even once. There isn’t a single time when I feel like she needs to be rescued and even when she insists on clearing up, I get the feeling it’s so she can talk to Nathalie more, rather than because she feels obligated to and so I’m left heading into the living room with Mario, feeling at a total loss.
“She’s charming,” my mentor says admiringly. “Trés jolie.”
“She is,” I affirm before slumping into one of the couch’s wondering why and what exactly is bothering me about that. It isn’t just that she’s not what I remembered her to be or the fact that I can’t keep my eyes off of her, it has to be something else.
“She’s not like Vero at all,” Mario continues, pouring something thick and amber into a glass and handing it to me. I let the rich spicy scent of the whiskey fill my head as I think about how she is and is not like one of my best friend’s girlfriends.
“She is,” I insist. “I mean…I thought, with her being from the Harbor too she’d be intimidated but…I don’t know,” I shrug, shaking my head at how wrong I’ve been.
“Paris, Rome…she’s seen a lot of the world you haven’t even seen yet,” he adds, that little smile on his face telling me that we’ve come across yet another situation where I don’t know what I thought I did and, as usual, that bugs the shit out of me.
“She’s exactly the kind of girl I thought would be right for you,” Nathalie adds in a whisper, her bejeweled hand giving my shoulder a squeeze as she walks around behind the couch before taking another glass of wine from Mario and joining him on the other couch. “She’s going to bring her design book down next time she comes,” she adds as Lauren and Stephanie come around the corner, still chatting animatedly with Mel. “Isn’t that right Melody? Lauren would love to have a one off designer gown for homecoming.”
“Steph reminds me of me,” Mel adds, giving Mario’s more hockey inclined daughter a hug as they enter the room. “Except she’s way better at hockey than I ever was, but then you never gave me pointers so I guess that explains that,” she adds, not sounding like she’s upset about anything but I can see something dark in her eyes as she shoots me a glance that would make a plant wither and die.
“I can’t believe you made that dress and you can tune an engine,” Stephanie gushes back at her and that seems to brighten Mel’s mood. “I mean Sid told us about the car but not about the designing thing.”
“Well he is a boy,” Mel replies, shooting me another look that makes me want to squirm further into the couch and hide behind the cushions. “You have to forgive them for being dumb, am I right?”
“Especially Sidney,” Nathalie chuckles over her glass of wine as she curls up next to her husband. “If it’s not on skates or attached to a puck, he doesn’t usually notice it at all.” It’s a description I resemble too strongly to argue about and the little smile that tugs at Melody’s lips makes it worthwhile not even objecting to.
“Well maybe I can design him a suit that fits him better,” Mel adds, disentangling herself from Mario’s daughters and holding her hand out to me. “Now, you promised to show me around this place,” she adds as she helps to tug me to my feet and that twinkle in her eye makes my mouth go dry thinking about how hard it was for me to separate myself from her once we’d started kissing the other night.
Fortunately this is a family home and Mario’s rules stand as long as I live here so while Mel might be tempting in that dress and there are any number of nooks and crannies in this big house, we’re both on our best behavior and a little time alone can’t get us into too much trouble.
“You should stay,” he says suddenly, putting his glass down on the table as his gaze fixates on the pool. “We could go for a swim. It would be like old times.” He turns to me with that big boyish smile of his and I feel my heart melt and then immediately turn to ice again.
“I didn’t…I left all my stuff in Jordan’s guest house,” I explain, part of me still wondering, considering the size of the place, why that had even been necessary. “I don’t have my bathing suit,” I continue, my head suddenly working around the first part of the statement. The moon glinting off the pool had sort of dazed me for a moment, but when I thought about it, there it was. He’d said stay.
Could it be? That night, in New York, we’d lost track of time on the couch and then he’d sort of just…stopped and then my seven minutes in heaven had just been over when he’d said, very calmly that he would stay on the couch, like I had cooties.
Could it be that he’d had as restless a night as I had and now he wanted to make up for it? I grin across at him and shrug my shoulders, hoping to be more pleasing and less derogatory, which has been my goal the entire night, to be the bright, pretty, pleasant girlfriend that no one can object to.
“I guess we could do what we used to do when we used to go camping. I could wear your shorts and one of your old t-shirts tied around my waist,” I offer, thinking about the nights out at the lake, sneaking onto someone’s property for a cool splash on a hot summer night.
“I don’t think…I mean that was fine when we were more or less the same size and shape,” he explains, a delicate rose colour filling his cheeks. “But uh…maybe Lauren has something that might fit a little…better.” I want to say ‘so you have remembered that I am a girl then’ but instead I just shrug and bite my tongue because I don’t want to argue and spoil the evening. Sure we’re having alone time now, but it’s been filled with awkward silences and I keep hoping for that easy way we used to talk, or at least the way he used to talk to me. It hasn’t been easy for me to talk to him for years.
“We could always go skinny dipping,” I suggest, not because I’m serious, which I’m not, but because I know it will get a reaction and even anger would be better than this…this polite silence.
“There’s people and rules and….”
“And I don’t think there would be rules at Jordan’s so why aren’t we there?” I ask, feeling angry and more than just a little hurt by his immediately negative reaction.
“I wanted you to meet Nat and Mario, they’re important to me,” he begins, sounding hurt that I should even have suggested not coming, to which I can only shake my head.
“So I’ve done that and passed with flying colours but why are we still here if you’re afraid to even touch me with your whole new family around, or maybe you just don’t want to?” I suggest, trying to reconcile the cuddly Sidney who didn’t seem to want to let me go at my apartment to this one who now seems to want to keep time and space between the two of us at all times. Sidney hangs his head for a long moment and my impatience begins to build but just when it’s about to boil over into more accusations, he looks up at me with that serious ‘now listen here’ look on his face. So I bite my tongue, and wait.
“You’re wrong,” he says simply, his gaze holding mine for a long moment, like he’s considering exactly what to say next and then he looks away, his attention turned back to the silvery ribbon the moon has left on the dark water in the pool. “I just want to do the right thing here and I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about…well I just don’t know about us,” he sighs and then turns to me and reaches for my hand across the table, taking it between his and turning it over. We both stare at my upturned palm, probably because it’s easier than looking at one another during the charged silence that follows. I watch as the pad of his thumb traces the lines in my hand and it feels good, him holding my hand. But the silence that draws out again between us doesn’t feel good at all.
“I don’t understand,” I sniff, breaking the silence because I can’t stand it anymore and because there are all these things that I want to say and haven’t said and if I don’t say something I’m afraid all of the things I’ve been holding back will burst out without any kind of editing at all. “One minute you’re telling me that you’re happy and the next you can hardly look at me Sidney…. I don’t understand.”
“I know,” he sighs, closing my hand and covering it with his two, bigger hands before he looks up at me. “I just want to do the right thing and…I’m not sure what that is yet,” he says, looking sheepish and a little unsure as he says it. “It would be easy to treat you like…well, like any of the other girls but Mel…you’re like one of my best friends and I’m still afraid if I do something wrong, if we don’t do this right that I’ll lose you, forever and I don’t want that.”
It’s the single most sweetest, nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me…ever and suddenly I just feel like a complete bitch and tears spring into my eyes that I can’t quite control. I might mind that I seem to be crying around him a lot but Sidney just smiles and reaches across the table to wipe my tears away and then his hand cradles my cheek and we sit there for a long moment, just staring across the table at one another.
“Okay,” I whisper, my voice catching in my throat and he smiles, that sweet, boyish smile that makes my heart swell in my chest and then he pushes his chair back and leans across the table and presses his lips to mine in a long, soft, sweet kiss.