“What’s going on with you and Mel? I haven’t seen her around lately,” Max asks as he lounges on the leather couch, annoying the shit out of me by clicking through the channels slowly, watching everything for a couple of minutes before deciding against it and moving to the next channel.
“She’s got midterms or whatever they call it,” I mutter, my fingers itching to rip the remote out of his hands but I know damn well that my more ferocious style of clicking drives everyone else equally insane and no one else seems to be complaining, yet, so I keep my opinion and my hands to myself, for now.
“She has to have an entire collection designed before Christmas Eve,” Lauren corrects me, not bothering to glance up from behind the magazine she’s seemingly engrossed in. One of those big, thick fashion things with stick figure models and glossy photo spreads. I’m still finding it hard to believe that Mel is into this stuff. Especially after what she went through with her mom but then as I look over to where Nathalie is curled into Mario’s arms with her glass of chardonnay, they do say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “Do you have any idea what it takes to put an entire collection together?” Lauren adds, giving me a kick with her bare foot before turning the magazine around to show me a two page spread of some size zero model made up to look half dead wearing a bright red, shiny evening gown. I’ve seen a couple of those model shows, and I get that it’s supposed to be high fashion or whatever, but it does nothing for me.
“No, I don’t. I just know she sounded stressed the last time I talked to her,” I shrug and Lauren rolls her eyes at me.
“She’ll probably be sewing her fingers to the bone. I bet she’ll be exhausted when she’s done,” she adds, turning her magazine back around and flipping ahead a few pages. “She’s promised to bring mom one of the dresses though. She says it will be the hit of the Christmas party.”
“The Christmas party?” Max comes awake and is suddenly the animated Max we all know. “She’s coming to the Christmas party?” he asks, turning to me with a grin. “Is she bringing Kennedy for Gronk? Maybe she can bring someone for me.”
“I don’t know,” I answer honestly, because I haven’t even thought about it. Tonight is one of the first nights we haven’t either been playing or travelling in what seems like ages and I guess I hadn’t given much thought to the party, let alone asking Mel if she’d like to go.
“What do you mean you don’t know, mon ami? Don’t tell me, it slipped your mind?” Max shakes his head and passes the remote back to Stephanie who’s just back from Shattucks and then turns his full attention back on to me. “What did you get her for Christmas?”
“I…,” it’s no use, when no answer comes out immediately, everyone is down my throat, from Nathalie to the girls and both Mario and Max are shaking their heads at me.
“It should be easy,” Lauren sighs dramatically, closing her magazine and fixing mw with one of her patented teenage ‘you’re such a loser’ stares. “You’ve only known her, like, your entire life. How hard could it be to get her something she’ll like?”
“She’s right mon frère,” Max gives me that ‘now you’re in trouble’ look and pushes his foot into my ribs, nearly sending me off the end of the couch. “Do you think she’ll come empty handed from New York? Je ne pense pas ainsi,” he adds with a laugh as I glare at him, hoping to shut him up but knowing full well, with an audience, that’s an almost impossible expectation.
“And I suppose you have all your shopping done?” I mutter, still shooting daggers at him and he keeps grinning back at me.
“Mais oui,” he grins, “I’m a great shopper. In fact, I’ll be happy to help you with your shopping mon ami. You hand over your plastic and I’ll…”
“Right, after seeing you wearing that sweater,” I chuckle, staring at the brightly striped monstrosity he’s wearing, expecting everyone to agree with me but no one says anything. I mean nothing at all. They all just stare at me like I’m the one wearing something outrageous.
“No offense Sidney but uh…I think Max is a little more…fashion forward than you,” Lauren sighs, making a face and then returning to her magazine. “Max and I will go shopping for you. Do you need something for Taylor and your mom too?”
“Where did you get that?” I ask, seeing a pile of bills stacked in the middle of the kitchen table where my mom is sitting, staring at it as if it might suddenly come to life, develop rows of teeth, and bite.
“You’ve been doing Sidney’s paper round,” my mother says, without looking up at me, her tired gaze still trained on the pile of crinkled bills in the middle of the table. I don’t answer. What would be the point? I know it and now obviously now so does she, so what would be the point of arguing about it? Except obviously that’s exactly what she wants and I know it as I stand there on the cool linoleum floor, staring at her sitting there with her coffee and her cigarette and her perfectly coiffed hair and her severe make up and her choker of pearls around her neck.
So I wait, standing there with my hands curled into fists at my side, until she turns her grey blue eyes on me and tilts her head to one side and gives me that ‘I’m so disappointed in you’ look that makes my skin just crawl.
“Don’t ask me to stop doing it, because I won’t,” I begin, clenching my teeth and trying to hold my head high. She raises her eyebrow and then lets out a long, low sigh before she turns her attention back to the pile of bills on the table.
“You gave this to Mrs. Crosby. You’re doing his paper round for him while he’s gone to do...whatever he does during the summer and you’re not even keeping the money.”
She doesn’t make it a question, but she does make sure that I can hear the revulsion in her voice before she turns her cold gaze back towards me. It makes me want to shrink, to find a hole to hide in, but then she knows that. That’s why she does it.
“It costs money to go to skate camp,” I explain, with the barest of shrugs. My voice sounds tiny, far off and nothing like the strong, bold voice I should use when fighting with my mother. I won’t win if I go all fucking mousy, but it’s hard when she’s giving me that look. The one that says ‘I can’t believe you’re my daughter’.
“It costs money to get your teeth straightened and it costs money for you to take those elocution lessons, and tap and....”
“I don’t want any of those mother!” I yell, stamping my foot and feeling like I’m five, but then she does have that effect on me. “I don’t want to go to tap and I don’t want to enter Miss Lobster Fest. You want that. I don’t want any of that. You make me. I don’t want to go to any of it!” I’m yelling and usually my mother would yell back, but not today. Today, she picks up her cigarette, takes a long drag off of it, turning the end of it a glowing cherry red and then she blows out a long thin stream of smoke towards the pile of bills before she turns her cold, unforgiving gaze on me and looks me up and then down, slowly before shaking her head and shrugging her shoulders.
“You think he’ll marry you someday don’t you, you silly little girl?” She draws it out as she says it and it begins to feel like I’m listening to her long, blood red nails being drawn down a chalk board. My innermost hopes, being spat out on the kitchen table like last night’s undercooked leftovers. It makes my stomach churn and my head go all fuzzy. “Do you think he’ll save you from this god forsaken little town? Is that it? Are we so bad that you’ll attach yourself to that pudgy little gap toothed boy next door and pray that he’ll take you away from here and you’ll never have to see us again. Is that it?”
Part of me wants to say yes, and laugh in her face. The other part of me is scared to death to admit that she might be right. After all, I’ve never thought of it like that or of him like that for that matter. I just know, in the way you do, that Sidney won’t get stuck in this little fishing town for the rest of his life and that I don’t want to be stuck here without him. I haven’t thought that much past that. Not at twelve.
“I’m not your dress up doll,” I mutter instead, because it’s easier to fight about my mother trying to dress me up and pass me off as some kind of miniature beauty queen than it is to fight about something and someone that makes it hard for me to even speak.
“Because he won’t you know,” she continues as if she hasn’t heard me, taking another long drag off of her cigarette. “Not if you don’t turn out to be pretty like Jana Britton with straight teeth and good posture and better manners. That’s the kind of girl that wins a boy like that,” she says, cruelly, pursing her lips as she stares at that pile of bills. “Do you see his mother?” she adds, wrinkling her nose. “She trapped him, you know. Sidney’s father. Got herself up the duff and stopped him from carrying out his promising career. That’s what will happen to you if you continue chasing after him like some kind of common slut,” she adds, turning her gaze disapprovingly on me. “You’ll end up like me, stuck in this god forsaken little town with a brat like you.”
“We’re here.” I dig my elbow into her ribs and turn to watch her blink up at me, her eyes still full of sleep.
“Already?” she mutters, closing her eyes for a long moment before yawning and stretching and sitting up to stare blankly at the house lit by the headlights on my SUV.
“You fell asleep on the way here,” I tell her, which seems sort of pointless but considering she fell asleep almost the moment she was buckled in and I’ve driven in total silence all the way here from the airport, it also seems fair.
“Sorry,” she mutters, covering another yawn with her hand. “You have no idea what this last week has been like. Sewing, fittings, sewing, hemming...,” her voice trails off as a satisfied little smile tugs at the corners of her lips as she turns to me. “It went really well in the end. I mean not perfect but I had a couple of pieces I’m really proud of and...I’m sorry, I’m boring you. You’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, do you?” she asks, again a question that seems sort of mute, except that it brings up the subject that I’ve been wanting to talk about the entire way here.
“I’m sure it was...fine,” I mutter, still unsure of how to say this. I’ve gone over it in my head, maybe a hundred times already but it never comes out quite right.
“You don’t have to do it you know. I mean, look at you, you’re exhausted. Isn’t there some course you can take here? I mean, if you really feel like you have to take anything, because you don’t you know. I mean, if you’re serious about this styling thing I could maybe talk to some of my contacts at RBK and maybe there’s a position they could find for you closer to here....” My voice trails away as that line appears between her eyebrows and her eyes narrow as her lips purse in that way that tells me I’m about to get it from both barrels. “I just mean, can’t we find some kind of compromise so that when we’re together you’re not so tired?” I suggest, thinking if I let her know I’m open to suggestions she won’t take it as me telling her what to do. I know how much she hates that.
“Styling thing?” she snorts, shaking her head at me. “I wish the Olympics didn’t fall in Spring Fashion week or maybe you could come to New York and see what I’m actually doing there,” she adds, sitting back against the door and eyeing me with this mixture of surprise and derision on her face. “Thank you, I guess, for the thing about RBK but...I’m not picking out t-shirts and wanting to put my name on them like you do Sidney. This is haute couture, ball gowns, wedding dresses, high end work wear...not sweats and tank tops,” she adds, wrinkling up her nose as she stares at me like I’ve just grown two heads and I guess I sort of feel like that as she continues to just stare at me like I’m some kind of idiot.
“I just thought...I’m not saying that what you’re doing isn’t...interesting or whatever. I’m just saying you’ve been really busy and I thought the whole idea was to spend some time together and you haven’t been around and....”
“So this is about you now? I mean, you’re admitting, this is about you not getting enough attention, is that it?” she asks, tilting her head to one side and regarding me with a kind of cruel edged amusement that reminds me of the way her mother used to talk to her. I guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“I don’t know why you want to do all that stuff anyway,” I snap, feeling defensive and a little angry at the way she’s taking this. I thought she’d jump at the chance to move closer to me, spend more time together. I wasn’t prepared for this reaction. “You always said you hated when your mom made you dress up and enter those pageant things.”
“I did. Fuck, of course I did. Miss Lobster fest,” she laughs and shakes her head and I guess we’re both imagining her wearing a red dress with a white sash on it and carrying lobsters around behind Jana with her tiara and sceptre. “I hated her dressing me up and all those people looking at me, but I found out that I actually liked the idea of dressing other people up and that I have this knack for knowing what looks good on people. They tell me I have a talent for this,” she adds, a sort of glow infusing her features as she tells me about something I had no idea she was actually passionate about. “If you want to compromise then get traded to the Rangers,” she continues with a bigger smile on her face so that I know she’s kidding, but the dark warning I see flash in her eyes says that maybe she’s not. “I have to be in New York. Around the models and the Meat Packers district and all the Fashion houses and the modelling agencies and the top boutiques in the world,” she explains and that light is back in her face and I suddenly feel like what I do might mean absolutely nothing in comparison.
“I didn’t know...,” is all I can come up with, feeling that awkwardness I feel around her too often, that sense that I don’t really know her at all.
“I know you don’t,” she smiles and reaches across the divide to brush my cheek with her fingertips before her hand slides back around my neck and pulls my lips down over hers’ in a long, slow, sweet kiss that leaves me aching for more. “People do this Sidney,” she adds, her lips still just barely brushing mine. “Like those two guys who play for the Sens...,’ she adds just before I cover her mouth with mine and kiss her harder. “And who knows,” she adds breathlessly as she grins up at me, that fire lighting her from within in a way that I do understand. “Maybe I can help you with your line for RBK, make it a little more...edgy.”
I nod, wishing that this solved all of our problems, except it doesn’t. In fact it probably just makes things worse.
“We don’t have to go in,” I offer, and not because I know she’s tired and could probably do with some sleep before she has to face the next obstacle but because I’m a coward. She opens her lips to say something witty, I can tell by the sparkle in her eyes, even here in the dark of the car, but then her lips press into a thin line and her eyes narrow and she searches my face and I can’t help but think that it seems like an unfair advantage, how well she actually knows me.
“You haven’t told him...Sidney Patrick Crosby...,” she shakes her head and leans back in her seat again, her fingers pressed to her temples and her eyes screwed shut as if she’s suddenly come down with a migraine, and I guess there couldn’t be a better description of what lies ahead of us. “If you’re ashamed of me...,” she begins but I shake my head because that’s not it.
Well, not exactly.
“There hasn’t been a good time,” I explain, which is the truth. I can’t think of when would be a good time to tell Troy about her or any other woman in my life, but particularly her. It’s not like he’s ever going to be happy about any kind of distraction in my life but he’s always been afraid of Mel becoming that distraction. So it’s a weak excuse at best and the tired, jaded look she gives me tells me she thinks so too. “And now with the Olympics...,” I shrug and she nods, knowing that even now that I have the Cup there is one more goal, one more brass ring that I have to get before my dad will admit that his son just might be a success.
“So you want me to go in there and what?” she sighs, looking even more haggard and exhausted than she did when I picked her up at the airport. “Lie? Hey Troy, just visiting, don’t worry about little ‘ol me?” she mumbles, sounding more hurt than she probably intends to and the resignation I see in her eyes tells me she’ll do it too, if I ask her too. Except that I won’t.
I’d hated the idea when Lauren and Max came up with it but now it seems like it might just save my life, I think to myself as I reach into my pocket for the small box I’ve been carrying around all day.
(flashback earlier in the day)
“It’s a Claddagh ring,” Max explained enthusiastically when I opened the box and stared at the contents.
“I know what it is. I am from Nova Scotia, and my middle name’s Patrick, hello,” I mutter, staring at the gold and green tourmaline ring nestled in the small box he’s holding towards me. “What I don’t know is why you’d think we’re ready for...for that.”
“It’s not an engagement ring,” Lauren pipes up and I turn my unhappy expression on her, but just like Max, she doesn’t shrink from it either. “It’s like...a promise ring. Love and friendship and loyalty forever,” she continues with this giddy grin on her face, like she’s the one getting the damn thing. “I think it’s totally sweet.”
“C’mon mon ami,” Max continues, glancing over and around me at Lauren like he doesn’t need or want her help in this but I can’t imagine he’s come up with this crazy fucking idea all on his own. “You keep telling me how it’s good she knows you and how at least you know she doesn’t want anything from you. Oui?”
“Yeah, but...a ring?” I keep staring at the two hands surrounding the green stone with the crown above it and I know Max can’t possibly know this but back home in the Harbour this kind of thing had heavy significance that I’m not ready for.
“Do you want her to get away?” Lauren asks from behind me and I have to admit, there’s something to that thought that sends chills down my spine.
(Present time in the Lemieux home)
“I just saw your mother the other day Sobeys and she never said a thing about this,” Trina gushes as she holds my hand, exclaiming over the small gold ring on my right hand with the heart and crown facing inward towards my body and my heart. I can’t wipe the smile off of my face and I can’t help but notice the thunderous clouds in Troy’s eyes as he stands there like a mountain behind his wife. I’m grateful for the support I feel with Sidney’s hand on the small of my back.
“It’s just since I’ve been at school in New York,” I reply quietly, taking my hand back and reaching for Sidney’s as he slides his around my waist.
“We used to talk about this, your mother and I,” Trina continues, her hands now reaching up to capture my face as she grins happily at me. “Ever since you two were in diapers.”
“Mooommm,” Sidney groans and everyone laughs, everyone but Troy. I know there was a time, a long time ago, that he didn’t hate me quite so much, but it’s hard to remember that as he glares daggers at me. I can’t help but imagine that he’s trying to make my brain blow up in my head by staring at me, or at the very least, for a hole in the earth to open and swallow me whole.
“They’ve been taking things very slowly,” Nathalie offers, crossing the room with glasses of champagne in her hands and as she offers me one, she kisses my cheek, very lightly. “It’s good to know that he has someone who’s there for him without any other motive other than what you see,” she adds, making my heart swell gratefully in my chest.
“Th...thank you,” I mutter, stuttering as I force my voice past the sudden swell of emotion filling my chest and making it hard to breathe, let alone speak.
“Now we just need to get that gold medal and get Sidney settled down and then we can’t ask for more eh, Troy?” Mario adds, wrapping his arm around the big guy whose face transforms from a dark storm cloud immediately to something far lighter and more sociable as Super Mario claps him on the back.
“Right...couldn’t ask for more,” Troy replies agreeably but the look he gives me...is far less friendly.