“You can’t wait up in your room all day.” Mel leans in the doorway of my room with her arms crossed, wearing my Rimouski jersey and a pair of jeans that I don’t remember seeing before. They look new...tight. “I know you only have a few more minutes as a regular Joe,” she adds with a smirk, “but your dad is driving Trina crazy down there and poor Tayzie, she’s just about to lose it thinking about her big bro moving so far away. The way they’re all behaving, you’d think you were leaving tomorrow.”
“There are cameras down there,” I remind her, going back to flipping through the sports illustrated on my bed.
“Yeah, like you’re not used to all the attention, you’ve been anointed by Gretzky remember, wonder boy,” she laughs, a tennis ball appearing out of nowhere, bouncing hard against the wall just above my head. She catches it one handed, a big grin on her face.
“I thought we were Batman and Robin?” I grin back at her while she scrunches up her nose and shakes her head, tossing the ball at me again. This time I’m ready and catch it one handed, giving it hard squeeze just to let some of the tension out before tossing it back.
“Are you kidding? I’m totally Cat Woman,” she purrs as she catches it. “But you’re right, you’re totally Robin. You’re never getting any action,” she adds, purposefully tossing the ball wide, making me dive to catch it before turning and heading down the hall. I listen to her skidding around the corner aiming for the stairs and my younger sister’s high pitched squeal that probably means Mel’s grabbed her from behind and launched her down the stairs.
Shaking my head and laughing, I push myself off the bed.
I guess I can’t hide forever. It’s just weird, all this attention to a lottery I have no control over, but that’s not really what’s got me hiding in my room. It’s just suddenly hit me that it’s all really about to happen. My dream’s coming true. I’m going to the big game.
I’m going to be leaving home.
It’s kind of a big deal.
“Can’t believe the Olympics are almost here,” Mel grins as she climbs over the back of the couch, handing me the bowl of popcorn before plopping down on the leather beside me. I’ve turned the channel away from another one of those Appolo Ono commercials but it’s too late for her not to have seen it. “Just think, in a couple months you’ll be Olympic champ. Gold medal winner, Sidney Crosby,” she adds with a wide, proud smile.
“Don’t say that shit out loud,” Gronk admonishes her, tossing a handful of napkins her direction, to which Mel’s only reaction is to shrug.
“Oh come on. This is our Sidney we’re talking about,” she replies grinning and leaning in to press her lips against my cheek. “He’s a Canadian hero. It’s a foregone conclusion.”
“No, really, don’t jinx it,” I mutter, getting that someone’s just walked over my grave feeling.
“You and your superstitions,” she muses, grabbing a handful of popcorn before sitting back and putting her feet up on my lap. “So who are you more afraid of, Ovie or Parise?”
“Miller,” Max and Jordy say at the same time and I have to agree, although the whole thing makes me squeamish when I think about it. It was all my dad could talk about at Christmas. Although I know he wanted to talk about me and Mel, he didn’t dare. My mom and Nathalie had made sure of that, and any time it looked like he was even going to try and bring it up, Mario stepped in. So without that to talk about, all he had to badger me about was playing in the Olympics and how I had to step up my game.
I can’t believe I’ll have another month to think about it. I think it might drive me insane.
“Can we talk about something else?” I ask, flicking madly through the channels, most of which seem to be dance based or live band type of New Years Eve specials, which just reminds me of what we’re missing by staying in. Not that we couldn’t have gone out, or at least not that everyone else couldn’t have. Still, it’s good to know who your friends are.
“Yeah, how about where’s the pizza? I’m starvin’!” Gronk groans, pretending to faint against Mel’s roommate, who lets him roll onto the floor instead of catching him.
“I’ll go,” Max offers, and Mel turns to give him a look and shakes her head.
“I don’t think so mister. You stay right where you are. I’ll go,” she offers, dropping what’s remaining of the popcorn in her hand back in the bowl and moving to climb back over the back of the couch. That’s my girlfriend, I think as she straddles the back of the couch, reminding me a lot more of the Mel I used to know and it makes me smile.
“Who ordered the pizza?” Mel stops, mid straddle, as Lauren walks down the stairs to the rec-room wearing a pair of very high heels and a very short skirt that make me wonder if Nathalie and Mario weren’t already out, if they’d let her out in that outfit. It also makes me think about how comfortable Mel is here in her pyjama pants and t-shirt but I can’t help but wonder, just for a moment, what she’d be wearing if we had gone out.
She’d arrived too late for Nathalie to wear it to the Christmas party, but when she’d come downstairs tonight, we all had to admit that Mel obviously does know what she’s doing with a pair of scissors and some fabric. I don’t know much about fashion like that, but I know the look in Mario’s eyes had said he hadn’t seen her look that beautiful in a long time and the smile on her face said she’d known it too.
“Really Lauren? Really?” Mel laughs, getting up to take the pizzas out of Lauren’s hands but Gronk speeds past her, taking the top box off of the pile and grabbing two pieces out of it before he even turns around. We all watch while he turns them over to make a pizza sandwich out of the two pieces and then inhales half of it before he sits down again.
“What?” he asks, looking around at all of us as if butter wouldn’t melt, as if that were actually possible of any of the Staal boys. “I’m a growing boy.”
“Growing out,” Max laughs, joining Mel in actually taking the boxes out of Lauren’s hands and carrying them over to the table. “Mon ami, we should hit the gym in the morning after all this, d’accord?”
“You don’t need to hit the gym,” Lauren smiles at him and I find myself suddenly watching something that makes me really unhappy as Mario’s daughter blushes from her collarbones to the tips of her ears when Max shows his guns, making the T on his bicep dance for her.
“Are you kidding me?” I hiss, pushing myself up off the couch, only to have Mel shove me back down.
“She’s old enough to make her own decisions,” she whispers, stuffing a piece of pepperoni in my mouth. “And as much as it feels like it, you’re not her brother and you don’t get a say.”
“Mario will kill him and then trade the body to the Coilers,” I growl, but Mel cradles my face in her hand in a not so tender way, forcing me to look away from the obviously flirting pair.
“Maybe, but Max has been warned and he’s still going there so leave it be,” she adds, pressing her lips to mine to silence me. “Okay?” she adds, before letting go of my chin and sliding back to her place beside me, but not before she gets a good grip on my hand, ensuring I don’t immediately pop up and start something with Max, which I kind of want to do.
“I can’t believe I haven’t noticed this. How long?” I ask after thinking about it for a moment, about all the times Max has showed up uninvited. Not that I’d ever considered that a problem before. I mean, him and Fleur and Jordy are pretty much my best friends in the entire world, so naturally we hang out and Mario’s place is huge and he doesn’t seem to mind the guys hanging out here, so why would I have thought about it?
“A while,” Mel answers quietly, giving my hand a squeeze and when I look over at her she just shakes her head. “It’s not like they wanted you to know and Lauren’s a pretty smart cookie, so just leave it alone. If it was Tayzie...I’d let you kill him but it’s not so...leave it.”
“It may as well be Taylor,” I growl back but she just shakes her head, even while she gives me a sympathetic look.
“But it’s not,” she reminds me quietly. “Lauren’s grown up here. She’s a big city girl and she’s used to dealing with players. I mean, think about it. There have always been players in this house, before you were here even. Plus...she’s a little more...savvy than you might think.” I didn’t want to think what that meant. All I knew was, I didn’t like it. “And don’t look like that either,” Mel adds without even having to look over at me, her attention firmly glued to the game of ‘twister’ Gronk and her roommate seemed to be having over a piece of pizza. “You’re the captain of the team, not of her.”
“Maybe not her but I am of Max,” I snarl back, turning to shoot him a look but he’s obviously preoccupied with Mario’s eldest and that hankie she’s wearing. “I think you should probably change Lauren. I don’t think Nathalie would approve do you?”
“Umm, she was there when I bought it and it’s none of your fuckin’ business,” Lauren snaps back at me and Mel snorts her ice tea across the room.
“I did warn you,” she whispers, before getting up to go to the bathroom to clean up.
“He knows,” I hiss as I grab a handful of Max’s t-shirt and steer him out of the room, and probably to safety, for the moment anyway.
“Knows what? Quelle es-tu parlant du femme?” Max hisses back, actually having the nerve to be wide eyed and angry at the same time.
“You and Lauren, he knows, and by the way, could you two be a little more obvious?” I snarl back, getting right up in his face.
“We’re not...we’re just talking and I’m not even going to this house party she’s going to,” he complains and just for a moment, Mad Max manages to look hurt by the fact he’s getting left behind and for that same moment, I can’t help but hope some young guy closer to her own age hits on her too.
“Well he knows so...and he’s pissed. Just so you know,” I add, turning to head into the powder room but Max grabs my wrist and pulls me back to him.
“It’s not...what you think it is between her and I...it’s not,” Max sputters and the expression in his eyes is earnest but the tips of his ears turn bright red at the same time.
“Max, I don’t care,” I answer, hoping that I sound, at the very least, supportive. “Gronk and Kennedy, me and Sid...why shouldn’t you have someone? If she makes you happy...then I’m happy for you,” I add, leaning in to kiss his cheek. But when I pull back, I expect to see relief but what I see instead is something else.
“But it’s not...we’re not...it’s not like you think,” he continues to try and explain, even though I’ve told him that he doesn’t have to.
“I don’t think he’ll tell Mario, if that’s what you’re worried about,” I add, hoping that will erase the concern from his face and return the happy go lucky smile we all know and love, but even that doesn’t seem to comfort the usually funny Francophone. And then it comes to me. “Max...if it’s not...I mean if it’s just fun between you two...that’s good too,” I try and that seems to ease his conscience enough that he nods and just the ghost of a smile tugs at his lips. “Just...be careful okay? I mean, she is the boss’s daughter so...if she’s still more in to you than you are her....”
“That’s not...I mean it is but...I’ve told her, you know, that’s all it is. I’ve told her I’m not in to anything more...permanent but...,” his voice trails away as he looks at the floor for a long moment before turning his gaze up and looking at me with something that looks like resignation on his face.
“I think it’s sweet that you don’t want to hurt her feelings,” I grin, patting his cheek and laughing. “No go and tell her to behave and then go be you. Sid needs a swift kick up the ass tonight.” That twinkle is back in his eyes as Max nods and gives me a swift hug before heading back towards the rec-room and even through the powder room door I can hear his booming voice followed by Jordy’s deep, throaty laugh, quickly followed by Sidney’s high pitched, boyish giggle and suddenly all feels right with the world.
For now, anyway.
By the time midnight rolls around, Jordan and Kennedy are already too deep into a make out session to notice which leaves me, sitting between Max and Sidney at the table where we’ve been playing poker. Not strip poker, as Max had suggested, but just regular old poker, and I’m losing, badly.
When the grandfather clock in the hallway begins to make that deep bonging sound I look over my cards at Sidney, waiting for him to get up from his chair and sweep me into a romantic, deep kiss that will curl my toes. Of course he doesn’t though.
Because he’s so damn competitive that my bet is he’s so consumed in his cars that he’s neither heard the clock or the racket coming from the replay of the big apple dropping in Times Square. My slow burn is cut off, however, when Max’s chair is knocked over as he gets up, grabs me and bends me over his knee in a sweeping dip that ends up with his teeth digging into my neck.
The mad gesture has its intended effect however, as I quickly forget my anxiety over missing the first kiss of the New Year and we both end up giggling and play fighting like a couple of kids.
“We should probably go,” he says breathlessly as he holds me at bay at long last, stopping me from pinching him again. “Leave you two to bringing in the New Year properly. Just get me a big bucket of cold water for Gronk and….”
“You don’t have to go, we’re not finished the game,” Sidney looks up from his cards, as if he hasn’t noticed anything at all, which leaves both me and Max staring at the huge pile of chips he has in front of him.
“Nobody can beat you mon ami, and you’re lovely lady needs your attention, ne penses-tu pas?” Max suggests, raising his eyebrow at Sidney and giving me a shove in his direction at the same time. “Just remember we leave for Florida in the morning, you can sleep on the plane, tu sais ce que je veux dire?”
Now it’s my turn to feel my ears burn brightly as Max swats my ass, hard enough to make me actually jump. Giggling, I turn to see if Sid is feeling as self conscious as I am, but instead of finding him looking sheepish, Sidney is glaring daggers at his friend, and now there’s no Lauren around to blame.
“Holy shit…you don’t want to be alone with me.” The words come out of my mouth before the idea actually forms in my head and I’m almost as shocked that I’ve said them as thought them but when Sidney’s head swivels and his gaze meets mine, there’s no denial in those hazel orbs.
We haven’t been alone since before Christmas. There’s always been one excuse or another. I was busy, he was out of town, and then his parents were here and the house just wasn’t big enough that either of us was willing to take the chance on having Troy breaking in on a romantic moment.
Or at least that’s what he’d told me. Now, now with the little ones having been shipped off to friends for the night, with Lauren out and we’re about to finally have the entire house to ourselves, he doesn’t want Max and Gronk to leave.
“It isn’t…I’m just saying they don’t have to go right now,” he insists, keeping his voice low as if somehow I’m the one that’s doing something wrong, like I’m the out of control child that needs to be spoken to ‘we don’t need everyone to hear our business’ tone.
“Do you…or don’t you want to be with me tonight?” It’s a simple question, or at least it is to me. I may be in a pair of faded pyjama bottoms and a plain t-shirt, but beneath that I’m wearing an uncomfortable black satin g-string and matching push up bra and I don’t suppose now would be the time to tell him that Lauren and I both went for a Brazilian this afternoon. The point is, I’ve been planning for this to be the night and the longer he stands there, staring at me, silently, the more I’m beginning to realize that I’m entirely alone in that hope.
“It’s not like that,” he replies, with that threatening undertone in his voice that says ‘not in front of the guests dear’. I know Max and Jordy and Kensie are still here, but I’ve already forgotten about them or at the very least I don’t care if we have this fight here and now and in front of them. Maybe it’s because Kensie and Max know just how frustrated I am, and I have to assume that by telling Kensie I’ve essentially told Jordy, so there’s no one here that doesn’t know that Sid and I haven’t had sex yet.
“Then how is it Sidney? I mean, forgive me for being confused but you put this ring on my finger and I thought that actually meant that I mean something to you,” I snarl back, raising my right hand and turning it so he can see the ring. “You said you were taking this seriously. You promised...,” I swallow the next words I want to say because I know if I say them I’m going to cry and I know damn well that won’t get me what I want. Not with Sid. He’s too much his father’s son for tears to work. Not that I’d be crying to get what I want but he would see it that way.
“You do...Mel, but you can’t just...it’s not like I can just...,” he looks at me helplessly and then glances at his friends who are trying to retreat as quietly as they can without making eye contact or getting dragged into the argument.
Sometimes I forget just how small town Sidney can be. I forget that other than a few select friends Sidney was never very sociable. He was never the first to put up his hand in class. Even once all those reporters started coming around, he preferred to stay in his room or his basement or the lacrosse box at the park than go to a house party. It’s only with his very best friends or out on the ice that the more...outgoing Sidney shows his face. So this, embarrassing him in front of his closest friends is a betrayal of the highest order and I should know better than to put him in this kind of position because when it comes to fight or flight, if he’s not on the ice, Sidney Patrick Crosby will always run.
“Good night guys,” I call out to them, half hoping they’ll come back so I don’t have to deal with this. I should have made sure that she drank more, so she’d be less argumentative, more agreeable.
Christ! It isn’t that I don’t want to be with her it’s just....
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, walking past me to gather the poker chips up off of the table. I watch her, speechless, as she puts them away in the box and then shuffles the deck before putting it in the same box and putting both in the games cupboard. I can hear Max and Jordy talking in hushed tones by the front door and then the door closes firmly behind them and only then does Mel turn back to me, and the hurt in her eyes cuts me to the core.
“Melody,” I sigh and the speech I’d prepared in my head about timing and waiting for the right moment sort of flies away as a single tear escapes her grey blue eyes.
“It’s fine...whatever,” she mutters, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand before turning to head out of the room but I cross the room before she gets to the door and I snap the lock shut on it and then grab her wrist in my hand. We both look down at my fingers curled around her slim wrist and then slowly we look at each other and the hope that springs into her eyes makes my chest hurt but there are ways to make this easier, on both of us.
“It’s not that I don’t want you,” I whisper to her, leading her to the couch and pulling her down onto it with me. “It just doesn’t seem right to put all this pressure on something that should happen naturally,” I try to explain and she nods her head as if she understands but I doubt that she does because I’m not sure I believe my own bullshit anymore. I’m still terrified that once we cross that line that she won’t be my friend anymore. Actually, ever since I put that ring on her finger it all feels like it’s sliding through my fingers, that everything is changing and I’m not ready for it. “I just think you might be putting too much emphasis on it, you know?” I ask hopefully but as soon as I say it I can see she’s going to argue that she’s not. “I just think if it’s not perfect you’ll be disappointed and if I’m worried about Mario and Nat coming back or Lauren...do you understand?” She nods, but I can see in the set of her jaw and the way she won’t quite look at me that she doesn’t really believe that what I’m saying is the truth. Mel always could smell a lie.
“You didn’t buy the ring did you?” she suddenly says out of the blue and I have this sharp pain in my chest when she does look up at me with a world of pain and disappointment in her gaze. “Just...please don’t lie to me. Who bought it? Nathalie? Lauren?”
“Max,” I reply holding her hand in mine, running my thumb over the tiny crown and the heart shaped jewel.
“Max?” she sound incredulous and when I look up at her I can see that she’s struggling with the idea of Max giving relationship advice. I know I felt the same way.
“He asked me an important question,” I tell her, reaching up to cradle her pretty face in my hand. “He asked me if I wanted to lose you and I don’t Mel, I don’t so...so it’s kind of like a bookmark. Like I’m saving my place and just so you and anyone else who might be looking will know, that place is reserved for me and I promise,” I add, realizing what is likely holding me up now, “I promise that when the Olympics are over, good or bad, I’ll make sure you and everyone else knows exactly how much you mean to me.”
When I kiss her, it’s like that first time on the dock, hesitant, slow and sweet, and then it’s not. Then her lips move beneath mine and I realize I’m backing her down onto the couch and the feel of her body, soft and pliable beneath mine and her fingers curling around the back of my neck makes it very clear how much I do want her.
She whimpers into my mouth when I press my erection against her inner thigh and a similar, but deeper sound comes out of my throat when she presses her body up against mine. We’re not going to do this, I tell myself, even as she presses her hips up and grinds her pelvis against mine making it hard to think we could do anything else but I am a professionally trained athlete and I do have control over both mind and body and all I have to do is think of cold, unheated ice rinks and the stench of twenty male bodies and their hockey gear, especially Max’s shoulder pads, and I regain my control.
I don’t expect her to be able to do the same; however. In fact, I’ve planned just what I’ll do and slipping my hand beneath the waist band of her pyjama bottoms, I slide my fingers into the hot wet heat of her cleft and send up a silent thank you to the women who have come before her that have taught me how to bring a woman to orgasm this way.
I watch with a mixture of pride and fascination as her head falls back and her eyes scrunch tight and her lips fall open as I work my fingers in and out of her, slowly working the pace upwards as my fingers mover up to find that special little button that makes her cry out and makes her entire body shudder.
There is no need, after all, for both of us to suffer because I need to save all of my energy for the Olympics.