Thank you again for all your enthusiastic responses and threats but you know what they say, the road to true love never does run smooth....
“Nice shirt,” Mel chuckles as she steps off of the curb outside of the arrivals gate of the airport and slides into the back seat of Jordan’s car while her roommate enthusiastically greets my teammate in the front seat.
“We’re going to a charity bowling event,” I explain, while she puts on her seatbelt. “That’s why I told you to go with casual.”
“We?” she asks, looking wary, and I guess I’ve given her every reason to be wary of me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been keeping her at arms’ length. I’ve had some thinking to do.
“Yeah, well it’s run by the WAGs so that includes you two,” I grin at her, expecting her to be happy about being included in that group but she just stares back at me, obviously not as impressed as I’d assumed she’d be.
“And we didn’t even have do any organizing. It’s funny how we haven’t even been asked to help out at all.” She’s smiling but it isn’t a smile that goes anywhere near her eyes. It’s that cold smile I remember well from when we were kids. It’s her ‘yes mother I love that dress’ smile when everyone knew damn well she didn’t.
“I’m about to take you to a public event, where all kinds of people will see us together. There will be photographers and even a news crew or two. We’ll be photographed. We’ll be official. You keep saying that I’m not taking our relationship seriously enough, I thought you’d be happy about this.” I feel like we’re fighting and I wasn’t prepared to fight. Not tonight. I thought this would make her happy and I don’t understand why she’s sitting there staring at me like I’m the one who’s in the wrong. “I thought this would make you happy,” I reiterate, but she only sighs, and closes her eyes and shakes her head.
“I know and that’s what makes this so...stupid. I know you think that you’re doing the right thing but the thing is you didn’t think, did you? I mean, you tell me casual so of course I think you mean like hanging around the house not going out in front of people and having my picture taken and seeing it all over the internet the next day.” She has a point, obviously and I feel like a complete idiot for not seeing it, but then usually when it comes to appearances I’m not the one making the decisions or doing any of the planning.
“Tell you what,” Gronk jumps in, glancing in the rear view mirror at both of us. “The mall should still be open and it’s late enough that even you should be able to get in and out without creating a mob scene.”
“Good idea babe. Hey, look at that, he’s not just pretty. He can be useful too,” Kennedy giggles, lightening the mood.
“I’m sorry,” I turn to Mel and she shrugs.
“I should be used to it,” she sighs, lacing her fingers with mine when I reach for her hand. “If it’s not a stick or a puck....”
“I’m not that bad,” I complain and she shrugs and laughs.
“You are that bad Crosby. You always have been. I keep thinking that with Taylor and your mom and Nathalie and Lauren you might have actually started to pick up on some feminine requirements but you’re just as clueless as you’ve always been.” She says it with a smile, or at least half a smile, but when she looks up from looking down at our intertwined hands, the smile almost fills her eyes but not quite.
“I’m trying here Kelly,” I remind her with a sigh and she nods but doesn’t move closer or lean in for a kiss like I want her to. Instead she turns and stares out the window at the passing traffic and buildings, leaving me to feel like a total heel.
Sid hates crowds. Always has.
Oh he knows the right things to say and he goes through the motions. He signs the autographs, kisses the babies, all that stuff, but he doesn’t enjoy it. Mostly, once things are underway, he tries to blend into the wallpaper, hide in the crowd, or, if that fails, he’ll pick just one kid, one family and concentrate on them. It’s that, or be overwhelmed.
I’ve seen it all before. After all, my friend Sidney has been a star for a long time now. I’ve seen him do this, just maybe not on this scale before.
No, scratch that. I’ve seen him deal with bigger crowds, but it’s been a while since there’s been one this...intimate.
It’s hard to believe, now that I’m here, that I was nervous about this. After all, once I got over the flash blindness and the initial introductions, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that everyone is really nice and although a few of the tween set stare daggers at me, almost everyone just sort of forgets who I came in with and leaves me to my five pin bowling, which I’m damn good at by the way.
“So, how’s your official coming out party so far?” I don’t need to turn to see who’s breathing down the back of my neck. I just laugh and roll another strike, turning to celebrate with my team which consists of a couple young boys in their Fleury and Crosby jerseys, freshly signed, and their dads who I think are having a good time checking out my ass in the jeans that Sid and Gronk insisted I buy at the mall.
“So far so good,” I grin at Max who grabs the hat off the nearest ankle biter and starts signing it, much to the kid’s slack jawed amazement. “I expected worse,” I admit, waiting for my ball to come back up.
“Don’t worry. It will be much worse by the morning. If I was you I wouldn’t go anywhere near the internet for a few days and don’t google yourself from now on,” Max adds, pushing the lid back on the kid hard enough that it goes down over his eyes, which makes the tyke giggle, which I suppose was the point.
“But it’s good that he’s doing it, right?” I ask, still feeling self conscious about the snug fitting penguins t-shirt with Sid’s number on the back. Not that it’s the first jersey of his I’ve worn, because I’ve actually worn them all, but it’s the first one that shows cleavage and the first I’ve worn when he’s walked into a room holding my hand.
“Well he’s trying to do the right thing anyway,” Max agrees, grabbing the second kid’s hat and turning it backwards to match his own. “I did try to warn you that he’s a social retard.”
“Speaking of which,” I begin, raising my eyebrow and leaning closer so young, impressionable ears won’t overhear, “you and Lauren...what’s with that?”
“I told you nothing. I’m not doing anything with her and..,” he stops as he realizes that I’m teasing and, by the shit eating grin on my face, that I know. “She told you...about Tanger?” he asks and I nod, waiting to hear his side of the story. “Yeah well...I couldn’t, not when I figured out that was all she was looking for.”
“Really?” I wrinkle my nose and bump my shoulder into his. “See that’s totally not what I would have thought. I mean, I thought you told her you didn’t want anything heavy so a little roll in the hay would be just what the doctor ordered,” I suggest, but the answering grin I expect doesn’t appear. “Okay I know technically that means she was just using you but I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah well, I do, as it turns out,” Max says quietly, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe I’m finally growing up,” he adds, looking so serious that I actually believe him and it make me mad at Lauren. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll find Miss Right and settle down like you and the Creature over there,” he adds with the happy go lucky Max grin we all know and love.
“You? Settle down...puhleeeze,” I laugh, punching him in the arm before quickly grabbing my ball and heading for the lane.
“For a guy that claims not to have made up his mind about a certain young lady, you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes off of her,” Billy G notes as he joins me, back at the shoe rental area where I’ve been trying to keep out of the way.
Every time I try to actually join in, it gets too crowded to actually do any bowling. I just figure, back here, I’m out of everyone’s way and if they want to come and see me, then at least we’re not blocking a lane or anything.
“This was kind of a big step,” I mutter, watching as Mel picks up one of the little kids she’s been bowling with and hangs him upside down over the hand dryer at the ball pick up. The kid squeals in delight and the grin on her face...well it’s something else.
“And yet here you are and there she is and Max and Gronk pretty much won’t leave her alone,” my lines-mate notes and I can’t argue with him, except to point out that that was kind of the point.
“I won’t be able to always be there. I wanted to see how she’d do,” I explain with a shrug.
“So just another hoop for the poor girl to get through for ya huh?” he sighs and shakes his head. “How many more of those are you gonna put in front of that poor kid before you put her out of her misery and do the right thing?”
“What is the right thing do you think Bill?” I ask, honestly, still not tearing my eyes off of her as she finally puts the kid down at the top of the lane and kneels down beside him. She hasn’t looked around for me or anyone else once since she started playing with them. They have her full attention. It’s pretty amazing actually. “I keep thinking I’m too young to get serious with anyone, especially with someone that maybe deserves more of my time and attention than I’m ready to give. Do you think that’s fair?” I ask, turning to the older forward whose attention is focused on Mel as she cheers on a gutter ball as if it was the ninth strike the kid had thrown.
“She seems like a good kid and I think I’ll stand by what I said before. If she’s got a brain in her head and a heart in her chest and if you don’t put a ring on that girl she’ll be gone and you’ll be the one sitting around wondering what the hell just happened.” With a serious look, Billy puts his hand on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze and then smacks the bill of my cap down so I can’t see before he goes back to join his group who greet his return with loud cheering.
“So...that wasn’t so bad, was it?” he asks, his breath warm on the back of my neck. I smile around my straw but don’t stop sucking at the extra thick real chocolate ice cream milkshake. It’s too good and I feel too much like I deserve it to stop, even for Sidney as he slides into the booth beside me and brushes my hair away from the back of my neck and plants a warm kiss on the curve of my shoulder.
“I never said it would be,” I answer, reaching for fry from his plate before the waitress even has a chance to put it all the way down on the table. “I’ve never been worried about my own behavior. You’re the one who was waiting for me to make some kind of mistake all night so you could sweep in and save me from myself,” I add, grabbing one more fry while he stares at me, blinking at me like some kind of hoot owl, as if he doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about. “What? Now you’re going to try and tell me that every time I looked up you weren’t watching me like a hawk? Waiting for me to do some small town bumpkin sort of thing that would embarrass you?”
“That wasn’t...,” he sighs and shakes his head before grabbing my hand and grinding my bones together as he tries to get me to sit still and listen. “I was just watching. I just...wanted to see how you fit in.”
“So I’m new now? I’ve never been around hockey players and people who think that you’re god? Please, give me some kind of credit Crosby, for fuck sakes.” Pushing my plate away I turn to face him, feeling this tightness in my chest as I do. I know damn well that picking a fight with him in public is the last thing I should be doing but, god damn it, I’m just tired of these games of his. “I mean it Sid. Stop putting traps out and hoping I’ll fall in them. If you don’t want this...if you don’t want us to be together like...like I want to then just please tell me now.” He opens those soft, plump pink lips of his to speak but I shake my head and raise my fingers up to press against them, silencing him. “I know it’s not your fault that I’ve been in love with you for as long as I can remember. I know I’ve kind of forced all this on you and to be fucking honest right now, if you’re just being nice by trying to make it work or if you’re just trying not to hurt me....”
This time Sid pulls my fingers away from his lips and turns my hand palm up, placing a brief, soft kiss in the palm of my hand before looking up at me, his gaze full of a tumult of emotions and I brace myself for what I feel has been coming for so long now; the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ speech, the ‘I need space’ speech. But then his big hand reaches out and cups my cheek and he leans forward and presses his lips firmly but gently against mine, in public no less, and kisses me into silence.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers at long last, the tips of his ears turning scarlet as he glances around to see how many pairs of eyes are trained on us. “I’m sorry about the whole princess and the pea thing. I just...I feel like I need to know that you can deal with all this...this shit that I deal with all the time and I wish I could just wing it and trust you and, I mean fuck, I wish I could just trust myself but..it’s really not easy being me Mel. I know you think you know but...you’ve only seen parts of it so far. It will get worse, I can promise you that and then...well then maybe you won’t want to be with me and I guess...if that happened I’d...I’d hate that.” My heart swells to hear him say it and to see the pain of the thought make his hazel eyes go glassy before he drops his gaze form mine. “I know you think you’ve done all the running and maybe you have but...it’s not like I haven’t compared every girl I’ve ever met to you,” he adds, and this time when he raises his gaze to meet mine, there’s the briefest note of humour in his voice and the smallest of sparks behind his eyes before he speaks again and both disappear. “It’s not like I haven’t been thinking of what it will be like to be with you. It’s not like I don’t want to but...if you can just wait a little longer, just until after the Olympics....”
Every ounce of sweetness, every puff of air he’s blown beneath my wings evaporates and I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth as his gaze searches mine. Where a moment ago I’d felt warm, wrapped in the cozy blanket of young love, now all I feel is ice water flowing through my veins.
“Because a gold medal’s going to solve everything isn’t it? Because when you’re bouncing your grandchildren on your knee that’s your war story, that’s what you’ll tell them and they’ll look at you like you’re a hero. But tell me this Sidney. Will it make your heart full? Will it rub your aching knees and hold your hand in the dark? Will it?”