This chapter kicked my ass, so thanks for your patience. Must have something to do with the Nucks and the Pens both losing...
“How long has that been going on?” I turn from watching Charline and a couple of her other teammates heading down the corridor under Mellon to find Max and Jordan standing behind me, watching me with obvious disapproval.
“Oh don’t go all Mother Goose on me. Half the guys on the team are married and every one of them has some girl in one city or another…,” I begin but Jordan just shakes his head at me and turns away, so I look to Max for corroboration and he just keeps staring at me like I’ve stolen his damn teddy bear. “What? Oh c’mon Max. You’ll fuck anything that moves. Are you going to seriously stand there and tell you wouldn’t hit that?” I ask, pointing at the girls’ retreating forms.
“We’re not…je ne parle pas de moi,” Max breathes, grabbing me by my collar and pushing me out of the way of the trainers as they load our equipment into the shipping containers that will follow us to Montreal. “Look, if you were looking for some…I don’t know…wiggle room,” he sighs, pushing a rolled up newspaper into my hand, “you should have thought of that before you did this.” I unroll the paper, already knowing what I’m going to find and stare down at the nearly half page announcement; so much for a tasteful and trivial mention. “You didn’t even do it properly,” he grimaces, snatching the paper back from me. “Cette image ne ressemble pas la même fille.”
“Okay now you’re just letting your best man duties get the better of you. You’re supposed to be supporting me,” I remind him, feeling like I should be getting a high five, not some kind of lecture on ethics and dating from Professor crabs.
“This is you…and you’re supposed to be above that kind of shit.” He insists, grabbing my shoulders and staring into my eyes like he’s trying to do some kind of Vulcan mind meld.
“Says who?” I laugh, pushing his hands away from my shoulders.
“Says me,” Max snarls indignantly. “You’re supposed to be better than that. You’re supposed to be the good guy, the guy we all try and fucking emulate,” he continues, rambling on like some kind of deranged lunatic, gesturing wildly and then finally running his hands through his short, cropped hair.
“I didn’t sign up for that. I never asked anyone to appoint me a god damned saint,” I tell him, shrugging. “Is this because you’ve gotten close to Mel?” I ask him and he shifts uncomfortably, shuffling his feet as he looks away from me. “Look I get it. It’s kind of…. No, it is bad, I get that but if she wasn’t so damn vanilla in bed,” I begin trying to explain my side of things only to have Max turn back to me, staring at me, wild eyed.
“Vanilla? You must be fucking joking,” Max hisses at me, and for just one minute, I think he’s going to say more and then he looks away. “What I mean is…I mean the way she talks I just thought….”
“I didn’t say she was bad, exactly, she’ just not…I don’t know, it’s not great is what I’m saying. So I have one last fling and get it out of my system, it’s not like it’s something you wouldn’t do,” I point out to him, fully expecting him to give me one of those barely there shrugs that would signal that he didn’t have a comeback. Instead, he shakes his head and glares at me.
“She’s your god damned fiancée,” he reminds me, managing to look both threatening and disappointed at the same time. “You’re about to promise to have and to hold and all that….”
“Yeah about to,” I remind him, taking a step back from my usually easy going friend who keeps looking at me like I’ve just kicked his damn puppy. “Damn Max. I never thought I’d be getting this lecture from you. Papa G yeah but…,” I begin but when Max gives that heavy sigh and drags his fingers through his hair I let my words die away until he looks back up at me.
“I just thought…fuck man! You’re like my hero, d’accord? And I know, I haven’t always treated women...avec autant respect que je pourrais avoir, mais…mais je sais que tu n’as pas voulu un rapport avec une femme célibataire, mais…I just always thought when you did, quand le bon moment est venu, that you would be the guy who’d do la bonne chose, be the Prince Charming, que ton serait la fin hereuse de conte de fées and we’d all look up to you and we’d know…we’d have something to…pour aspirer à,” he explains, falling into Frenglish as he grabs me by the shoulders and literally shakes me.
“So now you’re disappointed in me? I’ve got news for you mon ami, I’m a fucking human being. I don’t want to be your role model. I didn’t ask to be anyone’s role model or Prince Charming or what the fuck ever. I just want to live my fucking life,” I snap back, pushing him away and for just one moment, I think Max is going to lose it and I’m going to get one in the chops, but he takes a deep breath instead and hangs his head.
“What about her? What about being her Prince?” he asks, his gaze meeting mine slowly, the anger that seemed to dissipate while he lectured me begins leaking back.
“I am her Prince,” I shrug. “Whether I deserve to be…I don’t know Max. I’m just a guy. I’m not better than you or Tanger or Dupes. I am what I am. Mel…she knows that. Maybe you don’t think she does but she’s a pretty smart cookie. I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” I tell him but I can see he’s far from being convinced.
“So you’ll tell her then? Dires-lui au sujet de ton affaire?”
“Affair? Max…seriously, you’re blowing shit way out of proportion,” I laugh, patting his shoulder and turning away. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her and it’s a one off, I tell myself, and Max won’t tell her either.
Nah…he won’t, bros before ho’s and all that. Max may be a lot of things, including, obviously a way too emotional Frenchman, but he’s no snitch. There’s a code on a team and I’ve always kept my mouth shut when it came to things even I wouldn’t take part in. It does make me rethink the whole best man thing though.
He does have a point, sort of, I think as I walk away, putting some space between his disapproving glare and the burgeoning feeling of guilt sitting in the pit of my stomach. I am about to say those vows, it might actually be time to start thinking about living with that reality. After all, he is right about one thing. If I was going to have cold feet about it, announcing it in the Pittsburgh Tribune was probably not the right thing to do.
Not that I’ve thought about calling it off. I mean, it’s seemed pretty inevitable since we met up again that this was the direction it was going to go, and it’s not like I don’t want to get married it’s just…funny how I can’t close my eyes and imagine myself, standing there in a tux and her in a white dress. For some reason I can’t wrap my head around that idea.
Maybe it’s like winning The Cup. You can imagine it but you can’t, not really, not until you’re holding it.
That must be what it is, I decide as I head out towards the bus. That and we’re not really doing our own planning so it’s all going to be kind of a surprise anyway. If I knew what it was all going to look like maybe that would help.
Either way, all I can and should be thinking about now is Montreal and stuffing some pucks past Halak and I know from the Olympics that that is going to be no easy task. I’ll just have to leave that kind of thinking for some other time.
“I’m going to do it,” I announce as I bounce through the door to the apartment. “I’m going to ask Sid to call off the wedding…for now,” I add as I round the corner to find Kensie at the kitchen table staring intently at her lap top.
“Well that should make things interesting,” she replies dryly.
“I think he’ll understand. I mean we shouldn’t rush into anything right? I mean I know I’ve known him forever but we’re just getting to know each other properly and there’s no need to rush into anything,” I continue, feeling confident in the decision I’ve come to. That is until I actually look at the way Kennedy is looking up at me over her lap top with that ‘are you quite done’ look on her face complete with raised eyebrow and impatient gaze.
“While god only knows that I agree about the whole putting the brakes on this circus, but when I said that should be interesting, I meant because of this,” she sighs, turning her lap top to face me. The confident, self assured smile I’d been wearing since my dad had put me on the plane with the promise to be strong is wiped completely an entirely off of my face.
“How…when did this happen?” I ask, my knees giving way beneath me, the air literally being sucked out of my sails as I drop into the chair beside her. I stare at the screen, half of me wishing that I haven’t just seen what I know I’ve seen, but then wishing doesn’t make it so. “I didn’t…he didn’t tell me he was going to announce anything,” I add in a half whisper.
“Yeah, I wondered about that,” Kensie turns the lap top back around, and, with a few strokes of her fingers pulls up yet another engagement announcement, this time in the New York Times, with a picture.
“Oh god…” I cover my mouth with my hand as I stare at the picture of us I knew his mother had taken of us at Christmas.
“I know, very deer in the headlights,” Kennedy muses sardonically as she gets up to look at the pic over my shoulder. “You’d think he could have waited to have something more formal done. It’s not like the Pens don’t have a professional photog on staff,” she adds, giving my shoulder a supportive squeeze before heading deeper into the kitchen to grab two mugs and a box of tea bags.
“I just can’t understand,” I mumble, half to myself. “Why would he go and do something like this without talking to me first?”
“At least give a girl a heads up that she’s gonna be in the New York Times. He had to have done that knowing you work here and like, everyone in Manhattan reads the society pages,” she adds, which does nothing to improve my current state of mind. “So, like I said,” she begins, having turned the electric kettle on and turning to lean her back against the counter, arms crossed, “that kind of complicates your plan.”
“Just a little,” I manage to breathe, wrapping my arms around my stomach. Suddenly the sandwich I’d had on the plane isn’t sitting too well in my stomach.
“So what are you going to do now?” Kensie asks, tipping her head to one side so that her hair falls over her shoulder. “Because this doesn’t mean that you can’t call it off you know,” she adds, and I nod, hearing her but somehow I can’t quite imagine actually doing it now, even though I had it all planned out in my head how that was going to go. “On the other hand, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this,” she adds with a half smile, “this might mean that he’s actually taking this seriously. I mean this might be his big romantic gesture ‘cuz god knows he hasn’t really held up his end on that score yet.” I look up at her and I can tell by the way she immediately rolls her eyes that the sudden and overwhelming feeling of relief flooding my body shows on my face. “I said might be” she adds with a smirk as the kettle begins to whistle and she turns to pour the steaming water into the two cups, adding a fragrant tea bag to each before turning around and coming back to join me at the table. “Have you even talked to him?” she asks, pushing one mug towards me.
“Yeah…I mean…well as much as you can talk to him during the playoffs. It’s mostly that refs an asshole and that player is a dick and Geno should get his head out of ass and…so yeah we’ve spoken but talked…?” I shrug, closing my eyes and inhaling the steam coming from the mug, peppermint and green tea, an excellent remedy for the pounding headache behind my eyes.
“You should go see him,” Kennedy says, not like it’s a suggestion, but like it’s an order.
“I don’t want to distract him,” I begin, but hearing the whine in my own voice, I square my shoulders and take a deep, cleansing breath. “I should, shouldn’t I?”
“You should,” Kennedy grins, reaching over to grasp my hand and give me an encouraging smile.
“GOD DAMN MOTHER FUCKING SHIT!!!”
“My sentiments exactement,” I grumble, tossing my stick aside as we head down the hallway at La Colisée after literally dropping an egg on the fucking ice. Tanger kicks his helmet across the room and we all watch it hit the wall with a satisfying smack.
“Je suis si désolé Fleur,” he says, again, and again, Flower just shrugs. It’s not like he tried to kick the damn puck in the fucking net and we all know it, but most of us also know how it feels like you should have been able to do something, anything, to get the puck to go another direction.
“We’ll just have to kick their asses at home,” I offer, but there’s no uproarious ‘hell yeah’ of agreement. Not that I’m expecting one. It’s worse to lose when the crowd is that fucking loud and you had it in your god damned back pocket. At least the rest of the guys weren’t getting boo’d every time they touched the puck.
“Crosby, you’ve got a visitor.” I turn around, my jersey half off, to see Mel leaning in the doorway of the room, and I’m surprised to feel relieved and happy to see her. Dropping my jersey on the pile in the middle of the floor, I cross the room and grab her around the waist, lifting her off of her feet as I bury my head in her neck. She smells like strawberries and vanilla frosting.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, putting her down, searching her flushed face for signs of impending doom. “Is something wrong with your mom? Your dad?”
“No, I just…you’re not mad I’m here?” she says, like she expected that I would be, and searching in myself I know that I normally might have been a little pissed about her showing up unexpectedly, especially after losing like this, but I’m not.
“No, of course not,” I grin, brushing her cheek with my hand before leaning down to capture her lips with mine. She tastes like cinnamon.
“It was…it’s the engagement announcement,” she explains quietly, her lips brush my cheek. “It was kind of…unexpected,” she adds, reaching up to run her finger along my upper lip when I pull back from her.
“I know, I know, pathetic, you don’t have to tell me,” I sigh. I keep hoping, every year, that my playoff beard will get better. It doesn’t seem to.
“It’s cute,” she grins. “I’ve never seen it up close before,” she adds, her fingertip now running along my jawline where the denser, thicker stuff is growing. The itchy shit.
“I know it’s not like Max’s Sasquatch growth,” I point out as Max emerges from the showers already, a towel clutched around his mid section. He stops and stares and when I turn back, Mel’s cheeks are flushed again. “Hey, do you guys mind not getting naked in front of my fiancée?” I yell, grabbing her hand and pulling her out into the hallway. “Wait here. You’ll fly back with us right?”
“Yeah,” she smiles softly, her fingers lacing with mine. “If they’ll let me,” she adds, sending a sheepish glance towards Coach B who’s striding into the room with a dark look on his face, and I can’t say that I blame him. I’m probably in for it and I know I deserve it.
“They will, just…wait here,” I insist, putting my hands on her shoulders and searching her face. “This was a good surprise Mel. I don’t know what you did back home but…it’s good to see you.” With that I kiss her again, clasping her cheeks in my hands and rolling my tongue around hers’ before leaving her, surprisingly reluctantly to go in and take my beating as required.
With his head on my shoulder, Sid snores quietly, a blanket pulled up to his chin. Unlike most of the other guys, he doesn’t seem to need a sleep mask. In fact, the whole plane is almost silent except for the snores and other sounds of restless sleep. The only other people awake on the plane seem to be Disco Dan, who has been analyzing the game on his laptop, his stereo headphones on, and Max.
Ever since I saw him in the dressing room, his muscles gleaming with steaming water from the showers, it’s seemed like he’s been wanting to talk to me, to say something. Not that I think that’s a good idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s an entirely bad idea. Especially since all of the thoughts in my head, all of the prepared speeches I had for Sidney about respecting me and asking my opinion before he does things, went entirely out the window the moment my eyes fell on his round shoulders and made their way down to his goody trail on the flat plane of his stomach.
Even now, knowing that he’s right across the aisle, I can barely breathe. Watching the quick movement of his thumbs on his blackberry, texting or playing a game, I can’t tell, I’m too aware of what those fingers can do and how they can make me feel. And no matter how hard I try to concentrate on the words on the pages in front of me, I keep feeling his gaze, like a soft, warm touch, on my skin.
“Stop it,” I hiss, my gaze still riveted to the magazine in my hands although I’ve probably read the same ten sentences over and over and I still couldn’t tell you what it says.
“Arrêtes ce qui?” I turn to glare at him but now he seems engrossed in whatever is on his blackberry, looking calm and composed, as if he hadn’t just been staring at me.
“You know what,” I snarl back, turning the page of my magazine with a snap, giving myself a paper cut in the process.
“Cessez de vouloir vous avoir?” he asks, making it sound innocent when just saying it out loud makes my belly clench and my mouth go dry.
“Stop it Max…please,” I whimper, shutting my eyes against the vision of his naked torso moving over me that suddenly appears in my head.
“Ou tu veux dire que je devrais cesser de fantasmer au sujet de ton beau corps dans mon lit?” he asks, his voice low and rasping, just as it is when it’s full of need. “Because if that’s what you’re asking, ma petite, that will never happen, c’est impossible.”
“You have to,” I growl back. “I’m marrying him. Did you see the announcement?” I ask, staring at a picture of Liz Hurley in some eenie weenie bikini and I can’t decide if it’s her hip bones or the vision of Max’s that has me more furious.
“Oui, j’ai fait, mais, il ne tu aimes pas. He doesn’t move you like I do,” he growls, sounding like a jungle cat as he finally puts his blackberry aside and turns those deep emerald orbs of his towards me.
“He does…love me and…what do you mean he doesn’t move me?”I hiss, unable to drag my gaze away from his, knowing I should, that the longer I look the more my skin begins to warm and the harder it becomes to breathe.
“He told me, mon petit chat. He called you…maintenant, ce que était le mot qu’il employé? Ah oui, vanilla, he called you vanilla ma petite and if it’s one thing you have never been to me…,” his voice falls away as does his gaze, and I shudder at the relief of being released from his gaze. I’d almost begun to feel like I was about to go up in flames.
“You must…you have to have misunderstood.” My voice catches in my throat and comes out almost as a whisper. My heart had swelled to twice its size to have Sid happy to see me, to have called me vanilla….
“There was no misunderstanding ma petite, I assure you,” Max whispers, his voice thick and velvety as he reaches across the aisle to reach for my hand, but as his fingers brush mine, I feel Sid’s heavy body stirring and he sits up, rubbing at his eyes like a child.
“Fuck…I needed that. Are we almost home?” he asks, lifting the cover from the window to peer out at the night sky.
“Almost,” Max replies, his blackberry once again in his hand, his voice normal, as if nothing at all had happened. “Wheels down in twenty and then home to bed eh mon ami?” he grins, looking lecherously over at us, his thick eyebrows arched.
“Hot tub, then bed,” Sid answers, yawning , before once again snuggling up to me, wrapping his arms covetously around my waist. “Did I tell you what a good surprise this is?” he asks again, that boyish grin of his lighting up his crème caramel coloured eyes.
“You did,” I smile at him, my cheeks aching from smiling when I don’t feel like smiling at all.