“No such luck,” she said out loud, handing me back the phone.
She smirked. Apparently she was psychic. “My email address is not my name, sucker.”
The captain announced that we were descending into Pittsburgh. I had twenty minutes left with a beautiful, funny girl who was outsmarting me at every turn. I literally didn’t know a thing about her.
“You said ‘free trip home’ before. Are you from Toronto?”
“Upstate NY, not too far across the border. Toronto or Buffalo, I have my choice of airports.”
She ran a hand through her long hair and I smelled her shampoo again. A single curl balanced on her shoulder, end up, like it was reaching out to me. I caught myself just before I lifted a finger to touch it. With her tray up, her hands rested in her lap. I noticed she wore one ring on each hand. Jackpot.
“What no wedding ring?” I said, looking down.
She splayed her hands out and laughed. “You are cheap bastard, Sidney.”
It was the first time she said my name.
“What’s this?” I asked as I gently – and I hoped casually – touched the design of the ring on the middle finger of her left hand.
ZING! It wasn’t static. A different kind of electricity shot up my arm and rang the dinner bell in my brain. I might have shuddered, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“It’s a triquetra, a Trinity Knot. It’s a Celtic symbol that’s been around for eons.” She spun the ring on her finger. I noticed it was a little big, like maybe her hands were cold. I took a breath and touched the band on the ring finger of her right hand. It was a totally unnecessary gesture – she was only wearing one other ring. A question would have sufficed but I couldn’t help it.
“I know that one,” I said. “It’s a Claddaugh ring.” She wore it with the crown closest to her hand, the heart emblem pointing out toward her fingertip.
“Do you know what it means?”
“Ummmm, you got me there. What?”
A small shrug. “You can look it up when you get home.”
The pilot announced final descent.
Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesy, I scolded myself. That’s something only a girl would know. A Claddaugh worn with the heart turned outward, away from the hand, means the wearer is unattached and looking for love. He probably won’t look it up. And he’ll never remember how I was wearing it. But still. Lame, Evie, lame.
I had almost lost my breath when he touched my ring. It could have been a taser for all the shock I felt. There was no reaction on his part, so it was just me. Guess it wouldn’t matter that my sad attempt at flirting had fallen on deaf ears.
“Look at that,” Sidney said, pointing out the window.
I leaned over, then leaned over some more. The seats were so wide I was practically in his lap before I could see anything. I could smell his cologne though – something warm, like rumpled bed sheets and sleeping in on Saturdays. My eyes searched among the lights of the skyline. Then I smiled.
“Consul,” I said.
“All lit up like a welcome home sign,” he smiled.
Don’t sit up, don’t sit up. I can’t believe that worked! God bless the arena.
Sit up you freak, or he’s going to call in a restraining order as soon as you touch down.
Three minutes later we landed. One minute after that, we were off the plane.
“Do you know how long it takes to get off the plane from coach? Like an hour!” I looked around, completely relieved to be so close to home. I wheeled my suitcase down the jetway with Sid right behind me. I noticed that he pulled his baseball cap down and turned up the collar of his coat.
“Is that all your luggage?” he asked.
I nodded. I’d only been gone a few days, and my mom always washed my clothes. Something crossed his face – it might have been disappointment.
“I was going to offer you a ride home, but I have to wait for my stuff. I’m sure you’ve had just about enough of hanging in airports.”
Be cool, Evie.
“I was going to take the shuttle, so if you don’t mind I would love a ride. I’d rather wait with you than drive all over town before it takes me home.”
He smiled and tipped the brim of his cap. “I am a full service travel agency, after all.”
We walked quickly through the airport. Once in baggage claim, he went to the far corner and dropped onto a bench out of sight. Everyone from our plane was milling around the assigned carousel but no bags had come out.
“You don’t have that giant Pens bag from the photo, do you? With your name all over it?” I sat next to him.
“Actually, I do,” he winced. “I try to wait till everyone has their stuff and leaves.” The flashing red light came on and the conveyor jerked to a start. The very first bag tumbled onto the belt: Sidney’s.
“I’ll get it,” I said. “Meet me outside.” Before he could protest, I was off.
I skirted the crowd to the empty side of the luggage track. Sure enough, the logo and name on the bag were huge. It even said #87. You could read it from space. With a grunt I grabbed a strap and hauled the bag off. A few people gave me weird looks as I wrestled it onto my shoulder and trudged away.
“Big fan,” I said to them.
She stopped just outside the airport door and looked around. I stepped out of the shadow. Despite her height, my bag looked huge against her frame. She smiled and stomped over.
“That bag looks good on you,” I said.
She laughed. “I was thinking the same thing.” I was wheeling her rainbow carry-on.
We switched bags and headed for the short-term parking lot. Everything went in the trunk of my SUV and she climbed into the passenger seat. As I pulled out of the structure, she dug through her purse. “For parking,” she said, handing me twenty dollar bill.
I tapped the flat plastic box fixed to my windshield. “EZ-Pass. Don’t worry about it.”
“Your travel agency is going bankrupt already.” She blew a little raspberry at me, opened the glove box and stuffed her $20 inside. I had to laugh.
Do it, you wuss!
“I know another way you can make it up to me,” I tried. “Come to the game tomorrow.”
Another movement of her head, another whiff of her shampoo. “I would be doing you a favor by coming to the game tomorrow?”
She pulled her hands into fingerless gloves. “I guess you do need all the fans you can get. Those seats aren’t going to fill themselves. What time?”
“What kind of start time is 2 PM?”
Busted. “Lunch is at 2:30. The game is at 5.” I didn’t look at her, but I could feel her looking at me.
“You would eat for three hours,” she said, shaking her head.
She directed me to North Oakland, about ten minutes from the arena. That could come in very handy, I thought. Don’t be a perv. Damn her stretchy pants. You don’t even know her name. Speaking of which…
“I’ll need your name so I can put the tickets up tomorrow,” I tried.
She smiled. “Nice try. If we’re having lunch before the game, I’m not going in through will call.” She saw right through me. Busted again. I pulled to a stop in front of a large, turn-of-the-century apartment building with an arched doorway. It looked well taken care of and had been freshly painted. She was a few blocks off the party circuit from the Pitt campus. I jumped out, opened the back of the truck and pulled out her suitcase. She took the handle from me.
“Pick you up at 2,” I said.
“Thanks honey.” She put her hand on my arm, reached up and kissed my cheek. Soft hair lifted in my face; delicate, silky lips brushed my skin. Then she was gone.
I need to sit down.
That was better, Evie. And lunch tomorrow. Is that a first date? A second date? In 24 hours. Oh shut up brain.
I tossed my coat onto the table and dropped my suitcase. So happy to be home. I sank into the couch, laid back and put my feet over the armrest. My laptop was on the coffee table so I switched it on. I was expecting baby pictures from a cousin and a skiing article my dad promised to send. Logging into email, I didn’t see either of them. But I did see this:
Subject: Hi stranger
Are you veggie/vegan/allergic or anything else I should know about so I don’t kill you at our first meal?
See you tomorrow,
It was impossible not to smile. Clever boy. I had emailed myself from his phone knowing it would store my address. I just hadn’t been sure he’d think of it. Or use it.
From: Wife (I had to log into my account and change the outgoing name.)
It’s actually our second meal. Forgetting our anniversary already? I have no food preferences, but thanks. For that I will let you use a real knife at lunch.
I clicked on the photo that I’d sent myself. On my full-size monitor it was magnificent. His perfected physique was as obvious as a piano dropping on your head. But it was his smile that drew the eye. One of those truly candid photos, luckily captured by a professional, where you can almost hear the person laughing, almost sense that they are alive.
Resisting the urge to make it my desktop wallpaper, I shut my computer and blissfully crawled into the bed I’d been dreaming about for days.
Late the next morning, I rolled into a wonderful shower. I dried my hair and fixed it into a sloppy little poof in the front. Afternoon games called for light makeup, jeans and a Pens t-shirt with a white long-sleeve shirt underneath. No number on the back - I wasn’t giving that preference up so easily. Not yet. I pulled on some skinny jeans and boots and was outside with Sidney rolled up at 2 PM.
“I realized on the way over that I don’t have your phone number, apartment number or your name. If you hadn’t been down here, I’m not sure what I would have done.”
I laughed. “You’d have thought of something, I have no doubt.”
I would have waited out here all damned day, that’s for sure.
She was wrapped in a green pea coat and navy blue scarf with little flowers on it. A little bit of makeup made her eyes flash against the colors. I was relieved she hadn’t come down in a mini skirt, those horrible fur boots and a pink Pens jersey. I’d been almost certain she wasn’t that kind of girl. But really, you never know. Now I knew – she looked great. And as soon as the car’s heat kicked in, I knew she smelled good too. This was going to be fun.
We’d been in the car for twenty minutes when she asked where we were going. “To my house,” I said.
A beat passed, and then she slapped the dashboard. “Wait! We are going to the Lemieux’s house?!”
I smiled, keeping my eyes on the road. “I live there too.”
She put her hands over her face. “Could you look away for five seconds?”
“That’s not really safe, honey.”
“Just focus on your left, okay?”
I shifted my head a little, but I certainly didn’t look away while she had a silent little spaz attack in the passenger seat. Her hands waved at her sides and she bounced up and down a couple of times. She bit her lip, squeezing back a squeal.
Oh boy, I am in trouble. It was the cutest, most un-self-conscious thing I had ever seen.
She exhaled. “Okay, I’m done.”
We pulled up to the house, past the four cars in the driveway. I opened the front door for her, and she was barely inside before I heard running feet. Max slid to a Risky Business-style stop in the foyer, right in front of us. Jordan and Geno were right behind him.
“Honey, we’re home!” Max yelled. And, because he is completely exuberant and perpetually horny, he threw his arms around my faux-wife and spun her in a circle. She gave a little shriek. When he put her down, he kept his hands on her arms. “Max Talbot, at your service.”
“I knew your friends would be hot.” She looked over her shoulder at me and winked. Max met my eyes with a smile as she leaned in and whispered her name into his ear. She did the same for Jordan and Geno, both of whom had to lean quite a ways down. Not that they minded.
“Nice one, Cros,” Jordan said as we moved into the kitchen.
Clever girl, I said to myself. She read the guys instantly and knew they would love the game as much as she did. Any apprehension I may have had about setting them loose on her evaporated.
“Bonjour!” Kris called out, pulling a tray from the oven. With potholders on both hands, he was an apron away from I Love Lucy. He set the dish on the table.
“Dear God, your hair is even better in person,” she said, sliding right up to him. My wife wasted no time spilling her secret to him as well. I set milk, water and lemonade on the table. Kris cut the lasagna and Jordan helped himself to garlic bread. We were about to sit when the front door opened again.
“Allo?” a female voice called out. Veronique turned the corner, a salad in her hands and Marc-Andre on her heels. She made room for the bowl and turned.
“You must be the wife!” She hugged. “I am happy to meet you. You will sit with me at the game today and I will tell you everything about everyone.”
Marc smacked his palms together. “V is no good with secrets. If you tell her yours, they won’t be secrets for long.” My wife quietly gave them each her name. Everyone else just smiled at me until we sat down.
I jumped into the lasagna, pulled a slice onto my plate and handed it to her. She switched her plate for mine and put a piece of garlic bread on it. Then she handed me a knife and winked.
“We heard how you two met,” Max said. “Pretty smooth, Crosby. I am impressed.”
“Sidney rescued me from another night on the Toronto airport floor,” she said. “And in style too – first class.”
I tipped my glass to her. “Nothing but the best for damsels in distress.”
I really wanted to touch him. He seemed to be everywhere – sitting next to me, leaning over me, putting food on my plate. He even ate a tomato off my salad just as I was going for it. All I could think about was putting my hand on his bare skin.
On top of that, my brain was working to keep up with the guys. They were all funny and sweet and crude and completely inappropriate. I held my own, and even got a few good lines in.
“So, Sid guilt-tripped you into coming over today, since he was nice enough to get you on the plane,” Jordan said.
I finished my bite of bread. “I suggested the Mile High Club, but here we are.” Sidney coughed a gulp of lemonade. Kris reached over and slapped him on the back while everyone howled.
“You funny,” Geno said, stealing my other tomato.
Vero helped me carry the dishes into the kitchen where Sid was loading the dishwasher. There were definitely not any leftovers, but I was full.
“Sidney, I’m going to take your wife out for coffee while you guys nap,” she said. Kris had explained that they all napped on game days between their big meal and heading to the arena. I definitely didn’t want to mess up any routines they had going on. Judging from the size of the house, they could each have their own wing to sleep in.
We loaded on our coats in the foyer. Sidney finished the dishes and came out. I thought he looked a little sleepy – he was probably so used to sleeping in the middle of day that his body needed it.
What his body needs is… SHUT IT!
“See you in a bit, okay?” he asked, coming closer to me than was necessary for a goodbye. I took the opportunity to kiss his cheek lightly.
“Sweet dreams, dear.”
I didn’t have the car door closed around me before Veronique was talking.
“So, Evelyn – it feels good to say that out loud, I’ve been so careful this whole time! This is the most fun game and if I ruin it I will be devastated. I cannot believe you’ve kept it up. Sidney is inside interrogating the guys, guaranteed. But I swore them to silence.”
I laughed. She was already my partner in crime. We drove to a nearby café and got a table near the heater.
“You can call me Evie. Everyone does.”
“And you must call me V, or Vero.” She squeezed my arm. “I’m glad you are here. Sidney needs to have some fun. No offense to Sid, but he a grand-père sometimes.”
We talked as we sipped our drinks in the luxurious warmth. Vero was a font of information, telling funny anecdotes about the guys I’d just met, stories about hockey in general. She talked a bit about the pressure that Sid was under – I had some idea, just from the media always surrounding him.
“He told me you got his bag at the airport last night. That is priceless! Now, I have been talking for ages. Tell me about you.”
“I went to college in Boston then I moved here two years ago. I work for myself, really, but I am a consultant for American Eagle Outfitters. They’re headquarters is about twenty minutes from here. I didn’t want to live out there and I was missing college, so I got a place in North Oakland. Been there ever since.”
Vero nodded. “Friends? Boyfriend? You’d better not say boyfriend.”
I laughed. “No boyfriend. My friends are mostly from work – a lot of them live in the city. I’ve taken a few classes at Pitt, so I know people that way too.”
“And now you know us!” she said. “Sidney never brings girls around. You must have made quite an impression on him.”
“He was just being nice. I told him I’m a big hockey fan.”
She shook her head. “Big hockey fans get tickets. No one gets lunch.”