Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chapter Fourteen

“It’s the middle of the night.”

It was also a stupid thing to say, worried about what time it was and waking someone up. I had just flown to another country and gotten engaged to someone I had known for less than a month. I had just changed my entire life with a single word. My brain only processed what it could handle, which was the dark of night smothering the world.

“They are expecting us,” Sid said. Yet he stood still, as if to move would spook me into realizing what had just happened. But my mind was still turning.

“You told them.” It dawned slowly that there had been more planning than a ring and a flight.

“I asked them,” he clarified.

That was it. I started crying for real. Sid made an ‘aww’ noise and pulled me back into his arms, letting me sob against his solid chest. It was so sweet and old-fashioned and honestly a huge relief I wasn’t showing up at the door of my childhood home with a stranger in tow and ring on my finger. Everyone would assume I was pregnant. Heaven forbid I was pregnant – we’d been together such a short time that I wouldn’t even know it yet. My nerves got swept up in the giggle and soon I was in hysterics.

“What did you say? Hi, Mr. Montgomery, this is Sidney Crosby and I met your daughter. We know each other. There may have been some air-traffic control violations. Anyway, I was wondering if I could marry her.”

He laughed too, using his big thumbs to wipe the tears from my face. “Pretty much. But I also mentioned that I am completely in love with you and that I would never push you into something you weren’t ready for.”

“What did he say?”

“He thought I was your brother prank calling. I didn’t even know you had a brother.”

If my brother had thought of it, he’d have done it. Eventually Sid convinced my dad it was really him, and the question was honest. Sid topped it off with a promise to visit immediately and my dad had consented.

“Then he put your mom on the phone.”

I made a strained face. “Uh oh.”

Sid shook his head. “There was some screaming. She thought I was being romantic and sweeping you off your feet.” I stared up at him, my heart still fluttering and wondering how on Earth I’d ended up here. Sid read my mind and kissed home the answer. Then he took my hand, my bag and wheeled our little family out of the airport.

The car was waiting for us. I buckled myself into the front seat, took a deep breath and, as soon as Sidney was also aboard, had a total spaz attack. I squealed and bounced and waved my hands. Shock definitely still reigned but I was beginning to realize what had just happened. He reached for my hand and held it till we got to the border. Ever the optimist, Sidney simply rolled to the booth and handed his passport to the agent.

“Oh my God!” the guy said. He didn’t bother trying to catch himself. “It’s my lucky night! Sidney Crosby!” Sid just nodded and said hi, agreed to an autograph. The guard slowly realized I was there and asked for my passport too. I silently thanked the universe it was a male guard – a female guard would have instantly realized the probable importance of a woman in a rented car with Sidney Crosby in the middle of the night. As I reached to give him my papers, I caught sight of my own ring. My engagement ring. It was a little more than probable importance at this point. The guard waved us through, beaming, and Sid took my hand again. Using his thumb, he spun the ring around my finger.

“Do you like it?”

Without hesitation I told him, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect.”

Sid was clearly proud of himself. The ring was stunning – not too big or flashy, just simple and extremely sparkly. I stared at it against the weave of our fingers, catching and magnifying the dashboard lights into a rainbow of splashes. I think I stared at it the whole way home. It was after midnight when we finally crunched across the gravel of my parents’ driveway.

“Let’s hurry, or my mom will run out here,” I said. We hustled up to the door just as it swung open.

“EVIE!” She practically jumped into my arms. I’d just seen them, but now they knew everything had changed. When she let go of me, she gave Sidney the same overwhelming attention. “SIDNEY!”

My dad was next, hugging me hard. I knew he’d be emotional – surprised, happy, but mostly protective. I was very much his little girl and he wanted me to have the perfect life. The idea of Sidney promised that, by my dad would never sell his daughter cheap. He had to know for a fact that this rich, famous superstar of a guy was also the best person on earth to take care of his baby.

“Mr. Montgomery,” Sidney said in his best Face-of-the-NHL voice. Firm handshake – it was all very manly.

“Guess it really was you on the phone,” my dad cracked. Then my mom screamed and hugged them both, tears running down her face, and both the guys cracked up. Sidney pulled me in and we had a little group hug, my mom jumping up and down in the middle.

“Show us!” she yelled.

I held out the ring for examination. Everyone got quiet with awe as they lifted and scrutinized like they knew anything about diamonds. They proclaimed it beautiful and I saw my dad appreciate that it was not some huge, Titanic-sized rock. It was almost modest and that appealed to him. My mom just liked shiny things.

“Come in, come in!” They steered us toward the living room.

The house was cozy and clean, like the house I’d grown up in. Evie’s parents gave us the couch and sat in armchairs on opposite sides, leaning in and looking expectant. I guess this was my cue.

“I know this is really sudden, but I’m glad to be meeting you. Even if I did things a little backward.”

Her dad smiled. He seemed like a nice guy – Evie had his tall, athletic build and his nose. When I’d called, he’d known who I was immediately. Nothing worse than having to explain why you’re rich and famous, then announcing your intention to carry off their daughter.

“I admit when we spoke earlier I was pretty shocked,” he started. “But I appreciate that you did that….”

Evie looked up from her hand with a tiny shriek. “Did you just say earlier? Like earlier today?” Her dad nodded and she turned to me.


“Mmhmm,” I confirmed.

A tiny look of doubt crossed her face, amazed that I would decide and ask her and come here in the same day, but it was beaten quickly back. “Bahahahahahahaha,” she howled. “What did you do, buy a ring this morning?!”

“Yes,” I said. She froze, her mouth open in mid-laugh. It was as if I’d just announced I had a spaceship parked in the yard.

“You did?” she whispered. “Oh my God.”

“But I knew yesterday, and the day before,” I told everyone. “I designed a ring myself a few days ago, but Vero said the store would have my idea. In truth, this one is better. It’s more… graceful than mine.”

Evie looked from her hand to me and back. “What did the salesperson say?”

“Uh… he thought it was for Marc. I brought him with me, in case someone recognized us.”

One eyebrow lifted as she considered the deviousness of our plan. “Very clever, Mr. Crosby.” Next to us her mom cleared her throat. “Oh, sorry! Mom, Sid’s famous. He plays hockey. He’s a really big deal, especially in Pittsburgh.”

“Oh I know, honey.”

Her dad laughed. “Yeah, because I showed her online today. She saw the highlights though, the Cup and the Gold Medal and stuff.”

“I have been to some hockey games!” my mom protested. It was true; she’d carted us around when we were little, whether to a concert or a sporting event that she didn’t care at all about. “And I know how to Google, for my crossword puzzles. There were a million results for Sidney so I got the idea and then gave up.” She turned to me. “I’ll take Evie’s word on you, Sidney.”

Eventually Evie was yawning and her mom followed out. I stayed, sensing her father wanted to talk to me on his own. My palms were damp – he had given his permission and now I knew he was a very nice person living a stable, happy life. He would want the same for Evie.

“Thank you for calling us,” he said to start. “I know it’s old–fashioned but it meant a lot to me and her mom. And I follow hockey, so I feel like I know you a little bit. I know you’re not out there running wild and tearing up the town. Never heard a bad word about you, actually. Well, you know, the whining, but….” He laughed and that made it okay for me to laugh. He confessed to being a Leafs fan and I promised to set them up with tickets when we played in Toronto. Evie could come to the game and I’d have a family trip with my new family.

“You’ll take care of her?” he asked.

I would. I couldn’t wait to start. I wanted nothing more in the world, for the first time in my life I wanted something more than winning. “I promise. And thank you for giving me the chance.”

He clapped me on the shoulder. “Evie makes her own decisions, always has. Notice she didn’t ask for our permission.”

My mom bustled into the room, pretending to make sure it was warm enough. I brushed my teeth, watching her putz around and counting down the seconds until she’d get to her point. It was how she operated.

“Evie, I’m so happy for you. Are you sure this is it?”

“I am,” I said without rinsing. “I’m also aware it’s insane. But that doesn’t change how I feel.” That was all she needed. She hugged me and kissed my cheek – every inch the proud mom. Hands on my shoulders she looked straight in my eye.

“When I looked online today, I thought no way he’s that good looking. I was wrong.”

I heard her pass Sidney in the hallway and hug him goodnight. Then he closed the door and we were standing in my childhood bedroom, in what we’d worn to work, engaged to be married. Holy shit. He felt it too, and put his arms around me in a protective, comforting way.

“I promised your dad I would take care of you,” he said quietly. “And I promise you. I will take care of you, Evie.”

Everything about him was right. He had the physical warmth I’d always want to be near. He was strong, like a capable person would be, and big enough to protect me. Yet his features were soft: long eyelashes, full lips, perfect skin and the curl of his hair. Bottomless brown eyes met mine with the weight of the world in them – Sidney was serious and I was too.

“And I will take care of you.”

It seemed fitting that we be in my childhood home. It was maybe the only thing that had ever made me feel as safe as Sidney did. Sure it would be crazy spending my life with him, being ruled by the game and his celebrity. But everyone’s life had challenges and rewards. Watching Sidney slip off his clothes and climb beneath my high school comforter, I knew I’d won the ultimate prize.

I had never brought a guy home here. And now I never would – just my fiancé. I decided that meant it was okay to make quick work of my outfit and slide in next to him wearing nothing but a smile.

His solid muscles were hot to the touch, and touch them I did. Sidney held himself over me, lifting my face to his with hands twisted into my hair. I ran my palms over his flesh. My thumbs caught in his shorts and he wiggled his hips so I could remove the last thing separating us.

Sidney nipped his teeth into the soft plane of my neck, right over my pulse point. The muscles of his back flexed under my fingers. His hands swept past my hips, angling in and pushing my thighs apart. He traced the cleft in my body and gently swiped a thick finger along my slit. I gasped. He did it again and I squirmed against him. I couldn’t handle the teasing tonight.

“I want you now,” I said softly. He spread his fingers and me, nudged the tip of his cock against my swollen skin and paused to look down at me.

“I’ve never had a boy in this bed,” I whispered. With his eyes glued to mine, Sidney pressed his cock firmly into my waiting body. The slow fiction was exquisite and I managed a ragged breath. When he was fully, deeply inside, Sidney kissed my lips.

“No boys,” he said. “Just your husband.”

Husband. It probably should have freaked me out. Instead it almost made me come immediately. Evie just looked up at me without a hint of fear in her eyes. I may have proposed but she was the brave on in our relationship. I knew no life other than my own, complete with pressure and scrutiny and back-biting. Evie was choosing it for the sake of being with me.

I moved the way I knew she liked, holding her hips to the mattress so the bed wouldn’t creak. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t get laid in high school – I was too strong for this old furniture. But Evie would want the emotional connection tonight, not just the way I could work her into a spinning top. So it was easier to drag slowly in and out of her warm, sweet core, teasing her hot spot. High from the day’s events and drunk on the taste of her skin, I whispered over and over that I loved her, that I would take care of her. I started right then, torturing her with pleasure until she begged me for release.

“Sid, please baby.”

No one had ever seemed so clear to me – I could make her laugh or cry, make her come in a moment if I wanted to. She was a city: I knew the landmarks and had my whole life to explore the back roads. I gave her three short, forceful thrusts right to her g-spot and felt her break open like an egg. Her body rippled and rolled as her breathing hitched and caught. The silky flood made my cock throb and I let go without a thought, let her pull me over.

“Oh God,” I said spots of light burst behind my eyes.

“I love you,” she panted.

When we were curled together, naked and spent, I pulled her in tight to my chest. Her head rested on my bicep and our arms were around each other’s middles. My lips found her temple with a kiss.

“Mrs. Crosby,” I said.

For once she didn’t laugh. “Hmmm, Mrs. Crosby.”

In the morning, life was life again. Just like that. Her parents beamed and her dad talked to me about travel and what other wives did while their husbands were on the road. Evie and I hadn’t talked about the off season or her job, there hadn’t been time. I was relieved when no one brought it up over bacon and eggs. Halfway through the meal, the front door flew open.

“Holy shit, you were telling the truth!” A younger guy with sandy brown hair and a snowboarding jacket hollered from the kitchen doorway.

“Sid, this is my brother Eric.”

I stood to shake but Eric just hugged me. Evie’s dad rolled his eyes like his son got the hugging from his wife’s side. Eric pulled up a chair, helped himself to breakfast and joined right in our conversation. Then he and Evie took me on a tour of their hometown, showing me where they played soccer in school and snuck beer into the movies. We drove another few minutes and pulled into the parking lot of a rec center. As soon as we were out of the car, I could hear the sound of outdoor hockey being played.

Sure enough, a bunch of kids from five to about twelve were fooling around on a clapboard rink. Some parents lined the boards, sipping coffee in gloved hands and a few adults skated amongst the kids. No organized games were on, it seemed like everyone was just fooling around. A couple waved from rinkside and started walking toward us.

“Your mom said you were home again!” A solidly built man in a Carhart jacket ambled up, hands in his pockets. I saw the resemblance to Evie’s father just as the man recognized me. “Hello… uh, aren’t you….”

Eric jumped right in. “Better than that. He’s marrying Evie.”

The woman at his side yelped. She whipped Evie’s hand up and examined the exhibit A in the case. Then she lifted Evie off the ground in a hug. “WHAT?! I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend!”

Her husband peeled her back and turned her toward me. “Honey, this is Sidney Crosby.”

The woman had a child who played hockey and a husband who followed it. She scrolled through her memory and eventually hit on something that rang true. “You’re Sidney Crosby?”

“Nice to meet you.”

“This is my aunt Mary Lynn and my Uncle Scott. Dad’s brother,” Evie said. I shook hands with the couple, who were a little open-mouthed in surprise. A cheer at the rink distracted us – some kids were dog-piling on another kid. “And that’s probably my cousin Brendan. He’s eight and he’ll pee his pants when he meets you.”

Her aunt and uncle looked over their shoulders at me as we followed to the rink. I got the impression they were impressed, but not overly so. They’d have looked that way at any surprise fiancé that Evie turned up with.

“Are you ready to meet my adoring public? I’m a pretty big deal with middle schoolers.” she asked.

I put my arm around her shoulders. Like the bowling event, this would be a good first baby step toward whatever we were really doing. I wondered it if was the best way to announce our engagement, just as Evie said to her family: “Can we keep the engagement thing to ourselves for now? I think there will probably be some big media thing….” Everyone nodded and Evie slipped on a pair of mittens.


“You think of everything,” I said.

I have only ever turned up at a random hockey practice in a TV commercial. Not surprisingly it went much the same in real life. The first few kids were stunned then some whooping and hollering drew a crowd. Parents came over. Someone produced a pair of markers – to this day I think it was Evie. I signed helmets and sticks and jerseys and skates. People snapped photos on their phones. To Evie’s dismay, no one peed their pants.

When we had waved goodbye for the millionth time, I took Evie and Eric to lunch at their favorite local sandwich place. Eric told embarrassing stories about little Evie, and she had some good ones about him. For the first time ever I was thankful that my oppressive career path made me to lead such a squeaky clean life. It made it easier to face prospective in-laws without a Google image search like Max’s waiting to be discovered.

Back at her house, we loaded the rental car and bid her parents goodbye. Her father gave me a very firm handshake, then a hug. When he hugged Evie I saw tears in his eyes. I renewed my promise mentally to always be good to her, since so many people were counting on me.

The airport and flight were uneventful except that when I held her hand, I held her engagement ring too. We were back in Pittsburgh just after dark. I didn’t say anything, just steered us straight for the Lemieux’s side of the house.

“Have you told your parents yet?” I asked. I knew he was taking us to tell Mario, but I was a little unsure of the chain of command in Sidney’s life.

“I told my mom I was going to ask you. We agreed to wait to tell my dad.”

“Wait for what?”

He smiled. “To make sure you said yes.”

As if. The smell of food met us inside the house, and I knew we’d be catching them at a late dinner. Plates banged and younger voices rang out. The sound didn’t diminish as we rounded the corner.

“Sid!” A girl of about fourteen launched off the table and hugged him. A slightly older boy was right behind. Sid introduced me to Austin and Alexa, then Stephanie who looked to be sixteen. Nathalie gave us both hugs, but Mario just stood on the far side of the table with a fatherly look on his face.

“What?” he asked. Everyone got quiet. They would all know Sid had gotten the day off from practice and possibly that he’d left the country. You didn’t let your prize pony just wander out of the yard. Fear stabbed at my heart – he hadn’t told them. What if they objected?

Sid simply held up my left hand. “We’re getting married.”

Nathalie and Stephanie gasped. At sixteen Stephanie was old enough to really understand the role that Sidney played with the team. Alexa probably did too, but excitement got the best of her and she threw her arms around me.

“You can live with us and we’ll have more girls than boys again!”

Everyone laughed and the tension eased. Nathalie hugged me as well then Sid, and Mario congratulated us too. They even made room for us at the table. I sensed it was so they could keep up close until there was time to discuss about this little surprise we’d delivered. Austin started talking about school and Alexa asked me more wedding questions than I had ever considered. I promised to hire her as my wedding planner, when we got around to that part. Sid looked meaningfully at Mario when I said it could be a long ways off.

Eventually the kids finished. Stephanie had to be sent to do her homework – she knew she was missing the good part. Mario cracked a beer for each of us and sat back down.

“Married.” It was too late to be a question, of course, but he said it a little like pronouncing a sentence in court.

“Married,” Sid agreed.

“Have you told your father?”

“Just my mom.”

Mario nodded sagely. “And Dan?”

Sidney had told his coach, feeling he needed a really good reason to be allowed out of practice. Plus Flower knew, and he wasn’t so good with secrets. I’d be willing to guess the entire team knew by now.

“Okay. How do you want to do this?” Mario asked.

A little disappointment must have shown on my face. If the last few weeks had been crazy then the last twenty-four hours were straight-jacket, padded-room worthy. And yet everything had gone so well I felt a little tingle of magic surrounding us. Sidney’s surprise proposal, the fact that he called my parents and they were so supportive. Even seeing him today with the kids at the rink – he didn’t have to be like that. No law required superstars to be good, patient, humble people. But Sidney really was. Now his mentor and closest advisor, probably closer than his parents, was being a little reluctant.

Mostly one thing worried me: Mario had been through this. He had been the closest thing to Sid the NHL had ever known, even then without the internet. Nathalie had lived this life. They would be the only ones with a right to doubt the decision we’d made.

“Put it on the Jumbotron,” Sid deadpanned.

Mario’s face got hard, then cracked when he realized it was a joke. “We could melt the ice overnight and paint it in the logo tomorrow.”

“Let’s just get a sponsor to do fake engagement rings for the first 10,000 fans,” Sid shrugged.

He held my hand tightly under the table. I could tell he was concerned as well. This was a personal decision for him and maybe the first big one he’d ever made without help. Sid the Kid, all grown up. It would be a relevation to anyone but he wasn’t going to stay the ingénue rookie youngster forever.

“Evie, how do you want to do it?”

We were all surprised by Nathalie’s voice. I figured I didn’t have much say in the matter. But Nathalie explained that my life would change the most, my identity would raise the most questions and undergo the most investigation. Therefore I should have a vote.

“Well they already know I exist. What if we did one interview with one of the TV stations to get the news out there. After that… I mean, I plan on being at the games but I don’t have to talk to press.”

“That’s a pretty good idea,” Mario agreed. “I’m sure we could get someone after morning skate tomorrow. We won’t tell them what it is before they arrive, so it won’t get leaked. Everyone will see the interview before the game. So they’ll have at least the basic information.”

“I can take the day off,” I volunteered. Sid agreed to the plan. We talked about some logistics and how much to tell people about our relationship. News of Sidney’s engagement would certainly be a top story, but our details were scandalous. In the end we settled on saying we’d known each other “a while” and had been friends first. The part about meeting on a plane was a great story and fair game. If you’re going to fib, it was best to use as much truth as possible to back it up.

Once our plan was in place the mood in the room lightened. Mario even made a joke about getting the gate agent to give a speech at the wedding. Mario suggested they go in the other room to call Sid’s father. Now I knew why he’d only told his mother – his father would be more inclined to listen to Mario’s reasoning over Sidney’s.

That left me and Nathalie. I tapped the band of my ring nervously against the table as she got us another round of drinks. When she came back, her smile was surprisingly genuine and conspiratorial.

“I’m sorry, Evie. We worry so much about Sidney that we forget he’s an adult. All of this, it’s nothing to do with you. We’re both very fond of you. It’s just fast. I hope you can understand that we’re surprised – Sidney is not an impulsive person.”

“I was surprised too.” It was partially in agreement, partially in defense of myself. I had not trapped Sidney into something or so much as suggested marriage.

That earned me some points. “I’m sure Sidney enjoyed that.”

She asked for the entire story and by the end was beaming. I showed her the ring twice and told her about him designing one online, pretending it was for Marc, calling my parents. As she realized the planning he’d put into this decision, she warmed to the idea. By the time Sid came back for me, we were giggling over her old wedding stories.

“Evie, let me give you a hug. I am being all business here when truly, I am so happy for you two.” Mario wrapped me into the kind of hug I’d seen him give Sidney before. “Hearing Sid explain the situation to his father, I know he is very sure about this and very much in love with you. That’s good enough for me.”

It nearly made me tear up. “Thank you. I know it seems fast, but we’re not rushing to the altar. Just to this part.”

Sid put his arm around me. “Uh, does that mean I should cancel the church for the morning?”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chapter Thirteen

The phone scared the crap out of me. It rang like an air raid siren somewhere to my left and my heart pounded frantically. I untangled myself from Evie – sometime in the night she’s taken over as little spoon – and swiped it off the nightstand. I didn’t look at the screen or speak, just pressed it to my ear.

“Google alert!”

“Jesus Christ, Jordan!” I yanked the phone back from my ear, temporarily deaf, and held it down for Evie.

“Is it too early?” he asked stupidly.

“No,” Evie said, her voice sultry with sleep. “I always wanted to wake up with you, Staal.”

“Sorry foxy, there is already an E Staal. Plus you’re famous and I don’t do sloppy seconds.” He was so loud I could hear every word. Evie rolled onto her back, nestling against me, and winced in the light. “So, you wanna hear what I found?”

I instinctively put my arm around Evie’s stomach. There was nothing I could do about the attention she would garner as my girlfriend and I’d been praying all along that she understood what she was signing up for. I believed she did. Still they say the first cut is the deepest.

“Okay,” she shrugged.

Jordan took a deep breath, preparing himself. Then he said, “Nothing.”


“I didn’t find anything. No one knows who you are. There are stories about Sid having a girlfriend and bringing her out, but there’s nothing at all about you.” He paused. “You know what that means, eh?”

Evie opened her gray eyes and found me looking right back at her. One eyebrow arched slightly and we spoke at the same time.

“We have to do it all over again.”

It wasn’t a surprise. We hadn’t given anyone at the bowling event any real information, certainly not the press, and it had only been one day since. If anything, I had been curious to see whether or not they could find out about Evie on their own. I wanted to test this system, see how deep its roots went. Guess they couldn’t get something out of nothing.

She quickly said goodbye to Jordan and I rolled down until my head lay almost on her shoulder. I felt heavier suddenly, like two hundred pounds of dead weight.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“You didn’t really think it was going be that easy, did you?”

I was amazed to see a smile on her face. I thought she’d want to kill me or cry. She had been nervous yesterday, more than she let on. I knew her well enough to see it, and well enough to love her for trying to hide it. We hid our nerves all the time because we had no choice. For Evie to have done it meant we really were a team. And now… well you win some, you lose some.

“You’re incredible,” I told her honestly. “I am so in love with you.”

She giggled and wrapped her legs around mine. “We’ll have to come up with something really good now.”

I already knew what it was.

Sid looked so worried I had to laugh. Not that I wanted to debut again. But I prided myself on being pretty realistic about how this was going to go. And there was no point in stressing out about it – I was already way too far in to consider turning back. I could barely get my feet around Sidney’s giant calves, but I would my legs in close and settled against his warm body. He rolled on top of me and I kissed him as deeply as I could, trying to show him that I wasn’t going to freak out and run away. I wasn’t going to let him down.

The team had a closed practice and Sidney was relieved – he could maybe avoid talking about me just yet. It would give us the afternoon the come up with a plan. He dropped me at work with a long kiss goodbye.

“Don’t let your co-workers tell anybody yet,” he reminded.

Easier said than done. I was barely though the door before people were applauding. Libby and Robbie had plastered my cubicle with stories from the newspapers about Sidney’s Mystery Date – they must have bought ten copies of each paper. They stood by my desk, waiting for me, as everyone watched. I did a slow turn and took a little bow.

“You guys are insane.”

Everyone wanted to know all about the bowling event. We could have moved into the conference room for all the people that crowded around to hear the story. This was my baby step toward what would be coming shortly with the real peanut gallery, and this audience was all on my side. There were a few people I didn’t know well who probably thought I was fanning my peacock feathers, but for the most part these were my good friends and they were excited for me, if still a little stunned.

Allison pointed to one of the newspaper photos. “Is he that hot in real life?”

It was a picture of Sid in the locker room before a game, squeezed into some very descriptive Under Armor with his hair a mess. It was his sex hair, but only I knew that. Then I blushed and apparently it told everyone.

“Oh God,” Libby said, shoving Robbie away. “No one should be that lucky.”

“So, what do you think?”

Marc and Vero sat side by side on the locker room bench, eyes and mouths wide open. Completely silent. I just waited.

“You’re… it’s so… really?” Marc stammered.

I nodded.

“It’s really soon. You’re sure?”

I nodded again.

“And you think she’ll….”

I kept nodding. Marc leaned back with a sigh, studying me for signs of madness. I knew he really liked Evie – that wasn’t why he questioned me. If anything, this was why I told them first. Also I needed help. We just stared at each other until I knew Flower would give up and get excited. But Vero beat him to the punch.

“Mon Dieu, it’s so romantic!” She stood up in a blur and hugged me tightly. “It’s crazy and it’s perfect. If you feel it, do it.” Then she slowly turned, one arm still around my shoulder, and gave Marc a hawk-eyed look. “Maybe your enthusiasm will rub off on your teammates.”

Marc looked sheepish and agreed with Vero’s decision to support me. And so we hatched a little plan and an hour later, Marc and I were in the private customer gallery at the only Tiffany’s in town. A fussy older man in a sharp suit laid out every single engagement ring in the place on a padded velvet table. When I had shown Vero the picture of the ring I designed, she was adamant they would have something almost exactly matched in the store. Apparently I was very traditional in my tastes. Vero was only mad she couldn’t be there to help choose it, lest she ruin the ruse.

“These,” Marc pointed to the tray farthest to the left. They were simple bands with single diamond settings in every imaginable shape. What I thought had looked square was actually a variety of almost-square cuts: asscher, princess and radiant. The salesman explained the options and settings and clarities but I wasn’t listening.

It was there. Vero had been right. There was an assher-cut stone mounted on a white gold band. On either side of the stone, at top and bottom, the setting was an extension of the band, holding the diamond as if it were a flower supported by its petals. The lines were graceful and delicate, the light refracting like a prism from the surface of the stone. It wasn’t the biggest diamond on the table, but I thought it was by far the most beautiful.

“This one,” I said. Flower immediately put down the diamond he’d been studying and climbed over me to look. He let out a low whistle.

“You think she’ll like that one?”

“She’ll love it.” I knew beyond a doubt that she would.

The salesman lifted it carefully from the display. I almost hissed as he touched it – that was Evie’s ring now, my ring for her. I didn’t want anyone else touching it. My palm opened wide and I swear the ring was hot against my skin. I felt pins and needles as the blood rushed to my hand, demanding physical attention to something so important. I must have looked beatific because I could the salesman studying me strangely.

“Get this one,” I shook it off and presented the ring to Marc. But he was distracted – holding another ring in his fingers. It was also white gold, with an oval cut diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds that trailed away over the top of the band. It was a little flashier than Evie’s, more modern but undeniably beautiful. Marc turned to me, moving only his neck as if the rest of him were frozen in place.

“What about this one?” he said. His meaning was unmistakable and I’m sure my mouth fell open.

“That one… too? Both rings?”

Marc nodded, looking just as surprised as I did. I hope the salesman gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Marc’s fingertips were white were he pinched the band in his enormous grip. Surely an optical illusion, the diamond seemed to radiate its own light.

“Yes. Yes get both.”

“Two rings?” the salesman asked, his voice rising in excitement.

I snatched Evie’s ring back from a distracted Marc and nodded at the man. “Yes, he’ll take both.”

It seemed to take forever to get out of the shop. Nathalie’s favorite Christmas movie was Love Actually and I’d seen it a hundred times. The part where Mr. Bean spends hours wrapping the necklace, while Professor Snape is trying to hide it from his wife? This was worse. Between the sizing and the shining it was ages. And I was never sure if the salesman knew who we were – he didn’t blink at the name on Marc’s card and he didn’t seem to look at me more than normal. Either our ruse was working or he was well paid for being discreet.

“Good luck, gentlemen,” he said as goodbye.

When Marc finally climbed into the car, he curled shaking hands around the steering wheel and looked straight ahead. “I can’t believe I just did that.”

He was in shock. I knew he was thrilled, excited, scared – all the things I was feeling. Only he’d been with Vero since they were kids and there was zero question they were soul mates. Yet he seemed more scared that I was.

“She’ll be so excited,” I tried.

He finally looked at me, blinking away the terror. “I know. I am excited. I have been thinking about it forever and… I don’t know. If you can be so brave with Evie then what am I waiting for? Of course I will marry her. She knows this. But what if she worries? What if she thinks I am not sure, or I don’t love her as much as you love Evie? I can’t let her think that.”

“She doesn’t,” I assured him.

He nodded once. “Not anymore.”

I waited for the call. Work went on around me and I even accomplished a few tasks, all the while expecting the phone to ring with a reporter on the other end. For a squad of badge-wearing journalists to bum rush my desk. To find someone suspended from a grappling hook, peering in the window with a spy camera.

“You okay?” Libby said. She handed me an open can of Coke – I never drank soda, but I needed something to settle my stomach. “You look a little pale.”

“My imagination is running away with me. I knew it wouldn’t be over after last night, but this waiting might be worse. I’m not a surprise anymore; I’m like a rebel base to be located and destroyed.”

Libby looked meaningfully at the newspaper photo of Sid still taped to my cabinet. “Wah waaaaaaaaaaah.”

The day ended with no ambushes or telephoto lenses. I hadn’t heard from Sidney yet so I hitched a ride home with Allison and trudged up the stairs. If my neighbors had seen the TV clip they might have recognized me, but no one was in the hallway.

“Hey Beth, I…,” and I stopped. There was music on. My first thought was Beth had a guy here, probably Kris, and I might be about to get an eyeful of sex hair in action. I practically threw open the door.

It wasn’t Beth.

Sidney was leaning against the far wall and a tiny smile came to his face. He wore dark jeans and a soft-looking black sweater. Sleeves were pushed up his forearms, revealing the big watch that always looked so manly across his wide wrist. Next to him, my rainbow striped suitcase sat like it had somewhere to go.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I answered slowly. I may have only known Sid for a few weeks but this was not his typical date night vibe.

“Don’t take off your coat.” He pulled on his own jacket and grabbed the handle on my suitcase, then came right to where I stood and pressed a kiss to my lips. He was a giant – between his body and the doorway I felt miniscule. He pushed me back into the hallway with his chest.


“Where are we going?”

Now I got a full smile. “It’s a surprise.”

“But, I… you… you have practice tomorrow.”

He just shrugged. That definitely was not the Sidney I knew. He was halfway down the stairs before I moved to follow. “Wait, what is going on?”

He looked up at me, now a full flight below. “We’re going to miss our flight.”

I blew him a raspberry and stomped after him down the stairs. His car was around the corner and I peered over the seat to see his small overnight bag in the back. Okay, I can go with this, I told myself. So I didn’t ask again but just leaned back in my seat. From the corner of my eye, I saw Sid trying to sneak looks at me. Finally, I broke down and laughed.

“I love surprises!”

“You’d better.”

We parked in the short term lot and trundled into the Air Canada check in. Sidney had his customary hat pulled down over his brow but I was sure everyone recognized the size of his body and the way he moved. I would have known him from space. There was no line at the first class counter and the agent, a thirty-something blond woman, didn’t look surprised to see us. That should have been my first clue.

“Mr. and Mrs. Crosby, nice to see you.”

He giggled as I slapped his arm. The agent looked at my ID, with my real last name, and simply batted her lashes and confirmed me for the flight. The perma-smile never left her face as she closed the tickets into an envelope and handed it right to Sidney without ever mentioning where we were going. I tried to peek as we stopped for the security desk, but the bored agent looked at my license, face and presumably my real name on the boarding pass and waved us through.

“You are good,” I admitted. Sidney just kept his head down and tried not to get spotted in line. Luckily it was pretty empty and we were hiding in the Air Canada lounge within minutes. We ordered ice teas and looked out at the planes on the runway. Sidney reached across the chair and twisted his fingers into mine.

“Is this really okay?” he asked.

Of course it was. The last few weeks had been a complete head-long rush into something that felt totally right. What could be weird about a surprise trip to a mystery destination? It was practically the one-line description of our entire relationship.

“I’m kind of excited!” I told him. His uncontrolled, mile-wide goofy grin was my favorite, where he just lost that measure of control he always exercised and let the world in close for a change. We ignored the issue and talked about nothing.

It was quite a while before Sidney stood. “Ready?”

There were eight gates in our part of the circular-shaped terminal. Four flights were taking off within the hour: Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and New York. They would be the last flights out for the day.

“Which one?” he asked. I had no idea – they were all quick trips, and if we were coming back tomorrow all possible. I’d peeked in my bag and seen a few sweaters and some gloves, no help for four cold locations. As I shrugged, the PA crackled to life and announced final boarding for the flight to Toronto.

With a smile, Sidney went that way.

It could have been the same plane we met on. First class was just a few rows and we were in the same seats: 3A and 3B. Before I was even belted in I knew the flight attendant would be calling me “Mrs. Crosby.” It still made Sidney laugh when she did.

“Something with vodka,” I ordered as I had the first day. It seemed like ages ago, like I’d known Sidney forever, but the sense-memory of the plane was strong. I had been so relieved to get a flight, then so surprised and flustered by Sidney. And turned on. I saw now that he filled his entire seat with that broad, solid body just the way I’d first noticed. Dark curls poked from beneath his hat, begging to be twirled between my fingers.

The attendant delivered my drink. “Enjoy the flight, Mrs. Crosby.”

“I always do.”

My heart was pounding. The entire afternoon had been one long sugar high, twisting my stomach until I felt like I always had to pee. Marc had called Kris, who called Beth. We were going to tell her it was a surprise trip just to get me into the apartment, but I needed a little more information and so I had to tell Beth the truth. She was crying before I finished. Then I called Evie’s boss, Allison, and asked if she could have the next day off. Allison agreed immediately and even offered to drive Evie home.

I stood in front of her closet feeling like an intruder. I had slept in that room, told her I love her in that room and yet there were a million things I’d never seen, a million things about Evie I didn’t yet have the privilege of knowing. Faced with all that, I almost called it off. Clearly Evie had lived a great life before me and she had been happy before me. But I took a deep breath and reached for something I knew – the gauzy top she’d borrowed from Vero the first night we went out. The night we kissed, the night we made love. It hung from the footboard like a flag reminding me that we had formed an alliance. I decided all the unknowns were just a lifetime of things to learn.

The ring was in my pocket. There was a scary moment when I had to switch it to my bag to go through security, I was afraid she’d see me making the switch. But she was busy putting her shoes on and I felt better with the weight of that tiny box against my side.

Evie didn’t ask why we were going. She had barely asked where. Whether she trusted me or was just up for an adventure, Evie was not nervous to let me lead. Hopefully she’d feel the same when I popped the question. We shared a Sky Mall magazine, picking out gifts for the guys. Max and Kris got most of them, as the Sky Mall had a lot of gadgets for really hairy people. We also adopted an imaginary dog and gave it a ramp so it could climb onto our couch and a gnome statue to play with in the yard. Before I knew it we were standing in the Toronto airport.

Two gates over, I steered Evie toward the check-in desk at another gate. It was nearly 11 PM and there was no flight leaving from here soon – the desk was dark and the chairs empty. I stopped in front of the seats closest to the counter.

“That’s where you were sitting.”


“The night we met, you were talking to the agent when I got here. Then you sat down right there, with this.” I indicated her suitcase. She looked around and decided I was right.

“This place was a refugee camp that weekend. I might have a wartime flashback.” But she looked fine as she considered how clean and non-threatening the terminal looked now.

“You were beautiful.” Evie’s smile caught on her face, the way it did when I said something really sweet. But it was true. “You had on those stretchy pants and…,” I let her laugh, “and you were really nice to the agent. I could hear you telling her it was okay that you’d been bumped again.”

“Oh, Elizabeth! I felt so bad for her… worst job ever.”

“She was the one who made you Mrs. Crosby.” As I spoke, I reached into my pocket. Evie didn’t seem to notice. I’d taken the ring from its box in the airplane bathroom and tucked it into the key pocket of my jeans. Now it slid onto the tip of my finger. “I told her you’d accept my proposal just to get out of here.”

Evie’s gray eyes sparkled at my self-deprication. They really were the color of the sky at dusk, between white and darkest blue. “You were right.”

Deep breath.

“I… I hope you might do it again,” I said. It took a heartbeat for her to hear me and another to process what I’d said. By then I was halfway to one knee. Her eyes went wide and darted around, but no one was watching us. When she looked back I was holding up the ring.

“Evie, it was no accident that you were stuck and I had an extra seat. Everything happens for a reason, and I know that you are my reason. I’m in love with you. Once you agreed to be my wife because you had to. Will you do me the honor now of making me your choice? Will you marry me?”

She was looking at me. Not the ring, not the prize; she was looking right at me with tears in her eyes. Her lips were parted in disbelief but the corners of her mouth turned up in amazement. Slowly she started to nod.


It was a whisper, barely a breath from her lungs but it felt like a shout. A marching band parade of lights with open-topped bus floats could not have said it better.


I had to pull her hand from her face to slide the ring onto her finger. It fit perfectly and stayed there, sparkling madly, as we both stared at it for a second. Then I looked at her.

“I know it’s crazy. We don’t have to do it soon. But I wanted you to know there will never be another Mrs. Crosby.” She practically melted in my arms as I tasted the salt of tears on her lips. There may have been a few of my own. Evie’s left hand cupped the back of my neck and I could feel the cool band of the ring pressed to my skin.

“I love you,” she said simply. She always said it best.

Once we were firmly engaged and the moment had settled over us, she looked at her suitcase. “Are we going home now?”

I would have brought her all the way here just to propose. But there was something else, probably just as important, that we probably should have done first. Oh well, nothing had ever gone in order for us.

“No, I got a car. We are going to meet your parents.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chapter Twelve

A/N: This one is short, but another is coming soon. Promise.

I took Evie straight home from Jordan’s. No way I was leaving her unsupervised near a computer or television tonight – there was something I needed to do first. We entered quietly into my side of the house and walked up the stairs like it was something we’d done a thousand times. It almost felt that familiar, when in fact I had only known Evie for a few weeks. Her silhouette coast on the wall as light shone through the living room picture window and I wondered what it would be like to have my own place, our own place, and not feel like we were sneaking into my parents’ house every time we went home together.

She hung her coat and bag in my room with eerie familiarity. It was like every move she made begged for me to act. She’s had her chance to panic, the blanche, to run and hide at the hint of pressure. But she’s simply smiled a challenge across the bowling alley, looking right at me. That’s what she saw: me. Not Sidney Crosby, superstar. Through the overhead track lighting and the cheap disco ball, Evie saw me.

Without a hint of self-consciousness, Evie stripped to her panties and t-shirt and went into the bathroom. I pretended to take a long time changing, instead watching her through the open door. Her legs were impossibly long, her backside high and perfect as she leaned over the mirror to clean makeup off her eyelashes. It was a simple, private gesture and more intimate than anything I could think of. My heart beat hard through my body.

I brushed my teeth next to her, fighting the urge to smile because it sent toothpaste everywhere, and rushed into bed. I wanted to be the one to dictate terms. Finally she crawled in next to me. I stayed on my side, elbow bent and head supported on one hand, while she lay on her back with her side pressed against me. The slow, deliberate way she moved told the truth – today had taken a lot out of her. Still her gray eyes were clear as she looked up at me.

“How’d I do?” she asked.

I leaned down and kissed her. My entire body wanted to roll on top of her, but it would be the last move I made tonight. Nothing would keep us apart after that. So I stayed balance on an arm and settled for hooking my leg over hers. Tonight had been a long time coming for me – maybe forever. A source of constant, stomach-turning fear. The reason I had discarded planet of girls – both real and theoretical – because they weren’t up to today. Evie had waltzed it and stolen the show.

If you’d told me last month it would be so smooth, that the only thing in my life I’d ever really doubted would come true like a wish, I would have wept with relief. Instead I lay mostly naked looked down at the girl of my dreams. Everything about us was crazy. The way we met, the fact we were together, the way she’d handled today. So why stop?

“Let’s get our own place,” I said.

She lifted her eyebrows in the barest hint of surprise. But it wasn’t my rushing our relationship that got her.

“You’re going to move in the middle of the season? Captain Lucky Jockstrap?”

Of course, she was right. One of the reasons I loved her.

“We might not find a place we like right away. And if we do… we could decorate it and stuff. And move in at the off-season. But I want to. I want to spend every night I can with you. I’ll….” I drew a deep breath before putting this issue out there for the first time. “I’ll buy us a place.”

She smiled. How she ever came into being, how it was ever so easy for her, I will never know.

“I might like that.”

Forget the staying on my side. I collapsed over top of her, in case she harbored any thoughts of ever leaving my bed. Her knees were no match for the width of my thigh and her body spread open at my insistence. Our mouths met greedily. She was out of her panties in a second and I was sliding down her body.

Evie tasted different as I moved. Her neck was tart and saucy – pomegranate or something that made my heart race. Her breasts were vanilla, the skin smooth and creamy beneath my lips. The flat plane of her stomach and the indent where it creased against her abs was brown sugar: warm and inviting. The insides of her thighs were juicy, like a peach or melon.

She gasped as I stroked my tongue across her swollen slit. More than anticipating, she was already ready for me. But I wasn’t looking to rush things – I had a lot to thank her for tonight. I pressed her legs apart and went to work.

Evie’s fingers twined into my hair – still not long enough for her to really get a hold of me. Her hips raised and lowered as I went harder and softer between her folds; she wanted to drive and I refused to hand over the keys. Finally she got the hint and lay back. I swirled my tongue deep into her, tasting honey and desire, and sucked her pearl gently between my lips. The sounds of her panting made me grind my lonely lap against the mattress.

“Sidney.” It was the only thing she needed to say. I felt her back arch in pleasure and took it as my cue to slip two thick fingers inside her slick pussy. Instantly she cried out, begging for more. And I was in no position to make her wait tonight.

“Oh God,” she said, her voice dropping low as I stroked against her g-spot. My other hand held her hip flat to the mattress – I didn’t need any help getting her off. With a flick on my tongue and a press of my fingertips, Evie came apart beneath me. She sobbed loudly and burst like ripe fruit. I lapped against her like a kitten, taking everything she had in exchange for the sensation of my tongue on her trembling flesh.

I had to have her. Before she was finished shaking I teased the tip of my rock hard cock between her folds and held still.

“Say you will,” I told her. It wasn’t a question. “I want to be with you.”

Her eyes flashed like she might sass me with a smart remark. I nudged an inch deeper into her soaked snatch, watched her eyes go wide with the sensation and then give in.

“I will move in with you.”

Between the head and the base of my cock, I lost myself completely. By the time I was balls deep in her I wanted to ask Evie to marry me for real. It seemed the only solution and so obvious. She was the one. She had proven it a hundred times in two weeks. Maybe I believed in the kind of fate that gave me matching month-day and birth year, or contracts worth that exact amount. Fate that brought the puck to my stick in the overtime period during my country’s Olympics against our arch rivals. The fate that let it be me, time and time again, had also taken things from me that normal people couldn’t fathom. For the longest time I assumed it had taken, as its price, the chance to find something like this.

“I love you,” I said, meaning it more than I ever had.

“I love you,” she said, simply meaning it.

The look on his face could have broken my heart. If I wasn’t already in love up to my neck, I would have fallen that night. But I never would have made it that far.

In the bowling alley, when Flower called me over to challenge Sid, I was relieved to get this part out of the way. It was coming and putting it off only made it worse. But my heart thumped like I’d run the Kentucky Derby as I lined up next to him. My hands shook so hard I could barley hold the bowling ball. Then I looked at him and for the second time since I met Sidney Crosby, there was fear in his eyes. He’d been afraid to tell me he loved me but this was worse. This was telling the world he loved me: the world that had asked so much of him and given so much in return – without ever asking what price he was willing to pay. He looked at me like a man seeing a mirage. Move too quickly, run too fast and it might fade away before you can claim your prize.

I let myself go then, knowing he felt this as strongly as I did. He would never have put me out there if he wasn’t sure. As much as I was afraid of moving too quickly I was mostly afraid of my feelings – that they couldn’t possibly be real, be right. Not this soon. But Sidney’s face said the same thing: Please jump. And so I dove.

“I love you,” I told him honestly, filling my heart with the words as he filled my body with his. It was exquisite, so perfect as to be almost painful. The way he moved in me made it hard to breathe, hard to think, impossible to concentrate. He took everything that wasn’t important – the world at large – and reduced it to just him and me and us and now. Of course I would live with him. I would have married him in that moment.

Sidney stroked his perfect body deep into mine, bringing me more pleasure than I could have imagined. I joined in his effort and it worked, judging by the look on his face and the words on his lips.

“Evie. God you feel good,” he whispered. I pulled his short brown hair between my fingers. My muscles were tightening, winding down like a screw. Before long, the thrusts of Sid’s hips were driving me right through the floor.

“Baby,” I whispered before I kissed him, lifting my body off the bed to get the full force of his cock making my body hum. As I ground against him he let loose a muffled curse in my ear, something he’d definitely learned in the locker room. I was going to have to learn to talk a lot dirtier if I planned to keep up with the Penguins. Now I settled for what I knew would work. “Make me come, Sidney.”

His muscles coiled and sprung, capable of maneuvering his body like a sports car. A hairsbreadth left or right with just a twitch and he could make me scream. He knew it too, teasing me. I dug my nails into the magnificent musculature of his ass. I only touched the mattress on the downswing now and even those were getting shorter. He pressed up with his biceps, flexing inhumanly, then dropped me into the bed and followed with a hard, grunting slam. The second time I screamed. The third time, I came.

“Ohgodyesssssssssssss,” I moaned loudly, not caring if the entire Pens management heard me cheer their captain’s most intimate efforts. It tore through me like someone jumping on bubblewrap – endless popping from every direction, erupting all at once and lasting ages. The skin of his shoulder was soft beneath my teeth as I marked him for revenge.

Before it finished rocketing through me, Sidney clenched and held. With a grunt he came hot and hard, pumping into my hot mess and releasing the last of a tension I knew he’d held forever. As his body buried itself in mine, part of it wanted to stay there. The part that could never take this away from us.

“I love you,” I whispered again.

His cock pulsed hard, still deep inside my body. It matched the heartbeat in his chest.

“Good thing you’re my wife, or I’d have to go for a ring right now,” he laughed.

Wait for it…

Evie laughed. She laughed at my wife joke. Thank God. Otherwise the ring I’d picked out would stop looking big enough.

That’s right, I picked out a ring. I did it online – Lord knows I couldn’t go to the store – but Tiffany’s had a really easy design-your-own ring function. At first I tried their traditional settings, even the biggest ones, but none were right. None of them were Evie.

Of course, I didn’t really know that. But I’d trusted my gut more with her than ever in my life and so far, so good. So I scrolled away from the flashiest bling and actually enjoyed trying to build something from scratch that I thought would make her tear up. Because in my book, she had to cry. She had to be overwhelmed and surprised and most of all, she had to say yes. Because this was absolutely, completely freaking insane. And if I was going out on a limb, I didn’t want to go alone.

A simple band of braided white gold with a single oval-shaped diamond in a low setting. Of all the rings I made it seemed to say “Evie” the most. But I worried – it wasn’t that big. Tiffany’s sold rings up to half a million dollars, and that was just online. Surely in the store I could go much bigger. And people would expect me to. The entire world would spend months asking to see the ring, oohing about how big it was then sniping behind her back that it wasn’t big enough. Evie wouldn’t care, I knew that for sure. But marrying me wasn’t like marrying me. It was like marrying an entire sport, and entire country.

In the end I sized the ring up just one notch. After all, I wanted her to love it more than anything. And if people talking shit about it, it would leave a nice mark when she punched them in the face.

I still had to go and get it. Evie had passed her first true test today and now I had to pass mine – I had to show my face in public buying an engagement ring. Then I had to ask Evie to marry me before it ended up on the news. “Crosby proposes, film at eleven” would not go over well beforehand.

Her breathing slowed and she went slack in my arms as she drifted off to sleep. I curled closer to her – there were a lot of things in my world that would try to derail us. If I held on tight enough and just kept moving, I was sure we could outrun them.

I fell asleep dreaming about spending the rest of my life with Evie. When I woke, I lay on my side with Evie curled around my back like a spoon. Her arm lay protectively across my side and her leg nestled between mine. Even though she was fast asleep, her posture left me wondering exactly who would be protecting who in this relationship. I knew she’d be there, I knew she would never run or hide when things got rough. And they would get rough for me a lot if I played hockey as long as I intended to. Even if we were a dynasty like the Oilers, which was damned near impossible, I’d win four Cups in twenty-plus years. Three Cups in the next fifteen or more. Even in my wildest dreams I was looking at eleven years of disappointment and heartbreak. It would take a lot of woman to sign up for that ride. While I was thinking about Evie being strong and fearless, she dug her arms in an squeezed hard around my middle.

“Mmm, little spoon,” she said.

“I like it,” I admitted.

Her hand was barely halfway across my stomach though her arm was stretched to full length. “Everybody likes to be the little spoon.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chapter Eleven

I stopped at a red light a mile from the bowling alley. Evie was next to me in the front seat, a Pens t-shirt on and three dozen cupcakes in a plastic tray on her lap. She looked out the side window with her face turned away from me. She thought I couldn’t see the tiny pulling lines at the corner of her mouth.

“We don’t have to do this,” I said, startling her slightly. She whipped her head around, hair flying.

“I’m okay.” She nodded twice, once for me and once for herself.

There were a fair number of cars in the lot. I hurried around to her side and took the cupcakes as she climbed out. Instead of giving them back, I gave her my hand. As we approached the glass door we saw our own reflection – young couple, holding hands, we almost looked like parents going to a birthday party. I squeezed her fingers and slowed.

“I love you,” I put my face right to hers.

“I know. I love you too.” Her eyes were a little more sure now. “We’re gonna be fine.”

And so it was. I delivered Evie and the snacks right to the bake sale table, where Kelsey and a few of the other WAGs welcomed her warmly, but not too much. They fussed over the cupcakes instead and Evie readily admitted they were Nathalie’s doing. That got an even bigger response. She gave me an encouraging smile as I trooped off to join the boys backstage.

“You came,” Max said as I reached the staff break room where we’d wait to be introduced. “Did she make it?”

I nodded proudly. “Got out of the car on her own and everything.”

“She wearing your number?”

“No. She isn’t going to hide it but she’s not going to announce it either. No big deal unless we make it one, right?”

Nathalie’s cupcakes were glorious. Kelsey and I ate one a piece before they were on the table then quickly hid the evidence. The rest of the WAGs arrived with brownies and cookies, laying them out on the main counter and standing behind it. There was more food than there were people bowling, but it would look good when Pens TV got there. Vero arrived last, tutting at Marc for being the slowest person on the team. She squeezed in next to me as the first families began to arrive.

“Ready?” she whispered. It was unnecessary – it seemed like half the place was watching me from the corner of their eyes. I ran my hands through my hair and tried to look composed. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

Kids and parents arrived in force. They were on time and determined to spend every available minute with the Pens. Before long the place was full and people were happily enjoying the treats as they waited for the players to be introduced. I stood back and took the whole thing in – these people were so nice and so excited, I got caught up in it too.

When they announced it was time to bring out the players, the whole place went crazy. The guys were called out one by one. Marc was first, laughing like always, and I admired the proud smile on Vero’s face. One by one the entire team lined up across the front of the bowling lanes. Finally Sidney was announced, second to last. He may have gotten the biggest cheer, but Geno was two steps behind him and the screaming blended together. They were quickly assigned to their bowling teams and the fun began.

Over the top of the crowd I tried to watch Sidney interact with his new teammates. He kept leaning over, presumably to talk to someone, and getting lost behind the standing people. Eventually I gave up and watched Jordan, two lanes away and lined up next to a girl of about ten. They both put the bowling balls on the floor between their feet and pushed, racing them down toward the pins. Jordan’s face was a mask of concentration as he willed his to roll slower, slower. When she won, the little girl shrieked and bounced around. Next to him, Kris and Mike Rupp used a portable ramp to help a five or six year old boy roll the ball down the lane. He knocked over a good six pins and Tanger picked him up under his arm like a puppy, laughing and spinning. I thought I might die from the cuteness.

“Can I have a cupcake?”

I almost jumped. Totally distracted by the display of adorableness going on, I had missed Sidney weaving his way through the crowd. No one else had – at least twenty people had turned and were watching him, watching me.

“You don’t eat cupcakes.”

“I do. I love them,” he said matter-of-factly. Then he gave up the ruse. “How’s it going back here?”

“Fine, great. Uh, no one has talked to me yet.” I shrugged, looking around at the other WAGs enjoying the bowling, mingling with the families and players. In truth I felt kind of invisible, which was nice. The last thing I wanted was for Sidney Crosby’s girlfriend to be the story of the day – it was clearly all about these kids and their families.

“Want to come meet my team?” he asked.

I watched Evie carefully for signs of panic. The bake sale area was near the bowling floor, but there were so many people around that no one noticed her. Probably because no one was trying to – the families and kids were here for the event, not for gossip. Even Max didn’t have anyone to hit on. I knew this would be a good event to start Evie on, then gradually work up to more public outings that were little more than bachelor auctions.

Still, I didn’t want her to feel she had to hide behind the WAGs all night. The first step got her in the door, I hoped the second would bring her next to me.

“Yeah,” she said. And she smiled – she wanted to meet them. She wanted to do this. It was all over her face and it made my heart sing. As she came around the side of the counter, I instinctively reached for her hand. She reached for mine. Then we stopped.

“In for a penny.” She wrapped our fingers together. And just like that, I walked across a crowded room holding hands with a beautiful girl.

My team was the family of Jimmy, a ten-year old boy with leukemia. He moved and played fine, but needed a lot of special medical attention that was provided by the UPMC children’s hospital. I was always careful to remember the kids I met at the hospital – I really, truly hoped to see them on my next visit. Jimmy had been there the last three times and I knew he felt like we were friends. I thought he should have the honor.

“Jimmy, this is the girl I was telling you about. This is Evie.”

He looked up from under his blond lashes and gave her a million-dollar smile then tugged her down by the hand. Evie squatted right at his eye level. “Are you his girlfriend?” he whispered.

Evie probably tried to be cool, but her face like up like Christmas. “I am. Did he tell you it was a secret?”

“No. He just said I was the first person to know. Now he says I can tell everyone, if it’s okay with you.”

Evie looked at me, her lips in a smirk but total happiness in her eyes. Jimmy thought she was taking too long to decide. “It’s okay,” he said. “I have a girlfriend too. There’s nothing to worry about.”

She laughed out loud at that, and wrapped a surprised-looking Jimmy into a hug. “Okay, introduce me to your family.”

His parents had been watching us, but he turned grandly like he was presenting the Queen of England. “Mom, Dad this is Sidney’s girlfriend.”

Their reactions were what I expected – a moment of total surprise they quickly tried to cover. Evie stuck her hand out, introduced herself and just started talking to them. It was a brilliant tactic, they didn’t have a moment to compute before she was making them like her. I’m sure they would have anyway. But she barreled right through the announcement like it was no big deal. Normally I would gladly take a break, get two minutes at a team event where I didn’t have to be “on.” In this case I stepped right up, put my hand on the small of her back and joined in the conversation.

I felt Sidney’s palm come to rest against my body and knew that was it – we were out. Jimmy brought the team over from the next bowling alley, including Duper and his wife. Jimmy introduced me and the same jolt of shock passed across their faces. The mom looked from Sidney to me and back again four times. This time Sid jumped in and started talking, never taking his hand from my back until it was his turn to bowl.

“Uh oh,” I said to Jimmy, who just nodded sagely. Sid made a sad face that I would doubt him then knocked down five pins.

“Ehhhh.” We teased him with so-so hand motions.

Sid turned over his shoulder. “Duper, you need another bowler on your team?”

He didn’t, of course, but the family was happy to take me on. Sid hit the restart for his turn, I selected a hot pink bowling ball. Just the few families around us were watching. Flower ran up between us and decided that wasn’t enough.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced rather loudly. Another lane full of people turned to look. “A challenge has been issued to see who is a better bowler, Sidney Crosby,” he paused for clapping, “or his girlfriend, Evie.”

Dead silence for a full second. Then Jimmy’s little voice, “Go Evie!”

Everyone from our Sid and Duper’s teams laughed. Then the people around them finished whispering to their neighbors – “His what?!” “Did he say girlfriend?!” – and laughed as well.

“Get ‘im, Evie,” Kris shouted. Now I saw the entire place had stopped to watch us.

“Yeah Evie, strike him out!” Geno said.

“That’s baseball,” Jordan called over the crowd.

“No, is strike. All pins down, strike. Strike him out,” Geno pointed toward the pins.

Jordan shrugged. “I guess so.”

Flower looked to make sure we were both ready. He backed up to the top of the lane divider, took off his hat and waved it over his head like he was ready to start the hot rod race in Grease. Sid smiled at me. I winked back and prayed for a lucky shot.

“Go easy on me, eh?” he asked for everyone to hear.

“You can always say I let you win.”

I lined up to the center of the lane, took three steps and let the ball roll free. Sid did the same in my peripheral vision. His was faster than mine, thrown much harder, and took six pins crashing down with it. My ball was still on the way – straight and even. With less noise but no less efficiency, I also knocked down six pins.

“Ooooooh!” Sid pinched his face in like when he missed a shot in practice.

“Shoot out!” Flower yelled, lining back up. Someone started chanting my name, then all the players joined in. Sid shouted they’d all have to do sprints at practice and the chanting got louder. We set again and he looked at me. It was almost his game face, almost serious then it split into that beautiful, heart-stopping grin.

“Let’s see it, eh?”

And we rolled. Again his bowling ball thundered down the lane, crashed spectacularly into the remaining pins and sent them all flying like shrapnel. The crowd cheered as Sid threw his arms up in a goal-scoring celebration. My shot was slower, but on target. I tried to control it with my mind and it rolled into the foremost pin and took out the two behind it. The back pin hit the one next to it so it teetered and wavered… and fell over. Spare.

“Whoooooooooooooooop!” I did a celebratory dance of my own and the crowd hollered. Sidney caught me in mid-dance, picked me up and spun me around. The moment my feet touched the floor was the moment his lips touched mine. We kissed, in front of everyone, for just a few seconds. It felt like I was being beamed up into a spaceship – bright lights, different gravity and the knowledge you’re going to wake up in a world you don’t recognize. But it got the biggest cheer of the night.

I didn’t mean to kiss her but I couldn’t help myself. Jumping up and down and waving her arms – I had to get in on that. Then when I was in, there was simply no way out.

The bowling duel made Evie the hit of the party. Jimmy insisted she bowl on his team the rest of the afternoon, so I did the rounds and talked to everyone the way the Pens always want me to do. They all mentioned how great she seemed or how pretty she was, and they were right. Glancing back at her every few minutes made my captain duties more enjoyable.

When the event was over, the families packed up and headed out. A few of the guys straggled, making plans for the rest of the day. Evie wandered over and Jordan tossed his arm around her shoulders. “You guys wanna come over? We can Google Evie every five minutes and see what pops up.”

She elbowed him in the ribs. “You’ll only find all the dirty fan fiction I wrote about you. That’ll be awkward.”

“Here, use my phone,” Kris offered his iPhone.

I let Evie stand there, casually leaning against Jordan and thought that was new too. There had been a few girls over the years, but none who felt in two weeks like they’d known everyone for two years. None were as confident as Evie. To see her scrolling through Kris’ photos or taking a sip from Max’s drink – she belonged here even without me.

My responsibilities to the team often left me feeling like I had to entertain everyone, especially at a public event where they all wants to interact with the face of the team. I’ve become like a robot programmed for a job but it’s not fun – it literally drains my batteries. And sometimes I’ve felt that way with girls, like they expect one hundred percent of my attention so they never have to worry I’m going to trade them in for something else. I feel their fear. By not pulling me around, by not clinging, Evie was making us closer.

We went to Jordan’s and ordered dinner. As we sat around the living room eating Chinese, the news came on with a clip teasing coverage of the bowling event. “The Annual Pens and Pins bowling event was today, with big smiles from the children’s hospital patients and some very big news from captain Sidney Crosby,” the voiceover said.

TK cracked his fortune cookie. “Evie, this one’s yours: You will break the hearts of girls all over Pittsburgh.

“No, that’s Max’s.”

Max opened his cookie to check. “Hey, they all say the same thing!”

The news report was only two minutes long. It showed the players being introduced, a few shots of bowling and a brief interview with the Children’s Hospital director. Then it cut to a clip of Evie and I lined up with our bowling balls and Marc calling the little contest.

“… or his girlfriend, Evie!”

The newscaster’s voice came on. “You heard that right folks, Sidney Crosby made his first-ever public appearance with a girlfriend today, introducing her to families and kids at the Pens and Pins bowling event. We didn’t get a chance to speak with her, but if she’s caught the captain’s heart we should be seeing a lot more of her around Pittsburgh soon.”

The video showed our second shots, Evie’s victory dance and our subsequent kiss. I reached under the table and squeezed her leg. It was very chaste and cute but my heart pounded like a bass drum. That was exactly the kind of thing I’d spent so long avoiding, knowing that eventually the time would come. Finally seeing it on screen sent a flood of panic through my system.

Evie peeled back my fingers one at a time. “Not the end of the world, right?””

“Very cute,” Kelsey said reassuringly.

Jordan had the right of it though. “Five, four, three, two…”

Ring. Buzz. Beep. Like a hot potato passed around the table, every phone in the room rang one after the other. Coach called me. Max got our communications director, Kris got Mario’s assistant. It was an extra minute before Evie’s phone rang, but she ignored the call. And the next five. Everyone confirmed that everything was fine then raced to hang up the phone. Finally Marc clicked off from Katie O’Malley at Pens TV who didn’t want to be scooped. We all looked at each other in silence for a minute.

Jordan broke in. “Now we can Google.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chapter Ten

It was time. I lay there for what seemed like hours, half waiting for Evie to wake up and half savoring the delicate, vulnerable state of her sleeping in my arms. She talked a little in her sleep, nothing coherent just the sound of her voice like it was far away. I wondered what she was dreaming about.

Finally she stirred. I kissed her temple and held her close, hoping to rouse her gently. She mumbled and nuzzled against me.

“Hi,” I whispered.

“Hmph,” was lost into my arm. Then she shook slightly with laughter. “How are you always awake so early?”

“Years and years of morning practices.”
Evie lifted her head, making her hair tickle my bare skin. Her gray eyes were lighter in the morning, like they grew more relaxed with rest. She pressed her lips to mine.

“Wanna practice something else?”

I rolled on top of her and pinned her down. “First, a question. There is a… thing. Thursday night. Will you come with me?”

Her expression didn’t change. I fought the urge to hold my breath in anticipation of her response – there was simply no way she was going to let me get away with something so vague. But the thought crossed her mind, and I saw her consider whether it was better to know what kind of trouble awaited.

“Describe this thing.”

“Just a team thing,” I tried. Her eyes narrowed slightly. We both waited for her to select a comeback to my vague answer. Finally, she lifted an eyebrow.

“Like an orgy at Jordan’s?”

A pillow caught her square in the head as she shrieked and tried to struggle out from under me. I got another good shot in before she grabbed a second and started wailing blindly. I couldn’t hold her and protect myself, so I simply pressed her arms up over her head to stop the onslaught. Her laughter petered out.

“So not an orgy?” She pretended to look sheepish for a moment.

“It’s a bowling party with some families from the children’s hospital. All the guys bowl and the wives and girlfriends do a bake sale.” The choice of wording was deliberate and I let it sink in for a moment. “So, will you?”

“Will I be your girlfriend? Or will I bake a pie?”


A slow smile spread across her face. I expected her to roll her eyes and say ‘well…,’ but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead she just nodded. Girlfriend. Just hours ago I’d told her I loved her and now I was getting all worked up about her being my girlfriend.

“First official outing.” Her voice was quieter now.

I was still on top of her, looking down into the face I’d somehow come to depend on in just a few days. It stopped my heart to think of how much we’d shared in such a short time. What could we do with the rest of our lives?

“Does that scare you?” I asked. She nodded again, yes. “Me too.”

That made her kiss me. I let go of her arms and felt them wrap around my neck. Girlfriend. Ten days ago I was the same lonely, overly-focused and terrified guy I had been my rookie year. Evie didn’t know how much good she’d done. My body responded appreciatively to her warm, soft form. She hooked her ankle over my calf and drew up, bending my leg to fit between hers.

“So,” she said nonchalantly. “Is Jordan bringing someone?”

I started at the wall for a sold half hour. The phone on my desk mercifully didn’t ring, but I would have ignored it anyway. Every once in a while, a soft pinging sound announced the arrival of another email.

“Brainstorming?” Allison, my boss, said as she approached. There was a smile on her face. “Do I have anyone in particular to thank for your productivity today?”

I shook my head as if the distraction were physical. Well it was, at least the memory of his heavy, solid body mixing mine into putty this morning while he whispered that he loved me. It was different than the night before, when he’d told me mid-stroke like it just popped into his mind. Today was deliberate and repeated, so there could be no mistake.

“What kind of pie do you like?” I asked Allison.

I asked a lot of people that. And then I told them about the bowling event. Mostly their reactions were the same – shock and apprehension, quickly covered by excitement. Except for Beth.

“Holy shit. Are you ready for that?”

I lifted my empty hands. “Am I ready to be in love with someone I hardly know? I have no fucking idea! But it’s happening, Beth, and I can’t stop it. I…,” it was hard to articulate. “I have to do this. I have to be with him if I’m going to be with him. It’s not fair to say I love you and then hide.”

A response was halfway out before she stopped dead. “Wait, WHAT? You told him that you love him?”

“You told me I should!”

“I… wow. I did. And you did. That’s… that’s completely insane. What did he say?”

The water bottle in my hands was crushed and twisted into modern art. I opened and closed the plastic top like a twitch. “He said it first.”

Her expression broke. She was still shocked but now also relieved that whatever craziness was happening was not happening only to me. With open arms, she tackled me. “Oh my God. He loves you! This is so disgustingly cute. Disney is going to sue you for stealing their shit.” She held me by both shoulders. “What are you going to bake?”

We discussed options like we were making lunch instead of a life decision. No one would care what I brought. They only cared what Sidney brought, or in this case: who. I’d met most of the wives and girlfriends and as Max had explained on our first night out, Sid didn’t do this often. That alone meant everyone gave me some measure of respect.

It also meant that I was setting myself up for a firing squad. More than a few of the women would have left their men for Sidney in a hot second, and that was just the active roster. The city of Pittsburgh, the country of Canada and the world of hockey were filled with girls who dreamed of being in my shoes.

“You’re going to be fine,” Beth said, pulling me back to the conversation at hand. “Or you’re going to be dead.”

If Marc was surprised to see me on his doorstep an hour after practice ended, he didn’t show it. He just led me into the kitchen, handed me a glass of milk and went back to reading the newspaper.

“I told her,” I announced. Vero stared expectantly.

“Evie,” I added stupidly. Now Marc was looking too.

“That I love her,” I finished.

And I disappeared under a flying ball of Vero’s arms and legs. She knocked me almost to the floor in the biggest hug I’d seen since they let her on the ice after the Cup. Some incoherent screaming in French accompanied the attack. Flower lifted her off me like a parent collecting a puppy.

“Congratulations, mon ami,” he said, standing over where I lay on the ground. Vero was under one arm, positively trembling with delight. She didn’t want to ask the next question.

“She loves me too.”

Marc instinctively tightened his grip as Vero lunged toward me again. She squealed in delight, caught up in his arms, and did a happy little dance. A pang of desire hit my heart – I wanted to be like that with Evie. So happy there was plenty to share with everyone else.

“And I invited her to the bowling event. First, uh… public appearance.”

They looked quickly, checking each other’s reactions without the need to speak. It barely took a second for a whole conversation to pass between them. Apparently they agreed it was a good idea.

“I will make sure she is okay,” Vero promised simply. That’s what I had really been after.

The next few days passed in what quickly began to feel like a comfortable routine. Evie came over after work with dinner and we watched half a movie before running for the bedroom. I picked her up at the office and brought her to the rink so we could workout together – which nearly resulted in someone walking in on us getting a different kind of exercise. I stayed at her house, dropped her off in the morning. On Wednesday night, she came to our game against Toronto.

“I thought you might want to sit with the wives and girlfriends before tomorrow night,” I said softly. Of course that meant standing inches apart, which negated anything we might be trying to hide. Evie saw that too.

“Or we could just make out right here,” she lifted an eyebrow. But she was nervous.

Despite everything telling me not to – my father’s voice in my head, my own obsessive-compulsiveness – I leaned down and kissed her lips quickly. It was like a sip of water when you’re dying of thirst. Good thing she stepped back.

“I’ll be the one yelling I love you,” she smiled. “Oh wait, that’s everyone.”

Vero sat as close to me as the stadium seats would allow, crossing her legs in my direction and leaning in. She kept saying it would be fine but I could tell she was ready to run me down if I decided to bolt. Surprisingly, I felt okay. Most of the women I’d met had been nice and there were still 17,000-plus other people in the building. None of them would be focused on me… yet.

Pascal Dupuis’ wife Carole-Lyne sat with us, along with their seven year old daughter. Carole looked at me for permission then introduced me as Sidney’s girlfriend. I felt, rather than saw, a few heads turn. Luckily her daughter was a little bundle of guileless energy, asking me and Vero about boyfriends and nail polish and telling us what she learned in school. With her around I barely had to say a word.

At the first intermission, Craig Adams’ wife Anne came up a few rows to say hello. We’d met once before, and it seemed word of Carole’s introduction had made its way down.

“So, girlfriend?” she said. “Good for you. I guess you’re coming to the bowling thing tomorrow night?” I nodded. “Fantastic. No one will give a crap what I bake, they’ll all be talking about you.”

She laughed as she said it and I was glad for someone to break the ice. We talked for a while about past wives-and-girlfriends events and they told me this was one of the most private of the year. Select families from the nearby children’s hospital attended, bowling and mingling with the players for a few select news crews and the Pens own TV station. It was a rather intimate gathering and a lot of the families were return guests.

“It’s a good one to start with,” Anne concluded. “You might even enjoy it.”

I definitely enjoyed the rest of the game. The word “girlfriend” made its rounds. Eyes were on me during play, I could feel them. Some of the women were wondering what was so special about me, some were already figuring how to get me out of the way. But most were very nice, even a little relieved that the wait was over and they’d finally get to see what happened when The Kid brought home a girl.

“Okay?” Vero whispered during the third period, when the game was intense and it finally felt like people were over their surprise.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

The Pens held on to win by a goal. Our entire section trooped downstairs, only this time I didn’t hide by the snack table. With a look toward Vero, I took a spot along the far while and tried to look like I wanted someone to talk to me. It didn’t take long.

“You must be Evie. I’m Kelsey, Tyler’s girlfriend.” She was surprisingly pretty, with big wide eyes and a very charming smile. I instantly felt like a dim light bulb, but something about her screamed friendliness. “I heard about you – I go away for a week and I miss everything!”

From the far corner, I caught Vero giving me a tiny nod: Kelsey was okay.

We talked for a while about the bowling event and other neutral topics. I was glad to find another young and outgoing girl, so I wouldn’t always have to rely on Vero to keep me under her wing. Kelsey introduced me to a few other people – girlfriends or family of some of the newer guys or call-ups.

“This is Sidney’s girlfriend, Evie,” she said without hesitation, like it wasn’t a big deal. They didn’t bother to disguise their wide-eyed reactions. I wondered how Hilary Duff had felt back in October. Eventually Vero circled back around, checking on me and seeing if I was ready to go. Kelsey joined us as we headed into the hallway, where some of the guys were waiting.

“Somebody’s famous,” Max said, putting an arm around my shoulders. “Talk of the town tonight.” I felt Max get shoved away and Sidney’s arms wrap around my waist. His put his lips to my neck and nuzzled against me.

“I hear I have a girlfriend,” he said.

“I hear she’s hot,” Jordan pushed us both forward, starting the group toward the door.

The bar was slow on a Wednesday night, but the Pens seemed larger in a small crowd. A couple people came up to say hello and a few groups of girls began to circle with little subtlety. Not that the guys were subtle in checking them out. I talked with Kelsey and Tyler until my drink was empty, then decided not to wait for our server. At the bar Marc boxed Kris in next to me and started a loud story about a recent road trip. I looked around his arm just enough to see a bleached blond staring daggers at his back. Kris kept his eyes on his glass.

“Your fan club?” I whispered.

The hair hanging in Kris’ face couldn’t cover the elfin smile that flashed. “Stalker,” he said softly. “I don’t know how she finds me!” Marc went right on talking while Kris quietly detailed some of the random places the girl had turned up – dry cleaner, coffee shop. He looked almost impressed but mostly scared.

“Call Beth,” I said. “She’ll run that girl off before she’s through a beer.”

“Next time,” he agreed.

Kris bought the next round and we moved like a huddle back toward our table. Marc and I continued to screen while Kris claimed a seat between Geno and Jordan. They both looked up at me, then across the room, then back.

Over there, Sidney stood next to Max and Gogo, his shoulder to me. Three girls faced them, laughing outrageously at whatever Max had just said. The furry Frenchman looked rather pleased with himself. Sidney smiled but I could tell it wasn’t real. The closest girl, a raven –haired cutie, reached out and put her hand on his bicep. He moved slightly to shake her, but she held tight and stepped closer.

I almost snorted my drink. Sid couldn’t back up and he couldn’t go left without hugging Max. He was squirming, rolling on the balls of his feet, while the girl gently blocked his escape route. It was so obviously awkward and I had to give it to the girl – I might have done the same thing, someday.

“You are evil,” Kris said from his seat below me. Everyone watched as if we were behind a one-way mirror. Sidney would kill us if he saw. Geno snickered, making Kris laugh. The dark-haired girl put her foot against the outside of Sid’s, trapping him. He turned his head completely toward Max as she leaned in to talk.

“Should I go get him?” I asked no one in particular.

“No!” Tyler and Geno said at the same time. Kelsey slapped TK on the arm.

“It is kind of fun to watch,” Vero admitted. Marc squeezed her in like he was so proud of her deviousness. But the girl had her chest against Sidney’s arm now, and he was still trying to be nice. I went toward them.

“Buzzkill!” Jordan called.

Where the fuck is Evie? I was almost ready to yell. I wanted to wave her over or run to her and stick my tongue down her throat. But that would have looked crazy. She had to assume I would get hit on, the same way I knew every guy in this bar who didn’t play hockey wanted to take her home. And maybe a few who did. If I looked like I couldn’t handle it here, what would she think when I was on the road?

So I pretended to laugh and listen to Max putting on his little show. The girls were lined up like one of those water gun shooting races at the fair – keep firing until you win a prize. Closest to me was Molly; cute, though she opened an extra button on her top before she came over here. Too bad for her she didn’t aim for Max. Well she might still end up with him, if she was into three-ways. But she’d be disappointed first, because her fingers were wrapped around my arm and her leg cheated up along mine.

“Somebody ordered a Newcastle?” said a voice from nowhere.

It broke the little circle of schooling sharks. Evie had a glistening beer bottle in hand and a shit-eating grin on her face. I gave her a glare for good measure. Max and Gogo sighed with relief – once I was out of the way, they could get down to getting these girls out of here.

“Thanks, baby,” I said loudly. In a lithe movement I hadn’t seen before, Evie put her arm between the girls and followed with her body. A second later she was standing against me. I’d never been so relieved to get my hands on her.

“This is my girlfriend, Evie,” I told the girls. Before sipping from the bottle, I gave her a quick kiss on the lips. Molly’s hand dropped from my arm.

“I like your top,” Evie said, looking right where she had too many buttons open at her cleavage. “American Eagle right?”

We didn’t bother to stay for the answer. Molly went from giggling to disdainful in a second and we spun away. Good luck to the boys.

“Love you,” I whispered. Evie motioned toward our table with her chin.


The entire group was watching us. Marc broke into a slow, mocking clap and they all took it up. Evie pretended to curtsey.

“Assholes,” I said.

She just laughed, wriggling against me. “Stud.”

Everyone laughed at my expense, just another in a long line of them busting on me as hard as they could. Only this time Evie was sitting in my lap, one arm around my shoulders while she drank my beer. I didn’t hear them and I didn’t care.

It was an early night. Evie climbed into the front seat of the car, but before she could buckle up I pulled her toward me and kissed her, hard. She tasted cold and slightly bitter, like the beer we’d shared. My tongue slipped into her mouth and her hand moved down between my thighs, then up between my legs.

“Oh God,” I mumbled. She did it again, encouraged. There was no way we’d fit in the backseat of this car, so I left skid marks on the pavement as I peeled away.

We were halfway up to the house at a rushed walk, holding hands and trying to make it inside before jumping each other when Sidney’s phone rang.

“Hey Mario,” he said. Then he slowed. “Yeah, sure. Okay, be right there.”

He looked up at me. “Mario wants to see us.”

I shifted my weight, trying to stuff my hormones back into my ovaries for another few minutes. It didn’t work. Inside the house Sidney straightened my shirt while I brushed our front seat make-out session from his hair. We went through the hallway door.

“Hi Sid, Evie it’s nice to see you.” Mario was so tall but moved elegantly as he kissed my cheek and shook Sidney’s hand. He wore a t-shirt and jeans like he was a normal mortal. We joined a half-full beer at the kitchen table.

“So tomorrow is the big day.” He didn’t look worried, which would have really freaked me out. Instead he looked more ready than I was.

“I haven’t baked anything,” I blurted out. They both laughed.

“Nathalie already made you something, just in case,” Mario pointed to a big plastic cupcake container by the fridge. “She was so nervous her first few events, she wanted to make it easier for you.”

Sid looked impressed. “Her cupcakes are really good.”

“Right, you eat cupcakes,” I razzed him.

Mario swigged his beer. “I just wanted to be sure you guys were ready for this. You’ve picked a good place to start. It’s not like the women wear jerseys or nametags to say who they’re with. You won’t have to advertise yourself if you don’t want to. People won’t…,” he trailed off, looking at Sid. Then he gave up. “People won’t expect Sid to have someone there.”

Sidney lifted his right hand to his forehead and made an ‘L’ for loser. He pressed his lips together and widened his eyes like he did when a reporter asked a really obvious question. I slid my hand over his massive thigh.

“How about I just wait until someone asks me? All the other WAGs know, so it’s not going to stay a secret. But I don’t want to take the focus off the event.”

Mario nodded and Sidney followed suit. All agreed, we headed back toward Sidney’s part of the house. He kept one hand on my back until we were in his living room.

“You’re perfect,” he whispered, standing behind me.

“I’m nervous,” I admitted. My heart was fluttering at the idea of the first person I would tell. I wanted to try the words. “I’m with Sidney. I’m Sidney’s girlfriend.” I said out loud. He put his chin on my shoulder. His huge, heavy body felt like solid ground, like it would never give or break.

“I’m sorry that being with me is so hard. I’m sorry you have to do this.”

I turned to face him, still in his arms. “So long as I get to do this.” And I kissed him.

He pushed me toward the couch and down onto the chaise lounge section. His dress shirt and undershirt came off over his head. I made him stop so I could run my hands over his chiseled chest. Then I gripped his arms and pulled myself up to sitting, kissing him again and tossing my own shirt aside. I lifted my hips so he could draw my jeans and panties down before dropping his own trousers into a heap on the floor. A large picture window spilled light into the room. There was barely room enough for his wide frame on the sofa as he laid himself on top of me.

“I love you,” I said before he could, earning a breathtaking smile. He easily hitched my leg onto his hip. As he slipped inside me, I bent my head back and moaned softly. He fit into me like a cork in a bottle – not a single, solitary space was left. My hips rolled with the effort of taking him in. Sidney waited patiently until he felt my body relax, then he moved.

I bit my lip hard to keep from crying out. He laughed softly in my ear, seeing the effort on my face. But that didn’t stop him from thrusting with a slow, smooth rhythm. His huge hands brought my ass off the cushion to hold me up, arching my back. He got one knee down and rose with me, my body completely at his mercy. I gasped at the pressure of feeling him so deeply.

“Sidney,” I said. My voice was strangled with the effort of breathing and being and believing that any of this was really happening. Both hands slid up my back and pulled until I was sitting in his lap. His eyes were black and bottomless, his smooth brow crinkled in concentration. I held the sides of his face and kissed him for all I was worth. It swallowed my scream when he thrust upward. By the third or fourth time I was sobbing out breaths.

“I love you,” he said. It was so quiet I might have imagined it but he looked right into me and said it again. I just nodded, incapable of anything more. His giant arms flexed around my back, holding me still while he worked deep into my core. Fingers twisted in my hair, drew my head back and as his mouth found my neck the blackness came.

I made a noise, that much I know. It was somewhere between a scream and a grunt, caught as it was trying to tear itself from my throat. Sid’s fingers dug into my lower back as he pumped the spot over and over. I rolled and twisted until finally I sagged backwards.

“Baby,” he said, tipping us down onto the couch and driving into me from above. I could barely hold onto him anymore.

“Sid.” I whispered his name and he came with an almost silent sigh, a quivering sound that matched the pulsing heat I felt filling my body. The rock hard muscle of his thighs held me right where he wanted while he wrung himself dry. Then his lips were on mine again, the sweat of his brow hot against mine.

“Perfect,” he repeated.

I turned my face toward his. “You too, cupcake.”