Thursday, March 17, 2011

New story!

I know there are a surprising number of people who love Mike Green. Even Pens fans (points at self). So that's where I'm going next...

The Morning After ft. Mike Green

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chapter Seventeen [end]

“Yes, great. Absolutely.” I nodded like a bobblehead. Inside I was dropping more F-bombs that Flower on HBO.

I’d love to go to tonight’s game with Sid’s parents. Mario, you’re a genius for thinking of it. We should definitely sit in the suite, where I can resist free beer and no cameras will see Troy strangling me over the chips and dip.

Trina patted my hand like everything would be fine and I wanted to believe her. I wanted her on my side. Troy approved as if he were in charge of the whole thing, although I know it was Mario’s idea. I scuttled off early to work and spent the day trying not to dread the night.

By four o’clock I’d been counting minutes for hours. I nearly jumped at the sound of someone knocking on my cubicle. He laughed.

“Little skittish?” Sidney said.

I slowly raised my head above the wall like a Whack-a-Mole. To their credit, almost all my coworkers had remained calm. Only Libby and Robbie had ducked into Allison’s office just to stick their heads slightly around the corner.

“No, I’m fine.”

Sidney stepped into my little cube world, taking up almost all the space physically though he’d already taken the air from the room. And he kissed me. Behind his back, Libby lost her balance and nearly sent Robbie to the floor underneath her. I don’t even think she did it accidentally on purpose.

“Can you, uh…,” Sid looked around at the eerily quiet work floor, “go for a walk?”

Libby and Robbie clamored back inside Allison’s office. I leaned in to find them arranged on the couch like a Barbie setup of a Very Important Meeting – Libby even had a fresh legal pad on her lap, pen poised to write. Allison just smiled from behind her desk.

“So this is the husband,” she graciously greeted him and I wanted to hug her. Robbie mumbled something about liking the Penguins and Libby just pressed her lips together till they were white and tried to smile. Sidney took it all in stride. I stepped out of the office knowing I’d see twenty heads pop back into their homes like turtles into a shell.

“Everyone, this is Sidney,” I said loudly. Like bank robbers surrounded by cops they all slunk out, busted. Then they practically lined up to meet Sid. I enjoyed their awkwardness knowing I’d only get to relish it once. Sidney was so friendly and normal that it was easy to forget who he was.

Unless his father is breathing down your neck.

Sidney took my hand on the way to the elevator. We didn’t say much as we circled the building twice, the crisp winter air making my face red. He stopped to steal a kiss and I could see our breath mingle.

“Just wanted to see you before tonight. You’ll do great.”

“Vero’s coming with me,” I confessed.

“Good, they love her,” he said, sliding his arms around my waist. “And they will love you too. Just don’t take any shit from my dad or you’ll end up doing it forever like me.”

Sure, right. Sid had come to bed last night with every muscle tensed. He hadn’t stayed with his father long enough to fight and I would surely have heard any heated argument. But he’d done something that literally got his back up. I hope it was enough.

I kissed him goodbye at the curb and promised to win over my future in-laws.

“I don’t envy you this,” I told Evie. I said the same thing to Jordan and Max and Marc as I ate my pre-game PB&J and stretched. The threat of my money always hung over our family – and truth be told sometimes I felt like a meal ticket as much as a son. But they did love me and were looking out for me. I have to look out for Evie.

I also had another something up my sleeve. Stuffed in my backpack were several glossy cardstock flyers with pictures of houses on them. I’d called Mario’s realtor and asked for a few suggestions of things on the market. My dad was right that we were moving fast – but if he could use buying a house against us, I’d just as soon get it done and off the ammunition rack.

There was one that I knew Evie would love.

“Nice to see you, Vero. Evie,” Troy said as we made our way into the semi-crowded box. Mario greeted us warmly with a long look, as if to say these extra people were here for my protection. Sid’s mom hugged us both and made small talk through the pre-game skate. It was different from up here – too removed from the game in my opinion. Why people would spend the most money to be insulated from the action was beyond me. I unfocused my eyes enough to blur the numbers and still picked out Sidney but the way he skated. It was a lot like the way he moved in bed.

“Marc’s pretty flexible, huh?” I whispered to Vero from the corner of my mouth. She snorted back a laugh and nearly choked on her drink.

Like visitors and natives taking a long tea before talking business, the first period was actually enjoyable. By intermission I was anxious to get this show on the road. I took a seat alone near the front of the box and waited for someone to pounce.

Troy sat next to me and didn’t say anything for a few moments. Let him sweat it for a while, I thought. There was little of Sid in his demeanor; it seemed to stop with a few physical similarities. This man would have raised a total meathead jock bent on winning at all costs and forget the collateral damage. Thank God Sidney turned out a lot like his mother.

“I don’t think we’re being unreasonable in our concerns,” he finally began. I sloshed the last inch in my bottle and waited. “We’re just keeping Sid’s best interest at heart.”

“Is this the first time you think he’s not doing the same?”

Where do I stand in the history of Sidney Crosby? was the real question. What does Troy see as a threat?

“He’s pretty focused, but there have been… distractions in the past. You’re not the first girlfriend Sidney’s had.”

So we’re going there. I figured he would start with a low blow, play the jealous card. But I had an ace up my sleeve for that one.

“But I am his first fiancée. And his last, we all hope. It’s not as if girls will disappear now anyway. I’m pretty sure I can handle it.” Thanks, I wanted to add, for your genuine concern.

Troy nodded. “For a while he wanted to go to college. We wanted him in juniors. Took some compromise to keep him amateur.”

It took $7.5 million off the table, I knew. I’d done my homework and knew Sid had turned down a lot of money to go to the QMJHL really young. But he’d been right about that one.

“That’s about it. Other than that, Sid’s entire life since he was a kid has been hockey. It’s taken the place of everything for him, and for this family.”

Now we’re onto the ‘there’s no room for you’ argument. I’d seen a commercial Sidney one did that showed an empty goal on the ice. His voiceover said, “This was my prom.” It meant to speak of unwavering dedication. I found myself thinking: what harm could it do for a kid to go to a dance?

“Sid has certainly given up a lot for this game. I’m glad he doesn’t think he needs to give up a relationship,” I pointed out, reiterating that this was Sid’s choice.

After pausing for a long sip from his coffee Troy turned a little more in my direction. He spoke to me, not to the ice.

“Sidney needs to be happy to win,” he said simply. All-in.

“And he deserves to be happy whether he wins or not.”

We beat Columbus 2-1 and I was grateful for it. The fact that I didn’t get on the score sheet made it even better for me; I wanted everyone to see that the team could carry some of this weight and I’d have room in my life for Evie. I got to the lounge as quickly as I could and found Evie laughing with a few of the other wives.

Other wives. I was already spending my winnings.

“Hey.” I slid an arm around her waist for a quick kiss. The eyes I felt on me could only have been my father’s.

Evie whispered in my ear. “I think I passed.” I knew she would. And if for some crazy reason she failed, I had already decided that I didn’t give a shit.

We went to a late, light dinner. I was surprised at how my father allowed the conversation to flow between the four of us. I bumped my leg against Evie’s, hoping she knew what a good sign that was. My mom waited until entrees to ask a few wedding questions, bless her heart. My dad won’t throw a full plate, I knew. Too much hardscrabble upbringing to waste food.

“I haven’t really thought about it. Do you have any ideas?” Evie said.

Normally my dad would fall asleep in someone’s mid-sentence about wedding plans. But this caught his attention – Evie hadn’t been planning a lavish wedding all her life. Which meant she hadn’t been spending my money before I’d even asked her.

“I’m sure we can come up with something,” he said.

I lied and said I’d made plans to stay the night at Evie’s. We needed a little space. With promises for us both to be home to see them off in the morning, I drove us toward her house. Then I circled the block and doubled back toward Mario’s.

“Sneaking in?” Evie sounded a little excited at the prospect. I just sealed my lips and shook my head no.

I’d memorized the address but still had to go slow to find the number in the dark. Finally I pulled off the road to the right, gravel crunching satisfyingly beneath my tires. The moon was bright and I rolled to a stop with my headlights shining onto the porch of a slate gray house with white shutters and red trim. It wasn’t huge – four bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms, nice size pool in the backyard – but you couldn’t tell much at night. Evie walked past the headlights a few times, throwing her shadow onto the front door. On the fourth or fifth circuit, she stopped and turned toward me. In the harsh halogen glow she looked older, like she might in ten years or more. I would never get tired of looking at that face.

“Did you buy this?

“No. I picked everything else, so you get to pick the house.”

“Well it’s beautiful.” She peered in a window to no avail.

“You don’t have to like the first one we look at…” I started. Evie, young again in the darkness, closed the gap in a few steps and kissed me square on the mouth.

“Can we see inside tomorrow?”

“Yes. And we can see fifty more if you want.”

She turned again and admired what you could see of the house in the twilight. It was undoubtedly handsome in a comfortable, approachable way. “Maybe I want this one. Plus…” She paused like she was thinking then turned to face me again.

“I… I might need a break in the summer. From your parents.”

If I hadn’t already asked her to marry me, I would have taken a knee in that driveway. She was right and she was it. This was it. Evie threw her arms behind my neck and I swung her around in our driveway. There was no one to see us, no one to care if I was famous or rich. Her kiss was the same as it was when everyone was looking. Well, maybe a little better.

EPILOGUE – Last Day of the Regular Season

The Pens didn’t play the last day of the year. They’d wrapped their season the night before with a scrappy 1-0 victory. Flower had thrown a shutout and they were going into the playoffs in fourth place, set to face Boston in the first round. Families were invited to watch practice as a team-building exercise before heading into the post-season.

Practice was serious and difficult – I could tell from the stands. Having heard the guys talk endlessly, they knew the hardest part of the season was yet to come. But no one seemed tired. Instead determined, seasoned looks glowered from under every helmet. Except Flower’s.

“Come down here, you bastard!” he yelled from beneath his mask. They held a shootout at the end where the loser won the privilege of starting his playoff beard early. Some shots went in, some were stopped until it was just Max and Jordan left. Staal scored on his next shot, an easy five-hole glider that, in hindsight, should have looked suspicious.

Max skated up to Flower, stopped and playfully slapped him across the mask with his hockey glove.

“I challenge you to a duel!” Max shouted. “And I name my champion to fight in my place!”

With that, he passed straight to the glass behind Marc and pointed slowly at Vero. She said something in French that made Mama Dupuis cover the ears of her nearest child. The guys started cheering and slapping their sticks on the ice. She pursed her lips into an I’m-not-happy face, but got to her feet. Jordan skated into the entranceway at the bench and helped as Vero nimbly climbed over the railing and dropped to the floor. She stormed right out onto the ice: no helmet, no skates.

“What are you doing?!” she yelled at Max, holding her hand out for his stick. Sid skated out and placed a single puck on the ice halfway between the goal and the blue line. Vero slapped the back of Max’s legs with the stick, looking like she knew pretty well how to handle it.

“If I don’t score, Max has to be moustache boy right?” she asked innocently. A chorus of yeses answered. Vero squared herself up to shoot, lifted the puck onto her stick and lobbed it to Marc like a shallow fly ball. He caught it with a flourish.

“You gave me up!” Max accused.

“Whose side did you think I was on?”

Flower left his mask on top of the goal and skated over to Vero. “You get to keep the puck,” he said, opening his glove. As she put her hand out, Marc went down on one knee. Only a goalie could move gracefully in so much awkward equipment. Vero froze.

Inside his glove was a tiny black velvet box.

I nearly choked on a scream. Oh. My. God. Sid’s proposal was pretty great but Marc had him beat in spades. I couldn’t hear what Flower was saying, something private meant only for Vero.

Then at the top of his lungs he said, “Will you marry me?”

She was already crying, nodding, throwing herself on his well-padded form that probably stank like a locker room. His hair was plastered to his head but Vero didn’t care. The guys whooped and hollered, banging sticks. Marc swung Vero around like a figure skater. The goal buzzer rang, deafeningly loud in the empty arena, making everyone jump. I screamed out loud, tears in my eyes. Then I started running.

Everyone was circling around to congratulate Marc and Vero, except for Jordan. He must have read my mind. I was halfway over the railing when he just pulled me off and set me on the floor. I skidded across the ice as best I could and wiggled my way into the group hug to where Sidney was squashed between Kris and Marc. Sidney smiled, looking super proud of himself. I screamed again.

“You knew!” Then it hit me. “Oh my God, he bought it the same day you bought mine. Wait, Marc bought TWO rings that day?”

Sidney untangled himself and wound around me as the press of bodies began to release. “Flower got so inspired in the store, he just bought one. He said that if I could be so brave with you, what the hell was he waiting for?”

I would have knocked him to the ice and climbed all over him in front of everyone, but I had about one-tenth of his strength. So I just gave him a big kiss. Vero and Marc jumped into the hug, catching me inside a huge, smelly ball of bouncing energy. I squeezed Vero as tightly as I could then turned to Marc. I knew they’d been Sidney’s confidantes and ultimately my biggest supporters, now they were among my best friends.  Without them, Sidney and I might not have been. Sure Sid had been brave, but he was also crazy.  That needed the kind of support these two had given.  Marc had been brave too, in his loyal, steadfast way. If anyone could be happier than me and Sid, it was Marc and Vero.

“Married, huh?” I asked. “Aren’t you guys moving a little fast?”


Thank you all so much for reading and commenting.  The feedback really makes a writer's day, even if it's only a few words!  This was by far the most popular story I've ever done.  I'll have a new one soon and post a link here, so I hope you'll check it out.  Love!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chapter Sixteen

Part of me wanted to take Evie home and wrap her up and pretend no one is going to be anything but happy for us. The rest of me knew that if we’re out there on TV, we should be here together, letting people see us.

Me: Come down after the game.

Evie: Yes dear.

Let it be said that I sparked this game and drove us to a win. In reality it wasn’t just me. All the guys seemed to sense what was on the line and if I’d played terribly, they’d have held it up for me. Instead we were all flying and at least a few of my prayers were answered when rebounds and lucky bounces added to a few hard-earned goals on the scoreboard. Evie probably ended up on the Jumbotron more often than she wanted as I had two goals and an assist in our 5-2 win.

“You would marry the first girl you had sex with,” Gronk shouted over the celebratory hug after my second goal.

“Play like this every night and they’ll love her,” Coach said on the bench.

“Mon ami, save something for later,” Flower admonished me.

We hustled into the locker room after the buzzer and I took a minute to wipe my face. I usually didn’t bother to get cleaned up before TV interviews but tonight would have a different feel and I wanted to look like someone who Evie would want to marry.

“You guys obviously had a lot of energy out there tonight. Talk about what drove that,” the Fox reporter asked.

“Well we definitely got off to a good start and when shots start dropping you have to take advantage….” That’s as far as my standard answers got me.

“Tell us about Evie,” someone else broke in.

I couldn’t help but smile at the mention of her name. “She’s here tonight. Hope she had fun.”

“Aren’t you a little young to be getting married?”

“We’re not married yet. But no, lots of the guys are married pretty young and it seems to work out for them.”

“Do you worry about the pressure this puts on her, being married to you?” asked someone very frankly.

I cut my eyes toward Max who was tapping away on his phone, undoubtedly a lewd text to one of this harem. Maybe a mass text to all of them. Jordan was a few lockers down, stripped to the waist for the benefit of anyone who would look at him. They were excellent friends but their way of life had never been mine.

“It took Evie about five minutes to win over this team. I expect she’ll have the same luck with our fans.”

Vero squeezed my hand as we plowed our way into the lounge. It seems every wife and relation and friend of the entire team had come out tonight, hoping to be part of the action. It had been scandalous enough when I’d turned up with Sid in the first place, but now I was some kind of fairy tale princess engaged to prince charming and they all wanted to be characters in our story. The whole room turned.

“Evie!” Kelsey burst through the crowd and threw herself on me. Tyler had called after practice to say she almost made herself faint with excitement when she heard the news. If there was anyone after Vero I would be sticking with, it was her. “I am so happy for you! Sid is so lucky!”

She said it nice and loud. There would be no nay-sayers in here tonight, at least not to my face, after a welcome like that. Other people starting coming up to congratulate me – the Dupuis, the Cookes. I felt better seeing genuine smiles on their faces. They all cared for Sid and didn’t treat him like he was made of glass. We would need these people in our lives. I was still wrapped in congratulations when a young guy in coaching staff gear tapped me on the shoulder and motioned toward the hallway.

“Coach Bylsma wants to see you,” he said.

I tried to hide the sudden paleness that revealed my fear. Other people had always been involved in Sid’s decisions for his life and career. Suddenly, I was not only a decision he made himself but someone who might influence those decisions in the future. I wondered if Coach wanted to warn me not to get too mouthy.

“Hey Evie,” he said from behind his desk where he was looking over statistics.

“Hi Coach,” I smiled. “Sid gets confused when I call you Dan.”

He laughed. “The media are in there hounding him about you. You wanna go bail him out?”

Are you kidding? I thought. To me, the post-game locker room was some kind of sacred territory. It was home to the raw emotion of win or loss and was the physical representation of everything the players put into the game – which is really their whole lives.

“I don’t think I…,” I started.

“Normally I would say the same – the players personal lives have no bearing on what happens on the ice. But this is only going to get bigger and consume more of his time if we don’t take care of it. So go in there, sit on his lap or something and let them see you for a minute. It’s all they need. Tomorrow we’ll go back to business.”

“But he won’t want….”

“He doesn’t want to tell them anything, that’s how Sid is. But there’s no choice here. Once they’re over the surprise they’ll go back to hockey or they’ll go away. He’ll be happier then. Now, Evie, if you’re on this team, you follow coach’s orders,” he said. Then he pointed right toward the locker room door.

I took a deep breath. People were coming in and out as I approached and I could hear all the noise. Probably I was going to get another eyeful of Jordan’s naked ass – no complaints – and be blinded by the smell of gear and sweat.

Sid must have been thinking of how to answer a question, because his eyes darted toward the movement as if looking for distraction. Well he found it. An unmistakably genuine smile came to his face and when he didn’t turn back, everyone turned toward me.

“Hey Evie,” Sid said.

In that moment, it was just us. I could have curled myself right into the lap of his hockey shorts and kissed his face off. But people were starting to ask me questions and make room, so I squeezed in next to him and sat on the bench.

“Nice game,” I told him. I knew he wouldn’t want me to kiss him on camera. That was for us, not for everybody watching at home. The camera crews seemed disappointed but it didn’t stop the questions: did I enjoy the game, how’d it feel to be on TV, would I be coming to all the home games. I answered so many in a row that Sid laughed.

“Hey, what about me?” he said. For all his desire to keep private things private he was handling it with grace. Finally the communications director shooed the cameras away. Most of the guys were still finishing changing and Sid was way behind in his stinky gear still covered in sweat.

“I’ll go wait in the…,” I said, standing up.

Sid’s eyes followed the last camera out of the room and watched the door shut. Then he pulled me in hard and kissed me. His lips were so soft it made my knees buckle. The salt of sweat was on his lips and the material of his under armor shirt still damp beneath my fingertips. He obviously didn’t care as he tipped me slightly to the side and really kissed me. People hollered and clapped.

“Save it for the honeymoon!” Flower yelled.

I stood against the bar watching Evie dance with Jordan. There was no reason for her to keep her 87 shirt on and no real reason for her to change – everyone everywhere would know soon enough. I found that I didn’t care except it looked hilarious to see Jordan dancing with someone wearing my number. When the song changed and they came back from the makeshift dance floor, I held fresh beers out for both of them.

“Couldn’t find anyone in a Staal shirt?” I asked.

Jordan swigged half his drink in one sip. “I like when they play hard to get.”

Evie stepped on his toe and spun away.

There were a lot of people out tonight. Normally I didn’t tag along on post-game outings but tonight it seemed like the perfect cap to the day. Parts of my private life would always be public – Mario had taught me early on to accept that. My romantic life was the last part of it I was holding on to, not that there had been much to hide. Now there was everything. Evie leaned over a table to steal a fry from Geno’s plate.

As I watched her I knew that most people in the bar were watching too. It was strange, they were usually looking at me. Tonight they were looking at Evie just as much, watching her as she just went about having fun with her friends. She hadn’t kissed me or clung to me; she wasn’t showing off her status. She knew she didn’t have to.

Not that it stopped a few people from trying.

“You know you can’t have any fun after you’re married,” a blonde in a denim skirt with those furry boots said, squeezing in between me and Jordan. She was pretty in a lot of makeup and some pretty stiff perfume. “I think you need one last hurrah before you tie yourself down.”

She batted her eyelashes at me then looked at Jordan in an obvious way. As if we’d never been hit up for a threesome before. And if she thought of Jordan as a backup, someone to take home after I turned her down, she sorely underestimated Gronk’s ability to pull chicks.

“Jordan,” I said with a serious face, “I didn’t know you were getting married.”

I left him there to let her down easy.

“Can you believe she’s wearing a fucking Crosby t-shirt? It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Vero and I barely made it to the bathroom mirror before we heard the two girls in the stalls talking loudly about me. I had been expecting it, feeling my hackles rise all night as people stared and whispered. Finally it was time.

“I can’t believe he’s marrying her. She must be pregnant. Because she sure as shit isn’t special.”

Vero looked at me in the reflection. I just shook my head – it would always be like this, no use in getting worked up over two jealous girls. I would have left altogether but I really had to pee.

“He’s probably got a girl in every city on the map. What difference does it make who he knocks up at home?”

I put my hand on Vero’s arm lest she throw the stall open and drag the girl out. She had been taking shit like that for years – Marc didn’t cheat. He might have been the only one, but I knew from the way Marc looked at Vero that he didn’t cheat. She knew too but it still hurt to hear people assume all hockey players did.

“He could knock me up any day,” the second girl laughed as the toilet flushed. Two seconds later she opened the door and came face to face with me. Without thinking she said, “Shit.”

I just gave her a snotty look and slid past. When her friend was out there was some hurried whispering and neither of them washed their hands in the rush to leave.

“Fuck ‘em,” Vero said. It didn’t feel funny, but I laughed anyway.

Back at the bar, Sid was having a hudled discussion with Marc and Kris. As we rolled up they broke apart, nearly ho-humming in their effort to act distracted. I’d have to find out about that at home. Kris passed me a fresh drink but Sidney stopped it in mid-pass.

“Everyone in here is watching us,” he said. He was huge against my side, a solid wall of muscle. Without question he was the sexiest guy I had ever known. My knees virtually knocked as he smiled at me with an eyebrow raised. “Let’s dance.”

Sid wasn’t much of a dancer, so he must have really wanted to get this show over with. I’d seen a number of girls approach him while they thought I wasn’t looking, or even when they knew I was. They didn’t care. The world was probably full of nice girls who could make Sid happy, but they were never the ones rubbing against him in a bar.

He took my hand and led me through the crowd like he was parting the Red Sea. We filed a little way into the small crowd. The second his arms went around me it was like a blackout on the world. He kept his movements small and held me close – it was a reasonable dance, but more about just being close together. And letting whoever wanted to see, see.

“Last time we danced was the first time we kissed,” he said.

“And that led to some other first times,” I teased.

“Like our first time being engaged.” His lips were at my cheek as he spoke over the music.

“But not the first time I’ll be your wife.”

The song changed but Sidney didn’t. He led without meaning to lead, his strength completely in charge of any step we took. It was hard to reconcile this sweet, slightly awkward guy with the superstar I’d seen at the game. Sure he was a stud but this was no heartbreaker. And tonight he was way out on a limb for us.

“August,” he said suddenly. “Next August.”

“You’ll be 25?” I guessed.

“Let’s get married then.”

I didn’t to answer. He just kissed me. We stopped moving, his hands tangled in my hair and we just kissed in the middle of the dance floor. I bet the whole place was looking at us. Camera phones were probably whipping out like switchblades.

Let them
, I thought to myself. Let them do what they want. I know what I’m doing.

Apparently my kiss was agreement enough. When we came up for air, Sid held my face. The look in his eyes made my stomach flip.

“Next August,” he confirmed for both of us.

Evie sat on the couch in my t-shirt with some argyle socks pulled up to her knees. I hopped over the back of the sofa and landed next to her just in time for our big news break on DVR. The clip started with a highlight reel of Penguins events – the Cup, bowling, various goals I had scored. Then it cut to our interview.

“You look hot,” she said.

“You look hot.”

Evie laughed. “Not as hot as you. I’m gonna have to get used to that I guess.”

The interview was painless and the anchors follow-up discussion surprised, but brief. After Evie’s appearance in the locker room and our adventures at the bar, it seemed anticlimactic. With no fanfare I hauled Evie up the stairs to bed.

She lay down beside me and offered her perfect lips. Looking down at her, feeling her body pressed to mine in the only place where my life was ever really my own, I knew I would never want anything else. I craved consistency and quality – Evie would be both. Her kiss reaffirmed what I already knew.

“You were amazing tonight,” I whispered into her hair.

“I almost decked a girl in the bathroom who said she wanted you to get her pregnant.”

“I got invited to a threesome with Jordan,” I said, topping her story.

Evie sat up straight, revealing her long, bare back before turning toward me. “Oh really? Really?” She scrambled over me to grab my phone from the desk. “I’ll give you a threesome with Jordan!” I caught her around the waist, flipped her back to the mattress and pinned her down fast. She squealed.
“Don’t start without him! No fair!”

I biffed her with a pillow then shut her up with a kiss. Her arms went around my neck as she pretty much attacked me. Within a minute her ankles were locked behind my back and I was sliding into her.

“Sid,” she whispered. It was easy to forget I’d known Evie for such a short time – we felt like the oldest and best of friends. But the hot, wet depths of her body made every time feel like the first time. I was always in danger of coming immediately. She sighed once and rolled her hips down into me. In my moment of weakness, Evie rolled until she was on top of me.

Her long dark hair hung over her breasts, tossed around like I’d taken her once already. She moved on top of me, testing out what felt best to her, then began to ride me as she found the spot. I held her thighs and watched her breasts bounce, her bottom lip catch between her teeth when I found the right place. My hips rose to meet her, drawing a moan and I held her waist firmly down as I thrust up into her body. She spread my fingers apart and guided my thumb to her clit. The second I rubbed her little spot she bucked hard.

“Right there,” she said hoarsely.

I felt her body tighten and turn as I worked her from inside and out. She leaned back, offering me a beautiful view of her lines and tightening her pussy around my cock. It was incredible and I wanted so badly to make her come. I throbbed deliciously. Before long, Evie’s head rolled forward.

“Look at me,” I told her. “I want to see you come.”

She nodded smally, whimpering as I drove my thumb harder. Her body responded instantly with a flutter. I took her as far as I dared, my finger so wet with her sweetness that I could hardly get any friction. When she was breathing hard I pulled her down to my chest and rolled her underneath.

“Oh God,” she said in surprise as I pounded into her from the new angle. “Yes.”

Her back arched, forcing her to cling to me. Those gray eyes blazed as her breath because short.

“Sid,” she said. Her fingernails dug into my skin and the sharp sensation nearly made me lose my grip.

“Baby, come for me.”

I didn’t need to ask twice. Evie gasped and held her eyes open wide, boring into mine as she cried out. I felt her body clamp and twist then release like a balloon letting go. I held her head up and watched the force of it bring tears to her eyes. That was enough for me.

I came with a bellow. I didn’t even bother trying to smother it – we were getting married and I would wake the whole fucking house if I felt like it. Evie’s body was heaven, everything I felt for her emotionally was mirrored in the way her body gave itself up to mine. Flower had told me once that when it came to women, when you knew, you knew. Stars burst in my eyes and I knew there was nothing else.

“I love you,” I told her before the shuddering stopped.

She flopped down beneath me. “Alright, I won’t call Jordan.”

Instead we woke to a different phone call. Sidney swiped his phone as it rang and answered with a mumble. Then he jerked straight up in bed. “Now?”

I was up too, looking at him.

“Okay, yeah, just a minute.” He clicked off before turning to me. “Uhhh, my parents are here.”


And so they were. We dressed quickly – I had only my Crosby t-shirt which felt ridiculous now, so I went in the long-sleeved white top I’d worn underneath it. When we reached the door that separated Sid’s part of the house from the Lemieux’s, he grabbed me for a quick kiss.

“They will love you. Because I love you.”

Okay yeah sure, I rolled my eyes.

Mario and Nathalie sat side by side at the kitchen table, two people who must have been Sid’s parents flanked them. They looked up at us like a firing squad.

“Mom, Dad, this is Evie.”

Sid’s mom took me in for a moment then she smiled – it was Sidney’s smile and I felt a bit at ease. “Evie, it’s so nice to meet you.” She hugged me but not too closely: still sizing me up.

His dad made no attempt to cover his evaluation. He had Sidney’s build only bulkier, like a bulldog or a prize fighter. His eyes were not unkind just distant as they looked me up and down like a horse in the show ring.

“Evie, I’m Troy.” His huge grip was very strong, testing me for breakage. I willed myself to smile so that he found none. We sat down to breakfast that Nathalie fussed over. As soon as plates were on the table, Sidney’s father started. I almost admired him for it – no sense in beating around the bush.

“We’re all pretty much family here, so I think we can speak our minds. Sid, your mother and I are not too happy with the way you’ve chosen to go about this.”

Sidney just swallowed a bite of pancake and raised his eyebrows.

“And Evie, since we don’t know anything about you, I hope you’ll answer some questions for us.”

I took a breath and started talking. “I work as a buyer at American Eagle. My parents live in Upstate NY, where I grew up. Sid met them and they love him. I have a brother too. We don’t have a lot of money, but Sid said my house reminded him of yours growing up. I live in an apartment in the city with my roommate Beth, who is kind of dating Kris Letang. I have become good friends with Vero and Marc and the rest of the guys.” I watched their faces and saw that I was doing well, but probably not enough. So I went for it. “I’m not pregnant and I’m not after Sid’s money. In fact, half the bar last night seemed to think my ring was too small by half. But I think it’s perfect. It suits me.”

A flicker of relief crossed his mother’s face. I didn’t expect anyone to believe me just because I said it – anyone with half a brain would use that same argument. But it was out in the open now and could be shot full of holes however they liked.

“But you’re buying a house,” his father pointed out.

“I have offered to chip in, or handle the utilities or something. Sid turned me down.”

Mario offered, “Well he’ll be living there too.”

“And summers?” his father continued.

“Nova Scotia, at Sid’s insistence. Which means I will have to change my job – I’ve talked to them about working remotely for the summer months but I don’t know if it will pan out. But I’m looking forward to Canada,” I said. “And getting to know you all well.”

Nathalie nodded slightly in approval. I would thank her later.

“I know this is sudden and that I must seem like a danger to Sidney. But I promise you that I want nothing but the best for him. I think I can be that person.”

“So do I,” Sid chimed in. “And this is my decision, for my life, which I have made for myself. You will love Evie, I promise. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter. I love her. And I’m marrying her.”

Sid’s mom looked away quickly. His father’s face went red and I waited for it to turn the purple of a plum. Even Mario and Nathalie got unnaturally still – it was obviously not often that Sidney stood up to his father in such an emphatic way. But I didn’t need to look at him, I could tell from his straight-backed posture and the amount of space his form took up next to me that he was not backing down.

It’s not a good idea to argue with someone as physical as Sid, someone used to punctuating his words with strength. It dictated the way he held himself. His father had a similar presence and I wondered if they might batter each other like dinosaurs clashing together. Shoulders were thrown back and heads held high… then his father conceded.

“When?” Troy asked.

“Next August.”

And now I knew why Sid had announced a date to me last night. He wanted to have an action plan for this inevitable moment, to show a united front with plans made and no room for questions. It seemed to work.

His father shrugged there was nothing else he could say. He still shook his head. “Married.”

We were excused from breakfast like kids leaving the principal’s office. Evie was nice enough not to say anything about it. I thought of her parents and how happy they’d been, how her father had been concerned but hopeful, how her brother had simply gone with it. Of course I was rich, so there was little question I’d be able to take care of Evie. But that didn’t mean I would do a good job of it. They looked at me and saw someone who could make a good life for their girl, not someone trying to take that very thing away.

“That went okay,” she said. And that part had, but I knew it wasn’t over.

I drove her home. Instead of kissing her across the console, I got out and held her tight. There had been many times I’d backed down to my father’s words but this would not be one of them. If I could fall in love and get married, I could do this.

“Love you,” she said.

I let myself into my side of the house, but boundaries didn’t exist for my dad. He was on the couch watching the news clip on DVR, just the way Evie and I had done the night before. His expressionless face said he’d seen it a few times already.

“She’s a fox, I’ll give you that.”

“Dad, stop.”

“No, Sid, she really is. I can see why you like her. I can even see how you’d be scared to keep her around without staking some kind of claim, a few of your teammates are not exactly….”

“STOP.” I didn’t yell, but I said it with punctuation. “I am not marrying Evie because I’m afraid she’ll cheat on me.”

He gave me a look that could cut stone. “She’s not going to cheat on you. She knows where her next meal is coming from.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Why else, Sid? Why else would that girl be here, wearing a ring, smiling like she just won the lottery? You’ve known her how long – a month? Not even.”

“Because she loves me.”

He tilted his head slightly. “And you love her. Or you love getting laid every night and not having to worry about it ending up in Hello Canada. Sid, we can find you someone for that, and you won’t need to marry her.”

I was on my feet before he finished. As if all I wanted Evie for was sex. Not the way she smiled first thing in the morning, or believing I could hear her voice cheering over all the others at a game. Not the way she looked in the low light on our aquarium date, like I wasn’t the coolest thing in the room for once in my life. Not the way she pretended to cover her eyes when Jordan got pantsed in the locker room. But there was no way to make him see all that.

“I love her. I want to and I will marry her, whether you support us or not. But if you intend to continue living off my money for the rest of your life I suggest you stop insulting my wife.”

It was stronger and better aimed than a punch. My father had wanted nothing more than to be successful in hockey. If he hadn’t failed I don’t know that I would have succeeded – his drive was stronger than mine. I’m grateful for how it worked out. But there comes a time when you have to stop owing people for something you earned yourself.

“Get to know her, Dad. You’ll believe me. Otherwise you’ll be missing out on both of us.”

I had nowhere to go but I couldn’t stay there. I drove around for a while, the way I did when I needed to be anonymous. Of course the entire time I was thinking of her and eventually my car drove itself to her apartment.

“How’d it go?” She opened the door, barefoot in jeans and a Jack’s Mannequin t-shirt. I wrapped my arms around her.

“I told them it was all of us, or just you and me and they could fuck off.”

Evie leaned back to look into my eyes. “Oh Sid, I’m sorry.”

“He’ll come around. They’re so worried about someone taking advantage of me they don’t see when they’re doing exactly that.”

She pulled me into the apartment, shutting the door with one hand. We stumbled still kissing down the hallway to her room. Articles of clothing littered the path – my sweatshirt and hat, her t-shirt, my sneakers. At the edge of the bed I unzipped her jeans and she did the same for me. We tumbled into the sheets in underwear.

Evie’s eyes followed her hand down to the waistband of my shorts where she slipped under the elastic and stroked her palm over my hardening length.

“I can think of a few ways to take advantage of you,” she smiled. Then she slid down beneath the covers in one quick motion and slipped her soft lips over the head of my cock. Her tongue worked deftly as she got my shorts off and gave herself a full range of motion. Then she used it. One hand stroked my shaft in time with the strong, hot suck of her mouth. The other held her hair back so I could watch, taking breaks to gently tickle my inner thigh or run fingernails lightly over my balls. She was on her knees over me, the thin fabric at the hip of her panties stretched nearly translucent across her skin. I ran my hands over her sides absently because all I could feel was the back of her throat.

I made a noise and she repeated her action, taking my tip past the back of her throat and pushing it down like a buzzer. Her velvety tongue felt like heaven polishing the taut skin of my hard-on. It took everything away and focused my mind like a laser. One of her hands cheated up my chest and felt my heart pounding. My hands were on her ass, tracing the tiny gap that ran between her legs. I hit a hot spot and she moaned. The vibration hit my dick like electricity and I came, holding her down and pumping loads of cum into her mouth. She sucked and swallowed eagerly, then licked me clean. It felt dirty to enjoy something so much from someone I loved.

Before she could sit up I had her on her stomach. I laid myself across her back, slid my hands under her hips to tilt them up and buried my cock inside her all at once. She cried out, the sound of pleasure. I held her ass in the air and worked myself deep into her tight little snatch. Evie pulled one of my hands down to her clit and showed me how to move. Within minutes she was pulsing around my shaft. I rubbed harder, making her moan. I wanted to hear that sound a lot.

“Fuck you feel so good,” I whispered into her ear. She giggled softly but I cut her off with a huge thrust that threw us both flat on the mattress. Her legs were together and I was wedged in and driving away. She took over with her own hands and I breathed dirty thoughts into her ear. Everyone was rewarded with a twist or squeeze, showing me that she knew how to play this game too.

I came first. Or just a second before she did. I grunted as the force of exploding inside her took the breath from my lungs. Coming so hard twice in succession rang my brain like a bell. Evie mewled into the mattress, grinding back against me as her body gave out too. She rolled and shook, I stroked and held, and we rode it out together. When she was finally still, I was well and truly emotionally spent. I draped one arm over her side and felt her breathing still ragged.

“And your parents think I’m marrying you for money,” she panted.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chapter Fifteen

We could have gone to Evie’s that night but I insisted we stay at the Lemieux’s. They were being protective and a little skeptical – we couldn’t honestly expect everyone to be as caught up in this as we were. We needed practical opinions too. But whatever they thought didn’t change my mind about Evie and I wanted her to be sure of that. In my room, I put my arms around her from behind.

“They’ll come around,” I said, meeting her eyes in the mirror. She looked so right with me – eyes light where mine were dark, body slender where mine was bulky. “They don’t make decisions for me.”

A smile cracked her face. It was beautiful and delicate as she wrestled with the knowledge that people were going to think all kinds of things about our engagement, most of them with far less good reason than the Lemieuxs. I kissed her cheek and squeezed her tight – physical protection I could do, but once we were out there it was another story.

“Come to the morning skate. Let’s tell all the guys before we tell the news, eh?”

She turned and kissed me. I knew she was acting more sure than she felt and I loved her for it.

“You think Flower kept it a secret?” she asked.

She fell asleep quickly with her forehead nestled into the groove between my shoulder and chest. I twisted a strand of her hair and watched the way her eyelids twitched as she dreamed. When she was a little girl dreaming of her life, was this what she hoped for? When she was at class, probably beating back adoring guys with her textbooks, was I what she daydreamed about?

She said yes, I reminded myself as I drifted off.

In the night we twisted together, so when I woke she was laying still trying not to disturb me. The hand with her ring stretched across my arm and the diamond caught what little light snuck in around the curtains.

“Still want to marry me?” I asked.

“Yes.” Evie bit her lip as she studied my face. “This is right, I know it.”

“Me too, baby.”

Even so she took a few extra minutes getting ready to leave. She’d go to her place before the TV interview but I could tell she wanted to look nice for the announcement to my friends. Her friends too. If she was nervous about their reactions that would disappear the minute the guys found out she said yes. She chose a heather gray sweater from her suitcase that I hadn’t seen before, one the exact color of her eyes. It made her look ethereal and absolutely stunning.

“You have never been more beautiful,” I told her honestly. She flashed me a smile and a wave of the ring as we headed to the car.

Nervous. More nervous to tell the team than I was to see my parents, but of course they had already known. And the more I thought about the Lemieux’s reaction the more reasonable it seemed. Sidney was a part of their family and an investment of their resources. They would be protective of that.

His friends were a different story. I knew they liked me and I genuinely liked them. They were behind us dating. But would they be behind something this crazy? Flower obviously was as the hopeless romantic of the group. Sid’s friends had shown nothing but enthusiasm and I said a little prayer to the Stanley Cup that would continue. Sid sensed my nervousness. He held my hand tightly as we made our way into the arena and toward the coach’s office. I took a deep breath.

“There he is.” Coach said. Then the door opened the rest of the way and he saw me. “And here’s the bride.”

“Hi Coach.”

“You can call me Dan, you know.”

It was the single nicest, simplest thing he could have said. He came around the desk and gave Sidney a hug, then me. Like a proud dad he kept a hand on each of our shoulders and stood in front of us.

“This is going to be a shitstorm, you know that?” he said. I giggled awkwardly, and it turned into a real laugh. Of course it would. But Sidney put his big hand into mine and I reminded myself of what was important as we headed toward the locker room.

We reached the door and he turned to me. “I’m nervous too.” Then he quickly kissed me and threw open the door without hesitation.

The room was bustling with guys changing, taping sticks, working their way into equipment and gear. Flower looked up so quickly he must have been waiting for us. That never-ending smile was the biggest I had seen it and his eyebrows rose in question. I nodded slightly. He bit back a shout and squeezed his shoulder pad so hard his fingers turned white.

“Guys, can I…” Sid said loudly.

“Evie!” Max shouted over Sidney’s voice. He jogged over, bumped Sidney theatrically out of the way and hugged me. Kris came in behind us and did the same thing.

“Could you just...,” Sid tried again. I heard slapping feet and Jordan hurried into the room.

“Evie’s here?!” He came running from the shower in nothing but basketball shorts. Without stopping he bent at the waist and tossed me over his shoulder like a fireman. His skin and hair were still wet and I couldn’t get a grip as he started to spin me around.

“Put her down, I need to…,” Sidney as still being ignored.

I shrieked as Tyler came up behind Jordan and yanked his shorts down. I was way too close to his bare ass and covered my eyes, laughing hysterically. Jordan couldn’t pull his shorts up without putting me down and he had no intention of doing that. So he just stood there, people pelting us with balled up towels and clothes. Sid gave up.

“Can you please put my FIANCEE down?!”

The room screeched to a halt. I’m sure every mouth fell open but I could only see Jordan’s backside. I used the moment of silence to slap him once, right on the ass. It rang like a bell.

“What?!” Jordan practically threw me into Sidney’s arms. Sid tried to cover my eyes as Jordan bent to pull up his shorts. He didn’t quite, but I’d never tell him that.

“Evie and I are getting married,” he announced.

It barely took two seconds. Jordan reached to lift me into the air again but Flower beat him, followed by Max. Their combined weight knocked Sid and me together, then we all went down in a pile. Sid tried to shield me from the crush but Jordan jumped on top, and I don’t know who else. I mewled weakly about being squashed.

“Tanger you have got a fat ass!” I yelled.

“I’m up here, Evie.” Sure enough he was standing over me, looking down. But he was smiling.

Max shouldered people off him and pulled me to my feet right into his arms. It was such a strong, sure hug that absolutely sang with happiness. He kissed my cheek and I saw tears in his eyes – that did it. I started crying. Flower pulled me away and crushed me into a bear hug.

“Thank you for saying yes,” he whispered. “Thank you for being brave.”

I cried some more, passed around to teammates. Between hugs I could see Sidney getting the same treatment before another set of huge arms engulfed me. Eventually everyone had their chance then stood around us, looking at the ring and asking questions. Sidney got some handshakes and pats on the back for cold-calling my parents. I got lots of ribbing about settling and aiming too low.

“Good thing you didn’t see my ass till after you said yes,” Jordan pulled at his waistband, offering another show.

I slid my hand into Sid’s back pocket. “Sorry Staalsy, you can’t win that game.”

When the congratulations were over I left the guys to hurry out for practice. For the first time ever I drove Sidney’s car to take myself home. I closed the door, sat on the couch and just closed my eyes. For the first time since being whisked away, completely shocked and having my life turned upside down, I was alone in a quiet place.

I cried. They were happy, overwhelmed tears. If I didn’t let them come now they would come when the cameras were rolling. A little teary-eyed was sweet, but this was real crying and probably not too pretty. It felt cathartic to let the nervous energy go. As my breathing and heart rate evened out, I found myself smiling uncontrollably. Engaged. To Sidney Crosby no less. But mostly the stars popped around the idea of knowing, for sure, who I would spend the rest of my life with. No more wondering if it could be that cute guy in the bookstore, or wondering if it would happen at all. Questions will become answers, the ad campaign said.

I showered and fixed my hair, put on a little makeup. Mario had set someone up to make sure we looked okay before the interview anyway. I ironed the gray sweater everyone had complimented and paired it with some nice-fitting black trousers. My mom had given me diamond stud earrings for my 21st birthday and they matched my new ring nicely.

Fans were waiting near the parking entrance when I arrived, hoping to catch players leaving practice. I bet a lot of them recognized Sidney’s car. The guard opened the gate and let me right in – I didn’t look around for fear of getting distracted and running someone over. When I parked, I sat for another quiet moment in the car gathering myself.

Mrs. Crosby.

I showered and dressed in a light blue dress shirt that Evie said looked good on me. The TV crew was setup in a room down the hall.

“Want me to wait till you’re done?” Kris offered. Everyone had been so supportive – if anything they were overjoyed. I knew they worried about me not getting to have a normal life. This wasn’t a normal way to get one, but I was so happy that no one cared.

“We’ll call you after.”

Even so, most of the guys went slow enough to be there when Evie arrived. She poked her head in the door and practically the entire team was still around. It made her smile.

She wore that gray sweater to her advantage. Her hair was full and shiny and I knew from the commercials and interviews I’d shot that the camera would love her. While I was still thinking how lucky I was, TK stepped up.

“You look gorgeous,” he said. He’s rarely serious but this was one time. “You’re going to be great.” Everyone echoed the sentiment and wished us luck before leaving. When we were alone in the locker room, Evie made a face.

“Can you even smell this place anymore?”

I pressed my lips to hers, finding strength in the speed with which she kissed me back. The door opened but I didn’t stop. Mario had to clear his throat before I let go.

“The makeup artist is here, if you want her to have a look.” He led Evie out of the room and gave me a little nod that I should stay put. I took the quiet moment in our team space to silently thank them for being so good to me, to us. If captains were elected I had no doubt she’d win next year. Mario was back a few minutes later.

“She’s almost ready.” He straightened his tie, it was his nervous twitch. “I want you to know Sid, that I’m very happy for you. The more I consider it, the better I think this is – you’re skipping a few steps, but if you’re sure then I support you.” He paused. “Not that you need my permission, of course.”

“But I want it,” I admitted. It meant a lot to me that he’d back my decision honestly. He’d have told me if he thought it should do otherwise. “I love her. I am as surprised as anyone, but I will spend the rest of my life with Evie, no question. And I know it will be hard for her with the media and the puckbunnies, but at least now we’re solid and official. Not some girlfriend they try to run off. We are getting married no matter what.”

The smile on Mario’s face says I’d chosen the right words. He’s like a father to me, which means Evie will be joining his family too. It’s important that he be behind us for reasons other than hockey.

“Ready to tell the world?” he asks.

“If the whole world cared, hockey would be a lot more popular,” I remind him as much as myself.

Evie looks up when I come into the hallway. They’ve given her a little something extra around the eyes and it is impossible to look away from her face. She fixes an unruly piece of hair along my forehead.

“Man of my dreams.” She kisses me gently on the lips. I fight the urge to see if anyone is watching – let them see. They’re about to find out anyway.

We stand in the hallway and listen to Mario talking to the news reporter, a woman from the local NBC station. I hold Sid’s hand and we look at each other as he tells her we’d like to announce our engagement. She gasps, someone in the crew drops a clipboard. They recover nicely knowing they’re on to some front page news.

We go in. She introduces herself as Marsha Ross and introduces us to the crew. Her smile is pulled so tightly I can tell she wants to run into the hall and freak out. No time though. There are only a few people present and I relax slightly.

“Just talk to her, forget the cameras,” Sidney whispers. I quickly kiss his perfect mouth. It’s a reflex I will never have to suppress, he’s made sure of that. Moments later, the cameras are rolling. Since this will be edited down we have all the time we want to talk.

“Sidney, I understand you have an announcement you’d like to make,” she starts.

“I’d like to introduce you, and everyone, to Evelyn Montgomery. My fiancée.” He squeezes my hand when he says it. I love the sound of his French.

“I didn’t even know you had a girlfriend and now you’re engaged. How long have you been together?”

“A while,” he says.

I chime in. “We were friends first.”

That seems to open her up to asking me questions. “Evie, tell us how he proposed.”

“We met on a flight when I got bumped up to first class and ended up next to him. He kind of tricked me into going back to that airport, and proposed in the spot where he first saw me.”

“Did you see him then?”

I’m smiling uncontrollably and I know it’s selling well on TV. “No, I was pretty oblivious.”

“Would you have recognized him?” She’s grinning too, almost like we’re girlfriends gossiping.

“Yes, definitely.”

Marsha wants to ask for details, but I sense she’s been warned not to get too personal. Sidney has never shared much with the media and he’d rather not start now. Most of this is for my benefit, so I look like an honest endeavor and not something he’s trying to hide. They zoom in on the ring and she gushes appropriately.

“Sidney, do you think it’ll be tough with so much travel and the pressures of the hockey season?”

We haven’t talked about it but I hope he knows that I’ve considered the issue. My answer is the same as the one he gives now.

“I know it’s not easy. But a lot of guys in the League are very happily married, so it can be done.” He looks at me as he says it.

“What about the off-season? Have you thought about where you’ll spend it?”

“We’ll go to Nova Scotia,” I volunteer. To look at Sid would be to give away that we haven’t discussed it. But I know the right answer. It’s one of the things on my list of bridges to cross later.

“And Evie, Sidney has a lot of very enthusiastic female fans who will be sad to see him taken off the market. Are you prepared to handle claiming Pittsburgh’s most eligible bachelor?” The question is deftly worded but its meaning obvious. What about the jealous legions who will try to destroy you?

“I think so. I must be doing something right already. It’s up to him too of course, but I think he’s up to it,” I say. Sidney laughs adorably, flashing those perfect teeth and I know the entire female population of Earth will hate me even more.

“Is it hard to watch games when you’re fiancé is out there playing?”

“I get a little fired up. But not just about Sid, about all the guys.”

“Sidney, do you think you play better when Evie is watching?” Again with the careful wording – what she means is how much of a distraction is this going to be?

“Hopefully. I want to win, but the guys will get jealous if I say it’s not for them.”

It’s over before I know it. My heart is pounding but it went predictably well – because it was controlled. Prior to sitting down it didn’t occur to me how orchestrated it would be. Now I know the Penguins organization had a right grip on that one. Still I’m relieved. The news is out there and the rest can come as it may.

All the fans and cars have left the parking lot. We don’t speak until we get outside, where I press Evie against the side of my car and help myself to a deep, full-bodied kiss. I was itching to kiss her during the interview when every answer she gave was just enough without being too much. My guarded personal life has been a prize possession for so long but I’ll have to give some of that up now. Evie managed to hint without revealing really anything and I didn’t even have to ask.

“I love you.”

She giggles against me. I won’t be able to nap thinking about that sound. I free her after another kiss and take her home. If my life were my own I would follow her upstairs and keep her busy for a month. Instead I slide my hand up her thigh as I lean over the console.

“Go nap, or everyone will hate me tonight.”

“We’ll have to learn how to nap together. I sleep better when you’re there.”

Her fingers rest against the pulse in my neck. “I can’t wait to practice.”

I go home and climb into bed early. Sleep will come slowly if at all. Evie’s right: I will have to shine tonight. The piece will run on the five o’clock news and undoubtedly re-air all night, maybe all week. Coach has ordered the pre-game locker room closed to press. The post-game interviews will hopefully at least mention that we win.

My body is well-trained and I fall asleep eventually then wake without an alarm at found o’clock. For the first few moments I lay in bed and think that tonight’s game is the first of a new era. Not just because everyone will know, but because there’s actually something for them to know about. I am engaged.

I carefully follow my routine before the game. Word has spread to all the staff and coaches who offer endless congratulations and jokes. Evie won’t be coming down before the game, but I text her around six.

Me: See you soon.

Evie: Luck, baby.

I take a few moments prior to the pre-game skate and really sharpen my focus. I feel good about the game and about the fans. Many will know and the news will burn around the arena quickly. I rarely even look at the crowd and tonight I definitely won’t.

Except that I do, just once. There’s a sign near the penalty box side blue line with a picture of the Cup. Across the front it says “Win Me.” Next to the cup it reads: She needs a wedding ring.

I wait in line in the Pens pro shop behind six people. Each one of them is buying something with Sidney’s name on it. Thinking about it scares me.

We’re sitting with the wives and girlfriends tonight, maybe not obvious to fans but the cameras will know where to find us. Many people will have heard the news by the time the puck drops. In case they need some extra help, I pull the 87 girls-style t-shirt over my long-sleeved white shirt. If I’m going to claim their captain at least I can look excited about it.

Vero smiles. “Perfect.”

But I’m nervous too. I keep my seat for the warm-up and watch Sidney skate drills and make plays. He’s so focused the place could be empty and he wouldn’t know. I wonder if he sees the sign that jokes about my wedding ring. That was fast, I think.

The wives and girlfriends are beside themselves with the news. Well most of them. A few look at me like I’ve clearly hypnotized Sidney or I have some superpower. Their eyes were on the prize and now they’re turned disapprovingly on me.

“Evie!” Kelsey moves so fast she nearly falls down the stairs. She barrels into me shrieking, hugging and jumping up and down. “I stayed home to see the news. You looked amazing! And you guys looked so in love I almost cried!” She catches herself yelling and lowers her voice, looking around. “Am I blowing your cover?”

I have to hug her again, she’s just so cute. “No. Plus, I got this.” I show her the back of my shirt. “You know, in case people want to throw stuff at me.”

Vero waves away the idea. “He will score and everyone will be happy. For today.”

The arena fills to the brim. During the National Anthem I let my eyes fall on Sidney. His head is down as he shifts on his skates. Eighteen thousand people are looking to him to deliver, depending on him to win. I revel in the idea of being the one person here who depends on him for something else.

I love you. I think it firmly and send it his way. If he can do all this, then I can do my little part.

Vero watches the Jumbotron as much as the game and she doesn’t have to wait long. Seven and a half minutes into the first, Sid takes a feed from Dupuis and merely has to turn it into the net. The house goes crazy. We’re on our feet, yelling and cheering, as the Jumbotron replays the goal. When the announcer calls the goal, it shows Sidney on the bench laughing with Kris. The cheering reaches its natural peak and starts to die out. Then the camera cuts to me.

I knew it was coming. I’m cheering with everyone, not looking at the screen. Vero no longer is either though she leans in and tells me we’re on. I can feel all those eyes on my picture, on me. There’s a tiny swell in the noise, the cheering picks up a touch for an extra few moments before petering out.

“They like you,” Vero whispers.

“Because I score goals,” I say.