“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!