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.”
“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.
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.
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.