Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chapter 8


For all of you, anon or not, who have been waiting super impatiently for the next chapter thanks for letting me know that you could not wait a moment longer


He paces the empty room, listening to the sounds of the game muted by the closed doors to the dressing room. The seats she is sitting in are not set aside for family, they are not even seats that are given out to prospective clients or charities. They are seats the players have set aside to impress girls. They are seats normally occupied by Jordan’s blonde bimbos or TK’s red headed party girls. The last time he had given out those tickets himself the girl’s picture had been all over the internet before the second period had started. Of course she’d worn his jersey but that had been his fault. He hadn’t warned her that it seemed to be common knowledge whose asses sat in those seats. 

Whoever had given her those seats knew that she’d be seen. The in arena camera men knew about those seats. The girls who sat in those seats always ended up on the jumbo-tron. Whoever had given her those seats knew that he would see her. 

Whoever had given her those tickets was looking for a serious beat down. 

The doors swing open and his teammates call enthusiastically to one another, praising one another on a good first period. This is an activity he would normally participate in but not tonight. While he’s glad his teammates have managed to put the biscuit in the basket he is hardly in the mood to celebrate.

“Who’s idea was it?” he snaps as the doors swings closed behind the last of his teammates. “C’mon, which one of you did it?” It is exceedingly rare for him to raise his voice amongst these men. He does not lead them through fear or intimidation. He does not shout, rant and rave, that is not his style which is likely the reason their smiles disappear all at once and the majority of his teammates fall silent. 
 
“It was me,” Flower replies in a tired voice, flipping his helmet back and dragging his jersey over his head. 

“And me,” Dupers adds as he passes by Sidney without sparing him even as much as a sideways glance.

“Tabernac! If we’re falling on our swords then okay, it was me too,” Tanger adds from his spot on the bench, his jersey already hanging behind him. Sid hunches his shoulders, as if readying himself for a pasting into the boards. He hasn’t counted on the entire French connection being involved. It’s easy to be mad at just Pascal, if that was the only member of his team involved. It is another matter entirely to take on three of the most popular men on the team. 

“So that’s it. You’re all on her side?” he asks, the feeling of the knife twisting in his back setting his teeth on edge. He looks to Dupuis, the oldest and most likely ringleader of the group, for an explanation. Pascal smirks. 

“Has all this just been a dream? Am I really only in grade four? Quick, Sidney write a note, do you like me yes or no and I’ll pass it to the girl for you,” he snipes and then returns towards Cookie as if to continue a conversation, shutting Sidney out altogether and ending the conversation, if there was even one to begin with. Sidney opens his mouth to continue to argue the point but a single look from Flower silences him. 

A buzz begins to build around him and after an awkward moment or two he realizes that his teammates have recommenced their usual banter, dismissing his presence altogether. His hands clench at his sides but he is unequipped to deal with the slow humiliating burn he feels as he stands alone in the middle of the room. 

“Just try and be nice to her mon ami, it’s all we are asking.” He looks at the hand that has come to rest on his shoulder and then up into the dark eyes Letang.  “She’s scared to death. I think it’s the least that you can do for her, considering.”  Every cell and fiber in his being struggles to argue but the past couple of years of therapy allows him to breathe through it and not lash out at his friend. “You know, if you stop fighting the idea, you might find out you like the idea of being a father. I know maybe she’s not who you might have chosen but maybe, give her a chance, you never know.” Just as he has managed to bring his blood pressure down to a simmer, he feels his internal temperature begin to rise. 

“You know I want a family, a great big fucking family,” he hisses at his friend knowing, without having to have a mirror to see, that every vein is sticking out and that he has begun to sweat under the pressure of not exploding. “Just not like this. Not this way,” he adds in a voice that sounds like it belongs to some kind of half man half wolf, more of a warning growl than words.

“Life can surprise you,” Dupes says calmly, shrugging his shoulders and smiling. “You know what they say, when life gives you lemons, vous devez faire de la lemonade.” 

He wants to ask how is friend can be so laissez faire. He wants to say that it’s easy for him to say, the family man who can go home and be with his kids and not have to do appearances, who can turn down charity events to go to a dance recital or a school play. He wants to point out that he is Sidney Crosby and he doesn’t have those options but in the end, he nods and walks slowly and silently out of the room. 

If he was any other man, if he was any one of his teammates he could put on a jersey and pull on a ball cap and go down and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that it would be best for her to leave but he is the one man in the entire building who cannot do that. He cannot hide under a ball cap. Every person in this stadium has seen him give countless interviews from beneath the brim of his crusty, stained Pens cap. He cannot merely throw a jersey over his suit and tie. He is too recognizable in one of those too and throwing a plain sweatshirt on won’t go far to solving that issue. 

Not, he realizes as he makes his way slowly back up to the box, that he knows what he will say to her anymore than he did this morning when he did not go to the diner, again. 

_____________________________________________________________


“The dressing room?” she glances at Samantha and they share an anticipatory and excited grin. The usher nods and sweeps his hand out for the second time indicating that they should follow him. With a shrug of her shoulders she follows him the stairs and through the crowds towards an elevator tucked away in a corner that only works with a swipe of his identity card. 

He says nothing as they descend into the bowels of the arena until they reach a set of double doors emblazoned with the Pens logo and then he merely says ‘go inside’. 

The room is warm, a sort of moist tropical heat blasting through the doors the moment they open, followed by a fungal stink that makes her cough and gasp. It is much worse than male sweat, worse than the funk in a gym. It is worse than feet and sweat socks and teenage boy B.O. It is the sickly scent of wet mold and decaying body parts. She wonders if this is what an open grave smells like. 

“We’re going out, not late,” Marc calls as he drags his jersey over his head, “will you come?” She wants to say yes, like an eager puppy bounding at the sight of its leash but she sends a quick look towards her friend, knowing that she will not go without her. 

“You’re friend’s invited too,” a very tall Jordan calls, appearing around the corner in nothing but a towel. It is a sight to make any woman’s knees more than just a little weak. Samantha grips her hand tightly and Fern finds herself grinning from ear to ear, a sensation she hasn’t felt for some time. 

“But not late right?” she says to Marc who is now sitting on the bench in front of his name plate and helmet shirtless, rubbing a towel through his damp hair. “I have to be at the diner at five,” she adds by way of a reminder. 

“Don’t worry, I hardly ever stay for more than one drink,” he tells her with a quick smile. “I will get Cinderella home before she turns into a pumpkin.” 

“It wasn’t Cinderella that turned into a pumpkin, it was her coach, or whatever,” Samantha begins to babble and Marc only looks confused and slightly amused before tossing his towel into a growing pile in the middle of the room. Brooks Orpik walks by completely naked. Sam leans heavily against her friend who hides a giggle behind her hand. 

“Why don’t you wait outside? We’ll be out in ten or fifteen minutes,” the Pens net minder adds before he reaches for one of the buckles on the back of the enormous pads that seem to dwarf him. She nods and turns to drag her friend out of the room, only to stop in her tracks and have Sam bump into her like a caboose being added to a train when the door opens and he is framed in the bright light of the room and the comparative dimness of the hall outside.

Her knees may have knocked at the sight of Jordan Staal in a towel but the sight of him in his dark pinstriped suit, button up crisp white dress shirt and purple and lilac striped tie is enough to make her panties melt and run down her legs. It isn’t the reaction she wants to have but it is the immediate visceral and very primal reaction she experiences despite wishing very hard to feel anything at the sight of him. 

“What do I do?” she hisses, feeling Sam squeezing her hand, instinctively knowing without needing to be told what is going on because they are the kind of friends that can read each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences. 

“Keep walking, just walk,” Sam whispers back, putting her other hand at the small of Fern’s back and guiding her forward.

___________________________________________________________


She isn’t how remembers her to be. He does not remember red highlights in her brown hair. He does not remember the tiny jewels flashing at the top corners of her dark rimmed glasses. He does not remember her lips being so full or her waist being so tiny. She is not the girl he has painted in his memory.

The Pens t-shirt she is wearing fits snugly across breasts he remembers as being smaller although his mind quickly reminds him that there are things like push up bras and other magical devices women can use to cheat his eye. The shirt also fits noticeably tighter across her stomach which is much rounder than he remembers it being last time he saw her, outside the diner. It is that bump, that almost unnatural looking swelling that draws and holds his eye the longest. 

That is a child, his child. 

The thought sends a shudder down his spine and makes his stomach tighten around the fist of lead that formed the minute he saw her again and has never left. As long and hard as he has tried to deny that this is happening, the evidence before him is too hard to deny, as is the veil of silence that falls over the entire room. 

He knows without looking that ever pair of eyes has turned and is watching, that every person in this room is wondering what he will do. It feels somewhat like stepping out on the ice during a shoot out. The crowd holds their breath, the opposition goal tender wondering if you will go forehand or backhand, your teammates wondering if you will score. Right now he knows all they are wondering if he is going to flip his lid. 

“Hi,” he says quietly instead of ‘you again’ or ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ both sentiments have crossed his mind but he manages not to give them voice. Her eyes, eyes he could have sworn were brown but now look a little like his own, too light to be really brown but too brown to be green, become very large. It seems his teammates are not the only ones expecting him to behave badly. “I...I uh, have something for you...in the lounge,” he adds doing his very best not to clench his teeth or ball his fists as he says it. “Great game guys. Way to keep us in it Flower,” he calls to the room before turning and holding the door open for her to follow. She makes no move to follow, at first, until her friend whispers something in her ear and she sort of stumbles after him. 

He doesn’t realize until he pushes open the door to the player’s lounge that her friend is still attached to her but when he looks down at their joined hands and then back up into her wide eyed and apprehensive gaze he is unable to keep from rolling his eyes.

“You want me to stay?” he hears her friend ask as he heads toward his locker. He doesn’t hear the answer, if any, that Fern gives but her friend’s promise, or is it a threat, is loud and clear. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything and I’ve got mace and pepper spray in my purse.” 

He retrieves the dog eared, tattered cheque that is slightly worse for being carried in his pocket for weeks from where it has been stashed with his energy bars, wrist and ankle weights in his locker. When he turns to hand it to her she is loitering close to the door as if she expects to need to escape. That sight gives him pause.

“Christ I know you think I’m an ass but I’m not going to hurt you,” he grumbles, holding the cheque out towards her. 

“I’m supposed to stay away from you or at least that’s what your attack dog told me,” she informs him as she looks at his outstretched hand and its contents. “And I’m not taking that.” 

“You should...I mean, I want you to,” he corrects himself, hearing Dupes voice in the back of his mind reminding him to be nice. “I’m sure you’ve got expenses.... I should help with that. I mean...you should let me help with that.” He is suddenly reminded as her lip curls up at his tone of how his younger sister is always reminding him that he is ‘not the boss of her’ and how he should ask her to and not tell her to do things. Fern’s curled lip turns into a smirk that she quickly tries to hide. 

“I thought you said there was no way in hell this,” she say, curling her hand beneath her swollen belly, “could possibly be yours and now you’re offering to pay for my expenses?” Sarcasm drips from her lips and she raises an eyebrow as he scoops a large helping of humble pie for himself. 

“Yeah, well...I’m in a position to help so...,” he shrugs and lets his voice trail away. 

“So now I’m a charity case?” she asks with a bitter edge to her voice as she drops her gaze from his and the almost smile that she’d been wearing disappears as quickly as it appeared. With a growl he shoves his hands in his jacket pockets to hide the fists he makes out of frustration. 

“Look I’m trying to do the right thing here and give you the benefit of the doubt. Just take that and let me know if you need anything else, okay?” As he slams his locker shut and twists the lock he tries to breathe through the feeling that it actually bothers him that she dislikes him and that maybe, just maybe, Dupes could be right. Maybe he is just pissed at her because this is not the way he ever imagined this happening. “I’m sorry,” he breathes, his back to her, his hand still on his locker door. “I know this isn’t easy for you but you have to realize this isn’t exactly ideal for me.” He waits for her to respond and when she doesn’t he turns to see her watching him out of those depthless eyes of hers, eyes glimmering with tears barely held in check. “Oh god, you’re not gonna cry again are you?” 

It’s exactly the wrong thing to say and the moment the words escape his lips he knows it but even as he opens his mouth to apologize, yet again, she turns and rushes out the door. He doesn’t follow her. He’s not sure he wants to and he certainly doesn’t want to go out and play happy families with her and his teammates, not that he could. Not with him being out of the line up. He can’t be seen with a glass of Jack in his hands out at a club when he’s yet to be declared symptom free. So he lets her go and hopes, when her friend and his calms her down that someone will see that he’s doing his best.

______________________________________________________________


“Thanks,” she sighs as his car pulls up outside of her apartment block.  

 “Hey I hardly ever stay past a drink or so. Not the big partier like Jordy, or your friend,” Marc adds with a playful grin. She laughs and rolls her eyes. 

“I hope she’ll be okay with them,” she wonders aloud. The Pens goalie shuts off the ignition and the sudden silence seems comforting. 

“She seems like she can handle herself,” he laughs and she finds herself nodding in agreement. 

“Yeah, you’re right, they should probably worry about her,” she giggles and then hiccups. “Jeez and I didn’t even drink,” she laughs and then winces. “Oh...can’t do that...now I need to pee,” she sighs and holds onto her stomach with one hand and reaches for the door handle with the other. 

“So...you had a good time, aside from Sid?” he asks out of the blue. She turns to look back at the Marc who is still holding the steering wheel but his kind eyes are full of worry and concern for her. She smiles widely at him because it is hard to do anything else when she is around him. 

“The game was great and you were amazing,” she replies earnestly, leaning across the dark space between them and wrapping her arms around him. If he holds her a minute too long she doesn’t take any special notice of it. 

“Do you want me to walk you to your door?” he asks as he finally withdraws and lets her slide back into the passenger seat. 

“Oh I think I can make it, just about,” she rolls her eyes and pats her stomach again. “And uh...don’t be too hard on him...I probably scared the shit out of him with this,” she adds looking down at her stomach. “I’ve had a lot more time to get used to it.” When she looks up at him he is smiling but it isn’t the warm friendly even mischievous smile that she is used to. This smile looks forced, disingenuous and it makes her pause. 

“I am still sorry he upset you,” Marc says very seriously. She gets the impression that the usually quiet young man sitting in the dark with her doesn’t anger easily but it is clear in the way his lips thin out and in the way his eyes flash in the darkness that he is angry, and she can imagine that the next time he sees the Pens captain he will definitely have a few words for him.

“Well...I should be getting used to it by now,” she shrugs, doing her best to dismiss it. What she does not want is to be the reason that he did not come tonight or that he becomes ostracized from more events like this. As much a she likes the idea of being friends with this man and with the other members of the Pens team, she has no desire to be their Yoko Ono either. “Anyway, thanks again and good night,” she says turning to reach for the door handle again. 

“Faites de beaux rĂªves,” he calls after her and when she turns to push the door shut his easy grin is back. She blows him a kiss and he feigns catching it and holding it against his chest. She laughs and skips up the walk. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chapter 7



“You’ve never been to a game?” She looks down at the tickets being held out towards her and then at the man seated in the booth offering them and the incredulous expression on his face. 

“Well, y’know, I’m not exactly made out of money,” she grins, her hand shaking as it reaches out towards the tickets. 

“There’s always student rush,” Pascal Dupuis reminds her. She nods as he presses the tickets into her hand and folds his bigger hands over hers. 

“First thing, I’m not a student and also they always do that when I’m on shift,” she adds keeping her voice low and aiming a meaningful glance towards the waitresses behind the counter, “and god forbid that I miss a shift but if I did those vultures wouldn’t waste a minute taking the rest of my shifts from now until doomsday.” She holds the tickets in her hand and runs her fingers over them like she’s caressing a delicate piece of china. “So...won’t he mind?” 

“Probably,” he shrugs, “if I told him. These are from me. Well, me and Flower,” he adds with a quick smile at his quiet teammate across the table who is wearing an amused smile. “Look, I think you’re pretty clear we don’t agree with the way that Sid’s trying to buy you off to get rid of you. We just want you to know that even if he’s not sure what he wants, we consider you family.” 

“I don’t know what to say. I mean, thank you, obviously,” she smiles into his kind eyes, “but uh...I don’t want anyone to get into trouble or, y’know get on his bad side,” she offers sincerely. 

“You leave the worrying about Darryl to me,” he smiles confidently. The younger man besides him smirks and makes a less than supportive snorting noise. 

“What will you do? Spank him if he’s bad again?” Kristopher Letang chuckles as he pushes his long, thick dark hair back and out of his equally dark eyes which seems like a fruitless gesture as it only falls back into his face again.

“It’s possible,” Pascal grins and all of the men at the table laugh. She looks at each of them, ruefully, in turn and a vast emptiness settles into her chest. She longs to be closer to them, to be in on their jokes, to have them consider her one of the gang, not to be the object of their pity. They seem so nice, so unlike him.

“So you’ll come?” Marc asks, looking angelically innocent even though she is sure by the way Kris suddenly jumps that he is kicking the defenseman under the table. 

“It’s the first home game of the season, you can scalp them if you want,” Kris recommends with an elfin grin that quickly turns into a grimace and the entire table bounces. Biting on her lip to stop from laughing out loud and drawing even more attention to their table she nods. 

“I won’t sell them and if you’re sure that it won’t land you in his bad books then I promise I’ll go,” she says, slipping the tickets into the front pocket of her apron that does little to hide the growing bump beneath, snug and safe along with her tips.

“He’ll be up in the box he won’t even know you’re there,” Pascal promises with a smile that fades at the edges as she chews on her bottom lip, “unless you want me to tell him?” 

“No,” she replies decisively. “So, ready to order?” 

________________________________________________________________


“Stop treating me like I’m one of your kids Dupers,” he hisses through clenched teeth. He doesn’t want nor does he need reminding of exactly how many times he’s promised to see her, to speak with her, to give her the cheque he’s been carrying around in his jacket pocket. It’s become dog eared and frayed at the edges and he doesn’t know how long before it is stale dated and no good to her at all. 

“So stop acting like one of my kids and I’ll consider it,” Pascal replied without looking up from lacing up his skates. This discussion is the last thing he wants today. It’s bad enough he isn’t going to be out on the ice, where he most wants to be, the last thing he wants right now is to be made to feel worse than he already does.

“I don’t know how you can act like it’s not happening,” Pascal adds, switching feet and tying up the other skate. 

“Look she’s the one choosing to keep it, not me. I have nothing to do with it,” he says firmly, which is easy enough to do considering it’s what he’s been telling himself, over and over. 

“It?” He knows even before he sees Pascal’s big eyes roll up to meet his that he’s said the wrong thing but he can’t and won’t take it back. “It’s not a dog or a cat it’s a kid Crosby and I think it’s damn brave of her to choose to keep the baby when she knows it’s half jackass like you.” The jibe hurts but he does his best not to let it show. Dupuis has been one of his best friends and confidantes on the team, has had his back on more occasions than he cares to count, on and off the ice, so to have Pascal look at him like he’s a gigantic disappointment is like having a knife inserted right between his ribs, aiming straight for his heart. “I think the least you could do is show her a little support.” 

“Her choice,” he reiterates with a shrug and starts to turn away only to have a second set of eyes meet his, full of disapproval. “Fuck...don’t you think I deserved to be in on the fucking decision here? Does anyone here get that it’s not fucking fair that she just got to make that fucking decision and I got no fucking say in the matter?” The room goes silent and most of the guys around him appear to be very focused on taping their sticks or tying their skates as if they haven’t heard any of the conversation. He grinds his teeth together and is about to turn on his heel and leave Duper and his ‘father knows best’ face when Lloyd and Harry step up to the plate. 

“It’s his life too,” Jordy says, laying his hand on Sid’s shoulder in that bros before ho’s solidarity sort of way. “If he doesn’t want kids he shouldn’t have to have them.” 

“Yeah,” TK agrees before Sid can object to the wholesale support that doesn’t quite fit, that goes a step farther than he himself would go. “If he told her to get rid of it you’d all be up in arms about that too,” the dark haired pugnacious forward adds defiantly. Sidney swallows audibly. If Dupers knew he’d said exactly that....

“It is her body, it should be her choice.” Every pair of eyes turns to the quiet man in the corner sitting there with his pads and hockey pants on and nothing else, his frame as fragile as a sparrow. He could object but the look in MAF’s eyes suggests strongly that it is better not to. 

“I don’t know why you picked her for the contest either,” Tanger taps his stick against Sidney’s shiny dress shoes as he passes, “she’s foxy in a nerdy kind of way.” 

He is on him before he has full though through how futile his actions will be. Not only is Letang far better versed in the art of fighting but he is also in full gear with the protections of his pads and the added height of his skates. This is not a fight Sidney can win but he has already thrown the first punch and cannot take it back now. 

He feels his head snapping back when Tanger’s fist contacts his own jaw squarely and he remembers how many times he’s watched the gritty defenseman pummel an opponent and felt pity for the man on the receiving end of the punch that makes his ears ring and has him seeing stars. He is grateful when Jordy and Dupers jump in and drag his long haired teammate off of him. 

“You should think about this,” Pascal hisses as they both watch Tanger being forcibly dragged from the spot, while Sidney rubs at his jaw and tests it by opening and closing his mouth, listening for clicks and tasting for blood. “If you detest that girl so much why are you so fucking upset?” He doesn’t have an answer for that question. He’s asked himself the same thing and come up with no answer more than once himself. “Yeah, well, think on it, d’accord mon ami?” Pascal shakes his head at him and then musses his hair just like he would to one of his own kids and Sid finds himself nodding and smiling up at him, just as if he were. 

_______________________________________________________________


A jersey would hide it but a jersey is far out of the price range of a diner waitress she decides as she tucks the price tag back into the neck of the black and gold material and turns away, heading back to the rows of t-shirts and sweatshirts. She runs her hand over what looks like a warm hoodie with the Pens logo on the back and ‘Property of’ on the front. Her smile is wistful. It doesn’t seem so long ago that she had longed to be property of the Captain of the team, the man whose number seems to be on every other jersey that walks by her. 

Picking up a plain black t-shirt with a small Pens logo embroidered in gold she unfolds it to find Marc’s number on the back. She feels a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth as she holds it up to the light. The price tag swings from the arm and it catches her eye; fifty per cent off, a price that she can afford.

Pulling a twenty from her wallet, she gets in line behind two other young women, both already wearing jerseys, both jerseys with the number eighty-seven emblazoned across their backs. They are talking animatedly and excitedly. It isn’t her intention to listen in on their conversation but their voices seem to carry over the energized crowd around them and it is hard to shut them out. 

“I’m sure he’ll call,” the red head assures her blonde friend, who tosses her long, straight hair over her shoulder and sighs dramatically. 

“Oh I know he will,” the blonde agrees, her phone in hand, tilted so that anyone can read the number on the screen. The number itself could be anything but the name over it can only be one person. “He said I was the best he ever had,” she adds, tossing her long mane over her other shoulder, “and he put the number in my phone himself,” she continues with a smile that clearly suggests she believes every word that she is saying, but more importantly, that she wants to be sure that everyone hears her.

Fern looks down at the simple t-shirt draped over her arm. The shine has gone out of the stitching. The butterflies that had been fluttering in her stomach since she’d got to the arena settle all at once and become a heavy weight in her stomach instead. 

“Here, this will probably fit you.” She presses the t-shirt into the hands of the stunned red head in front of her. “I have to pee.” 

She strides out of the store and shoves her way across the concourse, muttering apologies as she ducks beneath the arm of one man only to walk directly into the path of another. She barely manages to avoid having beer spilled on her and tosses another apology over her shoulder to a middle aged woman whose popcorn she upends as she dashes towards the bathroom. 

She hears the curses behind her when she ignores the line and heads to a stall as the door begins to open. The woman coming out narrows her eyes at her but says nothing as Fern tugs the door out of her hand and brushes past her. She pulls the door shut and locks it before anyone else says anything to her. 

Leaning against the door she wipes angrily at the tears that are already spilling down her cheeks. She wants not to care. She tells herself that she doesn’t, that it doesn’t matter if he sleeps with half the city but even as she does she knows that she is lying to herself and one hand slides protectively over the swelling that seems to be getting bigger every day; the reminder that no matter how hard she tries to deny it she is still holding out hope that he is not really the asshole that he seems to be, that somehow, some way he is the knight in shining armour that she always thought he was. 

“Hey, are you gonna use the shitter or what?” 

“Yeah, yeah I am,” she calls back and reaches for the tissue paper ring to cover the toilet. Lifting her plain black t-shirt up she looks down at the material panel in her maternity jeans and makes a face but just as she is about to pull it down she feels that  still new tumbling, bubbly sensation and puts both hands over her stomach, and smiles.

______________________________________________________________

“There you are. Sorry I’m late, but you were right, I am not gonna make a good nurse.”

Fern slides her jacket from the seat beside her to make room for the diminutive brunette who promptly drops into it, slides her book bag under it and then proceeds to shimmy out of her jacket, revealing a Letang jersey beneath. 

“Chemistry?” Fern asks, handing her friend the drink she’s been keeping for her. 

“Fuck yeah,” she sighs, pursing her lips around the straw and taking a long sip before sitting back in the seat and aiming her grey green eyes at Fern. “But enough about me. Nice seats girlfriend.” 

“Right?” Fern brightens visibly and aims a grin towards the empty ice. She reminds herself silently to give Pascal and Marc each a great big hug the next time she sees them. The seats are half a dozen rows up from the bench and a little to the right so that they are just above the glass with an unobstructed view of the ice. They are very good seats indeed. 

“So is he around?” her friend asks in a hushed tone, peering at the people in the seats around them through narrowed eyes.  

“Sam,” Fern gives her friend a playful shove and then shakes her head. “No, I haven’t seen him and they said they weren’t gonna tell him,” she adds. Samantha shrugs her shoulders, sits back and stares up at the boxes.

“He’s probably up there, watching you right now. I hope he comes down here. I am so gonna kick his fucking ass.” Samantha’s threat of violence and obvious loyalty earns her a warm smile from Fern but she shakes her head. 

“I think we’d miss the game if you did that,” she warns and Samantha’s full lips peel back to reveal a perfect row of white teeth. 

“Yeah but it’d be fuckin’ fun while it lasted.” Sam’s menacing grin fades at the edges and she tilts her head to the side, her eyes narrowing once again as she shrewdly searches her friend’s face. “You’ve been crying.”

“No,” Fern turns to face the ice again and slides down into her seat. 

“You have. Ferny,” Sam’s hand reaches for her own and Fern does not withdraw it. “What’s up? Did you see him or something?” 

“No,” she answers quietly, an ironic half smile tugging at one corner of her lip. “Just another girl who slept with him,” she adds quietly, her other hand automatically sliding over her stomach. “She was blonde and so fucking pretty,” she sighs closing her eyes and letting her shoulders droop. 

“Well fuck her, I hope he was even worse for her than he was for you,” Sam snickers, giving her friends’ hand a squeeze. Before Fern can thank her for her steadfastness or even tell her that she doesn’t mind if he was amazing in bed for someone else, one of the equipment managers appears behind the bench and tosses a bucketful of pucks out onto the ice. 

A mix of enthusiastic whistles and gleeful squeals fills the arena as the players hit the ice and the crowd stands all at once, Fern and Samantha with them. Sam is still holding her hand when the players in their black and gold begin to race by, the sound of their skate blades cutting into the ice clear as a bell from their seats. The heaviness that had settled into her stomach lifts and the butterflies begin to rise, flapping their wings as if they’ve been lifted on a warm afternoon breeze. 

Fleury looks up as he lumbers by, weighed down by his pads and lifts his stick in salute and then does a not so graceful pirouette. Sam lets out long shrill wolf whistle that makes Fern giggle. Pascal taps the glass and waves and Fern lifts her hand to cover her heart. He smiles and then digs his blades into the ice and speeds across it. 

“These are fucking great seats,” Sam reiterates and Fern can’t quite form the words but nods, tears in her eyes.

______________________________________________________________

He is not surprised that Mario and the rest of the brass have found the silver lining in his not being in the line up tonight and he is doing his best to smile and shake all of the right hands, laugh at the appropriate jokes and pretend to be slightly offended at the off colour ones. He plays his part perfectly out of years of practice. He is the penultimate ambassador for the game he loves and he only begrudges his position once the game starts.

He is grateful for the large screen TV’s that dot the walls around the executive suite but he agrees without reservation with anyone who asks him if it is hard to merely be a spectator. It is, very much so. But watching still makes him feel more a part of the team than listening to product pitches and schmoozing suits. 

He sips slowly at the wine he’s been offered. If he’d had a choice he’d have more than a couple of beers by now but as it is he is earning one too many sideways glances. His reputation for avoiding all excesses precedes him and makes it difficult sometimes to be in company with people who don’t know the real Sid. He slides the wine glass onto the table and picks up a bottle of chilled water instead. 

As he twists the plastic cap from the bottle a roar goes up in the arena and every head turns to either look up at one of the big screens or out at the ice itself. He is too far from the best view and so turns to look at the television. He has missed the initial play and even the players’ celebration. The camera is now panning the crowd and stops on a pair of young women jumping and clapping. That sight, in and of itself is not at all strange. The Penguins, more so than most teams in the league, has a young and predominantly female fan base. It is one of the young women in particular that catches his eye.

He curses under his breath and while the rest of the box is still transfixed by the goal celebration he slips out the door and heads into the bowels of the arena.