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.
“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.
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?”
“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 rêves,” 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.