Thursday, October 21, 2010

2: Caught in a Lie

I ordered my usual steak salad and a Miller Lite, and then I handed the menu to the waitress. Sidney clumsily flipped through the pages, obviously totally unprepared to rattle off whatever he wanted. The server was a little impatient with him as he glanced over the options and finally settled on something, but I didn't listen to what he said.

Sid was always calm and composed when he was out in public. It came from years and years of being under microscopic scrutiny whenever he left the house. He always had a game face on, and he didn't take it off when we were out and about, no matter where we were. We'd learned the lesson a long time ago that someone was always watching, and we had to be on our best behavior at all times. His moves were calculated, and that was a skill that I had picked up on, too.

But right now, he didn't have that calm fa├žade that I had expected to see when I walked into the restaurant to meet up with him. Something was up with him, and it instantly had me worried.

He handed his menu to the waitress, and when she turned and walked away, he looked back at me and smiled. It wasn't his usual smile, either. I cleared my throat and tried to play sleuth and figure out what was going on. "So, what did you do today? Team stuff, or chores around the house...?"

I knew the answer to that question. First, I knew that he didn't have any Pens-related matters to take care of. After all, I worked in the office and new what the summer schedule looked like. Pittsburgh had won the Stanley Cup again this summer. After last year's loss and having to leave Mellon Arena without ever winning the Cup there, the guys had been so determined and adamant about winning it in the new Consol Energy Center; a feat that they had made look easy. The Cup was making its way across the country—across the globe, actually, since Evgeni had it yesterday—so everyone from the team was taking it easy and there was actually very little that any of the players needed to do at this point in time. Winning in the Finals was its own marketing strategy, and although the guys were training hard to repeat, it was a summer to celebrate and not work or promote the team.

Second, Sid had told me yesterday that he had ordered some new gym equipment for the basement, and he was going to spend today setting it up and testing it out so it would be ready when he made the move down to Pittsburgh for the season. He was going to do that while I was at my parents' and helping them get rid of their stored clutter.

See, Sid and I had a whole plan set out for the summer about when he would come down and visit and when I would pop up to Nova Scotia for a long weekend. For example, I always went up to his place in Enfield for Canada Day, and he came down for the Fourth of July. But somehow, our signals had gotten crossed and he came down this weekend when I had thought I'd be alone and staying with my parents. That's why we were meeting up for dinner in my hometown.

We had found the balance between independence and neediness that I had struggled with at the beginning of our relationship. It had been a major adjustment for me, but it came with time, as promised. I liked that I had time to myself to pursue my interests and hobbies when he was away. It allowed me to stay true to myself and not just be "Sidney Crosby's girlfriend." But when he was in town, we soaked every minute we could together. Now, everything was going great.

Or, so I had thought.

If things had been going so great as I had expected, then Sid wouldn't have had the need to lie me. "Team stuff," he said, looking away from me and toward the room of the restaurant. "Mario, uh, yeah, Mario wanted some input on some ideas for the team."

"Oh really?" Instead of immediately calling him out on it, I tried to catch him in his lie. I was concerned about what he was trying to cover up. "What ideas?"

His face reddened; Sid could give very diplomatic answers, saying a lot without really saying anything at all, but he was an absolutely terrible liar. "Oh, you know, boring team stuff. It's not important."

"Sure, it's important," I replied, trying to coax something out of him that would contradict himself. The more he tried to lie to get out of this, the more worried it would make me. I needed him to be honest with me and 'fess up to whatever was going on—and the longer this went on, the more troubled it would make me. "Anything having to do with the team is important, especially to you. You are the captain, after all."

"Well, I'm not really at liberty to discuss it."

"Oh, come on. I mean, I work for the team. I'm sure Mario wouldn't mind."

"I'm telling you, it's not important. In fact, it was so unimportant that I've already forgotten."

I pursed my lips and crossed my arms over my chest. "How can you know that it's unimportant if you can't remember what it was?"

Sid blew out a stream of air and looked up at the ceiling. "Because."

By now, I felt like my head was going to explode, so I tried a different approach. "So, did you get your gym equipment set up?"

His voice cracked as he asked, "Gym equipment?"

"Yes. The gym equipment you told me yesterday that you were going to be setting up today?"

I watched as he realized that he had forgotten his original lie—so now, he was caught in two. But still he tried to cover it up. "Uh, yeah. I did."

"Before or after you met with Mario?" I eked out between clenched teeth.

"Before? I mean, after?"

Luckily, the waitress brought my drink over, which gave pause to our conversation. I took a long swig of my beer, before I finally laid all the cards down on the table. "I know you're lying. You're lying about seeing Mario, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that you're lying about what you're doing in Pittsburgh in the first place. So why don't you just tell me what's really going on, Sid?"

It was a very vague, open question. I wanted to ask him so many other questions—questions that I might not like the answer to. In my head, I had it all figured out: he wanted to break up. Why else would he be acting all weird?

I waited for his response, but I already knew what it would be. I think we should take a break and see other people. Maybe he already had another girl in mind. Maybe he had already started seeing someone else, in Canada. Or maybe right here in Pittsburgh! Maybe that's what this whole visit had been about.

Sidney closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and I waited for whatever he was going to say while expecting the very worst. "Do you know what today is?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" I was feeling exasperated as he changed the subject.

"I thought you said you wanted to know what's going on?" he asked, and I nodded. "Well... do you know what today is?"

Beginning to rack my brain, I wondered if I was forgetting something. Sid was spending the day with the Cup on his birthday again, and that was next month. Today was just a regular summer day. "It's July twenty-fourth."

"Yes, it is. And do you know what July twenty-fourth is?"

I thought some more, and was still coming up with a blank. "Um, end of July. Two weeks before your birthday...." My voice faded out as I ran out of answers.

He nodded. "And it's been exactly two years since we met. Here. In this very booth."

Leaning back in the booth seat, I tried to remember that night two years ago. Sure, I could recall that particular evening, but it was like a blip on the radar screen compared to the past two years I had spent with Sid. In fact, it wasn't really that important compared to the night we had serendipitously run into each other at Diesel. We had started to get to know each other that night, but our original encounter was what had really stuck out in Sid's mind. He loved telling people the story about how we met and how I had stupidly mistaken him; he thought it was a riot.

I nibbled on my bottom lip. "Huh. I guess you're right."

"You know what that means, don't you?"

Waiting for some sudden realization was futile, because it never came. I went through my mental calendar and tried to remember what today could possibly mean; it was neither of our birthdays, nor was it our anniversary, which was October 2nd—the day we became official, the day of the 2009-2010 season opener. The longer I took to think of some huge significance, the farther his face fell. "I'm sorry, Sid, but I don't know."

He sighed and simply explained, "It means we've known each other for two years."

"Oh. Duh," I muttered, still feeling like I was missing something big.

"You don't remember at all, do you?" Sid asked, shaking his head.

"I'm really sorry, but I have no clue what's going. So why don't you just tell me?"

"You told me once that you felt people needed to get know each other before taking big steps. That a couple should be together for at least two years before getting married. Is that ringing any bells?"

I nodded; it was ringing bells. The bells were more than just ringing—they were chiming, banging, clanging, and resonating in my head. In fact, there was so much instant noise in my head that I had to struggle to hear his next words.

"The past two years have been... I don't even know how to describe them, Nelly. I've searched for the appropriate words and still can't find them. Wonderful. Crazy. Incredible. Happy. Fun. Amazing. I say all that, and it still doesn't quite express it. Maybe the words don't exist to make you be able to understand, and if that's the case, then there's only one way to show you.

"I've enjoyed these past two years, to put it mildly, so much so that I want every year from here on out to be just as great. I want you in my life for each year to come, for the rest of our lives. So, what I guess I'm trying to say, er, to ask is...." He reached deep into his pocket and pulled out a velveteen box before he got up from his booth seat and knelt on one knee next to the table. Opening the box, he revealed a shiny, sparkling ring; however, I was looking in his eyes when he popped the question that I knew was coming but still was surprised to hear: "Noelle Marie Lambert, will you marry me? Make me the happiest man in the world?"

I forgot how to breathe, let alone speak. Even though his little speech may have been less than eloquent, it was perfect. The best feelings in the world were sometimes the hardest to describe, because pure elation was truly indescribable—which was why I was having so much trouble finding my vocal cords. So I began to nod, moving my lips even though it took several tries before the word "yes" finally popped out of my mouth.

Sidney got off his knee and slid into the booth on my side, removing the ring from the box as I offered him my left hand. I knew that the ring was probably horrendously expensive as well as that Sid had probably looked at the price tag without batting an eyelash, but I wasn't looking at the ring; the ring was just a symbol. It could have cost him a nickel or five mil, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was the look in his face as he smiled while sliding the ring onto my finger. Sid looked as happy as I felt: happy beyond words.

Monday, October 18, 2010

1: Catching Up

I was nervous. Very nervous. Incredibly nervous. I reached into my pocket with my right hand, like I had done so many times in the past twenty minutes, my fingers grazing the peach fuzz-like velvet of the box. It was like a worry stone that I rubbed absentmindedly. However, whenever I caught myself doing it, I made myself stop; I didn't want to mar the box. I pulled my hand out of my pocket and rested my arms on the table top.

It had been two years—two years to the day when I had first met Nelly. And now I was going to propose.

Waiting at least two years had been had her idea. She had never explicitly asked me to wait until today to ask. And as far as I knew, she didn't have today circled on her calendar as a special day. It wasn't a typical anniversary, because it didn't mark our first kiss or first date. It was just two years since I had met her, here, at this very restaurant.

It had been a day to remember, that's for sure, when we had met. I still can recall the table of girls who had stared at me from across the room but hid their faces as soon as I looked back at them. I'm used to getting recognized wherever I go, and it's the polite thing to do to introduce myself and offer an autograph. Now that I look back on it, it seemed presumptuous of me, but it's been ingrained in me for so long that I'm an ambassador for my team and the league.

The whole exchange that took place afterward was a little awkward and surprising, which is what made such an impression on me. I'm definitely used to overconfident, determined women approaching me and making their intentions clear
—which I suppose can be flattering, but it's mostly unwelcome.

She left without me getting to talk to her again, but imagine my surprise when I saw her again over the weekend. That's when we really started to get to know each other, but it wouldn't have happened if we hadn't have met at this very restaurant. Even though this would only be the second time we'd ever come here together like this, this was a very important place for us, and now it was going to mean even more to us.

I'd come back from Canada specifically for this reason. I still returned to Nova Scotia during the off season, to see my parents and the rest of my family and spend some time at my home on the lake, to relax and unwind after a stressful season and to train and refocus for the next. I'd come back to Pittsburgh occasionally for press and hockey reasons, and sometimes Nelly would come up north and visit for long weekends at my house in Enfield. But she still had to work over the summers with the Penguins organization because she had responsibilities that extended beyond the hockey season. It was a part of her job, and she loved it. Luckily for me, though, she understood that I was still a Canadian boy and that I needed the quiet time over the summer to unwind from the season.

She'd stay at my house—our home—in Pittsburgh even when I was gone. Of course she did, because it was her home now, too. It wasn't particularly hard on us, for us to be separated for periods of time over the summer, because we were so often separated for the entire season, too. It sucked, and had taken a lot of getting used to once she had moved in with me
—but that was the nature of our relationship. It was all we'd ever known during our time together. We weren't lucky enough to have a "normal" relationship, but it wasn't always a bad thing; nothing felt better than returning home after a road trip or being away for an extended span of time to my girl and her open arms. We certainly made due with the life we shared together.

Nelly had known from day one what my life was like. Commercial shoots, photo shoots, interviews, contractual obligations galore, practices, games, road trips, charities, appearances, black tie dinners
, meetings with my agent and sponsors—beyond that, even my personal time wasn't always my own. If we went out for dinner or a movie or just for a walk around the block, half the time we'd get stopped by a fan or someone looking for an autograph or a picture.

She not only understood all that, but she donned the professional girlfriend persona well. Nelly would always smile and offer to take the picture or would hang back just far enough that she was out of the way but never so far away that she appeared disconnected or aloof. It was the perfect balance, and she always took it in stride and never got upset or irked by it. She knew that it came with the territory.

The only time we were really alone and totally ourselves was when we were at home, just the two of us. Since she was so laid back, she was cool with spending the quiet time together. Going out was such a production because I'd always have to call ahead and get a reserved table in a secluded area if we didn't want to be disturbed. It wasn't a hassle because I'd do it if I knew Nelly wanted it done, but she was just as content as I was to spend the time home alone, and it was great to know that we were on the same page and so similar in all the important ways.

Which was how I knew she was The One and why I was going to marry her.

We were a natural fit; that's the only way I could think of to describe it. When we met, she knew exactly who I was: Sidney Crosby, Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. She liked to joke that I was the biggest thing to happen to hockey since goalie masks. But that wasn't all I was to her. It had been hard, sure. Especially when we lost in the second round the first year we were together. That was a tough time for us, because I do not like to lose and I certainly wasn't happy with the outcome of our season, falling to the Habs in seven games. I was miserable, and I know that I'm not easy to put up when I'm consumed by the losses. But we struggled and got through that first tricky month of the summer, and it got easier from there.

As much as it sucked to lose with her watching, it was so much fun to win with her cheering me on. Sharing the Olympics with her made winning the gold and scoring the winning goal that much sweeter, even though had promised Orps that she was officially cheering for Team USA. And then when we won the Cup the next season, the first season in the Consol Energy Center, it felt amazing to see her come down to the ice with my family, where I could hug her and she could congratulate me. I had really wanted to share that with her. She was the first person I had wanted to see after we had taken the big team photo with the Cup and family members had been allowed to trickle down onto the ice surface to celebrate with us.

The timing was perfect for my surprise; seriously, it couldn't have been better. Nelly was staying with her parents for the weekend as they undertook a huge house cleaning project to go through the basement and de-junk and de-clutterize, as she called it. Her parents wanted her there so she could sort through her own things and decide if she wanted to bring it to her new home or get rid of it. I'd made the excuse that I was coming down to do some things around the house to get it ready before I got caught up with summer Cup celebrations and had to come back into town for the preseason—but mostly, I was here to ask the big question and to hear her say "yes."

I'd suggested dinner when I had sprung my visit on her at the last possible minute, and I'd suggested the restaurant. I don't know if the significance had passed over her head because she was busy and tired from working with her parents or if she really just forgot. Either way, Nelly was going to be surprised—even though she shouldn't be. She should know that this is coming. When she had said that she thought couples should wait a minimum of two years to fully get to know each other before taking this next big step
—but no more than threeI had made a mental note of that. I knew that as soon as we hit our two-year mark, I'd pop the question.

Now that the time had finally come and the moment to propose was here, I was nervous and anxious and ready to do it. It's like that moment right before I'd hit the ice for a big game. You just can't wait to skate out on the ice and position yourself at center ice for the puck drop. It's like your body is itching to perform the physical actions and get going.

I'd worked with a local jeweler for a few months as we tried to search for the perfect ring for Nelly. It had been very difficult; after all, I couldn't go poking my nose around a ring counter at a jewelry store because someone would have said something, and all my plans would have been ruined. I had to be secretive about it, and that meant meeting Franz, the designer, at neutral locations. Finally, since we had no luck finding something that I was sure Nelly would like and what would suit her, we just created an original design. This morning, I had met Franz one last time, to pick it up; now, it was burning a hole in my pocket.

My fingers curled around the box again, almost like I needed to make sure it was still there. Once I consciously realized what I was doing, I made myself let go of it and reach for the glass of water on the table with my right hand to force myself to stop the nervous, repetitive action of touching the ring box.

My knee started to bounce up and down as my anxious energy tried to find another outlet. I glanced at my watch; it was almost six o'clock. I shouldn't have gotten here so early, because I was not very patient. Sitting here and waiting was killing me, but I had been worked up all day as I waited to leave our home in Pittsburgh to drive out here and meet up with her. This was driving me nuts, and I thought for sure that I would spontaneously combust soon if I didn't get ride of this energy by asking her already.

The waitress stopped by with a pitcher of water and refilled my glass. I nodded my thanks to her as I stared at the door and willed Nelly to walk through it. A few times, the door would open and I'd feel my heart rate increase as I expected to see her come through it, but they were all false alarms and I felt disappointed as I continued to wait.

It was three minutes after six by the time she finally pulled open the heavy glass door and breezed into the room. She hesitated as she scanned the room; I watched the way her face pulled up into a smile as she found me sitting in the back of the room and headed over in my direction. Nelly dodged the tables and other patrons as she made her way over to me.

Nelly was dressed in a pair of denim shorts and a loose-fitting tee shirt, her hair pulled back in a messy bun and her cheeks pink. I could immediately see how hard she had been at work at her parents' house by how flush she was.

She first stopped by my side of the table and gave me a peck on the cheek in greeting. "Hey, Sid," she said in a low voice, knowing better than to speak my name too loudly when we were in a public place. "Sorry I'm a little late, but traffic was a little heavier than I thought it would be."

"It's fine," I told her, giving her a smile that I hoped was reassuring but probably looked more strained. My hand slipped into my pocket and grabbed a hold of that black, velvet box, but Nelly grabbed the menu and began to peruse her options before I could go on with my question. Since she was distracted, I made myself let go of it and then I sighed. The moment had to be
just right, and I needed her to have her full attention on me.

"Geez, Sid, it was only three minutes," she started, raising her eyebrow but not bothering to look up from the menu. "If you were that hungry, you could have ordered without me."

"Huh? Oh, no," I replied, trying to cover up and explain away my sigh. This had to start off right, and I couldn't have her thinking that I was upset that she was only a few minutes late for our dinner date. "I haven't even decided what I want yet." That was a total lie. I couldn't eat; I was too nervous to be able to even think about food. She continued to glance over her options, so I made small talk to wait until she had made up her mind. "How're your parents?"

"Good. We almost finished today, actually. I'm really trying to encourage them to donate or throw away a lot of the junk in the basement. They still have some of my baby toys and clothes that they don't need to keep, but they just don't want to get rid of anything."

"Well, maybe they're keeping that stuff for their grandkids," I mused aloud. I waited for her reaction to that statement, as an indication of how my proposal would go over. After all, once you get married, starting a family becomes the next step in the natural progression of a relationship.

"I guess," she said absentmindedly. "But they keep saying they want to get rid of the junk in their basement, and it seems like every box we go through, they say, 'Oh, but we're saving that.' It's frustrating because I'm trying to help and be the voice of reason, but they won't listen."

It didn't even seem to register with her, but I didn't let that discourage me. She was a little flustered and too busy studying the paper in front of her. I let it slide. "Well, I'm sure all that stuff has memories attached to it."

She shrugged but didn't say anything else. I changed subjects. "So, what do you think you'll get?"

"Hmm, I'll probably just get the steak salad. It's what I always get here, but that's just because it's that good."

"Yeah, I remember," I said, starting to look over my menu, too.

Nelly looked up and looked at me carefully. "What do you remember?"

"Steak salad. That's what you ordered the day we met."

"The day we.... Wait, you remember what I
ordered that day?"

I laughed at her. "Of course I remember that. In fact, you were sitting at this very booth, on that very same side of the table."

She cocked her head to the side and crinkled her face up as she examined my face. "You're right. Oh my God, I can't believe you
remember that!"

"I remember a lot of things," I said, reaching deep into my pocket with my right hand, taking a deep breath and preparing myself to ask the big question.

That is, until the waitress stopped at our table, her pad of paper and pen poised to take our orders. "Have yinz guys decided what you want?"

I sighed again and sat back in my seat as the woman who was still just my girlfriend read her meal selection off the menu and I continued to wait for the right moment.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Author's Note, Part II

I know that a lot of you have been anxious for this story to start. Honestly, I've debated on whether or not I wanted to go through with writing this story, even though I had promised to write it—and I like to keep my promises.

I want to be able to proud of the stories I write, so I put a lot of work and time into them. When people don't comment, I feel like that effort becomes wasted. And I'm not someone who's going to whine and moan about it, because every other story I've written has been something that I wanted to do. They have all been projects that I used to try and develop as a writer. But I'll admit it's discouraging to be so proud of a story when it feels like no one's reading it.

However, this is a story just for fun, written for all the people who begged and asked for NWW to keep going. I'm going to write it when I have spare time, instead of devoting my time to it. I have a bigger project in mind which will command the majority of my attention, so this will be what I write when I need a break from that. I plan on posting an update at least once a week. If I know some of you as well as I think I do, this may disappoint you because that's not what you were expecting. And if that's the case, I'm sorry.

Now that that's all said and done, I do have plans for this story. I have a basic plot line all figured out for Sid and Nelly, and I have the first post and a half already written, and the first post is scheduled to go up tomorrow at seven. However, if there's any suggestions you have or things you'd like to see, let me know and I'll do by best to work it into the story. It'll make things easier on me to write if I don't have to plan out all the details myself. This is a story for you, so this is your chance to give your input.

If none of that has put you off, I'll see you tomorrow at seven.

~Jay