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 façade 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.
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