Saturday, August 13, 2011

11: Say Yes to the Dress

Once the beginning of September rolled around, Sidney moved back down to Pittsburgh with plenty of time to spare before training camp was scheduled to begin. Not only did it allow him to do some promotional work for the Penguins, but we got some major wedding planning done before he joined his teammates on the ice.

The first thing we did was tour the venues for the wedding. We had decided that we weren't going to have a church wedding; it was easier to secure one place for both events, the ceremony and the following reception, to save time and make things easier for the guests and for us. They had June 30th open, which was a Saturday night. It was so expensive to rent the Hall on a weekend night—four thousand dollars for three hours, and we were sure to go over that—and we were then forced to use their concessionaire for the event. But since we were under the gun, Sid jumped on it and booked the Hall. They were so ecstatic to accommodate our needs, and I felt relieved to have a venue. It made the planning feel more manageable and less overwhelming.

Sidney loved trying the food at the caterer's, and he even made an exception about having sweets during the season so he could taste-test the cakes at the bakery. In fact, he had so much fun with the cake that we ended up ordering a massive, five-tiered cake with each layer being a different flavor and frosting combination. We got chocolate with chocolate orange buttercream frosting, vanilla with hazelnut buttercream icing and chocolate Bavarian filling, almond with French vanilla buttercream icing, red velvet cheesecake, and lastly a banana cake with peanut butter mousse filling and caramel chocolate icing. It was definitely a decadent dessert.

However, it wasn't until it was time to go dress shopping that it hit me that I was getting married. As promised, Véro booked an appointment at the Alfred Angelo boutique in Pittsburgh for us. She name dropped, and they ushered my entourage into a suite with Champagne on ice waiting for us. I was surrounded by my bridesmaids and friends, my grandmother, my mother and Trina. Natalie came too, as my mentor and guidance counselor in all things related to being the perfect hockey WAG.

The consultant, Sandra, took me into the back, where all the dresses were hanging in protective plastic bags and asked me a few questions about my style and price range. "Of course, you'd look so beautiful in whatever we pull out," she said, which I was sure she said to every bride-to-be. "Is there a number in your head you're looking to spend?"

I smiled at her, thinking about what Sidney had told me before I left that morning for this appointment. He told me I had an unlimited budget for the wedding, knowing that I was always mindful about expenses and tried to be frugal, but he suggested that my dress not cost more than an entire year's worth of my salary. Honestly, I couldn't even picture myself spending that much for something I'd only wear one day of my life. "Um, well, I'd like to keep it under three, if we could. For the right dress, I'd spend more, but I'd like to see what there is in that range. I don't think I really have a style in mind, just something that looks nice."

Sandra looked at me like I was going to be her toughest appointment ever. After all, little girls were supposed to grow up dreaming about their wedding day; I should have already had a picture of my perfect dress in my head. But I was clueless. I wasn't a girly girl, and the only formal dresses I had in my closet were ones I had to buy to accompany Sid for Penguins' events—and Natalie had helped me pick them all out, as the guru. She never led me astray.

"Well, that's not a lot of help. Why don't you tell me about the wedding? Does the groom have any opinions?"

Laughing, I told her, "He'd like low cut. It's a formal wedding though, so definitely a full-length gown, and something respectable."

"How do you feel about a ball gown?"

"Um, I don't know. Nothing too poofy. I don't want to look like a marshmallow or anything. It's a summer wedding, so maybe not something too heavy."

She nodded. "Okay, so now I have something to work with. I'm thinking something fitted and flowy, not big and 'poofy.' Why don't you go in the back, and I'll pull some dresses for you."

I took her up on her suggestion. First, I helped myself to a glass of the chilled Champagne. It was weird, because I started to feel nervous. Sandra brought five dresses to me, and she and another lady helped me into the first one. I thought it was funny that I was standing in my strapless bra and panties in front of these strangers, but it wasn't awkward because they were so used to it. Soon, I was in the first white gown, the back secured in clamps so the dress looked fitted to my body.

Sandra ran down all the details. "We've got here a halter-top, satin gown with a ruched bodice, with a little bit of a train on it. What do you think, Noelle?"

Even though I didn't really like the dress, I felt myself getting all choked up. Now that I was in a dress, a wedding dress, the whole situation felt so... real. I was getting married. I couldn't help myself; I started to tear up.

"Oh, honey, are you okay?"

"Yeah," I eked out. "Do you have a...." Before I could finish my question, the assistant was handing me tissues. "Thank you." I dabbed at the wetness on my cheeks.

"Do you want to show this to your friends and family?" she asked.

"Sure." I picked up the front of the dress and walked out of the back to wear everyone was sitting and waiting for me. The younger half of the group immediately scrunched up their faces; the older half were gentler with their opinions. My mom's eyes were a little wet, because she was getting emotional like I was. It was a touching moment for us, but we all decided that it wasn't my wedding dress, so I headed back to try on another.

We went through all of the dresses that Sandra had picked out for me, and none of them were "it." We tried five more, and those ones didn't feel right either. Everyone was starting to get restless. There were murmurs among them that we should call it quits and try again another day, and that might have been a good idea. I, too, was starting to get discouraged and was on my third glass of Champagne when Sandra decided to call over another consultant for help.

"Let me see if I can find something," Fiona said, whisking away for the racks of dresses.

I asked Sandra, "Do girls usually pick something out the first time they try on dresses? Or does it usually take this much time?"

She checked her watch; we were going on to our third hour. "Every woman is different. It's your wedding day, so you want the perfect dress. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to find it." I wondered if her diplomatic answer was recited just because I was marrying Sidney Crosby, and she wanted the commission.

Fiona came back fifteen minutes later. "Now, this is a little different than what you've been trying on, so maybe you will like this better. It's satin and strapless, with a subtle sweetheart neckline so you'll have just a little bit of cleavage. Church cleavage, we call it in the business. The fitted bodice has crystal beading, sequins, and rhinestones, with some beading in the ruching and in the skirt. Semi-cathedral train. The skirt has more body than the more flowing dresses you've tried on, but it's not that big and is definitely suitable for a summer wedding."

I stepped into the dress and allowed Fiona and Sandra to lace up the back, watching in the full-length mirror. As they tied up the back, I saw as the dress molded to my shape. I could tell, as soon as I was in it, that I loved it. It wasn't what I had thought I wanted, because I didn't think I was a fan of sparkly embellishments, trains, or a flared skirt, but I truly loved it.

"I think you look phenomenal in this," Sandra said, smoothing out the skirt and spying my reaction in the mirror. "Absolutely stunning."

"Mmhmm," Fiona echoed, smiling and proud of herself for picking it. "What do you think, hun?"

"I...." The words wouldn't pass my lips; I couldn't speak because I was so overwhelmed.

They handed me more tissues. "Now, you don't want to go out there and show them this all red-eyed, do you?"

"No," I sighed, my voice quaking. I wiped my eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm myself down.

"All right. Let's go out there and show 'em."

I pushed my shoulders back and threw my curly hair over my shoulders. I felt like a bride as I walked out into the room in front of my selected group of friends. They were so quiet as they watched me coming, but they were all smiling at me. Natalie grinned and nodded, which was always the sign she gave when she approved of something. My mom and grandma started crying. Trina was beaming. She was the first to speak. "Sidney is going to love it, Noelle. You look beautiful."

Véro gushed, "That's a great dress. Mon Dieu, you're gorgeous. That's it, it gets my vote."

"That's the dress," Eva agreed. "You have to buy it."

"I think so, too, guys. This is my wedding dress." I felt myself start to weep again as the realization set in. "I'm going to get married in this dress."

In all the excitement of finding the dress, I never looked at the price tag. When Fiona said she would ring it up for me, that's when I found out how much it was going to cost—and I was shocked. "Five thousand dollars?"

Sure, I knew that I could pay that price. Sid and I did a lot of extravagant things that came along with his job: we traveled to a lot of varied places, we went to parties and events, and we had privileges that came only with having money and a nice house and expensive cars. But I was from a modest background, and while it was fun to get caught up in the whirlwind of having a rich boyfriend, I never took on the mindset that I had that kind of money to spend.

"No, no, no," V interjected, reading my mind and sensing my hesitation. "Non. You're buying it. The price doesn't matter. It's practically a steal, considering how amazing you look in it."

It went against my gut reaction, but I nodded to the sales lady and letting her charge my credit card for however much it would cost. As long as I didn't think about it, I had to agree that the way the dress made me feel was worth every penny. I hoped Sidney would like it and that he would have the same response as these women. After all, that was half of the requirement in picking a dress: not only did I have to like the way I felt in it, but I wanted Sidney to look at me as I walked down the aisle toward him and be speechless.

They helped me out of the dress and scheduled my first fitting in March, three months before I was going to say "I do." It was hard to believe that my fitting was only six months away, because my wedding was only nine months away. I left the boutique feeling happy and confident since things were falling into place, but my head was still spinning because it was happening so fast and there was still so much to do in a short amount of time.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

10: Planning

"Please don't make me wear pink. Whatever you do, no pink!"

"Don't listen to her. Pink is very in right now. Carrie Underwood did pink. Hilary Duff did pink as an accent. There's nothing wrong with pink."

"Ugh, but it's pink! No self-respecting bridesmaid wants to wear pink. Who cares what those girls did anyway."

"I would wear pink."

"Of course you would."

"Fine then, what color would you wear?"

"Any color but pink!"

I listened to Taylor and Véro discuss—more like argue back and forth over—potential color schemes for the wedding. My wedding. Which I hadn't even decided on colors or themes or anything for yet. I let them continue to hash it out between themselves as I thumbed through one of the many bridal magazines V had brought over. It was actually kind of funny to witness.

"Taylor, you're being impossible. If Noelle wants you to wear pink, then it's your duty to suck it up and wear the damn dress!"

"But I'm not the only one here who is not going to like it. I know I'm not. Do you think any of the groomsmen will want to wear pink cummerbunds or vests? Um, definitely not. Guys hate pink."

"Marc looks good in pink. He would wear it. Hell, any of the guys would. They don't get a say in what they wear—they don't care anyway. They'll put on whatever you give them and deal with it."

"Ugh, V, you're saying this all just because you want to wear pink. Not your wedding. Not your decision."

Véro narrowed her eyes. "Not your decision, either, Taylor."

"Right," I interjected, finally speaking up. "It's neither of your decisions." I focused my attention back to the glossy pictures in front of me.

"So, what color then? Or colors?" Taylor asked politely. She probably just wanted to know if I was actually going to choose pink or not.

"Honestly, girls, I don't know. I look at this stuff in here," I explained, holding up the magazine, "and it all looks really nice. Like, if I went to a wedding like this, I would like it and compliment it. But none of it feels right for me."

"Well, what do you want?" Véro questioned. "What kind of feel? That could help us. You're getting married in the summer, so do you want a summery feel? You could do yellow, maybe a light green or blue?"

I sighed. "I don't know. I don't think I want something beachy. Maybe something more formal? Sophisticated. Not black tie, but simple and elegant."

At that moment, Sidney descended the stairs into the living room on his way from the bedroom to the kitchen. He nodded to the girls and greeted them with a very quiet "hey," not wanting to disturb our meeting of the minds. However, Véro was quick to suck him into it. "Sid, tell us, what kind of wedding do you want? Any color ideas?"

It was funny to see his reaction: first his face flushed, and then it turned pink. He shook his head and tried to escape into the kitchen. "No, uh uh, I'm not getting involved in this."

Taylor and Véro ridiculed and mocked him, telling him to get his ass back in the living room so he could contribute, since it was his wedding too. I just laughed. "Are you kidding? He thinks all I need to do is buy a dress, a bouquet, and get a caterer."

"What? Really?" V gasped. Even Taylor looked surprised at his naïveté, and she was a self-described ultimate tomboy. "Oh my God, Sid, get in here. We need to set you straight."

"You probably don't want to do that," I told her. "Ignorance is bliss, right? Let's not ruin this for him."

I don't think Véro understood how anyone could not be interested in a wedding, especially if it were their own. She called for Sid again, and he reluctantly returned to the living room with a fresh sandwich in hand. He sat next to me on the couch. "Now, Sid, surely you have an opinion. It's your wedding day, too, after all. We need a color scheme."

He smiled with a very mischievous look in his hazel eyes. I knew that he wasn't very interested in any of this stuff, so he was going to start some trouble. "Black and Vegas gold?"

All three of us girls groaned at his very uncreative answer. V wasn't shy about clearly nixing the idea. "No way in hell are we doing Penguins' colors. That is so tacky!"

He laughed and shrugged. "Well, that was my idea."

I began to think aloud. "Well, maybe black would work. That's formal, right? And it's flattering, so it would look good on all the girls, right?" Véro nodded. "Would you wear black, Taylor?"

"Yeah, I would. I mean, a nice black dress. No ruffles or any shit like that."

"Taylor," Sidney reprimanded between bites of his lunch, giving her a scornful look. "Language."

She rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored his comment. I kept talking. "No ruffles. It's summer, so like, short dresses? Knee-length, maybe?" I cocked my head to the side and looked at more pictures in front of me. "Or will that be too plain?"

"You can get dresses with a sash or something, to add some color," V suggested. Then she looked at Taylor and shared a look between them. They said at the same time, "Pink," and launched into a giggle fest.

Sid glanced at me, totally confused. I laughed and shook my head. "Don't ask." Flipping through some more pages, I rambled on. "Well, maybe some weekend I can get everyone in the bridal party together, and we can go try on dresses and pick something out."

"As long as it's before school starts," Taylor said. "Most of my games are on the weekends."

"Okay, so we'll make sure it's before training camp." I groaned. "Damn, that's, like, in the next month." I couldn't believe how difficult this was going to be to plan. Once the season started—even before the preseason, when people started to move back to Pittsburgh in order to get ready for camp—it was going to be next to impossible to get everyone together. "Maybe it'll wait 'til around Christmas, when you have a break from school, Tay. You're supposed to order dresses six months in advance, so we'll still have enough time."

"When are you going to try on dresses, Noelle?" Véro asked me, getting excited. "That's, like, one of the very first things I think you should do."

"Well, I guess I should start looking whenever I get back to Pittsburgh. You know, so I have enough time to find something I want. I looked through these magazines, and I'm not sure what I like."

She explained, "Oh, don't go by the pictures. You never know if a dress is going to look good on you until you try it on. We'll go once Marc and I get back into Pittsburgh. We'll invite your mom, and maybe even Trina will want to come down, you think, Sid?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "And bring Eva, too. We'll hit up some of the boutiques and see what we can find. Picking a dress is the most important part!"

I shook my head. "Most important, right now anyway, is picking a venue. We need to find some place to hold the ceremony and then the reception, so we can get everything ordered. Flowers. Photographer. Caterer. Cake. Limos. Save-the-dates and invitations."

V tried to correct me. "You need a date first."

"No, I think we need to find out what's available and when, and then we'll pick a date from there. A year away, we'll be lucky to find something. I should make a list." I reached for paper and a pen. "Where are some good places in the city?"

"Roethlisberger had his reception at The Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center," she suggested.

"That's a big venue. I don't think we need nearly that much space."

Sid offered some recommendations of his own. "There's Heinz Hall. Phipps Conservatory." I wrote both of those down. "I think I went to something at the Warhol Museum. We could always try there. And the Carnegie Museums, too. That's where we've had the Skates and Plates before."

I wrote everything down and flopped down on the couch. "There's so much to do. Is it supposed to feel this overwhelming?"

He put a hand on my leg. "You know, we can hire a wedding planner, and they can worry about all this. It's only gonna get more stressful once the season starts. Things'll pick up for you in the front office, I'll be traveling."

"But I want to plan it. It's my wedding, I mean, it's important to me. I just, you know, I didn't realize everything that goes into a wedding 'til now, when it's time to actually do it."

"I'll be there to help, if you need it," V said encouragingly and eagerly.

Taylor chipped in, "I don't know how much I can do, but if you need anything, you can call me."

Sid laughed. "Don't look at me. I'll get a tux, but I don't know what else I can do. Oh! I'll taste test."

I looked at him, his full, pink lips curled in a perfectly crooked smile. The stress of the wedding was going to be worth it in the end, because I was going to be married to the man I loved. The wedding was just a detail.

The next day, Sid drove me to the airport between his two-a-day workouts. It was the last visit that I was going to have made that summer to Nova Scotia, because he was going to relocate to Pittsburgh by the end of August to prep for the season. I made several appointments for wedding-related activities in the two weeks between when Sidney would join me in Pittsburgh and when training camp would be in full swing, so we could check out locations, pick a bakery to get our cake, and sample dinners for our reception menu. It was the most fun we had planning our wedding.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

9: Roll with the Punches

The dinner cruise went better than expected, considering the circumstances. We were surrounded by friends and family only, so no one brought up the touchy subject of Sid's only scandal in the media. They knew that I was torn up about it, or at least they could somehow intuit that; I tried to forget about it so we could all enjoy Sid's last evening with the Cup.

We got on the boat, and we ate dinner there as we floated; after eating, we had a leisurely night to ourselves, drifting over the water while soft music played in the background. I played the part of hostess, talking to everyone at least once for a few minutes before excusing myself and talking to someone else. Of course, the only person I didn't speak to was Troy; I was avoiding him, and I think he was avoiding me as well.

At some point, I sneaked away for some alone time. I slipped out of my heels—which were killing me, even though you'd think I'd be used to them by now—and sat on a narrow bench at the back of the boat. The air was warm and humid, and there was a subtle breeze, just enough to blow my hair.

I wasn't by myself for more than five minutes before Sid found me and approached me. "Hey, Nelly," he cooed, sitting beside me. The wood creaked beneath his added weight. He put an arm around my shoulder and began to run his fingers through my unruly kinks and curls, made worse by the humidity. "What are you doing out here?"

"Just getting some air," I replied, leaning against him and putting my arms around his thick middle.

"Long day?"

"Long," I laughed. "Crazy. These past twenty-four hours.... Phew. I just can't wait for them to be over."

"I know." Sidney kissed my temple, and I turned my head and pressed my lips against his. My hand crept up to the side of his face, and I touched his cheek as I sucked his bottom lip into my mouth.

However, we prematurely interrupted before the kiss got good. A throat cleared, signalling that we were no longer alone. "Sid, kiddo, your mother's looking for you," Troy said.

Sidney and I broke apart. A breath of air gently brushed my face as Sid sighed, frustrated to be taken away from me in the middle of what we had been doing. But, as the dutiful son, he obeyed. He nodded at Troy and said lowly in my ear, as he leaned closer to kiss my cheek, "Wait here, I'll be back as soon as I can."

"'Kay," I mumbled right back, knowing his dad couldn't hear.

Troy pointed Sidney in the right direction, but he didn't follow behind like I expected he would. He lingered out there on the deck with me, looking out over the dark water. He didn't say anything, just stood there unmoving.

I had never spoke out against Troy; I had never had a reason to in the past. Maybe it was my frustration of the moment, that he had pulled Sid away during one of the rare intimate seconds we had had since I had come up to Nova Scotia for his Cup celebration. Or maybe it was because I was so mad at him for the way he was handling this whole situation and treating me through the process—like it was my fault for this mess even though it was Sid's idea to get down and dirty in the lake.

Whatever the reason, I snapped and gave him a piece of my mind. I stood and said, "Is there something you want to say to me, Troy? Huh? Go ahead and say it while it's just you and me out here."

He just shook his head and looked out over the water, not bothering to answer me.

"You better get it out now, because I love your son and I'm going to marry him. And you're going to be stuck with me."

"No, Noelle, I don't have a problem with you. I have a problem with my son marrying you."

I froze. I expected him to air his grievances, but I hadn't expected to hear that. "What?"

"Sid is too young for this. He's barely hit his prime. He doesn't need all these distractions now." Troy stepped closer to me. For the first time, he really intimidated me. "I was fine with you dating him. Lord knows Sidney needed someone to keep him out of trouble, someone to keep his bed warm when he was out of town and someone to come home to. But I don't think he needs this right now. And I don't think you're ready for this."

"Excuse me?"

"All morning, it was all about you. How you felt. What this does to you. But Sid's struggling with this, too. I don't see you asking him how he's dealing with this fiasco. He's the one in the spotlight, not you. He's the one whose reputation we have to watch out for. Until you realize that and start putting him above yourself, then you're not ready for marriage."

I scoffed, "That's not fair. It's my face, too, being splashed across these websites and tabloids. It's my reputation, too, that's getting smeared—"

"No one would give two shits about you if it weren't for the fact that you're dating Sidney Crosby, so don't feed me that line of bullshit. That's another thing you have to realize before you can think about marrying my son."

"Your son, your son," I mocked him. "You know, your son is a human being, in case you've forgotten. He can get married when he chooses and to whom he chooses. You're right, Troy, I know that no one cares about me. They only know who I am because I'm with Sid. But that means that I'm important to Sid, and that's all I care about. And I will make a great wife to Sid because I love him and care about him. That should be the only thing you care about—that he's happy."

"For now," he grunted. "But not for long."

"'Not for long'? What does that mean?" I gasped, but he walked away and never answered me. I stayed there on the deck and sat back down on the bench by the railing. The breeze ruffled my hair and made my skirt dance around my legs, but it did nothing to ease my mind.

Sid didn't come back right away, but he did eventually make it back to me. He slid next to me on the bench and put his arm around my shoulder. "Sorry, she just wanted me to talk to someone. I got away as soon as I could."

I looked at him, his face just a foot away from mine. Sid was smiling at me, and his fingers were brushing against the bare skin of my arm. It instantly soothed me, but I was still worried and feeling insecure. "It's okay. It's your party, your celebration. You should be out there with everyone."

He shrugged, and I could feel the movement beside. "I'd rather be out here with you." Sid leaned in and kissed my cheek, and then he whispered, "I think we were right about here when we got interrupted?"

I gladly kissed him back, but I was still thinking. I pulled back and put my hand on his chest, so I could feel his heart beat. "Sid. I love you."

"Love you, too."

"Do you think we're ready to get married?"

Sidney looked at me like I was crazy. "Yes. Of course. I wouldn't have asked you if I thought that it was something we weren't ready for."

"And you're sure?"

"I'm sure. I'm sure I'm sure. Where is this all coming from? Noelle...." I knew when he used my full name that he meant business. I looked into his eyes, which were kind and concerned. "Did my dad say something to you? Is that what this is about?"

Troy's words were fresh in my memory—including his comment about how I wasn't taking Sid's feeling into consideration. I didn't want to tell him what his dad had said to me, because I knew that would put a lot of tension on their relationship, which could sometimes be strained as it was. But I decided to be a little more focused on him. "How are you dealing with everything, Sid? With all this?"

I could tell that he didn't know how to answer. "You know me, just rolling with the punches. Everything will work out, it'll all be okay." Something about the way he said it made me believe it.

"I can't wait 'til we're married. This'll all be worth it. Then we can live in domestic bliss."

His arm tightened around me. "That sounds nice."

"Now we just have to get it all planned."

"That shouldn't be too hard."

"Are you kidding?" I laughed. "We haven't even begun."

"Really? How can it be that bad? You get a pretty dress, I wear a suit—"

"A tux," I corrected.

"A tux, fine. Some flowers, food."

"It's not that simple, Sid, and we're gonna have to make some really big, tough decisions."

"Like what?"

"Like... where are we getting married?" I paused. This was going to be a very big question. "Here, in Canada? Or Pittsburgh?"

I could tell that he wanted to do it here, as in Nova Scotia. His home. But he was trying to be diplomatic about it. "Uh, what do you think?"

"If I'm going to be completely honest, Sid, I'd like to do it in Pittsburgh. Sure it's my home, but it's also where we met. It's where we live—at least for most of the year. My family's there, and the team's there so a lot of your friends are there. Mine, too. We have the space to accommodate people traveling in for the occasion. I just, well, I think it makes sense to do it there." I sighed. "But I can understand if you want to do it here. You're, like, the epitome of Canadian."

"But I think you have a good point about Pittsburgh. It's where we met, so it's more meaningful than just the place where I work. We can do it there. And if there's as much planning as you say there is, it makes sense to do it where we are rather than trying to do it remotely."

That made me very excited, but I held it in to make sure that he was truly okay with it. "Are you sure? If you want to get married here in your home, then I'll understand."

"No, it's okay. It's our home, both our homes. It makes sense."

Now that we had a location—kind of, anyway—I felt reinforced in my feelings and even more determined that our marriage would work. We were understanding and could compromise, which was a great start for a life together. Renewed and reassured, I headed back with him to finish out the cruise.

Friday, April 29, 2011

8: PDA

Wow, this season has been one hockey-induced depression after another. We'll get 'em next year, Pens.

It wasn't easy to stand in front of thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of people and know that they all knew the intimate things I had been doing the night before. As great as the people of Nova Scotia are when it comes to Sidney and his privacy, I had yet to earn that respect. I was a new girl; I was nothing to them. They looked at me with hardened eyes; I was no longer the Pittsburgh sweetheart who had somehow, mysteriously, won the heart of Canada's golden boy. I was obviously a harlot who had used my womanly wiles to blind him and entice him, to trick him into marrying me. They were skeptical, talking behind the backs of their hands.

I walked side-by-side with Sid when we arrived for his street hockey game. He insisted that I do so, because he wanted everyone to see the solidarity between us. "You've stood by me through everything," he said quietly in my ear before all the craziness started. "So now it's my turn to stand by you. You'll see, Nelly, that it's not big deal if we don't make it out to be one. If we don't give them a reaction, they'll get over it, and so will we."

I looked around to make sure no one, mainly Troy, was around to hear our conversation. "But, Sid, it is a big deal. I feel violated. It's totally creepy, and now all these people think they saw us have sex in a lake."

"But they didn't."

"They don't know that."

Squeezing his hand, I didn't even bother saying a thank you to him. I didn't need to. I smiled and kissed his cheek, and that made him smile back at me. That was probably our biggest display ever at that point in time, and everyone gobbled it up. It was like a show to them.

But once he started to put on all his goalie gear, I was relegated to the side again. All of the kids who were there to see their idol were focused on him, watching as he carefully strapped on the over-sized pads to protect him from injury. However, the adults and teenaged girls were trying to surreptitiously check me out. This was exactly what I was afraid of: that I would be in the spotlight, usurping center stage from him, and for all the wrong reasons to boot.

Marc-André was lacing on his roller blades for the other team, since one of Sid's friends wouldn't be able to return home for the occasion. I felt bad that Kevin was missing this, but the other guys seemed stoked to have one NHLer per team to up the ante and make things more even. Of course, to make things fair, Flower was going to play forward.

I stood next to Taylor and Véro, and we quietly whispered back and forth a little bit. Taylor didn't mention the video again, but I knew she wouldn't bring it up after she was the one who first alerted us to it. She asked, "How long are you staying here?"

"Not long," I sighed. Today was a Sunday, and I would be flying back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. I only had Monday to spend with Sid alone before traveling back to Pittsburgh, where I would be alone for a few weeks. After that, though, Sidney would return to Pittsburgh to prep for training camp. "I'll be in town tomorrow, but I'm going home after that."

"Have you done any wedding planning yet?"

"No." I wanted to frown, but I didn't. Instead, I had my best smile plastered on my face for the public's sake. I knew I had to keep up appearances; it wasn't the first time I had had to cover up how I was feeling just so it wouldn't spark a rumor or add fuel to any fires. "Things have been too hectic lately—as usual—to get anything done. We don't even have a full year to plan, so I guess we have to start soon."

Then I gave her a genuine smile. "Do you want to come over and look at some catalogs for bridesmaids' dresses tomorrow?"

Her eyes got a little wide. "Are you asking me to help you pick?"

"Yeah, I could use another girl's opinion. I mean, if you have to wear one, you might as well have some input, right?"

Taylor nodded frantically. "Noelle, I can't wait! This is so exciting! I've never been in a wedding before. I'll help you pick something great. And no pink," she added, wrinkling up her nose, which made me laugh.

I had noticed how quiet Véro had gotten once Taylor had brought up the wedding. It wasn't my intention to make her feel left out. I nudged her with my elbow. "Are you guys sticking around for a while? I mean, I guess I really should be invited you over too, to help me out."

She cocked her head to the side and looked at me funny. "Yeah, we'll be around for the whole week...." Her voice faded away, and I could tell that she was confused by what I meant.

So I clarified it for her. "Great, because I could use your input, too. After all, I think you totally deserve to be a bridesmaid after you helped me and Sid—"

I couldn't even finish my sentence, because V squealed and threw her arms around me. I laughed and hugged her back. "So I take it that you're accepting?"

"Of course I'm accepting! Thank you, Noelle, I would be honored," she said. There were tears in her eyes, and I thought I was going to get choked up, too.

"What's going on over here?" Sid asked, walking toward us in his full goaltending gear. I always thought it was funny how Marc-André looked so big and bulky in his gear, but was so thin and sinewy without it. Sidney looked hulking, almost twice his size in width now that he was suited up. It seemed silly, all so he wouldn't get hurt during a harmless little game with friends. Then again, with Sid's attitude, he would play as hard as he needed to in order to win.

"V agreed to be a bridesmaid," I explained with another smile. It was easier to forget about all the watchful eyes around us when I was looking back at my beautiful fiancé.

He replied, "That's great!" Sid was unprepared for the hug that he got, too. He scrunched up his face for a second and sighed, "Women." He waited for Véro to pull away and then looked at Taylor. "Any advice before I head out there, coach?"

She rolled her eyes but told him, "Don't go down into the butterfly too early. Keep your eye on the ball."

"Yes, ma'am," he said. He went to put his hand on her head to ruffle her hair, but she ducked out of the way and scowled at him. Sid cocked his head and gave her a look, surprised by her reaction, but he didn't push the issue. Then he turned to me. "Do I get a good luck kiss?"

"For a street hockey game? I don't think you need any luck for that."

Sidney stuck out his bottom lip—at least farther than it usually stuck out—and pouted. "But it's for the Cup. It's a big deal."

I grinned. It amazed me how easy-going he could be today, after the disaster that already happened this morning. But it was his special day, and he wasn't going to let anything ruin it. I was totally aware of what was going on though, and I knew that I had everyone's attention as I placed my hands on his chest protector for stability, went up on my tip-toes, and leaned toward him. I think he was expecting a kiss on the cheek, since we never did much in the way of PDA, so he was surprised when I pressed my lips to his.

Hell, everyone had thought they had seen us having sex; after that, what was a kiss on the lips?

It was chaste, anyway, just a solid lip-lock for a few seconds with my eyes and closed and my left foot naturally kicking up like in The Princess Diaries. Sid put his hands over mine like he was holding them close to his heart.

I pulled back a little bit before I changed my mind and decided to kiss that luscious bottom lip again. After a quick peck, I leaned back and stood back on my two flat feet. You could hear the collective murmur of the crowd. Sidney squeezed my hands. "Wow, now I do feel lucky. Luckiest man alive."

"Gross," Taylor muttered under her breath.

We ignored her, just like we were trying to ignore the oppressive feel of everyone openly staring. "Play well," I told him. It was my usual thing to say to him before a game.

I watched the pick-up game that he was playing with his friends. No one officially kept score since it was supposedly to be friendly, but I knew Sid was keeping count so I did, too. Sid's team won, but only by a few points.

Every time Sid made a save—even a mediocre save—the crowd oohed, aahed, clapped, and cheered like they were at an NHL game. People clapped for the guys who scored goals (even on Sidney), but even though this was supposed to be all in good fun, the players were still overshadowed by Sidney. I felt a little bad for them, but I think they were simply appreciative to have a chance to fulfill a childhood dream of playing for the Cup, and even glad to have their old friend back in town for a while. Sidney had never asked for this fame attention; it just went hand in hand with being one of the best players in the world. Or the best player, depending on who you asked.

It was hilarious to watch Flower play as a forward. Everyone watched intently whenever Marc would try to score on Sid, but he never did. And every time Flower missed the net or Sid stopped a shot, he would just laugh, "I suck to score goals."

I stood next to Taylor the whole time, and Trina hovered a little behind us. I could tell that she was being protective, wanting to shield her family from prying eyes. Troy was off somewhere, I didn't know where, and I didn't care. I wasn't exactly happy with him at the present moment. I couldn't understand why he was fine with me as Sid's girlfriend but not his fiancée. Now that we were encountering problems, he was trying to use that against us. But I was determined to continue to be supportive and see this through.

When the game was over and the guys all had their pictures taken with the Cup and with Sid, we were ready to head back home. I let my fiancé put his sweaty arm around me, not even minding the disgusting-ness of it. We headed back to his house so he could shower and get ready for the dinner cruise.

We had a few hours to ourselves before we needed to worry about being where we needed to be, so we took the time to relax in bed—fully clothed, just lying around and being lazy amongst the craziness of the weekend. Sid's hair was still wet from his shower, and he was dressed in a plain white tee and a pair of black shorts, just something to relax in before we got more dressed up for the dinner cruise. We were curled up front-to-front, our faces so close to each other that our noses were almost touching. I was twirling the long ends of his hair between my fingers, and his eyes were closed.

"So tomorrow we have all to ourselves," I whispered, not having to speak too loudly since we were so close.

"Mmhmm," he hummed, obviously enjoying how I was playing with his hair. We had always enjoyed these kind of private, simple moments since our lives were always crazy like this.

"Do you think we can take some time to talk about the wedding? Tay and V are coming over to help me look at dresses, but I think we need to plan some things, you know, make some decisions first."

He nodded in agreement, but he complained just a little. "Can't we just have one day to ourselves? Seriously, I haven't been able to relax like this with you since the regular season. I could use a whole day like this."

"I know, Sid, I wish we could, too. But we're under a time crunch. We can relax all morning, talk in the afternoon, figure out what we need to, and then have a nice evening together."

"Okay." For a few minutes, he didn't say anything else. I started to wonder if maybe he had fallen asleep, but then he asked, "What time is it?"

I rolled over and looked at the clock. "Time to start getting ready for dinner."

But I felt his body move right behind mine. Sidney kissed my neck and shoulder, gently nipping at my skin as his hand came around to my front and cupped my right breast in his hand. He pinched my nipple, making me gasp and cry out as I felt a shiver go down my spine and my body begin to tingle between my legs.

Then, just as quickly as he started, he stopped. Sid rolled away and got off the bed. He looked back at me, taking in my shock and lustful gaze, and laughed, "More to come tonight, after the cruise."

I huffed as I watched him walk toward the closet for more suitable clothes to wear for the dinner, wishing we could just skip it all and stay in bed instead. After a moment, I got up and started getting ready, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Valuable Trade

Because my heart is now in Dallas: A Valuable Trade

Thursday, February 10, 2011

7: Thick or Thin

I never ever wanted to get out of bed again, and no amount of coaxing was going to get me to leave the room ever.

"Come on, Nelly," Sid cooed, rubbing my back. I was curled into the fetal position underneath the blanket; it was hot outside and I was sweating, but I didn't want to get up. "Everyone's downstairs waiting."

"No," I cried, wiping at my cheeks. "How can I look anyone in the face again? I can't."

"Don't say that. It's okay."

"No, it's not okay! They have video, Sid!" It was quite possibly my worst nightmare. We had been over this all morning ever since the video and picture had been leaked on the internet. Whoever it was that had trespassed last night had taken a video of us in the lake. It could have been worse, admittedly: you could tell that I wasn't wearing a top, but you never could see me topless. And you could tell that we were in a very intimate position, but you couldn't really tell exactly what we were doing beneath the water. The commentaries were the worst. They were painting me to be a slut. First I was fat and ugly and unworthy of Sidney Crosby, and now these accusations.

"It's okay, I promise. This is not a big deal at all. You're my fiancée. We thought we were alone, I mean, for God's sake, the guy broke onto my property. I can't believe they were stupid enough to post the damn thing. The police are going to find whoever's responsible and we're going to make them take it down and then we're filing charges. Throwing the fucking book at them."

"It's too late! Millions of hits by now, Sid. So many people have already seen it. My reputation's fucking ruined." If I had been embarrassed last night as Sid and I recounted our story to make a statement to the police, then it was nothing compared to how I felt right now. I couldn't imagine how I was supposed to look my parents in the eye, or Sid's parents. Or our friends and Sid's teammates. Or my coworkers. Or Mario. I began to sniff back tears again.

"Please, Nelly, stop," he pleaded. "This isn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. We've been through this before, remember?"

How could I forget that whole Lynne debacle? That bitch slapped me, and everyone had immediately assumed that it had been Sid who had hurt me. How anyone could assume that was beyond me. "This is different. Back then, we knew the truth, that 'the psycho bitch' did it," I said, refusing to utter her name. "But this is us out in the lake. That's me in the video, you can tell. Jesus Christ, this wasn't ever supposed to happen. I thought I knew what to expect, what to be on guard about, but this... I was not prepared for this."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, Sid, you know that. You didn't ask for this to happen."

"And neither did you."

I sat up and looked at him. Sidney brushed my unruly curls away from my face. Quietly, I asked my next question. "Are they mad at me?"

"No. No one's mad at you."

"Taylor didn't sound to happy when she sent the link to us."

"That's because a bunch of her friends saw it first and sent it to her. She's embarrassed because it's her brother in the video and now her friends are going to make fun of her."

"Why aren't you more upset?" I sniffed, wondering why he could be so calm at a time like this. I was having a meltdown.

"Because we didn't do anything wrong. Sure, I don't want my life broadcast all over the internet... but it happened. I mean, it's happened more often than I've liked. It sucks, but I'm kind of used to it in a way."

He sighed and continued, "I just feel really bad that it happened to you, too. You didn't sign up for this, and I know that. I wish I could offer you a life where you don't have to worry about shit like this—I know that we thought we could be safe up here at my lake house. I should have known better than to have let my guard down, especially with this being my time to have the Cup."

"Do you wanna know the part that I hate the most?" I asked, moving closer to him and placing my hands on his knees. "It's not even that someone spied on us, even though it totally freaks me out that people have no sense of boundaries whatsoever. Last night I was so creeped out that there was something watching us and we didn't even know. But it's not that. And it's not even that people are so weirdly obsessed with you that they gobble this up as 'news' and want to know every aspect of your life. I mean, come on, do they think you're a virgin? Do they think that you don't have sex—that we don't have sex? That's ridiculous. No one waits 'til marriage anymore. But that's not it, either.

"It's that now everyone's calling me horrible names and thinking so badly of me when you get off the hook because you're a guy and you're expected to 'get some.' I don't want this to reflect poorly on you, but they're dragging me through the mud! Like we're not engaged and this isn't perfectly acceptable behavior for a couple. I feel so attacked and defenseless."

"I know." Sid cupped my face in his hand and used his thumb to erase the tear tracks down my face. "And I don't like it any better either. I hate the things that they're saying about you. I love you, and I know that's not who you are. It has nothing to do with the person you are, just that you're my girl. Since we've been so good about public appearances, they're treating this like it's something out of the ordinary."

I leaned in closer still and rested my forehead against his shoulder. "I just wish this would all go away."

"Me, too, Nelly. Me, too." He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and squeezed me. "I know this is upsetting, but please don't be upset about this anymore. I'm asking the impossible, I know, but I hate seeing you like this. I don't want you to cry."

"But I don't wanna see anyone," I mumbled into his body. And just like that, we were back at square one. "I just wanna stay in bed until this whole thing blows over."

"You know we can't do that. Come on," he said, standing and pulling me up with him.

Grumbling and moaning, I reluctantly followed him. I smoothed out my clothes and pulled my hair back as we descended the stairs and walked into the living room. Sid's family was all there, and so were Marc-André and Véro. Trina and V smiled at me, showing their support, and it made me want to cry. I couldn't believe this was happening.

"All right," Troy started, assuming control of the situation now that we were all assembled. "Sid's got his street hockey game to play today before our dinner cruise, so we should all get a move on. If we leave now, we won't be late."

Even though Troy never said anything to me, I knew that his words were directed at me because my fit was making them run behind schedule. As they all got up and got ready to head out to the cars, I grabbed Sid's hand and said quietly, "Can't you guys go without me? I really don't want to face anyone yet."

He whispered, "Hey, it's gonna be okay. Everyone here is on your side. My family, our friends, the whole town. Everyone up here is really good about giving me space and respecting my private life—"

"Apparently not everyone," I muttered lowly, interrupting him. "I can't stand the idea of people looking at me, knowing that they know what we were doing last night."

Sid tightened his grip on my hand and spoke a little more loudly and more firmly. "I promise that it's going to be okay."

Troy spoke again. "We have to go now. And that includes you, Noelle. You don't get a pass because things are a little hard right now."

My shoulders fell and my gaze was focused on the floor. Sidney spoke up for me on my behalf. "Come on, Dad, that's not fair."

"I'm sorry, son, but she's just going to have grow a thicker skin." Then he looked at me and said, "Noelle, when you said 'yes,' this is what you decided to do. You want to marry my son? Then you're going to have stand by him now through thick or thin, better or worse, and that starts right now. If you can't handle it, then you should realize that now before you can't back out. Because there is no backing out."

My fell open, but I had no comeback to that. Trina tried to defend me, too. "Troy—"

"No, see, this is exactly why I thought Sid should wait," he sighed, crossing his arms in front of him. "They're not ready for what this means. They won't get to have a normal marriage. There are all these stressors that they have to factor into it. And all the work that we've put into getting to this point, we can't let that go to waste."

"Don't talk about us like we're not standing right here," Sidney demanded. His ears were pink, probably from both anger as well as embarrassment since his father was saying all those things in front of his friends and his teammate. I had heard Troy talk like that a lot, but it was usually only when just immediate family was around.

"I can do it," I said, my voice very quiet. And then I cleared my throat and stated it like I meant it. "I can do it. I'm ready."

Sidney looked at me and offered me a hopeful smile. I tried to return it, but it probably looked a bit more like a grimace than a grin. Sid hadn't asked for any of this either, which was why I was trying to be strong for him. He deserved someone who would stick by him through all this, and I wanted to be that for him because I loved him and because he loved me. Any disaster should always be peripheral when it comes to our relationship for that very reason: love should always trump the bad stuff.

Troy's lips formed a tight line across his mouth. He nodded his head curtly and said, "Well, all right then. Let's go."

Friday, February 4, 2011

6: Invasion of Privacy

Sidney and I were reunited at his Cup party on his birthday. It was pretty similar to his first party, but I hadn't been a part of that one. Trina had done a lot of the planning this time as well, too, since I had been spending my time in Pittsburgh working for the Pens. I wished that I could have played a bigger part in the planning to see all that work come to fruition, but it was still pretty cool to see how the day went down. There was a charity fundraiser, and Sid took the Cup to the hospital, and then we partied that night.

Besides being Sid's special day, it was also our first big outing together as an engaged couple. Whenever we were within five feet of each other—which wasn't very often during the day because he was busy with various activities, but more frequent at night—we could see all the camera flashes. The media loved Sidney Crosby, and they were following us around as we went about the day's festivities.

I knew the drill. While Sid was talking to the patients in the hospital and signing autographs and making speeches, I hung around in the background with his family. I smiled and clapped and did all the things I needed to when I needed to; I was an old pro at this stuff after two years. When we were together, we would hold hands and smile at each other, but that was all the PDA that was allowed. Other than that, we could exchange glances between ourselves, or he would rub his thumb in circles on my palm. That was the most we could do in public.

Being around Troy was weird. He was cordial with me, and he probably didn't know that I knew that he had said all those things to Sidney. Why he wouldn't think Sid would tell me those things, I don't know. I didn't want to be nice to him because I was still pretty offended that he was even a little bit against our engagement, but I knew that being mean or distant wasn't going to help things. We both wore smiles and were nice enough to each other, though, putting on a show for Sidney's special day—and the cameras as well.

The evening was spent at Sid's house on the lake in Enfield. He was throwing a private party after all the public events of the day. The media was left at the gate, and only family, friends, and teammates were allowed through security.

Seeing everyone was great. It was a mini-reunion, because I hadn't gotten to see any of Sid's teammates or their girlfriends since the celebration parade after the win. Everyone seemed excited by our news. The guys all gave me hugs, and the girls squealed and fawned over the ring.

Véro gushed when she saw me, and asked again for all the details of the proposal. It felt like I was telling the story for the hundredth time, but I wasn't sure that I'd ever get sick of repeating it. I told her that we didn't really start making plans yet, except that the wedding would be scheduled for the following summer. Véro smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. I figured out what must have been bothering her. "You know Marc-André's crazy about you, V."

"I know. I love my Marc, and when we're together these things don't bother me. But... I can't lie. I think about it. I wonder why he hasn't asked yet. I'm twenty-six. I know that's young for most people, but we've been together for, like, a whole decade. My friends back home are married or getting married. You're getting married. Sometimes, I wonder... when will it be my turn?"

I smiled at her and hugged her; I couldn't answer her question for Marc, but I could be there for her and support her through it. She got a little teary-eyed, but she blinked away the wetness before it spilled down her cheeks. "But don't you worry about me, because I'm excited for you."

After I talked to Véro, I went to go see Max and Charlotte. It was easy to hug Max in greeting, but not his wife; not only was she cradling their young son, but her stomach was already protruding again, with their second child. They were so great together, and every look they shared was one of love. It gave me chills just to see it. There were never two people more meant for each other than those two. I remembered all the stress that poor Max had been put through at the beginning of their relationship, when Charlotte had just wanted to be friends. He really had to work, but all that effort had really paid off for him.

It felt like forever since I had last seen them, since Max had gone to Philadelphia. That had been a hard adjustment to make. "Congratulations!" Charlotte said to me, handing little Patrice to Max so we could hug. "We're so happy for you and Sidney."

"Thanks," I said, accepting their kind words before I added, "and congratulations to you, too! Another little bundle of joy to add to the Talbot family."

"Thanks," she sighed happily, placing her hand on bulging tummy. "I think he likes to keep me knocked up."

Max smiled, happier than I had ever seen him before. "Oui. She's beautiful, non? Glowing."

I echoed that sentiment. "Absolutely." Charlotte blushed and rubbed her stomach. "It's the hormones. Just wait, Noelle. You'll have your turn soon enough."

Laughing, I shook my head. "I don't have any plans for that any time soon. Things are always so crazy, so hectic with Sid. I think we'll be waiting a little while—a long while maybe—before that happens."

"We'll see about that," she giggled. "If you'll excuse me, I have to use the little girls' room."

Max shifted Patrice in his arms, looking comfortable and confident as a father. I took the little boy's hand and let him curl his tiny fingers around my index finger. "He's adorable, Maxie."

"Would you like to hold him? You know, get your practice in now," he chuckled, smiling at me as I raised my eyebrow at him. "It's only a matter of time."

"We'll see about that."

"So, you and the Kid? I knew he was going to ask you, but I didn't know he was going to do it yet. Then again, I don't really believe in waiting that long once you know." Max looked in the direction of Sid's house, where Charlotte had gone. He sighed, like being away from his wife for even five minutes was taxing. "Once you know, that's it."

"Well, not every one is as much of a hopeless romantic like you, you big softie."

He grinned from ear to ear, his dark blue eyes sparkling like how the sun shone on the water on the lake. "You're right, there aren't many people like me."

"You can say that again," I laughed, leaving him to go help with the set up for dinner. Even though the event was catered, we still needed to provide instructions and keep an eye on everything. Between Trina and me, we had everything pretty much covered and the night was going as smoothly as we could have possibly expected. We worked tirelessly to make sure the day went on without a hitch and Sidney got to enjoy the celebration that he had earned through all his hard work and dedication over the season. Since he always worked hard every other day of the year, we figured that he could relax just this once, and I was happy to give that to him. I was fine with working my ass off and watching him sit and laugh and enjoy himself.

Things were so hectic that we barely got a chance to eat. We'd sneak spoonfuls out of almost empty bowls that the caterers were whisking away, never even getting the chance to eat off a plate. We'd bark orders and point directions with mouths full of food, and then just look at each other and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. While it was a crazy amount of work, it was worth it.

After dinner, Sidney and I excused ourselves for a moment in the privacy of his house. We made sure to look around to make sure that we were the only ones in the room. It was the first time that we had been alone all day, and I relished it. He put his hands on my waist and I likewise put mine on his chest as he leaned his head down and touched his forehead to mine. "I feel like I've barely seen you all day," he said, closing his eyes.

"You have barely seen me all day," I laughed. "Today's been really busy."

"Where have you been? I swear I turn and look for you all the time, and I couldn't ever find you."

"Earlier, everyone was telling me where to go, where to stand, what to do as you gave speeches and shook hands and signed autographs. And now, I'm telling the caterers where to set up and the servers where to serve, and then directing people in general and trying to keep them out of the garden. The kids all want to play in the flowers. It takes a lot of effort to make this look effortless, you know."

"I'm sorry, Nelly. You're supposed to be celebrating with me, and now you're getting pushed into working instead of having fun. Can you take a break and come sit with me down on the dock?"

"I don't want to leave all this to your mother. She's been working really hard, too."

"I knew we should have hired a party planner, but Mom wouldn't hear of it." Sid sighed. "But at least we'll have tonight together. It's so hot, we could go for a dip in the lake."

"I can't wait," I told him. And I couldn't. The weather was hot, and after running around all day and night, I knew it would feel good to jump into that cool water. I loved the lake because I had grown up swimming in lakes over pools: like at Shawnee State Park and Keystone State Park when my family had gone camping. Grandpa George and I would always go hiking at Shawnee, and he would hold my hand as I tried to walk across The Pipe, and then we would all go to the lake with my cousin and aunt for a swim.

Once the last guest was out the door and through the security gate, Sid and I hurriedly changed into our swimsuits and took running leaps off the deck and into the cool water of the lake. It wasn't as cool as I thought it would be, but it still felt good. When we resurfaced, I took a few strokes toward him. "So, tell me, El Capitán, did you enjoy your first day with the Cup?"

"Yeah," he said, circling his hand around my bicep and pulling me into him. "I did. I wish we could have spent it together, though...."

I smiled at him reassuringly. I could see that he felt about it, but I didn't mind it. Well, I guess I would have liked to be able to enjoy it alongside him, but I would always prefer to be behind the scenes rather than schmooze and rub elbows with everyone. So I said, "We're together right now."

"Yes, we are." Sidney pulled on my thighs until they were wrapped around his waist, and then one hand toyed with the strings of my bikini top while the other was at the small of my back. I felt my top come loose and fall away from me. "I'm veryglad we are."

Throwing my head back, I laughed loudly, the sound echoing off the water. "I can feel just how 'glad' you are."

"I'd be happy to show you."

In his ear, I whispered huskily, "I've told you a thousand times, Sid, I will not have sex with you in this lake."

"But we're here, all alone and half-naked," he replied. I felt his hand slide under my bikini bottoms and then his fingers began to move. "Why not?"

"Fish have sex in this lake," I told him, but my resolve was slowly slipping away.

"And so can we."

It was so dark outside, and it was just the two of us. And it was so quiet. All I could hear was the sound of the water and my heavy breathing. I opened my eyes and saw a light on in the background—a light besides the one left on in the kitchen of Sid's house. Immediately, I became worried. "Sid."

"Oh yeah, Nelly. You like this?"

"No, Sid, stop," I said a little frantically, nudging his shoulder. "Look at that. What is it?"

Sidney's fingers stopped as he turned his head to what I was looking at. The light turned, and we could barely make out a motorcycle or motorbike of some kind. Someone had been spying on us. I felt violated and scared.

"Here, put this back on," he directed, reaching for my top that had been floating away. "Stay here, and don't move." Sid pulled himself up onto the dock and ran toward the house and the moving light. I stayed like I was told, but suddenly I was cold and shivering in the water. The darkness, which before had been comforting, was now scary. I looked all around, waiting to see someone who shouldn't have been there. We thought we had been alone, and we thought that no one would have been able to get past the security gate.

After a few minutes, Sidney returned with a big, fluffy, white towel. He helped me out of the lake and then covered and wrapped me up with the soft material. Rubbing my arms, he pulled me against his side protectively and guided me toward the house. "Let's get inside now."

"Who was it, Sid?" I asked quietly, now hyper vigilant and searching for the bike and whoever was on it.

"I don't know. I called the police. They'll be here soon." His was gruff and his eyes were steely, and I knew it was because he was on edge, too.

"Has this ever happened before?"

"No. Never." He squeezed me, and I tried not to cry. "Why don't you go take a shower and get ready for bed?"

"I want to stay with you," I whispered quietly, feeling too ashamed to look into his face. But I couldn't be alone. I was scared and shaken by that encounter, whoever it was and whatever they wanted.

"It's okay," Sid assured me, kissing my temple. He sat down on the chair and pulled me into his lap, holding onto me as we waited for the Halifax Regional Police to arrive.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

5: Reactions

The weekend went by way too fast, and the next thing I knew, it was Monday morning. Sid was on a plane and heading back up to Nova Scotia so he could focus on training again, and I was sitting in my office at Consol Energy Center. My computer was on, but I tried not to get tempted into checking my e-mail or even looking at the Pens website. I hadn't talked to anyone in the offices that morning, preferring to keep my head down. And I definitely didn't show anyone the giant rock on my left-hand ring finger to belie my change in relationship status. I hadn't even changed my Facebook page yet from in a relationship to engaged.

I couldn't avoid the media forever, though. When I headed to the restroom at about ten, I saw a coworker with a newspaper open at her cubicle. Immediately, I saw a picture of Sid and me, and I knew that she was reading about the announcement. I tried to hurry by, hoping that she didn't see me, but it was too late.

"Noelle!" she cried out, much too loudly for my liking. I froze in place and reddened as she also yelled out, "Congratulations on your engagement!"

At that word, the atmosphere of the entire office changed. I could feel everyone's eyes on me as they all stopped what they were doing and turned. This certainly wasn't how I wanted everyone to find out, but I should have known that I wouldn't be able to keep this a secret—especially not when I worked for the Penguins organization. But I hated having my business spread everywhere. Sid and I were private people.

I said the only thing I could: "Thanks."

She kept talking to me so I couldn't escape. "Can I see the ring?"

It would have been rude of me to brush her off or say no, but I was feeling embarrassed and self-conscious about showing off; I hated being the center of attention when it wasn't because of my own merits. If I had done something well, then I wouldn't mind a congratulations or something like that, but I didn't like the attention because of something Sidney gave me. Instead of saying something in response, I merely held out my left hand for her to see.

Several of the other girls in the office huddled around her cubicle, oohing and aahing as they grabbed my hand and held it up to the light. The large diamond sparkled and shone, shooting rainbows onto the nearby wall. They all began to ask me questions at once, wanting to know about carats and cuts and how much it cost and how far along I was in making the wedding plans. I didn't even hear half of the things they asked. All I could do was shrug and smile nervously as they chattered amongst themselves.

They made me feel like I was a celebutante, someone who publicly famous for no good reason at all. The only reason why they were fawning all over me like this was because I was engaged to Sidney Crosby. If I were engaged to anyone else, it wouldn't be a big deal to them. They might have checked out the rock, said something nice, and left it at that; they wouldn't be gushing and swooning like I was the luckiest girl in the world. It made me feel isolated and different, like they were all looking at me through special glasses.

When Ray Shero walked into the room, the girls quickly dispersed and tried their best to appear like busy little bees, buzzing around the office and working hard. I jumped on the chance to finally go to the restroom like I had originally planned. It felt like my bladder was about to explode.

I took my lunch break in my office, closing my door, opening my tuna salad sandwich, turning off my computer screen so I wouldn't be tempted to look up anything on the on-line Post-Gazette, and putting my feet up on the desk. I munched on my sandwich before I called Sid, feeling like I needed to talk to him in order to gain my sense of equilibrium back. I needed reassurance, and I knew that his plane would have touched down in Nova Scotia by then.

"Hey, Nelly," he said, picking up my call after the second ring. "Lunch break?"

"Yeah," I sighed, wiggling my toes and stretching my feet now that they were out of my heels. What I missed most about the summer was having Sid around to massage my feet after a long day of work. That is, as long as he wasn't away on a road trip, didn't have a home game, or was without another obligation, whether for the team or for something individual.

"Whatcha eating?" Sometimes, Sid would ask me that just because he was so strict with his training, diet, exercise routine in the summer that he would deprive himself of anything remotely decadent and would therefore live vicariously through me.

"Tuna sandwich." I decided not to tell him about the Twinkie I had packed, too. This morning, I had been having a serious Hostess hankering, so much so that I stopped by Sheetz and bought the snack cake to sate the craving. Without realizing I was doing it, I sighed again.

He picked up on my distress. "You sound down."

"Did you see the press release?"

"Yeah. It was actually really nice, I really liked it. I think Pat did a great job with it. What did you think?"

"I don't know, I didn't read it yet."

"Then what's up? What's bugging you?"

I made sure my voice was low so no would be able to hear me through the walls. "I didn't see it, but everyone in the office did. Seriously, there are no secrets here. They practically ripped my arm out of place trying to get a look at the ring." I twirled the piece of jewelry around my finger absentmindedly as I recalled the morning's events. "I love you, Sid, and I can't wait 'til we get married, but I don't like having them all in my business like this. They asked about dresses and flowers and all that already like this is some sort of social event and not a special ceremony between two people in love."

"Yeah, but don't girls get all mushy-gushy when it comes to wedding stuff? They're probably just happy for you."

"But I don't even know half of their names. I only know them to see them, because we pass each other in the hallway. I'm telling you, it's not because I'm getting married... it's because I'm getting married to you."

"I don't know, Nelly, I see what you're saying, but they're your coworkers. These aren't girls out in the street in Pittsburgh who are going to give you death glares. I mean, they're being nice and inquisitive, not jealous and petty."

"I guess. That's a better alternative, anyway, than catty." Taking another deep breath, I added, "You're right. I think I'm going to try to think of it like that from here on out. I'd rather they be friendly."

"That's the spirit," Sid replied. "I'd much rather deal with people who were excited for me and happy for me rather than turning this into something negative or something bad for me...."

When his voice trailed away into silence, I could pick up on the fact that someone was doing just that. Since Pat had already prepared and released our engagement announcement, I couldn't fathom who it could be—since it had to be someone influential in his life to cause him this much angst. "Who?" He didn't say anything at first, so I pressed him for the information. "Come on, Sidney, tell me. Who?"

His voice was so quiet that I could barely hear him. "My dad."

My breath hitched in my throat, my entire body freezing in disbelief. "What?"

"He's not exactly full of approval over this."

"But why?" I felt so hurt. "I thought he liked me? He's never had a problem with me in the past. Has he?"

"No, I swear. He likes you, Nelly. He thought you were good for me."

"Then, what...? Why?" I thought I was going to start to cry. "He doesn't want us to get married? What's his problem with me all of a sudden?"

"It's not that I'm marrying you, it's that I'm getting married at all. He thinks I'm too young, that's all. Dad thinks that I should just worry about hockey and focus on that while I'm still in my prime, that I can think about marrying and starting a family a ways down the road from now, when hockey's not my primary concern."

"Geez, does your dad even know you?" I scoffed. "Hockey's always going to be a part of your life. Some guys, they don't grow out of hockey or get too old for it. Look at Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman—those guys are still involved! And so will you. You're so passionate about the sport, and that doesn't just go away."

"I know."

"So it doesn't matter when you get married or do any of this stuff, because if you wait until after you're finished with hockey, well, that's going to be never."

"I know."

"It's not like I'm going to tell you that you have to give up hockey once we're married! First of all, I'm not like that. And second of all, I know how important the game and the team is to you, and I would never ask anyone I cared about to give up something that meant so much to them! I'd be heartless if I were like that."

"I know, Nelly, I know," he chuckled lightly. "You don't need to convince me of this. He'll come around to the idea. He's just being moody and stuff about it right now."

"But didn't he know? I thought that your mom was all excited because she knew you were going to pop the question."

"Yeah, she knew, but I didn't talk to him about it. I didn't think he'd be like this, but I did think that he'd be all 'be sure this is what you really want, son' or maybe tell me to wait a little longer, like another year or something." Sidney sighed. "He's not in full disapproval mode. That would almost be easier to deal with. He's just... not one hundred percent behind me either. His suggestion was a long engagement."

"How long?"

"Like, five years or something."

"Ughhh." I rested my head against the back of my office chair and leaned as far back as the recliner would go, pressing my free arm against my eyes. This wasn't what I had wanted to hear; I wanted reassurance and comfort, not to deal with more crap. "So what does this mean?"

"It doesn't mean anything. Not anything important, anyway. It's not like I changed my mind or that anything he could potentially say would ever make me change my mind. It's my life, not his. And like I said, he's not dramatically opposed to this, just less gung-ho than I am. It's fine, I promise."

I really wanted to believe him. "If you say so."

"Yeah, I say so. So no more thinking about this. Don't you have work you should be doing anyway?"

"Hmm, yes." I glanced at my calendar, checking my meeting schedule. "My afternoon's busy. I've got Després coming in at two, and Pechurskiy at three thirty."

"Oh God," he laughed, emitting that high-pitched laugh that hadn't deepened over the past two years. "That poor Russian. You'd think Geno would have warned him to stay away from you."

"Hey," I whined, trying to stifle my giggles. "Evgeni's English is so good now! He doesn't run away from interviews anymore. And he was my first, well, client I guess you'd call him, so to be successful right off the bat is amazing."

"It's not amazing. It just goes to show how good you are."

I smiled at his compliment. "Then why are you feeling bad for Alexander?"

"Because he has no idea what you're about to put him through. He's gonna start thinking that NHL practices are easy compared to all the work you're gonna give him."

"Oh, ha ha. I'm just doing my job. Speaking of which, I'd better go. I only have five minutes of my break left."

We said our I love yous and hung up. It was my routine to check my e-mail after I ate my lunch, and I had a bunch of notifications from Facebook. I logged into my account and scrolled down my profile. So many people—a lot of people who I didn't even talk to much anymore—had congratulated me on my wall.

Eva, my best friend outside of my hockey world, had sent me a message complete with a link to the announcement. I wasn't so worried about the release because Sid had said that it was nice and that he had liked it. It was cute and simple:

Sidney Crosby and girlfriend Noelle Lambert would like to announce their recent engagement. Crosby marked his two-year anniversary by getting down on one knee and presenting a six and one-third carat diamond ring

I gasped when I got to that part of the story. I had no idea that the ring he had gave me was that big and no doubt crazy expensive!

to which Noelle quickly accepted. "Sid and I couldn't be happier," says the twenty-six-year-old Director of Player Communications and Media Relations of the Penguins organization.

Wow, that was funny. I couldn't remember saying that. Pat no doubt made it up to fill out the announcement. It was true, though, I couldn't deny that. We were happy.

I wasn't thinking when I kept scrolling down the page and wound up in the comments section. There was absolutely nothing positive written their by anyone. By the third comment down, I had been called everything I ever could have thought of: fat, ugly, money-grubbing, gold-digger.... I X'ed out the window and tried to close my eyes to block out those horrible words, but they were written in neon on the back of my eyelids. I didn't have a lot of time to contemplate or process that because I had to prepare for my afternoon meetings.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

4: Big Questions

One of the benefits of dating a professional hockey player—specifically, a top-notch player with indefatigable focus and determination—is that I was in the best shape of my life. I had a personal gym at my disposal in the basement of our house, and I also had access to the Pens' equipment in Consol if I wanted to use it. I never did, but it was a perk of the job. As long as the guys weren't having a team training session and there was a machine open, I had free reign of the huge room.

Not only was I working out with consistency, but I was also eating very healthily. When Sid and I cooked dinner at home, it was always something nutritious and healthy. Sid was crazy strict about what he ate, and even when we went out to eat, it was something limited to what the team nutritionist suggested. Protein, complex carbs, veggies, and hardly any sweets. He had a dessert schedule: he allowed himself one treat a week, but that was only if he was playing well and the team was winning. When we would go out to eat, I would feel bad if I splurged on ice cream or cake, so I stopped eating a lot of my favorite, sugary foods when he was around.

That being said, the girls and I would get together when the team was on a road trip and have girls' nights in. We'd binge on Cheetos and Ben & Jerry's and brownies and anything else we'd want to eat. However, those occasions were few and far between, so I was in great shape. My endurance was up, I had lost a dress size, and I had a lot more tone to my body. It was the best I had ever physically felt in my life, and, if I do say so myself, I looked pretty good, too.

The weekend of our engagement was great. We made more calls that following Sunday, and so many people gushed about how happy they were for us. They were happy that Sidney had found someone who was willing to put up with the negative aspects of his career and who could see past that to his good parts and that he was worth it; they were happy for me because Sid was a great boyfriend, and he would make a great husband, too—one that I deserved.

Mario and Nathalie invited us over for brunch on Sunday to celebrate. They, too, congratulated us, but it wasn't long before they started asking us the big questions. People were excited for us, but it seemed like our big news was never enough. They always wanted to know when we set the date for, if we were planning for a long engagement, whether we were going to get married here in Pittsburgh or up in Canada, a big or a small wedding, a big or a small reception, color schemes, and tons of other questions about stuff that I hadn't even begun to consider yet. I just wanted to be able enjoy the fact that we were going to make this big next step.

Sidney gave them the response that we had been giving to everyone: "We haven't even thought about any of that stuff yet. We're just enjoying the weekend. And I'm going to let myself be happy that she said yes for a little while longer before we start looking forward to that." And I nodded to show them my solidarity behind that move. After all, I couldn't wait to start planning everything out, but I knew how stressful that would be; I just wanted to enjoy the moment before things got crazy.

Perhaps the biggest question that had been posed to us, which just so happened to be by Mario, was: "So, are you planning to make a formal announcement about your engagement to the media?"

Sid and I both just looked at each other when he had asked us that. He was the first to answer, but he responded with another question. "Do we have to?"

Nathalie looked at us wisely and smiled. "It's probably for the best. It won't be long before someone, most probably a photographer, spots that ring on your finger, Noelle. Then the cat will be out of the bag, and you two will have to do major damage control. Take it from someone who's been there: full disclosure is the way to go."

"But isn't this a part of our personal life? Isn't this one of those things that we should be able to expect some privacy over?" I asked, hoping that they would tell me what I wanted to hear. There was a twinge of desperation in my voice, and Sid heard it and put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me fully against his side, comforting me.

"Should this be a part of your personal life? Yes," Mario sighed. "But we do have to be realistic in this situation. The news will get out, and if you aren't the ones to disclose it, then people will dig for information. You don't have to go into details, but an announcement in the Post-Gazette or something like that might be enough to sate the public."

"Might be?" I groaned. "I don't like the sound of 'might be.' If it won't be good enough anyway, then I don't think we should bother."

Sid pulled a face and disagreed with me. "I think that if there's even a remote possibility that putting an announcement out will satisfy people, then I think we should do it." I pursed my lips and squinted my eyes when he said that. The whole thing felt like an invasion of privacy—and while I was used to relinquishing some control over my public image, I didn't like the idea of this. Sid added, "At least it won't hurt, right?"

I thought about it for a little while before I acquiesced. "Okay. I guess it would be best to have some say in what gets out before everybody and their mother starts scrutinizing our relationship." I sighed. "We'll do it."

Sidney smiled and gave me a little squeeze. "I'll call Pat tonight and I'm sure he'll have something for the Monday edition of the paper."

While Pat and I hadn't had the best of starts—after all, he tried to break us up—but he did a great job as Sid's agent so I put up with him. He probably wouldn't be too pleased to hear about our big news because Sid would lose some of his appeal and marketability, but I knew that he would put together a great announcement on our behalf for the paper. There was a picture of Sid and me at our first Christmas that we spent together, up in Cole Harbour, and I knew that it would be perfect to accompany the engagement announcement.

Nathalie and I headed into the kitchen while Sid and Mario stayed in the living room. I loved the Lemieux's kitchen because it was so big: there were two ovens, two refrigerators, and seemingly endless counter space. They had a pretty big family according to my standard, with four kids, but when you factor in that they also entertained large amounts of people often, they needed all the space they could afford—which was a lot.

She looked at me again with that expression that she had that made her appear to be omniscient. "Are you ready for the whirlwind that's about to begin?"

I leaned against the counter and shook my head. "No, I don't think so. I mean, I love Sid and all, so much, and I love being a part of his life, but let me tell you... I still can never understand this world of his. Always thinking about the media, always on the lookout for what's best for his image. He takes it all in stride, but I don't know how he manages."

"It comes with the territory as far as he's concerned. It's something he's always lived with. Ever since he was a kid, he garnered this kind of attention. But you, well, this is still all relatively new to you. I just want to make sure you're ready. I know you'll stick by his side through it all, but you'd better be prepared."

"Wow, Nat, you're kind of scaring me with this sort of talk," I admitted, popping a grape in my mouth and chewing slowly.

She chuckled, "No. I'm definitely not trying to scare you. That's why I'm trying to tell you that you've got to steel yourself and be ready. Not only are people not going to like the fact that Sid's getting married, but they're also going to be insanely interested in it."

I sighed. "This is definitely not what I imagined when I pictured my wedding day as a little girl." I paused as I thought about the way I had played with my dolls, and I married Barbie and Ken. Things were never this complicated back then. "How did you deal with it when you and Mario got married?"

"It was never like this back in my day." Nathalie pulled the quiche out of one of the ovens and set it on the top of the stove to cool. "Sure, he had his share of crazy-in-love, girlie fans, but this was before the internet and the Twitter and those strangely obsessive girlfriend forums. It was more like girls talking behind my back and throwing themselves at Mario when I wasn't looking. You have that and all the cyber stuff to deal with.

"So I have no idea what you're going to have to deal with when it comes to how the media's going to handle it. But all you have to know is that Sidney is in love with you and that he wants to marry you. If you keep that in mind and follow your heart, you'll get through it."

I smiled, appreciating her advice. Having Nat in my corner was going to help me a lot. Who else better to give me advice than someone who knew exactly what I was going through? I laughed, "I never would have thought it would be this big of a deal. I mean, it's not like I'm Carrie Underwood or Hilary Duff. I'm not a celebrity marrying a hockey player."

"It doesn't matter when the hockey player is Sidney Crosby."

We ate our brunch and stopped talking about the engagement and the inevitable yet unplanned wedding in the not-too-distant or distant future, whenever it would be. It was nice to not have to think about it anymore. I thought about how I was already a little sick of thinking about it, and that didn't sit right with me. I should be ecstatic to be newly engaged, but since I knew how stressful the whole ordeal would be, I was worried about it.

When we left Sewickley and headed east so Sid could take me home, I began to start thinking about what our wedding would be like. Since I was having hesitancy about what how we were going to handle this, I figured we'd need to get on the same page fast. I knew what I wanted, but I asked him, "So, what are you thinking about a wedding? Small, big? Quiet ceremony and celebration, or something lavish and expensive?"

"I don't know. What do you want?"

I couldn't help but laugh. "No, Sid! I asked you first!"

"Well, to be honest, Nelly, it doesn't really matter all that much to me. I want my family and friends there to share the day with, but all I care about is saying 'I do' to you. How we do it doesn't matter."

"That's so sweet," I cooed, my heart swelling with love. I then confessed my thoughts. "I don't want something really big. I want the day to be about you and me and us, and not about the location or cake or the catering, you know? I want something like what Max and Charlotte did, I think. A small ceremony, just with family and really close friends. And then we can have a big reception after the honeymoon and invite the whole world if we want. But as for The Big Day, well, I feel the same way that you do. I just want it to be about marrying you."

"Good then," he replied, smiling and kissing the back of my hand. He never took his eyes off the road. I always felt so safe when he drove.

"Yeah, I'm glad that that's settled. The next big question, then, is when?"

Sidney grinned even wider. "Another easy one. In the summer. I wanna do it when I have time off and we won't have to be so rushed. So, sometime next July? By then for sure the season will be over."

"So soon?" I gasped. "Even with a small ceremony, Sid, it's going to be impossible to plan a summer wedding in just a year. Everything'll be booked!"

"It can't be that hard. If we have to pull a few strings, then we will. I don't usually like to get special treatment or attention because of who I am, but if we have to use it to our advantage, then why don't we?"

"Next summer?" I looked out the window at the passing landscape as I thought about it. "Is this really happening? So fast?"

"All I know is that I wanna get married. I wanna marry you. I would do it tomorrow, next summer, or the summer after that if you wanna wait that long."

"I don't think I want to wait that long, but it's all happening so suddenly." I smiled, allowing the idea to sink in. "But I think next summer is good. Perfect, in fact. I can't wait!"