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 Despr├ęs 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!"