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."
"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."
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.
"Something Worth Keeping" is a sequel to a story I have previously written, "Nothing Worth Winning." It'll probably make sense to you even if you haven't read it, but please be aware that these are already developed characters with histories.
SWK is dedicated to all of you who loved these characters and wanted a glimpse into their futures.