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."
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