Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chapter 17 - Truth

Christmas dinner was less awkward than expected. Taylor told us all about school. Her winter break was two weeks long, and I promised to go day-after-Christmas shopping with her for new clothes. Trina suggested we snowmobile around the lake the next day, as they’d been seeing a lot of deer and foxes playing on the far shore. We talked less about hockey than I would have expected, though I did tell them about my new job with the Penguins.

“So, are you two a couple?” Troy eventually asked. I had seen it on his face all night. I knew he wouldn’t make it through the meal without bringing it up.

“Dad!” Sidney said. “We already talked about this.”

“Yes, we did. But Kahlan is part of this too, and I haven’t talked to her.”

I cut in before Sid could respond. “It’s okay, Sid. No, we are not a couple. We… we thought about it.” I looked at Sid and saw surprise on his face. “There are circumstances that told us it wasn’t a good idea. But Sid is one of my best friends. In the world. I don’t want to do anything to hurt him, and I am sorry for what happened. I will do whatever you think is best to solve this problem.”

I felt Sid’s hand on my leg, squeezing my thigh. Trina gave me a little smile.

Troy relaxed. “I know. You’ve got Talbot and Tanger all wrapped up too, eh?” Then he laughed. He actually laughed at my crazy love triangle, my soap opera, the weight daily pressing my heart into a pancake. As long my evil plan for world domination didn’t involve Sidney, Troy really didn’t care.

“We’ll see what the papers say tomorrow. And please, you two, watch out. Once that’s out, the paparazzi will be climbing in the windows around here.”

I carried a stack of empty plates into the kitchen and started loading the dishwasher. Trina came in behind me with the turkey leftovers.

“It’s shame you and Sid aren’t a couple. That was well played with Troy.” She set the platter down. “Sure you won’t reconsider?”

I blushed. “Sid is too good for me, Trina. Way too good.”

She waved her hand. “Eh, I get it. Kris and Max – that’s more than one girl can handle anyway.”

“I like Tanger best,” Taylor offered all 13 years of her wisdom. She placed the empty glasses carefully on the counter. “He is a hunk. Ask him to read to you in French. He read me a newspaper article once, and I almost died.”

Trina and I both cracked up. “A hunk? Did you just land here in your time machine?” I asked.

“What about Max, Taylor? He’d be really jealous if you didn’t think he was cute,” Trina said.

“Oh, Max is cute. But he’s so corny. He’s always showing off his muscles and making kissing faces. All the girls like him. You should pick the one that less girls like. Less trouble.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Taylor, what about Sid? More girls like Sid that all the other guys in the world put together.”

“I know, but ewwwwww.” She paused. “Wait. If you liked Sid, that would be okay. That would be awesome.”

Trina looked at me. “I was just saying the same thing.”

Snow slid down inside my boots. I plunged on anyway, taking moon-man steps across the yard. I was wearing Taylor’s too-small snow boots, her ski pants, ski jacket and borrowed hat and gloves. Sidney was already in the yard, digging out the space underneath their tree swing. I got close and flopped down into the snow. I could see Sid’s breath. It was crystal clear and freezing cold. The sky was a perfectly even midnight blue scattered with a billion stars.

“We’re really out here, huh?”

He looked up too. “You can always see stars here. It’s kind of sad in the cities, missing out on that.” He tossed a shovelful of snow onto my stomach. I balled it up and threw it back.

“Sorry about my dad at dinner. You handled it well,” he said. He finished, sat and swung freely in his four foot circle.

“He’s just looking out for you.”

“Did you mean what you said?” he asked.

“Of course. I don’t want anything bad to happen because of me.”

He got up from the swing and sat down next to me. He looked like a little boy in his snow pants and gloves, with his coat zipped all the way up. He pressed his chin down over the collar so I could see his face.

“I meant when you said you had thought about us being a couple,” he said.

I lay there in the snow. “Didn’t you think about it?” You certainly told me you liked me and that you wanted to kiss me and then we did more than that.

“Obviously. But I didn’t know if you did. I mean, really thought about it.” He wasn’t looking at me, instead making little peaks and valleys in the snow between us.

I sat up. “Sidney, I thought about it. I’m still thinking about it.” It’s true, I was. I didn’t want to bring more trouble upon myself, but Sid was something so different from what I had with Max or Kris. At least had been before today. I knew that down this road, he was just as messy and probably more. We’d already caused a disaster and were just waiting for the debris to rain down. “And I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

He put his arm around me and pulled me back, laying both of us in the drift.

“I know,” he said. “I’m just glad you thought about it. I thought I might have ruined it with the pre-game meal. And you were just too nice to shut me down. Then today…”

I rolled on my side, his arm between my face and the snow. “I thought what you did today was adorable. I’ve kinda always wanted someone to do that to me.” I was smiling. “I’m sorry we got caught.”

“I’m not, really,” he said. “They were bound to catch me doing something sooner or later. And whatever shit storm it stirs up was always going to happen anyway. I think I’m relieved. So I was kissing my beautiful best friend. So she’s not my girlfriend. There are worse things.”

“I like it when you call me that.”

“What? Beautiful? Or not my girlfriend?” he asked.

“No, your best friend,” I cuddled into his side.

He turned toward me, rolling in, and kissed my forehead. “You are my best friend. And now you are my partner in crime.”

The back door opened and Taylor shouted out. “Are you guys kissing again? Because Dad is gonna have a heart attack!”

Christmas morning with the Crosbys was lovely. We deliberately avoided the news or the paper, though I had the distinct feeling that Troy and Trina had already checked the damage. Still, it was put aside as we sat in front of the tree.

Taylor tore through her gifts. Clothes, CDs, hockey gear. I gave her an iPod Shuffle loaded with my favorite workout songs for when she trained for hockey. I knew some of the guys wore the little gadgets under their gear during endurance skates. Sidney gave her a ticket to visit us in Pittsburgh later in January. I gave Troy and Trina a bottle of wine and a sundial for their yard that Sidney had picked out. He gave his mother a pair of beautiful pearl earrings and his father a new watch.

“Kahlan, this is for you,” Trina passed me a beautifully wrapped square package.

Inside was a gorgeous silver picture frame with etched scrollwork sides. The photo was a blown-up copy from the Lemieux’s house the previous winter. It showed Max, Kris, Sidney, Marc, Vero, Jordan, Taylor and me all laying in a heap in the snow on their back porch in the aftermath of a snowball fight.

“I love it,” I said honestly.

“This is for you too,” Sid held out a small flat box. It wasn’t deep enough to hold any other boxes, but I still gave him a suspicious look as I opened it. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I bought the same thing for everyone in that picture. Except Taylor.” She scoffed out loud. It wasn’t a box at all, but an elaborate Christmas card. I folded open the top layer:

Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho and a bottle of…
Love, Sidney

Beneath that was a plane ticket to Jamaica for the 4th of July week.

“Sidney! This is amazing!” He wore a huge smile and I have him a big hug. “Now my present seems so lame!” I handed him a tiny little flat square, 2 x 2 inches.

He eyed me as he thumbed open the tape and folded open the paper in his hand. It was a clear plastic case holding a computer flash drive. Inside the case was a piece of paper. He opened it, read a few lines, and burst out laughing.

“What is it?” Taylor looked over his shoulder.

“It’s our song list. Every song that Kahlan and I love to sing at the top of our lungs while we’re driving. Songs I am too embarrassed to have on my iPod.”

“Now you have them for the road, in secret,” I explained. “They are ranked. #1 is where we sound the worst. By #25 or so, an innocent bystander might live to tell the tale.”

He shuffled over on his knees and gave me a hug. “It’s perfect,” he said.

“You guys are totally weird,” Taylor announced.

I helped Taylor carry her gifts upstairs to her room. “Taylor, can you do me a favor? Ask Sid to come up here.”

“Ew, there is NO kissing in my room, Kahlan!”

“Taylor!” I hissed and she skipped off downstairs, laughing. Just in case, I did leave her room to wait on the landing.

“What’s up?” Sidney came around the corner.

“That wasn’t your real present,” I said.

He pretended to look over his shoulder. “Well my parents are right downstairs, but what the hell, let’s go,” he said, trying to pick me up and move toward the guest bedroom. I slapped his arm and he put me down, but didn’t move away. I held up a large, parchment paper envelope like the ones I’d given Kris and Max. It is only fair, I told myself. Especially now.

Good for one date – Ottawa, January 2010

He looked down at me. “Am I the last one?”

I nodded. He always knew everything. He snaked a thick arm around behind my back.

“You know what’s supposed to happen on the third date….”

Somewhere, in an etiquette book, it’s written that you shouldn’t call people before 10 AM on Christmas. Because at 10 AM, the Crosby’s phone started ringing off the hook. As soon as it did, I whimpered.

“I was hoping everyone forgot,” Sid said. His cell phone rang almost immediately. Then mine went too.

“Mom?” I said, picking up the phone. “Merry Christmas! How is Paris?”

“Why am I getting emails from everyone at home saying there’s a picture of you kissing Sidney in the paper?”

“Actually, he’s kissing me. But whatever. It’s something stupid, don’t worry about it. People are emailing you on Christmas morning?”

She tutted. “It’s 4 in the afternoon here, Kay. Is there anything else I should know?”

“No mom, it’s fine. I’m at the Crosbys’ now and we’re just about to see how bad this all looks.”

“Well fine,” she said. “Have fun. And Kahlan, in case I have never told you, that boy is a stone cold fox. Go get him.”

“MOM!” I shouted as she gave holiday greetings and hung up on me. Sidney eyed me from the couch. “My mom thinks you’re hot.”

He gave me a cheesy thumbs-up. “Cougars!”

Troy came through the front door, stomping snow from his booths. He had a pile of newspapers under his arm. He was not smiling. “This is ridiculous,” he said. He called Trina in. Sid and I sat on the couch like prisoners awaiting execution.

“Shall we go from the biggest?” He said, tossing to Toronto Star on the table. Front page sidebar, full color. ‘Sid’s Christmas Kiss’ was the headline in red and white type.

Seeing the photo, I exhaled. Sid had dropped his shoulder and his face was clearly visible. My hair was behind my ear, but my head was tilted to the right of his nose, shielding my face a little. His hand was on my waist. The photo cut off at mid-thigh, but it was obvious he was pressed against me.

I pointed to my hand, which was resting on his upper arm. “I don’t remember doing that,” I said.

“That is what you’re thinking about?” He laughed. “It does make it look like you’re kissing me back.”

“I was kissing you back!” Then I looked at his parents. “Sorry. Oh God.” I sank back into the couch and rolled down as far as I could.

“It would look much worse if you weren’t kissing him back,” Trina said, picking it up and looking more closely. “I think it’s actually a good picture.”

If you were dating!” Troy said, and Trina shot him a look. “You two are a mess.”

He flipped the paper open. Inside was a full page spread. The camera click that I’d heard was clearly not the first. There was a series of photos, like a little flip book. Sid leaning in close and smiling at me, three of the kiss (I had moved my head from left to right during the kiss, apparently), one of us breaking apart and another of Sid holding my hand and pulling me into security.

‘Who’s the Lucky Lady?’ this headline asked. They’d taken the clearest shot of my face and enlarged it. It was right after the kiss, when Sidney said “Bummer.” I was smiling, about to laugh – it was a good photo. I looked like I was in love. Below the photos was a single paragraph:

Hockey superstar Sidney Crosby let his guard down in the Pittsburgh airport on Christmas Eve. Crosby was photographed kissing a mystery brunette before they passed through security, presumably to travel to Crosby’s hometown of Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia for the holidays. Airport security declined to comment on the woman’s identity and airline representatives could not be reached for comment.

Taylor took the paper and held it at arm’s length. “Gross. Kahlan, I have lost all respect for you.”

“Ha! Taylor, yesterday you wanted us to get married!” I said.

“True. But I never planned to watch you actually kiss him.”

Troy ran us through the other headlines, all with some version of the photo on their covers:
Toronto Globe & Mail – ‘Kid’s Christmas Comes Early’
Toronto Sun – ‘Sid Plays Another Kind of Hockey’
Montreal Gazette – ‘Baiser le Capitaine!’

Sid squeezed my leg at that one. It’s what Max and Kris would see this morning. There were more, all the same. I wondered what the Pittsburgh paper looked like.

“The headline here is ‘No Mistletoe Necessary’,” Mario said on speaker phone. “And someone was able to identify you, Kahlan. It must have been added late, because no other papers seem to have your name.”

I looked at Sid. “Sorry,” he mouthed. I shook my head. Even with my name out there, this was most awkward for him. I looked like the luckiest girl in the world. He would be endlessly asked why he was kissing someone he wasn’t even dating, why he wasn’t dating, when he would, who she would be, where he would find her, if he wanted the reporter’s daughter’s phone number… endless.

“We just have to be careful going forward, for a little while,” Mario said. “People will try to photograph you Kahlan, so keep that in mind. And maybe stay away from Max.”

We all laughed, mostly because he wasn’t kidding.

Later in the day the local movie theatre agreed to let us sneak in through the back after the lights were down. We sat in the corner of the top row with Taylor.

“No kissing,” she warned before the movie started.

Partway through, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Sid felt it against his leg too. I flipped it open – there was no one to bother back there.

Max: I want one of those when I see you. 3 days.

Sid shook his head.

After Christmas dinner with the Crosbys, we went back to Sid’s to watch my favorite movie, ‘A Christmas Story’. The phones had finally stopped ringing. I planned to avoid the internet for the rest of my life.

“You okay?” Sid asked as the credits rolled.

I nodded. “I think so. You?”

He leaned forward, pulling me with him, to put the popcorn bowl on the table. “I’m glad it was you. Someone else might have freaked out. I’m just really frustrated. That’s how it’s always going to be for me – makes me feel like I never want to bother.”

“They’ll get over it eventually, when you’re with someone for a while. They did with Mario, and Gretzky.”

“But what girl wants to put up with that? Unless she’s a famewhore, then I don’t want her.” He sighed. “Sorry. I’m sorry this happened. And I… Kahlan, I am not going to do anything else. Please don’t be scared around me. See what it got me? Doing something I said I wouldn’t do?”

If Sid had made a move… well the damage was already done, in a sense. We were out there. He was halfway over the cliff he’d always been terrified of falling from. For him, this aftermath of initial exposure was the best opportunity he’d had to move forward in his life. I closed my eyes, so relieved. My willpower tank was empty – if I even had one anymore.

“I kind of hoped, when we came up here… that you might decide you were interested in me after all,” he said. “I might have had a little plan in my head. But now I see it was crazy. I just… it would be so easy if it were you.”

I put my arms around his neck and give him as big a hug as I could while sitting down. “Sidney Crosby, someone is going to fall madly in love with you. And you with her. And neither of you will care about those cameras.”

Sad eyes. “Can you ask her to hurry?”

Troy pulled up to the airport. We’d avoided public like the plague for four days. It hadn’t taken the photographers much to figure out Sid had a game tomorrow and would like fly out sometime today. I got out first and made my way in alone, hat pulled low, while Troy circled the block with Sidney. I passed through security, then stood on my toes and tried to watch as Sid came in. One person spotted him and it was a rush. He smiled thinly, said nothing, and pressed his way into the terminal. It was impossible not to see the small mob, and pretty soon everyone in the airport knew he had arrived. I suddenly felt very conspicuous.

An older woman rolled her bag up next to me at the security table. She was putting things back in her pockets. She smiled at me then caught the commotion outside the line. After a moment, she looked back at me.

“That’s your boyfriend, eh?” she smiled. I was about to say something, anything, but she continued. “Is he worth all this?”

I stopped, then smiled. “Definitely.”

“Stick with him, girl. He’ll need you.” And she rolled away.

1 comment:

  1. Stop doing that! You keep changing my mind! I used to be 100% Team Tanger, no questions asked but after his sad eyes and what that lady said at the end I'm torn and part of me wants it to be Sid! You gotta stop it! My hearts going to explode from all the love!