Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter 52

I hope everyone has a Happy New Years! Sorry this chapter couldn't be a little more upbeat for the occasion, but you know how it goes. Have a safe and fun night tonight!

Sidney stared at the door long after Tanner walked out of it. What had happened? Two days ago everything between them was fine and now he felt like it had all fallen apart. He needed to figure out how and why. It was obvious what the last straw for Tanner had been, but how had it gotten to that point?

He struggled to think back on the last week, the last few weeks, to see if he could remember anything that would signal that things had been headed south, but nothing came to mind. Everything had been normal and then they’d snapped, but things didn’t just suddenly break down like that. Something had to have started to put stress on their relationship to cause tonight.

He turned and walked into the living room, collapsing down on the couch with his head in his hands. He wasn’t going to be able to handle this until he knew what had gone wrong. He started to work backwards through the events in the last day or two hoping to find the cause. It was the only way he could think to figure it out.

Tanner had left because of Tamara. He’d had Tamara over for dinner despite knowing how much Tanner didn’t like her. Hell, he didn’t even like her. Then he’d sent Tamara down to the wine cellar to get a bottle. He hadn’t looked at what she’d chosen when she opened it and poured a glass for each of them. He should have paid attention. He honestly hadn’t even noticed what bottle of wine it was until Tanner told him. For that he’d never forgive himself.

He’d invited Tamara over to get back at Tanner. It was petty, but he had been hurt. She hadn’t come to bed the night before, instead choosing to sleep in a guest room. They’d had arguments before, but they’d always gone to bed together. Then she hadn’t come down for breakfast like she always did and when he’d called home after practice she wasn’t there. He’d guessed and gone to the deli she frequented for lunch and saw her there smiling and laughing with another guy.

It wasn’t even the fact that she was having lunch with another guy that hurt. It was the look on her face that hurt him. He saw that sparkle in her eyes when she laughed that he felt he hadn’t seen in so long. He wasn’t sure when exactly he’d realized it had gone away, but he knew it wasn’t there. Yet when he saw them laughing together, he saw it again. And it was directed at someone that wasn’t him. It stung more than he’d like to admit.

Tanner hadn’t come to bed the night before because of their argument. He’d been angry about the game that night and when he’d gotten off the ice all he could think of was seeing Tanner smile at him and he knew it would all fade away. He’d walked into the family lounge only to have the girls tell him Tanner hadn’t shown up to the game. She hadn’t even called or texted him to tell him she wasn’t going to be there and no one else knew where she was, including Grace.

He wasn’t angry at her for not going, he was angry at her for not telling him or anyone else for that matter. If she’d told him earlier in the day that she was going to stay home and work on her paper he would have been fine with it. If she’d called and left a message for him to find on his phone after the game he would have been fine with it. Instead there had been nothing. Not a word from her about where she was.

For all he knew something had happened to her, and after the past year that she’d had, he was legitimately worried. He spent every day wondering if he was going to come home to bad news. Every time Tanner sneezed, coughed, even looked tired he had to fight the urge to drag her to the hospital to make sure everything was okay. When she hadn’t shown up to the game and hadn’t called anyone to tell them she wouldn’t be there he’d just about panicked.

Instead he’d gotten home to find her sitting at the desk in front of the computer. She hadn’t even come out to see him when he’d gotten home. It was also apparent that she hadn’t even checked in on the game. Did she care that little about what he did? She couldn’t take two seconds to either check the score for a final or walk out of the office and ask him about it?

They’d argued about her not being at the game, but he was pretty sure they both knew they weren’t really upset about that. Now that he’d thought back on it he knew why they’d argued. He was angry because she hadn’t shown any concern for what had gone on with him that night and for making him worry about her. She was apparently still angry at him for not telling her about who he was a year ago.

He was so tired. He’d spent the last year trying to be perfect for her. It was exhausting. He’d screwed up back then, he could admit that, but hadn’t she told him that she forgave him and she was past that? Didn’t that make her a liar too? He couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t walk on egg shells around her because he was afraid she’d get mad. People screwed up. He would screw up. She was just going to have to accept that if she wanted to be with him. He didn’t expect her to be perfect so why should he have to be?

He got up and walked upstairs to go to bed. He walked into the bedroom and was met by pictures of the two of them smiling out at him. He turned around and walked out and headed into a guest room. He just couldn’t sleep in their bed until he knew they’d be okay. They had a lot of things to talk about, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. He was leaving tomorrow for a week long road trip.

He woke up the next morning when he heard a bang. He bolted upright in bed and listened for a moment. He heard another sound come from their bedroom. Tanner was home. Sidney jumped out of bed and rushed into the room, eager to get things talked out. He froze just inside the doorway when he saw Lisa and Kelly dragging suitcases out of the closet.

“What are you doing?” he asked. They both jumped at the sound of his voice and then turned to look at him. Boy, if looks could kill.

“Getting more of Tanner’s stuff,” Lisa said coldly.

“What do you mean? Why?” he questioned, a knot forming in his stomach.

“Are you that fucking dumb?” Kelly shot at him. Lisa elbowed her in the ribs and gave her a small shake of her head. Then she turned her attention back to Sidney.

“Tanner asked us to get some things,” Lisa told him. For the first time, Sidney noticed that there were other bags packed and sitting near the door where he was standing. A lot of bags.

“Why would she need all of this?” He could hear the shake in his own voice. He also felt like he knew the answer, but he didn’t like it. He was hoping that there was some other excuse. He looked between Lisa and Kelly who were avoiding his gaze and chewing on their lips nervously.
“We thought you’d be at practice already,” Kelly said quietly, refusing to answer him.

“We’re not practicing this morning because we’re flying to Anaheim. Just answer me.”

“Maybe you should just talk to Tanner later,” Lisa suggested.

“Tell me!” he shouted in a small panic.

“She told us she was moving into Grace’s guest room for a while,” Kelly said, her eyes on the floor.

He felt like he’d been punched. Tanner was moving out? It had been his fear and they’d just confirmed it. This couldn’t be happening, could it? They hadn’t even talked, figured things out, so how could she just be moving out? Was it because of the wine, the argument, or the fact that he’d lied to her a year ago? He had to know what it was.

“I’m going over there,” he said more to himself than to the two girls standing in front of him looking more than uncomfortable.

“No! You can’t,” Lisa told him.

“Why not?” he demanded.

“She’s not there right now. She went into school early to study for her exam this afternoon,” Kelly explained.

Sidney felt his stomach lurch. Tanner never studied in the same place. Sometimes she’d go to the library, sometimes one of the many computer labs. Other times she’d pick an empty classroom, whichever felt more comfortable for her at the time. He’d never find her. He left the girls standing in the bedroom and rushed to get his phone from the guest room he’d slept in.

“Tanner, it’s Sidney. We really need to talk. Please. I don’t want to leave today for the week without talking to you. Call me back. Please,” he begged into the phone when her voicemail picked up.

He sat back in the kitchen as Lisa and Kelly carted most of Tanner’s things out of the house. He held his phone the entire morning waiting for Tanner to call him back. As the hours passed he felt more and more afraid that she wasn’t going to. Eventually he ran out of time and had to hurriedly pack and get to the airport to make the flight. He boarded the plane with just one thought running through his head. Were he and Tanner over?

I hit the ignore button on my phone as I sat in a quiet corner of one of the dining halls on campus when I saw Sidney’s number pop up on the screen. I waited until I heard the alert telling me that I had a voicemail and then picked it up. I listened to Sidney’s message as my hand shook. Then I deleted the message, put my phone back down, and went back to studying.

I bypassed the breakfast I had sitting in front of me when I took a bite of my bagel and realized I just wasn’t hungry at all. I pushed the tray away from me and tried to focus on the notes I’d made the night before. Now that I was looking over them, they didn’t make a ton of sense to me.

I shouldn’t have made them last night when I was so upset. They were a jumbled mess of words that didn’t resemble the English language to me right now. I put them away and pulled out the notes from class and the textbook. They were my only hope for my exam now.

I stayed in the dining hall until my back started to hurt from leaning over the table. I still had another hour until class so I made my way into a lounge in the building where my class was. I found it empty and sprawled out on the couch in it. I continued to scan my materials, but I felt like I was retaining nothing.

Finally it was time to head to class and take the exam. I struggled my way through the entire thing, cursing Sidney the whole time. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have been able to focus and probably ace this exam. Instead I knew I was going to have to settle for a B, if I was lucky.
I wasn’t at all in the mood for my second class that day, so I put my finished 15 page paper in the professor’s mailbox and headed to my car. I drove to Grace’s apartment and fished out the keys she’d given me so that I could get in while she was at work. When I walked into the guest room I saw bags of my stuff sitting on the floor along the wall. Lisa and Kelly must have grabbed everything like I’d asked.

I felt like my heart was ripping in half as I looked at them sitting there and I had to turn and walk out into the living room. I dug out a syllabus from one of my classes and checked what was due soon. By the time Grace was home from work I was a week ahead in that class and working on getting ahead in a second one.

She didn’t say anything to me past asking what I wanted for dinner and I was grateful. I didn’t want to talk about Sidney. I wasn’t ready to talk about him. I thought about his message earlier for probably the millionth time that day and fought back the tears that threatened. Who was he to say when we talked? We’d talk when or if I was ever ready. I was the one who'd been hurt.

Grace disappeared for a while until the dinner she’d ordered showed up at the door. I wasn’t sure what she’d been doing and I didn’t ask. I wasn’t up for much conversation. When we finished eating I went back to getting ahead in my classes and Grace disappeared again. I figured she knew I wasn’t good company right now and was giving me space.

The clock hit midnight and I closed my books. I’d been going on schoolwork nonstop since Friday afternoon when I’d found out about the exam today. My head thundered with a headache, probably from tension and I rubbed my eyes a few times to try to readjust them before I got up from the couch and headed to the guest room.

I walked in and saw in surprise that there weren’t any bags sitting on the floor any longer. I opened the closet door and saw that my clothes were all hanging neatly and my shoes were organized the way I liked them. I opened the dresser drawers and found more clothes folded and put away. That was what Grace had been doing all night.

I changed and got ready for bed before pulling the covers over my head. That’s when things hit me. The anger and grief struck me all at once. I’d been doing work all day and keeping myself distracted just to ward off these impending feelings. Now that I didn’t have anything to do they’d invaded my mind.

I was in Grace’s apartment instead of my own home sleeping in bed alone instead of next to Sidney. I thought about the sight of all of my clothes hanging in a strange closet and folded in a strange dresser. I clutched at the pillows and the blankets as I curled up into a tight ball and let the sobs tear through my body. I’d never thought it was possible to feel this much pain.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chapter 51

So I'm changing the very end of last chapter. Nothing big, but I'm going to make it so that it ends right after the fight on Saturday night and this chapter picks up on Sunday morning. It doesn't change the outcome of anything, but fits better into the Pens actual schedule. Just wanted to give a heads up!

I woke up and it took me a minute to realize I was sleeping in one of the extra bedrooms. I turned off the alarm and got out of bed. I quietly made my way towards our bedroom, not sure if Sidney was awake yet. I peered into the open room and saw that the bed was made and he wasn’t in there.

It was exactly what I was counting on. I'd hoped that I wouldn't get up until he had already left for practice. I got dressed and made my way downstairs where I made myself a small breakfast. Then I packed up my things and got into my car. I drove to the library on campus where I bunkered in for the day.

Maybe I was running away from Sidney right now, but I had other things to take care of. Things between Sidney and I could wait until I'd finished my paper and taken this test. That may mean that we'd have to spend another day not speaking, but with the stress I was under from school, today would not be a good day for us to talk. I didn't want to say something I'd regret. Later on I walked into the deli where I usually grabbed lunch. I'd finished my paper, and needed a break before studying.

“Hey, don’t we have class together? Tanner, right?” an attractive guy said to me, smiling down from where he was standing. I smiled and nodded, recognizing him.

“Yeah, we do.”

“I’m Keagan,” he introduced himself, shaking my hand. “Mind if I join you?”

“No, go right ahead.”

“So was it just me, or was class really boring Friday?” Keagan asked.

“Just Friday?” I joked. He laughed.

“Yeah, you’re right. Damn electives. So what are you majoring in?”

“Animal Science major. How about you?”

“Math.” I scrunched up my nose at him.

“You must be really smart.”

“I never know how to respond when people say that. Sure, I’m good with numbers, but I don’t know five languages and I can’t cure any kind of disease.”

“I see what you mean.”

“So, I just want you to know right off the bat that I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. I know that you have a boyfriend and I have a girlfriend. Blunt, I know, but I didn’t want to be creeping you out or anything.” I laughed.

“Don’t worry, I appreciate bluntness. What’s her name?” I asked.

“Oakley. We met in class. She’s a fellow numbers geek.”

“Aw, meant to be?” I joked. I heard footsteps approach and looked up to see Sidney standing in front of us at the table. He was glaring down at Keagan.

“Am I interrupting something?” he asked, angrily. I let out a sigh.

“Keagan and I have class together. He saw me sitting here alone and wanted to keep me company.”

“How nice,” Sidney spat angrily.

“I’m going to get home. I’ll see you in class, Tanner,” Keagan said standing up. Sidney glared at him as he walked out.

“We got in a fight so you pick up the first cute guy you see?” I got up from the table and threw my sandwich away.

“Get over yourself. He has a girlfriend. He’s not remotely interested. And I’m not interested in being around you right now. I’m going to stay on campus and do some work and then I’m having dinner with Grace. I’ll see you whenever I get home tonight.” I turned my back on Sidney and stalked out of the deli. That conversation could wait until I’d calmed down.

I could hardly study. I was too upset with Sidney. Who did he think he was? He was so rude to Keagan for no reason and he was treating me like shit. I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t feel any better as I struggled to try to get some studying done at the library. I finally gave up and went to Grace’s early.

I told her all about the fight Sidney and I had and then about his attitude today. She offered to let me stay there for the night if I needed to cool down, but I declined. Sidney and I needed to have it out now or it was only going to fester and get worse. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home, but it had to happen.

I pulled into the driveway and took a deep breath before getting out of the car. I’d thought about everything I wanted to say to Sidney when I’d gotten home the entire car ride back, but now that I was home I’d forgotten it all. I walked into the house and smelled food in the kitchen, which was weird because if I wasn’t home for dinner, he usually had some sort of take-out. Then I heard a woman’s laugh.

I walked down the hall to the kitchen and froze in the doorway. Sidney was on one side of the island leaning on it with a glass of red wine in front of him. Tamara was leaning on the island from the other side with her boobs practically falling out of her shirt right in his face. I spotted the dishes and saw that someone had been cooking. There were also plates in front of both of them. He’d had her over for dinner.

“Oh, hi, Tanner,” Tamara said sounding disappointed. I looked back and forth between the two of them, anger boiling up in me.

“What’s going on?” I asked. Sidney gave me a smile completely devoid of humor and full of “I can do it too.”

“I felt like cooking and since you weren’t going to be home I invited Tamara over so it wouldn’t go to waste.”

That stung. Sidney had not once ever cooked for me. On the rare occasion he’d been in charge of dinner he’d always had something made by someone else. Now he’d cooked for her. Then I spotted the wine they were drinking. There sitting empty on the counter was the bottle of Pinot Noir that the girls had gotten me to celebrate the end of my chemo treatments. The same bottle I never wanted to open so that I’d have it as a reminder.

“You need to leave,” I said turning to Tamara.

“Excuse me?” she asked, glaring at me. “I was invited.”

“Now you’re uninvited. Get the hell out of my house.” I wasn’t sure I’d ever spoken to anyone in that tone before, but Tamara got the point. She walked out of the kitchen and out of the house a second later.

“What the hell?”

“Are you serious right now?!” I yelled at Sidney, cutting him off.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re so upset about. I invited the neighbor over for dinner. What’s the big deal?” He had a look of anger mixed with a smugness that I wanted to smack off of him.

“You’re unbelievable.”

I turned and stormed out of the kitchen and headed straight for the stairs. I went right into the bedroom and grabbed a gym bag and began to throw clothes into it. I couldn’t be here with him tonight. Not after what he’d just done.

“Going somewhere?” he asked, coming up behind me.

“To Grace’s. I don’t know when I’ll be back.” I didn’t even bother looking at him as I said it. I just continued to pack whatever I could grab.

“You’re leaving because I had Tamara over? Fuck, Tanner, you’re being immature. You had lunch with that asshole earlier and it was okay for you, but I can’t have a meal with a girl without you flipping out?” I spun around on him.

“Don’t even compare the two! They’re so different and I don’t even know how you can’t see that!”

“How is it different, Tanner? How is what you did better than what I did?”

“Oh, so you did this to get back at me? Who’s immature now, Sidney? I feel like I should just be waiting to hear you say ‘I know you are but what am I?’” I spat at him.

“What the fuck do you want from me?!” he yelled.

“An apology, even though that’s not even close to good enough right now,” I told him.

“I have nothing to apologize for. You went behind my back and had lunch with another guy!”

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare accuse me of anything, Sidney. Keagan is a classmate who saw I was eating alone and decided to sit down and join me. It wasn’t planned. And if you really want to get into it, why don’t I bring up the how many thousands of girls that would die to have you just for one night? The same girls that I’ve never even once said a word about, not even after I had to witness one kiss you! She fucking kissed you, Sidney and I didn’t say anything to you about it because I trust you! Apparently you can’t give me the same trust when the only thing I’ve ever done was share a table with a male at lunch.”

“And I shared a table with a female at dinner.”

“No, you didn’t. You know that she has a thing for you. You know that she’d do anything to take you from me. And you cooked for her! When was the last time you cooked for me?” He didn’t respond. “That’s right, you have nothing to say because you never have. Even when I had cancer and was going through chemo you never cooked for me, but you had no problem cooking for that gold digging whore! And that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that you drank my wine. You drank my fucking wine, Sidney!”

“It was just a fucking bottle of wine!”

I felt the stinging on my hand before I even realized I’d slapped Sidney across the face. He looked at me in complete shock, covering his cheek with his hand. Even so, I found that I didn’t feel bad about it. I only wished I could do it again.

“That wasn’t just a fucking bottle of wine. That bottle was given to me by the girls when I finished chemo. That bottle symbolized the six months of hell I had to go through to save my life. I had a piece of my skull removed, a tumor taken out of my brain, and I went through chemo, getting sick almost every day for six months. That bottle was supposed to remind me that I’d gone through hell and I’d survived. You knew how much it meant to me and you let her drink it and you drank it with her. You obviously don’t care about what matters to me. I can’t even look at you right now.”

I zipped up the gym bag and picked it up. I could feel tears building, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I shoved past him and made my way downstairs. I heard him chasing after me, but I didn’t care. I grabbed my car keys, the ones for my old car, and headed for the door when I felt his hand close on my arm.

“Tanner, wait.”

“Get your fucking hands off of me.” I ripped my arm out of his grasp and walked out the front door, leaving him standing in the foyer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chapter 50

At the professor’s announcement I nearly groaned out loud with the rest of the class. Having an exam and a 15 page paper I hadn’t yet started writing due on the same day was going to suck. I packed up my things and wondered why the hell he’d only given us two days notice for the Monday morning exam. Didn’t he realize it was Friday and tomorrow was Halloween? Granted, I wasn’t doing anything but going to the Pens game to celebrate, but everyone else was going out. What a jerk.

I got home and after making some lunch I immediately locked myself up in the office to get started on my paper. I thought three days was going to be enough to write it, averaging about 5 pages a day, but now with the exam I was in a big time crunch. I’d only done some of the research and wasted a couple of hours finishing that up. I never heard Sidney come home and only realized he was when he placed a kiss on the top of my head.

“You know it’s Friday, right?” he asked as he looked over my shoulder at the computer screen in front of me.

“Well, you already know I had that 15 pager to write this weekend, but now one of my professors decided to give our class an exam on Monday morning. I’m going to be sitting in this spot all weekend,” I complained.

“You’ll do fine,” Sidney assured me, obviously hearing the stress in my voice.

I sat at the computer researching and typing away the rest of Friday night, only stopping to eat the dinner Sidney had ordered in for us. I felt bad because I usually cooked for him the night before a game, but with everything I had to do he’d insisted on letting me keep working and just ordering in.

I went to bed late that night and then woke up with Sidney on Saturday morning. I grabbed a cup of coffee and locked myself back into the office. I read what I’d written the night before and hated the entire thing. The entire morning was wasted rewriting the first five pages. When I read over them again I was satisfied and continued on. Sidney came in before he left for the game that night to kiss me goodbye. I hardly acknowledged him, completely in the zone.

My stomach finally stopped me a little while later as I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I stretched out and got up from the desk to walk out into the kitchen. It was completely dark outside and in the house. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was 8:00. Shit, the game. I started to rush upstairs to jump into the shower and change when I realized by the time I got to the rink the game would be almost over.

I sighed and turned back to the kitchen, grabbing some leftovers and heating them up. I was going to be missing my first game this season, but there was nothing that could be done. I ate quickly and headed back into the office to write. As I reached my 12th page I heard the door from the garage to the kitchen open and then slam shut. The Pens must have lost and Sidney was obviously pissed.

I decided to just stay in the office and out of Sidney’s way until he cooled down a little bit. I’d learned in the short amount of time the season had been going on to just let Sidney stew until he was calm before trying to talk to him about anything. I heard a few more bangs before he flung open the office door. I turned to look at him, and he looked ready to kill someone.

“We lost, just so you know,” he spit out heatedly. Why the hell was he taking the game out on me?

“I figured. I’m sorry,” I told him softly.

“Where the fuck were you?” he asked angrily.

“Right here writing my paper. I’m sorry I missed the game, I just lost track of time,” I apologized.

“Seriously, Tanner? It’s the last game at home for a week and a half and you couldn’t bother to show up?” I knew I should just keep my mouth shut because he was probably just pissed about how the game had gone, but what he said struck a nerve.

“You’re kidding, right? I had a 15 page paper to write that I’m not done with and I have to study for an exam still. I meant to go to the game, but lost track of time like I told you. Even so, I probably needed these few hours to continue working on things,” I shot at him.

“I needed you there tonight!” he yelled. I rolled my eyes at him.

“Right, because you would have played better with me in the crowd,” I scoffed. It was the wrong move on my part and I knew it the second it left my mouth. I watched as Sidney’s face turned red in anger and he balled up his fists.

“Don’t even begin to question what makes me play better or worse,” he started. I put a hand up to stop him.

“I’m sorry, okay? I’m just stressed out about my schoolwork. I’m sorry I missed your game, but this really was more important,” I told him.

“More important than my career?” he asked through clenched teeth. That question is what made me snap.

“I highly doubt one game is going to ruin your career, Sidney. And if you must know, this paper and exam are pretty fucking crucial to my career,” I responded, my voice rising a little.

“Are we going to do this right now? Are we going to have a pissing match about who’s livelihoods are more important?” Sidney questioned. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“I told you a long time ago and then repeated it numerous times that there were going to be times when I couldn’t go to a game because I had other things going on. I asked you repeatedly if you could handle that and you said you could. I didn’t go to one game and you’re flipping out. Either you forgot that or you lied to me,” I accused. His eyes widened in fury.

“You’re accusing me of lying to you?!” he yelled.

“You’ve done it before!” I screamed out. Suddenly it hit me. Everything I’d been feeling lately made sense. I realized what had been eating at me the past week or so. I was still angry at Sidney for lying to me about who he was.

“Pardon?” I wanted to take a breather, to calm down and assess my newfound feelings on all of this, but I was on a roll and I couldn’t seem to make myself shut my mouth.

“You lied to me about who you were. You led me on for almost two months pretending to be someone else. Not a great track record for you.” He looked at me in shock. I could practically read his thoughts. Why the hell almost a year later was I bringing that back up? I didn’t quite know why it was suddenly invading my thoughts, but it was there, and I was supremely pissed off about it.

“I thought that was in the past. I thought we’d gotten past that. I thought I’d explained it all to you and you understood.”

“Well I don’t understand! I don’t understand why you would lie to me. I can’t help but wonder how long you would have gone on with the lie and let me believe that you were nothing special, no big deal. How long would you have lied to me, Sidney?” I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to know how long he would have kept the charade up.

“I was going to tell you. I’d been trying to find the right time.” Not good enough.

“How fucking long, Sidney?” I shouted.

“You’re psychotic,” he shot.

“And you’re an egotistical liar,” I returned.

“Okay, you’re jumping all over the map right now, Tanner. Explain this to me. How did we get from fighting about you being at my game to me being egotistical and a liar? This doesn’t make any sense!”

“It makes complete sense. You’re pissed off because you lost and I wasn’t there to see it. You walked in here basically telling me your career is more important than mine and you had no intention of being okay with me missing games even after you told me it was fine. Egotistical and liar fit right in there!”

“I can’t even be around you right now.”

“Then get the fuck out. You’re the one who barged in here screaming and yelling. If you didn’t want to fight you shouldn’t have come in guns blazing.”

Sidney stood in the doorway glaring at me for a moment, neither of us saying a word. Finally he grabbed the doorknob and slammed the door behind him as he left the office. I continued to glare at the closed door as I heard his stomping footsteps head upstairs. Who the hell did he think he was?

I turned back to the computer screen but I knew I wasn’t going to get anything else done tonight. I saved the paper, turned off the computer, and slammed the laptop shut. I stayed sitting in the office for a good half an hour stewing over the fight we’d just had and my realization that I still had anger in me about Sidney lying to me about who he was at the beginning of our relationship.

The more I thought about it, the more confused and angry I got. I was confused because I had no idea why now, after almost a year I was suddenly angry about it all over again. Then the more I tried to figure it out the angrier I got over him doing it. I finally realized I wasn’t going to come to terms with it all that night and decided to just go to bed.

Not even remotely close to wanting to see Sidney I headed into one of the guest rooms furthest from our bedroom. I got into bed and struggled to shut my brain off and get to sleep in a bed and bedroom I’d never slept in before.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chapter 49

Grace and I walked around the Halloween store trying to figure out Halloween costumes. The guys were leaving it up to us to come up with them. We were throwing out ideas as we passed costumes. Suddenly we both saw the same costume and started to laugh. I made a phone call to Max to find out if he had a costume yet. When he said he didn’t we told him he didn’t have to worry about buying one.

We got what we could at the Halloween store and then made our way around town picking up the rest of the supplies necessary. Thus started the debate about who was going to be what. We sat at her apartment with the costumes set in a line on the floor discussing who would be best as what.

After a little deliberation we were giggling with excitement when we had it figured out. The guys were probably going to hate us, but they were going to have to deal with it. I grabbed the costumes for Max, Sidney, and I and headed out with Grace keeping Jordan’s.

I had to get home to keep watch over Tamara while she interviewed Sidney. When I glanced at the clock I realized that I had just enough time to swing by Max’s and drop off his costume. I pulled up and carried it to his door. He opened the door with a smile and a curious expression when he saw me.

“So what do you have planned for me?” he asked as I stepped in through the doorway. I pulled his costume out of the bag and held it up. He began to laugh when he saw what I was holding.

“You like?” I asked, laughing along with him. He merely laughed in response.

“Please tell me Crosby’s going to look like an asshole,” he begged.

“Is there any way he can’t?” I returned. He laughed again and I left him with his costume and headed home.

I pulled into the driveway and into the garage. I grabbed our stuff out of the trunk of the car and carried the bags inside. Once I was in the house I heard voices and knew that Tamara was already there. I carried the bags to the living room where they were sitting. I was happy to see that Sidney was sitting in the chair away from where Tamara was seated on the couch. He looked up and smiled when he saw me.

“Hey, Tanner,” he said. Tamara glanced over and scowled at me.

“Hey guys. Sorry to interrupt,” I apologized.

“Are those Halloween costumes?” Sidney asked. I nodded and pulled them out of the bags. He groaned when he saw what they were. “Are you serious with those?”

“You should see Max,” I joked. He laughed in understanding. “Okay, I’ll let you two get back to it.”

I carried the bags upstairs and put the costumes in the closet. Then I headed back downstairs and into the office which was right next to the living room. I left the door open so I could hear the conversation going on between them. I shook my head and rolled my eyes too many times to count. Tamara kept getting off topic and asking Sidney personal questions.

I pretended to be working on a paper when I heard them finish. I glanced out through the door as they walked past to the front door. Tamara thanked Sidney for letting her use him for her paper and he was polite enough to thank her back. I got up from my seat to walk out when I heard the front door open. Just as I made it into the hallway I watched Tamara throw her arms around Sidney in a hug.

I opened my eyes wide in surprise. She was certainly in no hurry to let go of him. I felt anger bubble up in me as she very slowly pulled away from him while he struggled to untangle himself from her arms. She didn’t notice me standing there and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. I was about to say something when Sidney jerked his head back and took a step away from her. She gave him one last smile before walking out.

“What the fuck was that?” I hissed out when the door was closed behind her.

“I didn’t do anything,” Sidney started. I let out a growl of anger.

“I know, I saw the whole thing. Who the hell does she think she is?!” Sidney sighed.

“Just let it go, Tanner, please,” he begged. I glared at him. Let it go? Really? Would he just let it go if some guy was hardcore hitting on me?

“No, Sidney, this is getting ridiculous. It’s gone from ignoring me, to dressing like a whore, to hugging and kissing you. This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” I argued.

“What do you want me to do? It’s not like I’m hanging out with her. I did an interview with her for a school project,” he said. I shook my head.

“No, you didn’t. I could hear it all. She asked you more questions about yourself and your likes and dislikes than about any injury you’ve had.”

“Because I could see that coming,” he spat sarcastically. I saw this conversation heading downhill quickly and took a deep breath to try and calm myself.

“I know, I’m sorry. She’s just driving me crazy.” He walked over and pulled me into a hug.

“I’m sorry too. I’ll turn her down for anything she asks from now on, okay?” I nodded and angled my face up to his. He kissed me and we both let the topic drop.

A few days later Grace, Jordan, and Max met us at our house so we could all walk into the team’s Halloween party together. We put the finishing touches on the costumes, grabbed our prop and headed out. Once there we paused outside the door and put the cardboard box we’d cut and painted around the five of us. Then we burst through the door honking the horn we’d bought for it. The place erupted in laughter as we ran in with Sidney continuously blasting the horn. Once we reached the middle of the room we paused for effect.

“Nice Mystery Machine!” Marc called out to us. Sidney gave another honk and Max barked like the dog he was before we pulled the makeshift van off of us.

“Aw, Fred and Daphne, you look so cute!” Vero exclaimed to Sidney and I.

“I thought Velma would be too smart to date Shaggy,” Kris Letang joked, aiming it at Grace and Jordan.

“How about a Scooby treat?” Tyler Kennedy asked as he handed Max a beer.

“Rank roo,” Max replied in his best Scooby voice.

We all grabbed drinks and proceeded to spend the entire night drinking and hanging out. Games of flip cup and beer pong broke out as the night went on. Overall it was a great night full of laughter and jokes. At some point Max had started corralling people inside the Mystery Machine as he “drove” it around recklessly, running into just about everything in sight, and then blaming it on having paws instead of hands.

By the time we left that night our costumes were disheveled, the Mystery Machine was in pieces, and we had a lot of great memories we were sure to only remember when we looked through the many pictures that had been taken. When Sidney and I fell into bed later that night I fully expected a repeat of the morning I’d had after my birthday. I wasn’t let down.

Sidney didn’t even wait for me to bring up needing greasy home fries before grabbing the car keys and leading me to the car. We walked into the diner that was quickly becoming our favorite breakfast spot and had breakfast. I ate almost half of my Belgian waffle and order of home fries before passing it along to Sidney like I always did.

As we sat there eating I noticed how familiar it was all getting. It was nice to fall back into a normal routine. For the first time in almost a year I was healthy and my only worry was finishing school. Despite it all something was gnawing at me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I tried to push the thought away and be grateful for everything, but I couldn’t completely do it. Call it woman's intuition, instinct, or whatever you want, but there was something. What was it that was bugging me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chapter 48

I was cringing even before opening my eyes the following morning. Oh Jesus, this was what a hangover felt like. Now I remembered them. Obviously able to tell that I was awake, I felt Sidney’s arms tighten around me and pull me into him. I let out a half groan half growl at the nausea that simple move caused. Along with that came the headache and terrible cottonmouth.

“Are you okay?” he asked, shifting himself up on the bed to look down at me. I made another inaudible sound as I pulled my knees up to my chest. I heard him laugh at me.

“It’s not funny,” I grumbled.

“How much did you drink yesterday anyway?” he questioned.

“I don’t know, but I thought I was regulating myself pretty well. I failed to factor in the fact that I haven’t had more than one drink at a time in over 7 months,” I responded.

“Why don’t you get up and I’ll get you some water and breakfast,” he suggested. I covered my mouth with my hand.

“Do not mention food right now,” I muttered through my hand. He chuckled and I felt him get up off the bed.

“I’ll be downstairs whenever you decide to get up.”

I finally opened my eyes to watch him walk out of the bedroom. Then I pulled the comforter over my head and closed them again. I didn’t fall back to sleep, but I was not at all ready to move yet. Slowly the nausea faded enough that I felt like I could get up and get something for my headache.

I cursed as I wobbled on my feet when I stood up and swore that I was never drinking again. I laughed at myself when I realized how often I’d made that promise over the years. I took something for my head and chugged down a glass of water with it before changing into yoga pants and a sweatshirt. I threw my hair into a messy bun and made my way downstairs. I needed hangover food and I needed it badly.

“I could go for some really greasy homefries right now!” I called out as I entered the kitchen.

I expected to see Sidney sitting in there reading the paper like he did every other morning he didn’t have practice or a game. He was nowhere in sight and I called out to him again. I didn’t get an answer and I wondered if he’d gone somewhere so I opened the door to the garage. His car was still there so he was around here somewhere. Just as I was about to close the door I could hear voices carry into the garage from outside.

I closed the door and made my way down the hallway to the front door. I opened it to see who Sidney was talking to. I’d put on a smile to greet whoever it was, but it faded when I saw who was standing there. What the hell would make Tamara wear a skin tight, low cut dress this early in the day? After a moment Tamara stopped talking and looked up at me. Sidney turned around and smiled when he saw me.

“You finally decided to join the living?” he asked. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Hey, not fair to make fun of the birthday girl,” I shot back. “Hi, Tamara.”

“Hi,” she responded coolly. I fought the urge to roll my eyes at her.

“So what’s going on?” I asked.

“Tamara was just asking me if she could interview me for a school project,” Sidney replied. Well that explained the dress, I thought sarcastically.

“Oh yeah? What for?” I half thought the request was a lie, so I wanted details. If she couldn’t provide them, I would know.

“It’s kind of an open ended project. We could pick any topic we wanted as long as it was health related. I thought about doing the impact of injuries in athletes,” she explained. What, Pitt didn’t have enough athletes for her to interview?

“I see. Are you going to do it?” I asked turning to Sidney. I could see he felt a little stuck in the middle.

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s for school, right?” I gritted my teeth in annoyance. I wasn’t at all convinced of that.

“You could come to my dorm room whenever you had some free time,” Tamara suggested. My eyes widened in surprise. That fucking bitch.

“A dorm? I’m not really sure it’s a good idea for me to be someplace that public and confined,” Sidney declined. Good boy. “We could just do it here at the house after one of my practices.”

Tamara agreed and I smiled at Sidney. That meant I’d be around to make sure she didn’t try anything. After that was over I walked inside followed by Sidney. I spun around on him once the door was shut and he threw his head back and sighed, knowing exactly what was coming.

“Really, Sidney? Really?” He threw his hands in the air.

“It’s for a class, Tanner. What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Did she have to dress like that to ask you? God, it’s like she wants to pretend I don’t even exist!” I exclaimed. He walked over to me and pulled me into him.

“Come on, it’s day two of your birthday. Just forget about her and enjoy the rest of the day, okay?” I nodded and pulled away.

“I want homefries.” He laughed at me and grabbed his car keys.

We made our way to a small breakfast and lunch only place where we sat at a corner table and ate. When we were done we headed straight to the zoo. We spent the afternoon walking around talking and watching the animals. Especially the polar bears. When we left Sidney looked over at me and smiled.

“I need you to do something for me,” he said. I looked back at him suspiciously.

“What?” I asked.

“Open the glove compartment and take out the blindfold. Then blindfold yourself,” he ordered. My jaw dropped.

“Are you kidding me right now? No way!”

“Just do it,” he demanded. “Trust me.”

I gave in and took it out and blindfolded myself. Then Sidney started the car and began to drive. Despite trying to gauge where we were headed I was completely lost. After what felt like forever Sidney stopped the car and told me not to move. I heard him get out and then heard my door open. He took my hand and helped me out of the car. I followed him blindly until we came to a halt.

“Take it off,” he told me.

I untied the blindfold and my first reaction was to glance around to figure out where we were. Instead of that happening however, my eyes fixed on the thing in front of me. My eyes went wide in surprise and my jaw dropped as I took it in.

“Why are you showing me this?” I asked slowly.

“Happy birthday!” Sidney replied. I turned to him, still in shock.

“This is mine?”

I couldn’t believe it. There was just no way. He nodded and I let out a loud, high pitched squeal. He, along with the man standing next to him, started to laugh as I rushed over to it. I ran my hand along the smooth, shiny, black surface as I walked around it. I stopped in the front and grinned. Sitting in front of me was my dream car. A 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, just like James Dean’s, only in a different color.

“Like it?” Sidney asked after a few minutes of me just staring in awe at the thing of beauty in front of me.

“Are you kidding?!” I shrieked. I ran over into his arms and planted kiss after kiss on him.

A little while later the keys were handed over to me and I got in and started it up. I wasn’t much of a car person, but everyone had that one dream car and I was now sitting in mine. Listening to the engine start was the most amazing sound I’d ever heard. I followed Sidney all the way home, a giant grin on my face the whole time.

Once we got there, he switched cars into mine and we went for a nice long drive. It was getting a little cold, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel the temperature as the wind blew into our faces as we drove. Eventually I pulled back into the driveway so we could get ready for dinner. I thanked Sidney another million times in the process, still in complete shock over my birthday present.

We headed out for dinner and talked and laughed over a bottle of wine and the best Chilean Sea Bass I’d ever had. As we sat there enjoying a full day of each other all thoughts of Tamara were long gone, replaced by thoughts of how amazing Sidney was. After dinner was over we stopped at a park where we walked hand in hand looking up at the stars.

We sat on a bench in a content silence, my head resting on his shoulder. I looked up at one random star in particular and reflected back on the past year. I couldn’t believe it had only been that long since I’d met Sidney behind the arena in Philadelphia. With everything that had happened, it felt like so much longer. A tear fell from my eye and Sidney must have felt it.

“Are you okay?” he asked turning to look at me. I picked my head up off his shoulder and nodded.

“I was just thinking about the day we met.”

“Why would that make you cry?”

“Who would have thought that I would fall in love with the random hockey player my 6 year old cousin pulled off of a bus?” I asked. He smiled and placed a kiss on my forehead.

“Let’s get home,” he suggested.

I nodded and he helped me up from the bench. He held my hand in his as we walked back to his car. Sidney was the one. I knew it as much as I knew anything else. Andrew needed to be put up for sainthood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 47

Before I knew it, it was October. Sidney and I had managed to mostly avoid the neighbors since dinner that one night. Of course that didn’t stop Tamara from practically prancing around in next to nothing outside every time she was home from school. I was embarrassed for her.

On October 2 it was time to figure out how Sidney and my daily routines were going to work. It was a game day, and opening night. I wanted to stay out of his way, but I’d never been around him the day of a game before. After getting my third dirty look from him in half an hour I locked myself in the office and worked on a paper until he left for the rink.

Vero picked me up a little while later and all the girls got together for dinner and drinks before the game. Then we headed into the arena and watched as they lifted the banner announcing them as the Stanley Cup Champions for 2008-2009. We all stood grasping onto each other as our eyes filled with happy tears of the memory of that Cup win.

Then it was game on. I couldn’t help but scream in excitement at both Sidney’s goal and him being announced as first star of the game. It looked like the team hadn’t missed a beat over the offseason. If this was a sign for things to come, it was going to be a hell of a season.

Two weeks later I got into bed and flipped off the bedside lamp. Sidney had gotten into bed a little while before me, which hadn’t surprised me. He liked getting to bed early the night before a game. I was surprised however that he was still awake when he pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me and kissing me on the forehead.

“Happy birthday,” he whispered.

“Not until tomorrow,” I told him. He chuckled and placed another kiss on my forehead.

“It’s midnight, Babe,” he said. I glanced over at the clock and saw that it was in fact midnight. He lifted my chin up and kissed me before we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

I groaned when his alarm went off the next morning, but rolled over and fell back to sleep when he got up. The alarm went off a second time without him in bed and I turned it off, really annoyed. Why would he set a second one? I turned back over to go back to sleep again and within five minutes the alarm went off a third time.

This time I got up and made my way downstairs to ask Sidney what the hell he was thinking waking me up three times on my birthday. I mean really, who does that? I walked into the kitchen ready to scold when I smelled the waffles. Sidney looked up and smiled at me. I saw the plate of waffles and the bowl of strawberries with a can of whipped cream sitting next to it.

“You were this close to being in trouble,” I told him with a smile, and indicating a very small space between my fingers.

“Would you stop? Just eat,” he commanded. I sat down and placed a Belgian waffle on my plate and then loaded it with strawberries and whipped cream.

“You made me breakfast?” I asked in surprise before taking my first bite. He gave me a sheepish look.

“I had them delivered,” he explained. I laughed at him. “You know I would have found a way to screw them up!” I only laughed again as I started eating.

He left not long after for morning skate and I went back up to bed where I managed to fall asleep for another hour. I was woken up by the ringing of the doorbell and wondered what the hell someone could possibly want at 10 am. I walked downstairs as the doorbell rang a second time and saw Grace standing on the other side.

“You woke me up,” I grumbled at her when I opened the door.

“Oh well. Let’s go,” she said. I looked at her in confusion. Did we have plans?

“Go? Go where?” I asked. She pointed behind her to the driveway. I glanced out and saw the limo parked there with all of the girls hanging out and calling to me. “What’s this?”

“Sidney set up a spa day for all of us. Then dinner after. Then the game where we have a nice luxury box ready,” Grace explained. My eyes widened in surprise. He hadn’t said anything about any of that.

“I have to change,” I told her looking down at what I was wearing. I had on a pair of Sidney’s sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt.

“Why are you worried about clothes? You’re going to be naked all day!” I heard Vero call out from the limo. I rolled my eyes and laughed before grabbing house keys and locking up.

The limo took us to the spa. Sidney had gone all out for us. We had massages, facials, body wraps, and mani/pedis. It was amazing. It was great to hang out with all of the girls. It had been our first opportunity to really all get together outside of the rink since opening night of the season.

Just as I was about to ask how exactly I was going to look presentable for dinner and the game with just sweatpants and a t-shirt with me I was ushered into a room where we all had our hair, or a new wig in my case, and makeup done. Then I was handed a beautiful dress and a pair of shoes to change into. I got dressed and we got back into the limo.

We stopped at a restaurant for dinner where we were given our own private room. We sat around the table laughing, drinking, and eating. While I was sad that I couldn’t spend my birthday with Sidney, I was glad that I had all of them to enjoy it with. I was also so grateful that Sidney had set all of this up for me. He was getting a BIG thank you when we got home after the game tonight.

After one of the best meals of my life we all declared this restaurant to be the place where we’d go for every girls’ night from then on. It was time to head to the rink for the game and we piled back into the limo. We arrived and were escorted upstairs to one of the luxury boxes.

We gave orders to a waitress who stopped by to ask what we wanted to drink and continued to hang out until game time. With all of us a little drunk we cheered on the guys as they skated out on the ice, and then laughed at the fact that we’d never done that before. We went crazy when Guerin scored less than 5 minutes into the game to open the scoring, just enjoying the entire night.

The game continued on and the Pens were playing well. I so badly wanted them to beat Tampa to continue my amazing birthday and they seemed to be on their way. There was a stoppage in play in the first period and the red light went on behind the penalty boxes signaling a TV timeout. I turned away from the ice to get up and grab a drink.

“I’d stay here if I were you,” Vero told me with a smile.

“What?” She pointed at the Jumbotron and I was shocked to see my face up on the screen.

“The Pittsburgh Penguins organization would like to wish a very special Happy 22nd Birthday to Tanner Falco,” the announcer said over the loudspeakers.

I felt suddenly self conscious knowing that an entire arena of people were looking at me. As I smiled nervously I heard the sound of sticks clanking on the ice. I looked down to see Sidney at center ice tapping his stick on it, with the rest of the team tapping theirs off of the ice and boards.

Soon after the Lightning players began to tap their sticks as well. Before I knew what was happening the entire crowd began to clap and get to their feet. I was completely overwhelmed by the support and generosity of everyone in this building. Tears filled my eyes at the sight and I covered my mouth with one hand to keep from sobbing.

Vero and Grace wrapped their arms around me from each side. I smiled and gave a wave to the crowd before mouthing the words “thank you”. I watched the light go out, signaling the TV timeout was over, but the crowd was still on their feet and still clapping. I looked back down at Sidney who was still at center ice. Even from this distance I could feel his eyes on me and I knew he was smiling. It was by far the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me.

The Penguins easily dispatched of the Lightning 4-1 and Sidney was named the second star of the game. He pointed up to me as I cheered when he skated out to acknowledge it. Then we all made our way downstairs to wait in the wives’ lounge for the guys to come out. All the guys hugged me and wished me a happy birthday when they walked in and I thanked every one of them.

Unlike usual, Sidney wasn’t the last one to come into the room. I knew he must have basically blown off the media and rushed through everything to do that. I also really appreciated not having to wait in the room by myself for him on my birthday. When I saw him walk through the door I launched myself out of my seat and into his arms. I could hear him laughing as I buried my face in his neck.

“You’re amazing,” I murmured and he pushed me away, far enough to kiss me.

“I just wanted you to have a good birthday,” he replied. I continued to grin up at him.

“I did, thank you,” I assured him.

“Don’t thank me yet. It’s not over unless you’re too tired.” My eyes grew wide with excitement and I shook my head. “Good. It’s been a while since you’ve been out so I thought we’d head to Diesel.”

He was right. Sidney and a few of the other guys piled into the limo with us and we headed to Diesel. I was dancing almost immediately upon entering the club. The last time I’d been out was before I’d found out about the cancer, so it had been 7 months. The girls all joined me and we danced until we needed a break.

I fell next to Sidney on the couch he was sitting on, and he handed me a glass of champagne. I talked with him and some of the others for a while until I heard “Happy Birthday” being played. I giggled as I looked up to see a giant cake covered in candles being wheeled over to me. I made my wish, blew out the candles, and began to pass the cake around to everyone.

“This has been the best birthday ever,” I told Sidney when I noticed that it was after midnight and no longer officially my birthday.

“With tomorrow off for us, I thought we’d make it a full weekend,” he suggested. I looked at him in surprise.

“What did you have in mind?” I questioned. He gave me a nonchalant shrug and took a sip of his drink.

“I thought all of tomorrow it could be just the two of us since I didn’t get to see you much today. I was thinking about a trip to the zoo, a nice quiet romantic dinner somewhere, and lots of sex before, after, and in between,” he explained. I laughed and kissed him.

“It sounds perfect to me.”

We didn’t stay out much longer. We got home and Sidney carried me up the stairs and put me down on the bed. He didn’t get any argument from me when he started placing kisses down my neck. When we were finally too spent to stay awake any longer I thought back on the entire day. Only three words came to mind. Best. Birthday. Ever.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chapter 46

That Thursday I was at home working on some stuff for a class, waiting for Sidney to get home. I found that I was having a hard time concentrating because my mind kept wandering to dinner that night. Oh how I wasn’t looking forward to dinner with the neighbors. Finally I was too frustrated on my lack of focus that I put my books away.

I walked outside and down the driveway to get the mail. I saw a car pull into the driveway next door and watched as Tamara got out. She glanced over at me as I walked down the driveway and I smiled over at her. She couldn’t be bothered to return the gesture as she opened the back door and pulled a travel bag out. I wondered if her mother had informed her of who I was yet.

I reached the mailbox and pulled out the mail. I stood at the side of the road sorting through what we’d gotten when Sidney’s Range Rover pulled into the driveway. I smiled as I made my way back up the driveway and watched him get out of his car in the garage and head towards me. As I walked towards him I noticed Tamara standing still with her eyes on Sidney.

“Anything good in there?” he asked, looking down at the mail in my hands.

“Just a lot of junk mail,” I reported. He took the mail out of my hands and began to sift through it himself. I chanced another glance at Tamara to see her still watching our interaction while pretending to be doing something in the car.

“Today was exhausting. I’m going to need a nap,” Sidney commented as he turned to head into the house. He seemed oblivious to Tamara’s presence outside.

“I can think of something that will help more than a nap,” I told him. I said it loud enough that Tamara couldn’t have missed it. Maybe I was being a bitch, but whatever. Sidney turned and grinned at me.

“I don’t know how I’ll be less tired after that,” he joked. I simply walked up to him and angled my face towards his, giving him a sly smile.

“It can’t hurt.” He laughed and leaned down to press his lips to mine. He pulled away after a moment and walked into the house. I glanced one more time at Tamara to see her practically steaming in anger before following Sidney inside.

A few hours later Sidney woke me up from the nap we’d both taken. He pulled me into the shower where we unsuccessfully tried to really just shower. What could I say? My energy was coming back now that the chemo was over. By the time the water had turned cold we were still rinsing soap off of us.

An hour later I was standing on the walk leading up to my house and facing the neighbors. I did not want to go in there. Going in there was the absolute last thing I wanted to do in the entire world at this current moment. I felt Sidney grab onto my hand and hold it in silence for a second.

“Ready?” he asked.

“No.” He chuckled and started to walk, pulling me along with him. We walked up to the front door and he rang the doorbell. A moment later Patty opened the door.

“Hi you two! Come on in!” she exclaimed, ushering us into the house. “I’m so glad we could have you over for dinner tonight. Follow me. I thought we’d have a drink before dinner.”

Sidney and I followed Patty into another room as she prattled on a little bit more about nothing I cared about. I tuned her out until we reached our destination. I looked up to see a man standing at a bar and Tamara sitting on a couch. They both turned to us as we walked in and smiled.

“This is my husband, Isaac and my daughter Tamara. Guys, this is Sidney and Tanner,” she introduced us all.

After the introductions, Isaac asked us what we wanted to drink. We gave him our requests and sat down. Once the drinks were handed out, the conversation started. It was clear to me within a few minutes that no one in that family was the least bit interested in anything I had to say. Instead the entire conversation focused solely on Sidney.

I sipped on my martini and did a lot of the smile-and-nod at appropriate times while wishing I could be anywhere but here. At one point I caught Isaac checking his watch. He obviously wanted to be here about as much as I did. Patty and Tamara hardly seemed to notice that Isaac and I were nearly silent as they barraged Sidney with question after question about himself while throwing in some fun little facts about Tamara.

My assumption from the day Grace and I had met Patty seemed to be dead on. They were fishing for information about Sidney while constantly bringing up how great Tamara was. It was difficult to not just get up from my seat and announce that I was leaving. Instead I chose to just roll my eyes. I could do it openly since it had been a good long while since anyone had even bothered to glance in my direction.

“Mrs. Hampson, the salad is ready,” a woman announced walking into the room.

“Thank you,” Patty responded and the woman left the room. “Shall we?”

Sidney and I glanced at each other as we stood up. I lifted my eyebrows at him in annoyance and he gave me a little shrug that told me he wasn’t exactly enjoying the night so far either. We walked into the dining room and sat down at the table. The conversation continued just like it had before while we ate our salad. Sidney kept trying to include me in the conversation but Patty and Tamara somehow found a way to cut me out of it every time.

Once our dinner came I was ready to go. I had gotten to the point that I wanted to strangle somebody. Tamara was blatantly hitting on Sidney and Patty was basically encouraging her to go on with it. It was taking every ounce of my energy to keep my mouth shut. While I thought they were being very disrespectful of me, I didn’t want to be rude to them.

“Well, Tanner is in her last semester at Duquesne,” I heard Sidney say, once again trying to include me in the conversation. I couldn’t for the life of me think of what they’d been talking about, but I smiled and nodded. Again.

“Really? What are you studying?” Patty asked me. Astonished that she’d actually asked me a question, it took me a second to respond.

“I’m a biology major. Animal science more specifically,” I told her. I saw Tamara roll her eyes across the table.

“What do you plan on doing with that?” Isaac asked. It was the first time he’d spoken up without being prodded since we’d sat at the table. He seemed just as sick of hearing his wife and daughter talk as I was.

“Well, I hope to get a job at the zoo here in Pittsburgh while going to grad school to get my Ph.D,” I explained.

“You want to be a zookeeper?” Tamara scoffed. She said it with a smile, but I could hear the condescension dripping from her words, like being a zookeeper was something to be ashamed of. I turned my attention to her and smiled.

“Well, in a way I guess. I want to work with animals of course, but I’m more interested in researching and observing their behavior so we can find ways to help conserve them in their natural habitats.”

“Well, how noble of you,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. I opened my mouth to retort, until I felt Sidney’s hand on my knee. He gave it a small squeeze and I took a deep breath to calm myself.

“What are you planning on studying at school?” I asked her, curious as to what her grand plan was.

“Nursing,” she responded. I tried to hold back my laughter. Of course she’d want to be a nurse. Not that there was anything wrong with nursing, but I couldn’t picture her doing anything that would involve getting messy.

“Really? I could never be a nurse. I’m not sure my stomach could handle it.”

I made it sound like a compliment, but really, I just wanted to see her reaction. I’d managed to keep out the words “blood, guts, and bodily fluids” at the dinner table, but my point was taken. She squirmed a little in her seat and made a bit of a face.

“I don’t mind it at all,” she said, lying through her teeth.

“This lamb is really great, Patty,” Sidney interrupted. I bit back my smile at him changing the subject.

She thanked him for the compliment even though I was sure she’d had nothing to do with cooking any of our dinner. Conversation fell back into the pattern of the rest of the night with Isaac and I sitting silently while the other three talked. I was hoping to get out of there when we were done eating, but held back a groan when they wheeled out dessert.

“Thank you so much for dinner. I just wish I could have eaten more of it. It was delicious,” I told Patty as she walked Sidney and I to the door half an hour later.

“We’re glad you two could make it. We’ll have to do it again sometime soon.” Sidney and I thanked her again before leaving. We walked across their yard into ours before either of us spoke.

“You realize what was going on in there, right?” I asked him, spinning around to look at him. He sighed and nodded.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop them!” he exclaimed throwing his hands in the air. I stormed into the house wishing I could have those two hours back of my life back.

“That was the most degrading and irritating dinner of my life,” I told him.

“We’ll try not to go back, okay?” he asked, pulling me into a hug. I looked up at him.

“Promise?” He smiled and placed a kiss on my forehead.

“Promise.” I let out one last sigh and flopped down onto the couch. I was never letting Patty and Tamara near Sidney again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chapter 45

I packed up my books and walked out of class. I made my way across campus and walked out into downtown Pittsburgh. Looking over at the rink, I wondered who was going to win today. When I walked into the deli I saw that it was me. I smiled to myself as I found a table and sat down. A few minutes later Sidney walked in, a hat pulled low over his face.

“And I’m up 3-2!” I exclaimed after he’d given me a kiss and sat down. He scowled over at me.

“That’s not fair! You know I had to stay late!” he argued. I grinned over at him and shrugged.

“Not my fault,” I joked. He narrowed his eyes at me.

Because of my class schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays I got out of one class around the same time Sidney got out of practice. We’d started meeting automatically for lunch at a deli near both the school and the rink on those days. I don’t know how it had happened, but it had become a race to beat the other there.

“What do you want?” he growled. I gave him my order and watched him walk up to the counter. Loser paid for lunch.

We talked about his practice and my class while we ate. Thankfully it was pretty much the same crowd in the deli every time we were there so after the first two days people were leaving us alone. We finished eating and Sidney had to leave to do some promo stuff and I had another class to go to. We parted ways and I walked back onto campus.

When my second and last class for the day was over I got into my car and drove home. Taking advantage of being in the house alone, I got an early start on a paper. Writing one was never easy with Sidney constantly over my shoulder asking me what I was working on. Just as I got into the zone, the doorbell rang, breaking me out of my train of thought.

I groaned in annoyance as I got up from the desk in the office and walked to the door. I looked out the peephole to make sure it would be okay to answer it. I saw a very pretty blonde standing on the doorstep. I hesitated on answering, wondering what exactly this girl wanted. Since Sidney wasn’t home, I figured it would be okay and I pulled open the door.

“Oh, hi,” she said to me in surprise. Obviously I wasn’t who she was expecting.

“Hi,” I replied with a smile. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m Tamara. I live next door. I was just wondering if Sidney was home,” she told me. So this was the beautiful daughter Patty had told me about. She seemed to be very overly dressed and made up for a visit next door at 4 in the afternoon.

“No, he’s not home right now. Can I help you with something?” I asked. She shifted from one foot to another and bit her lip as she considered the question.

“I guess. Could you give him a message?” I nodded and she continued. “My parents wanted to invite him over for dinner sometime this week to welcome him to the neighborhood. We weren’t sure what his schedule was so he can pick whatever night works best for him.” I noticed that her explanation had only included him, and not me in the invitation. I wondered if that was on purpose.

“I can do that,” I told her. She took out a piece of paper and handed it to me.

“This is the number so he can call and let us know what night works best for him. Make sure you give him the message before you leave.”

“Leave?” I asked in confusion. Where did she think I was going? She nodded.

“Yeah, to go home for the day. I mean, housework doesn’t last all night, right?” she said, condescendingly. My jaw dropped in shock. She thought I was his maid? I self-consciously put a hand up to the scarf on my head.

“No, it doesn’t,” I responded through clenched teeth.

“If he’s not home when you leave, make sure you leave a message for him,” she ordered. I gave her a tight smile.

“I’ll make sure he gets it.”

“Thanks.” With that she turned and made her way off the front stoop and walked across the lawn to her own house.

I closed the door absolutely steaming. I made my way back into the office and tossed the piece of paper on the desk next to my laptop. After staring at the computer screen for over ten minutes and thinking of nothing but how angry I was I gave up on continuing the paper. I saved it and then picked up my phone. I needed someone to bitch to.

Sidney pulled into the driveway and then into the garage just after 5. It had been a long day at the rink, but that’s what pre-season was like. Now all he wanted to do was cuddle up with Tanner and relax. He walked into the house from the garage and immediately heard voices. Who was here?

“You’re kidding me,” a female voice said.

“It’s completely true. I mean, seriously. Really?!” Tanner exclaimed, sounding angry.

“Who in Pittsburgh doesn’t know about you?” the other female asked. He turned the corner into the kitchen and saw that it was Kelly. They both heard him walk in and turned to look at him. Kelly smiled over at him, but Tanner scowled.

“What’s going on?” he asked. Tanner crossed her arms over her chest and Kelly gave him a sympathetic look.

“You received a dinner invitation from next door today,” Tanner told him. He still wasn’t sure why she seemed angry.

"Okay,” he said cautiously. She hastily picked up a piece of paper off the island next to her. Then she took three steps over to him and thrust her hand out to him.

“This is the number you’re supposed to call to tell them which night you can make it.” He took the paper from her and glanced down at the number on it.

“Okay, well, what night works best for you?” he asked. Her eyes widened and she sneered at him.

“What part of what I said to you didn’t you understand?” she spat at him. He went back over this short conversation in his head wondering what he’d done wrong. He was coming up with a blank.

“I’m lost,” he replied. She groaned.

“I said you were invited. Since when am I your fucking maid?!” she yelled. He was speechless as she turned and stormed out of the kitchen. He heard her angry footsteps stomp up the stairs a moment later. He turned back to Kelly in shock.

"What did I do?” he asked. Kelly smiled over at him and explained what had happened earlier between Tanner and Tamara.

“Anyway, I think I should be going. Tell Tanner I’ll call her later,” Kelly told him.

He said bye to Kelly and then braced himself as he walked upstairs. He found Tanner sitting on the edge of the bed in their bedroom. She looked up at him when he walked in and he noticed that she didn’t look quite as angry as she did downstairs. In fact, she smiled at him.

“I’m sorry I was crazy down there. I was in the middle of a bitch fit when you walked in. You just got caught up in the middle of it,” she apologized. He let out a sigh of relief that she wasn’t mad at him for this and sat down next to her.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry for what happened. Kelly told me. I’ll clear it up,” he assured her.

"It is your fault though,” she accused.


“If you weren’t so damn good looking, I wouldn’t have the 18 year old daughters of our neighbors doing this shit,” she joked. He laughed.

“I am pretty,” he joked in response. She laughed too.

“Not as pretty as me,” she stated.

“Whoa, hold on there. I’m way prettier,” he argued. She let her jaw fall in mock horror.

“Excuse me? I’m the prettiest one in this house by far,” she responded.

“I disagree.”

“You know, I was going to suggest make up sex, but I won’t now.”

“Hey! I want make up sex!” he exclaimed.

“Not until you admit that I’m prettier.” He narrowed his eyes at her.

“That’s just not going to happen. How about we get dinner instead. Does sushi sound good?” he suggested. Tanner laughed and nodded.

“Sushi sounds amazing. We better go now. I haven't eaten in six months. I'm starving.” He kissed her and they both got up off the bed.

“I just have one phone call to make.” He took out the piece of paper Tanner had handed him downstairs and dialed it. “Hi, this is Sidney.”

“Oh, Sidney, hello. It’s Patty!” the woman on the other end said.

“I just got the message about your dinner invitation. My girlfriend, Tanner, has finished her chemotherapy but she’s still pretty tired a lot of the time so I’m not sure that we’d make very good dinner guests right now.”

“Oh, that’s okay. We won’t do anything extravagant and I promise we won’t keep you any longer than she feels able,” Patty assured him. He smiled over at Tanner.

“Okay then. How does Thursday sound?” he suggested.

“That sounds fine. We’ll see you both then. Is 7:00 okay?"

"That works. We’ll see you Thursday.” He hung up the phone and turned to Tanner. “We both have dinner on Thursday.” She smiled back at him and thanked him. Then they made their way to his car and went to dinner.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chapter 44

I walked out of class and practically skipped to the parking lot. I’d been going to classes for three weeks now and being back in school was amazing. It was the start of getting my normal life back. Now today I was taking the second step in that. I spotted Sidney’s car parked in the same spot it usually was and I rushed over to it.

“Are you ready?” he asked with a smile after kissing me.

“More than you know,” I responded, grinning back. He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

I sang along with the music in the car and danced around a little in my seat. I was anxious and excited. I watched buildings pass by on the trip and even grinned up at the hospital when we pulled in. I took Sidney’s hand and bounced into the entrance. He laughed at me as we checked in.

“Do you want me to come in or wait out here?” he asked when we reached the door.

“I think you should make some surprise visits to the children’s ward. I’ll be fine up here. I’ll call you when I’m done,” I told him. He gave me another kiss.

“Have fun.”

“This will be the first time I might.” I watched him walk away and then I followed the nurse back.

“You’re in a good mood,” she commented.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I gushed. She just smiled back at me as I settled in.

When I was done with the treatment I called Sidney and he told me he’d be right up. The nurse led me back to the waiting room to wait for him. He appeared a few minutes later and laughed when he saw me fidgeting in my chair like a child. The doctor called us back to his office a little while later. We both walked in and sat down. Sidney took my hand in his as the doctor sat down at his desk.

“How are you feeling today, Tanner?” he asked.

“Wonderful,” I replied. He laughed and Sidney gave my hand a squeeze at the response.

“Well, I just wanted to congratulate you on completing the chemotherapy. We’ll have to do some more tests in the coming months of course, but there’s nothing that would indicate that you haven’t beaten this cancer,” he explained.

I let out a squeal of excitement and Sidney kissed me on the forehead. I was done with chemo and done with cancer. At least for a while. I couldn’t remember being this happy in a long time. The doctor explained a few more things before Sidney and I left. I was in such a good mood I danced out of the hospital and to Sidney’s car, much to his amusement.

“I haven’t seen you like this in a long time,” he said. I stopped dancing and threw myself into his arms.

“Thank you for sticking with me through all of this and for everything you did. I couldn’t have done it without you,” I told him. He kissed me long and hard in the middle of the parking lot.

“Don’t ever thank me for caring about you,” he demanded. I laughed and got into the car.

“When I’m finally feeling back to myself I’m going to make this up to you. Don’t even bother arguing. I’m going to think of something amazing to do for you.” He just shook his head at me before starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot.

We started the drive home. In the last three weeks I’d started school, Sidney had gone to Olympic camp, we’d finished the house, he’d started camp with the Penguins, and I had finished chemo. It felt like a whirlwind and the best three weeks of my life. Now I could get back to being myself again.

I chatted away endlessly the entire way home, mixing in a few terribly sung lines from songs on the radio. I was so distracted with my thoughts and how I felt that I hardly noticed all of the cars parked along our street. I hopped out of Sidney’s car when he pulled into the garage and followed him through the door into the house.

“Surprise!” a large crowd of people yelled out in unison as I walked in.

My heart jumped into my throat and I screamed in shock. I looked around and saw that the entire Penguins team with their wives and girlfriends were there, along with my friends and family. My jaw dropped as they all started shouting their congratulations and I turned to Sidney. He just smiled at me and shrugged.

“You deserved a surprise party more than I did,” he told me. I grinned back at him and made my way further into the house.

Everyone at the party made sure to come up and congratulate me on finishing the chemo. It was amazing to have so many people in one place that cared about me. It was one big crazy family and I wouldn’t have given them up for anything in the world.

My parents, who had been in and out of Cole Harbour all summer, flanked me and wouldn’t stop hugging me. Being around them and seeing them like that made me cry, which in turn made them cry. We were a mess in front of everyone, but no one seemed to care.

Brendan, Delia, and Andrew made their way up to me next. I hadn’t seen my brother or his family since I’d left Pittsburgh, and it was great to see them again. Delia looked about ready to pop with their second child. I knelt down to look at Andrew. There was something that I needed to do.

“Thanks, Andrew,” I told him. He looked at me funny.

“For what?” he asked.

“Being crazy and going on that bus and pulling Sidney off last year. I wouldn’t have met him if it wasn’t for you,” I explained. He smiled at me and gave me a hug.

“You’re welcome,” he replied.

I continued to make my rounds and made sure to talk to everyone that was there. When I finally got to Mario and Nathalie I almost broke down. It meant a lot to see them there because they knew better than anyone what I had gone through. I also knew that if it hadn’t been for Mario, I don’t know that I would have gone through with any of it.

“Thank you for coming to see me that day in the hospital. I might not be here today celebrating if it wasn’t for you,” I thanked him. He just smiled and hugged me.

“I didn’t do anything. If you were that easy to persuade, you would have done it anyway.” I laughed at him and thanked him again.

“Tanner, it’s time for surprise number 2!” Hailey, who had flown in from Anaheim, called out.

I made my way over to her, unsure of what this surprise was going to be. I, along with many of the people in the house, followed her and the other girls down to the basement. I hadn’t been down there much and I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be down here. What I saw when I reached the bottom of the stairs made my jaw drop. I had my very own wine cellar, which I’d always wanted.

“Are you kidding me?!” I shrieked excitedly.

“It’s our gift to you. We all pitched in,” Kelly told me.

“We know that there’s only one bottle of red wine in there right now, but we wanted you to pick out your collection,” Lisa continued.

“Even so, we had to get you one. We wanted it to represent the last six months,” Grace threw in.

“You’ve been through hell and back and you survived. You fought cancer and kicked it’s ass. We hope every time you look at this bottle you remember that you have people that love you and admire the strength you possess,” Hailey finished.

By the time they were done talking I was crying again. I thanked them over and over as I gave them each hugs. I had the most amazing friends in the world. That bottle was going to forever remain intact. I was never going to open and drink it.

When I’d composed myself I made my way back upstairs and continued to hang out with everyone. Dinner was catered and I even managed to stomach a fair amount of it. It was probably the most I had eaten since I’d started the chemo. It made me realize exactly how much I’d missed food.

After dinner almost everyone stuck around. It separated like it normally did into girls in one room and guys in the other. It was nice to see all of the girls again. I hadn’t seen most of them since we’d left Pittsburgh and we had a lot of catching up to do. It got to be pretty late, and I was grateful I didn’t have class the following morning. When the last few left, I turned to look at Sidney.

“I can’t believe you did this for me,” I said to him.

“Like I said before, you deserved it,” he replied. I wrapped my arms around him and rested my head on his shoulder.

“I’m one lucky girl to have someone like you in my life.”

“And I’m even luckier.” I stretched up to kiss him and then yawned. “Tired?”

“Not exactly,” I told him with a wink. He picked up on the wink immediately and laughed. He lifted me into his arms and carried me upstairs. This really was officially one of the best days of my life.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chapter 43

I know, I know, the little bit about Ryan Whitney isn't so true, but I couldn't help it. Since in this story I refused to trade him at trade deadline, and I wanted to keep things as real as possible as far as the team was concerned, I had to get him to Anaheim somehow.

I got off the plane and made my way to passenger pick up. As soon as I walked outside I heard a car horn start blaring. I turned and saw Grace’s grinning face looking out at me. She bolted out of the car and threw her arms around me in a hug as she squealed in delight. After the greeting we got into the car and headed for her new apartment.

After the Stanley Cup had come to Cole Harbour it had been time to start packing up. Classes at Duquesne were starting just two weeks after and Sidney had Olympic camp the same week. We decided that I would stay with Grace during that time. When he was done he’d meet me in Pittsburgh and we’d move into the new house.

Grace, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, had gotten a job there and decided to stay. Of course, Jordan had factored into that decision. They were still going strong. Kelly was also still in the city working. Lisa was just half an hour away. Hailey was the only one who had left the Pittsburgh area. Ryan had signed with the Anaheim Ducks in the off season and he’d asked Hailey to go with him. She’d agreed and was across the country from us.

“Nice place,” I told Grace when we walked into her apartment.

“Thanks! Your room’s back here.”

She helped me unpack some stuff as we talked and caught up. I was tired from traveling so we decided just to stay in and order food that night. Lisa and Kelly also came over and we laughed and watched movies all night until I was too tired to stay awake any longer. Even though we’d only been apart for just over a week since they’d left Cole Harbour, it was good to see them.

“So when am I going to see this new house of yours?” Grace asked the next morning. I shrugged.

“I don’t have a key,” I told her sadly. I was dying to see it again.

“Yes you do. Sidney sent one with the stuff he shipped,” she told me. I smiled and rubbed my hands together greedily.

“Let’s go whenever you’re ready.”

She let out a yell of excitement and rushed to get dressed. Not really feeling up to dressing I put on a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt and simply wrapped a scarf around my head. We got into Grace’s car a little while later and I gave her the directions. I smiled as we pulled into the driveway.

“Wow,” she said looking at it. I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face at her simple comment. It was only the second time I was seeing it myself.

“I know, right?” We stood in the driveway just looking at the exterior for a minute. I was actually going to be living here.

“Are you the new neighbors?” a woman’s voice called out, interrupting my thoughts. We both turned to see a woman who looked to be in her 40’s despite obvious desperate attempts to remain young looking.

“I am. This is just a friend. I’ll be living here with my boyfriend,” I told the woman who was now standing in front of us in my driveway.

“Oh, how nice. I’m Patty,” she introduced herself.

“I’m Tanner, and this is Grace. It’s nice to meet you,” I returned.

“Have we met before? I feel like I recognize you,” the woman questioned.

I looked over to Grace wondering how exactly I should approach that question. She might have seen the news segment with Sidney and recognized me from there, but if that wasn’t it, I didn’t want to blow mine and Sidney’s cover too soon.

“We haven’t met, no,” I responded. She continued to stare at me. I struggled to think of something else to say, but Patty’s eyes suddenly lit up.

“I saw you on the news a couple months ago! You’re Sidney Crosby’s girlfriend!” I just smiled and nodded. “Wait, you said you were moving in here with your boyfriend. Sidney Crosby is going to be my neighbor?”

“Yeah, he’ll be back here in just over a week,” I told her.

“I just can’t believe it. My beautiful daughter Tamara has such a crush on him. She’s in school at Pitt. She won’t believe it when I tell her! You two will have to come over for dinner when he gets to town and meet her!” Patty exclaimed. I saw Grace cover her mouth, trying to conceal the snort of laughter. I bit back a laugh as well.

“We will do that. It was really nice meeting you, Patty, but I should get inside and start figuring out what we’re going to do with the place.”

“Of course! See you soon!” Grace and I watched as Patty made her way back to her own house before walking into mine.

“My beautiful daughter has such a crush on him!” Grace imitated in a nasally pitch once the door was shut.

“Do you think she’ll mention me when she tells her daughter?” I asked.

“Not a chance. That woman is obviously a trophy wife who’s going to try to pawn off her daughter as the second generation trophy.”

“Oh, God, Grace, how I missed you,” I said with a laugh.

Even though I was laughing and joking about it now, I filed it away as something to watch out for. I mean, really, how necessary was it to mention that your daughter was beautiful when telling me that she had a crush on my boyfriend? I suddenly wished I’d put on something a little nicer and one of my wigs before I’d come here. Great, Patty had made me self-conscious. Just what I needed.

I gave Grace the tour of the house. She was in awe over it and joked that she could move in and we’d never see her. It wasn’t that big, but it made me laugh. Once the tour was over we started going room to room and deciding on possible color palettes and types of furniture.

Sidney had told me to go ahead and start doing whatever I wanted with the house before he got there, but I didn’t want to do that to him. Instead Grace and I took the notes we’d taken and started going to furniture and home goods stores to look around. Ideas were really shaping in my head and I was anxious for Sidney to get here so we could start making the house ours.

Meanwhile I talked to Sid numerous times a day. I knew he was worried about not being around me and that was why he called so often, but I assured him that everything was fine. I directed most conversations towards the house to keep him from worrying as much as possible. He seemed to agree with my ideas which made me happy, but I still didn’t want to do anything until he could see what I meant.

Less than two weeks later I was sitting in a private room with Mario at the airport waiting for Sidney’s arrival. We were staying with the Lemieux’s until the house was finished and we could officially move in. I was anxious to see Sid again and when the door opened and his smiling face walked in I jumped out of my seat and ran into his arms.

“Hey, baby,” he greeted me as I hugged him.

“I missed you,” I mumbled into his neck. He pulled away from me and kissed me.

“I missed you too.”

He greeted Mario and we were escorted to the car to head back to the Lemieux’s. Once there we hung out with the kids who were very excited to see Sidney again. I didn’t mind at all and actually enjoyed Sid’s interaction with them. It made me realize what a great father he’d be someday. After having dinner and hanging out some more we both went up to bed.

“It’s so good to see you again,” Sidney whispered as I cuddled up to him in bed.

“I know what you mean,” I responded.

We laid there in silence for a while, just enjoying being with each other again. My mind started to wander, and what Taylor had said to me earlier in the summer creeped back in. I’d avoided talking to Sidney at all about it, but it needed to be discussed and now seemed as good a time as any.

“You know I love you, right?” I asked nervously.

“What’s going on?” he asked, sensing that something wasn’t right. I turned my eyes up to his and sighed before pulling away and sitting up.

“Taylor said something this summer that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about,” I started. He sat up and gave me a look that told me to go ahead. I took a deep breath before continuing. “She told me she couldn’t wait until she could call me her sister.” I paused and waited for Sidney’s response. He simply lifted an eyebrow.

“And?” he prompted. I looked at him incredulously. Seriously? That was his response?

“You don’t think we should talk about that?” I asked.

“Talk about what? The fact that my sister likes you?” he returned. Had he missed the calling me her sister part?

“No, the part where she said ‘sister,’” I explained. His expression didn’t change.

“And?” he asked again. I got frustrated.

“I can’t marry you!” I blurted out, then wanted to smack myself. Really, Tanner? His eyes opened wide in surprise and he looked taken aback.

“I’m sorry, when did I propose?” He shifted uncomfortably in the bed.

“Well, you didn’t, but Taylor-“

“Taylor was probably just telling you that she liked you and hoped that someday you’d be the one I’d marry. I had nothing to do with that.” I felt my face turn red in embarrassment and then Sidney started to laugh at me.

“Why are you laughing?” I questioned him, mortified by bringing up marriage at all to him.

“Because you’re so goddamn adorable when you get embarrassed and your face turns the color of a tomato.” I narrowed my eyes at him and slapped him lightly on the arm before leaning back against the bed and crossing my arms over my chest.

“You’re a jerk,” I mumbled. He composed himself before speaking again.

“Tanner, I love you. My friends and my family love you. Despite all that we are only 22. I’m not ready to get married and based on your outburst, neither are you. Right now I’m just enjoying having you as my girlfriend. Let’s just worry about getting you healthy, graduated, and started in your dream career before we even worry about marriage,” he suggested. I smiled despite my embarrassment and rested my head on his shoulder.

“That sounds good to me.” He lifted my head up so that I was looking at him.

“I do want it to be you, you know,” he told me. I smiled up at him.

“You better,” I replied. He smiled back and kissed me before we settled back down into bed.