Friday, June 26, 2009

Chapter 33

Hey guys, not sure when I'll get my next update for any stories up. My grandmother just passed away. Since there's not any service until the fall I'm not going home. Instead I'm halfway across the country from the rest of my family dealing with it on my own. Needless to say, I'm not exactly in a writing mood. Since I already had this chapter written I thought I'd put it up. It's kind of a nice distraction coming on here and reading all the other stories, even if it's only for a short period of time.

I was there for games three and four just like every other home game except I cheered harder and louder as the boys pulled both games out. I knew that if the Pens won the cup it’d be much easier for Sidney and I to reconcile than if they lost.

The girls all piled into our house, that we had to extend the lease on until mid-June, to watch game five in Detroit. We watched with heavy hearts as they lost 5-0. They just couldn’t seem to get anything going. Vero gave me a ride over to the Lemieux’s after, and I waited for Sidney just like I’d done after all the other road games.

“Hey,” he said dejectedly when he walked into his room later that night. I gave him a small smile.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. He sat down next to me on the bed and placed a kiss on my forehead.

“Not great, but I told you before. We’re going to win.” I saw the determination in his eyes and I didn’t doubt him.

I chewed on my fingernails and fidgeted in my seat all through game six. I willed them to win from up in the box. Marc put on a show in net helping them tie up the series and send it back to Detroit for game seven. I knew what I had to do and asked for help from the girls when I got downstairs.

Two days later I said goodbye to Sidney as he got into his car and drove to the airport. On the outside he looked confident, but I could see the nervousness in his eyes. I wished him luck and then made my way inside to finish up what I needed to do.

Three hours later I was on a plane with the rest of the girls and families. The Penguins organization had set up a second chartered flight for the families of all the guys to go to the game. I hadn’t told Sidney I was going. He hadn’t asked me to, because of what happened the last time, and I wanted to surprise him. His family laughed when they saw me walk up. Only Grace and Hailey had known I was going.

Sidney sat in the locker room going through his usual routine. It was quieter today than any other day he could remember. Guys were so focused that there weren’t many conversations going on. Sidney skated out onto the ice for warm-ups and immediately felt something different than every other game in Detroit.

He couldn’t quite explain what it was. For some reason, he just felt Tanner. He knew she wasn’t there because she couldn’t travel, but he felt like she was there with him. He let himself smile as he did a lap around the ice. He knew it as much as he knew he loved her. They were going to win.

I sat in the crowd surrounded by the other girls. It was the first time in a long time I’d been out in the crowd. I sat nervously between Grace and Vero, clasping both of their hands in mine as we watched the team warm-up.

I knew that out of everyone, Vero was the most nervous. People had been all over Marc in each of the losses saying he’d played poorly. I knew what she was going through just as she knew what this game meant for Sidney and I. Because of that we’d stuck close together the entire trip as moral support for the other.

We all watched nervously as the first period came and went without any score. The second period started much differently. It didn’t take long for Max to put a puck in the net and we all jumped up in unison, hugging each other in excitement. Not long after my joy turned into horror as I watched Sidney get hit and immediately hunch over in pain.

My hand flew up to my mouth as I watched him struggle to get over to the bench and off the ice without being able to put much pressure on his left leg. My heart pounded as I hoped that it wasn’t anything serious as tears filled my eyes.

“He’ll be okay,” Vero whispered to me as I watched him make his way down the runway and into the dressing room. This wasn’t how I’d imagined his game seven.

He didn’t play another shift in the second period, but Max scored again which energized us all even more. I felt a mix of emotions as the period ended. Not long into intermission I felt my phone vibrate and saw that I had a text. It was from Mario.

“It was his knee. He’s trying to numb it to play in the third, but we’re not sure how it’ll hold up. Just wanted to let you know it wasn’t anything too serious.” I let out a sigh of relief as I showed the text to the girls.

I watched him skate out to the ice before the third and I could tell that he was in pain. He just didn’t look like himself. Eventually he took a shift but it didn’t last long, and he didn’t play again. I knew that no matter what, sitting on the bench instead of playing in the third period of game seven was the hardest thing he’d ever have to do.

It became even harder when Detroit scored towards the end of the period. Vero clung to my hand the rest of the game, tensing up at every shot and cheering for every save Marc made. We all watched in horror as Lidstrom got the puck on his stick with just seconds left and an empty net in front of him. Somehow Marc dove over and made the save and we all jumped up in elation as the time ran off the clock.

While Detroit’s fans stood around us, stunned, we jumped up and down and exchanged hugs while screaming in delight. Tears streamed down all of our faces as we watched the guys celebrate winning. We watched as Geno was named MVP and then my smile grew as I watched Sid skate over to lift the Cup.

The girls made their way towards the ice to congratulate the guys, but feeling the effects of the day I chose to head towards the locker room and find a place to sit while I waited for Sidney. Not long after the team began to file back along with the families. Jordan wrapped me up in a sweaty hug when he saw me.

“What the hell are you doing here?!” he yelled at me, with that boyish grin he always had on his face.

“I wanted to surprise Sidney,” I explained.

“Well, he’s bombarded with the media right now. Come in and celebrate with us!” he ordered. I smiled and followed him and Grace into the locker room.

It was mayhem in there. Champagne was being sprayed everywhere. People were yelling and hugs were being given out. I congratulated each guy when I saw them. I had a seat somewhere and the guys took turns making sure that I was safe from any sort of mishap that might happen.

At some point I felt my phone vibrate again. I looked at it and saw that Sidney was calling. I stood up and saw him standing in front of his locker, the phone pressed to his ear. I giggled at the situation before answering the phone.

“Congratulations!” I exclaimed into the phone. I watched as Sidney’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“Thanks! It’s loud where you are,” he commented. I stifled a laugh.

“What can I say? Everyone’s pumped,” I told him.

“Fucking rights, boys!” Matt Cooke yelled out while standing right next to me. I watched Sidney’s confused expression change to one of sudden understanding. His eyebrows shot up and I watched him begin to search the dressing room.

“Tanner, where are you?” he asked. Just as he asked, his eyes fell on me and his smile grew. He dropped his phone and ran over to me, picking me up and swinging me around.

“Surprise!” I yelled, laughing.

“Baby, what? How?” I grabbed his face with my hands.

“Just kiss me,” I demanded. He smiled and did just that.

We were separated for just a little while on the flight back to Pittsburgh that night. I was sure the guys’ plane was rowdier than ours, but we were having a good time too. When we landed we joined back up. The guys were ready for an all-nighter, and surprisingly I felt up for it. I guess that’s what adrenaline born from elation does to you.

We were out all night partying and celebrating. I’d never experienced anything like that and I hoped that the feeling wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. When we were finally exhausted we took a cab back to the Lemieux’s and passed out as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

“So, are you coming to the parade tomorrow?” Sidney asked me after getting home from a team meeting on Sunday.

“You’re not serious.”

“Of course I am. All of the girls are coming. You can ride in the car with us. It’s going to be Marc and I so you’ll have Vero along,” he told me.

“And you think it’s a good time to be telling the world about me?” I asked. He smiled and kissed me.

“Relax, it’s a truck. You can ride in the cab. We’ll leave the window between the cab and the truck bed open so we can talk to you. We’re just going to be waving at the crowd anyway. Then there’s going to be a stage set up and a bunch of the guys are going to talk, thank the fans. Stuff like that. At that point, the girls are just going to hang back,” he explained.

“You make a good case,” I said, starting to give in.

“I really would like you there, but I’ll understand if you say no.” I smiled and kissed him.

“I’ll go. I wouldn’t want to miss this.”

The next day I got into the truck and couldn’t take the smile off of my face as we rode through the streets. While Sid and Marc waved at the crowd and took turns holding the Cup I just observed everything going on around me. Once in a while Vero and I would comment on something through the open window, but most of the ride was spent just taking it all in.

I sat down off to the side of the stage in the shade and watched the guys give speeches afterwards. The city had come out in full force to support the team and celebrate with the guys. When it was over, Sidney and I headed to the Lemieux’s for a nap. We were going to need it. The day had only begun. Mario was hosting a party at his place in just a few short hours.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chapter 32

I spent the next two days in bed. On the day of game four I only got up to go to the hospital for treatment. As soon as I was home I got back into bed. I’d pretty much refused to talk to anyone since my talk with the girls after my last conversation with Sidney. I didn’t want to be cheered up or hear any advice. All I wanted was to wallow in bed.

While I had decided in my head that I wasn’t going to care about Sidney anymore if he wasn’t going to care about me, my heart wasn’t listening. As if on cue I found myself wandering out into the living room to watch the game just as it started. I sat there with Kelly and Lisa quietly watching the Pens finish off the Hurricanes while Grace and Hailey were out at one of the other girls’ houses.

When the game ended I got up and went back to bed, ignoring the sympathetic looks on my friends’ faces. I pulled the covers over my head, but held my phone in my hand. Even though Sidney hadn’t called in the last two days I thought maybe he would tonight. I hadn’t yet decided if I’d answer.

I woke up the next morning still clutching my phone. He never called. I couldn’t decide if I was glad or hurt by that. I spent the next few days trying to force myself to think about anything but Sidney. It only worked about 10% of the time. Somehow everything led back to him.

On the night of game one of the rematch between the Pens and the Wings I turned down the invite to go watch the game at Erin’s. Instead I once again stayed home and watched the game with Kelly and Lisa. My heart ached as I watched the Wings take the game.

I figured that if Sidney was ever going to call again, it would be tonight. I knew this time that I would answer, but I didn’t know what I would say. Even if we were on good terms I wouldn’t know what to say. I’d never been very good at that kind of thing. He didn’t call.

The next day I agreed to go with Grace and Hailey over to Vero’s to watch game two. I wasn’t sure why exactly I agreed to go, but somehow I thought maybe it would help. It didn’t. We all sat in stunned silence at the final buzzer. They were down 2-0, and it wasn’t looking good for the guys.

“Are you ready to go?” Hailey asked me.

I nodded and stood up from my position on the couch. Grace and I quietly followed Hailey to her car and got in. She didn’t put on the radio like she usually did, and neither Grace nor I asked her to. As we neared our exit on the highway I suddenly felt panicked.

“Turn around!” I yelled. Hailey hit the breaks in response to the loud sound of my voice breaking the dead silence.

“Jesus, Tanner, what’s wrong?” Grace asked looking back at me from the front seat.

“We need to turn around. Please,” I begged.

“Back to Vero’s?” Hailey asked. I shook my head.

“No. To the Lemieux’s,” I replied. I watched Hailey and Grace exchange looks.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Grace asked, a frown on her face.

“I have to.” She looked back at Hailey. I could tell that they were trying to decide if it was the right thing to do. “I have to,” I repeated, a little quieter this time. Hailey nodded and exited the highway only to get back on, going in the opposite direction.

We didn’t talk the rest of the way. Neither of them asked me why I thought I had to be there when Sidney came home. I wasn’t even sure why I thought I had to be there. They pulled into the driveway and I climbed out and rang the doorbell. Nathalie answered a minute later.

“Tanner?” she said in surprise. I could tell by the look on her face that she knew Sidney and I hadn’t talked in a while.

“How much do you know?” I asked. She smiled sadly at me.

“All of it,” she told me. I nodded and sighed.

“Do you think it’s okay that I wait for him?”

“I think he’d like that,” she said letting me in.

I walked to Sidney’s wing and upstairs to his bedroom. I sat down on his bed and leaned back against the wall. I didn’t know why I was here. I didn’t even know what to say to him when he got home. Would he be happy to see me? Would he want to talk about the other night or would he be more upset over the loss?

I felt a headache forming and reached over to turn off the light on the nightstand in hopes of easing it a bit. Then I sat and waited for him to get home and see what happened.

Sidney was quiet the entire flight back from Detroit. Most of the team was. He couldn’t believe this was happening again. He had to find a way to stop it. He couldn’t let Detroit toss them around for the second year in a row. They were better than that. He couldn’t help but think that if Tanner was there, they’d win. He felt like she was a good luck charm for them.

He got into his car as soon as the plane landed and drove home. He pulled into the driveway and saw that he’d beaten Mario home. He also saw the lights off in the house, signaling that Nathalie was in bed. It was just as well. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone right now.

He dropped his stuff on the floor in his living room, not bothering to put it away tonight. He kicked his shoes into a corner and took off his tie as he made his way towards his bedroom. He just wanted to get changed, get into bed, and go to sleep.

He flipped on the light switch as he entered his bedroom and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw that someone was sitting in the middle of his bed. He felt his heart racing with adrenaline as he realized it was Tanner sitting Indian style and blinking her eyes against the sudden light.

He wasn’t sure what to do or say. His heart and brain were still racing too much for him to think clearly. Instead he stood there with a hand over his heart, trying to catch his breath, and staring at Tanner.

She looked awful, like she hadn’t slept in a week. Her eyes finally adjusted to the light and she looked up at him. The sparkle that was always in them wasn’t there anymore and there were bags under her eyes. She also wasn’t wearing any of her wigs, like she just simply didn’t care anymore. Or maybe it was to remind him of what she was going through.

They remained like that, staring at each other for what seemed like eternity. He wasn’t sure what to say to her. How did you even begin to apologize for making someone you love feel like their life wasn’t worth your time? He wasn’t even sure she was here for an apology. Maybe she was here to end things.

He struggled to find words, any words, to break the silence. She obviously didn’t know what to say to him either. He opened his mouth to say something when he saw a single tear streak down her face. She wiped it away immediately and looked away as if she was embarrassed. It was all the motivation he needed. He quickly moved to the bed and pulled her into his arms.

He half expected her to push him away, but she did the opposite. She clung on to him and started to cry. He placed a kiss on the top of her head and let her cry. When he heard her breathing start to return to normal he released his grip on her a little. She pulled back and looked up at him with bloodshot eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. She bit her lip and looked away. He could see the pain she was feeling in her eyes. “I keep screwing up with you. I just can’t seem to do the right things. I’m completely selfish and I know it. I’ve never had to worry about anyone else before. You were also wrong. You being healthy is the most important thing to me. I’m just terrified. I’m terrified of losing you, so I’ve thrown myself into hockey because it’s the one thing that’s familiar to me right now. I can’t promise you I won’t screw up anymore, because I will. What I can promise you is that I love you and I’m always here for you 100% even if I say or do dumb things that make you think otherwise. You’re the most important thing in the world to me. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

“I got snot on your suit,” she said in response. He couldn’t help but laugh. He laughed so hard he nearly cried. “We’re not fine,” she whispered when he stopped.

“I know,” he replied.

“I’m only here right now because I fully intend on watching you lift the Cup. Otherwise everything we’ve gone through seems pointless. When that’s over we’re going to talk. Until then, I’m just here to support you. Just because I’m mad at you doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving you.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m exhausted. Can we just go to sleep?” she asked. He nodded and got up to change. When he had he got into bed and pulled Tanner into his arms. As he fell asleep he vowed never to take her for granted ever again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chapter 31

Before the series against Carolina started, I was a nervous wreck. They’d just knocked off two of the top teams in the league in the previous two rounds. I wasn’t sure if they had enough left in them to beat the Pens or not.

I sat in Mario’s box next to Nathalie for game one and felt very relieved at the outcome. The same went for game two. I had a good feeling about the series and told Sidney that before he left. The girls all came over to watch game three at our house. When they won and went up 3-0 in the series we all knew they were going to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second year in a row.

“Congrats on the win!” I exclaimed into the phone when Sidney called later that night.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what a relief tonight was. The series may not be over, but we all just know we’re going to win,” he replied. I could tell he was smiling.

“I just hate that you’re going to be gone another three days. It’s boring without you around,” I joked.

“Well, about that. I thought you could fly down for game 4.”

I didn’t respond right away. Was he serious? I couldn’t just fly down when I was in the middle of chemo treatments, could I?

“Sid, I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Why?” Did he really not know?

“I’m in the middle of treatments. I can’t skip out on appointments. Not to mention that I’m not exactly feeling up to traveling,” I explained.

“It’s just one day, Tanner.” He sounded annoyed with me turning him down.

“And what happens if that one day is the worst day of the week for me? What happens if I can’t stop throwing up and my whole body hurts?” I asked. He sighed.

“I doubt that’s going to happen.” I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes, taking a few breaths in the process.

“The point is that it could. I can’t take the chance right now. You know I haven’t felt well lately.”

“Well, maybe this is going to be what helps make you feel better. The weather is beautiful down here. It could be just what you need,” he argued.

“Or I could sit near someone on the plane with a cold. You know that I’m more susceptible to getting sick and I can’t even take anything for it. I’d be miserable if that happened.”

“I just really want you here,” he said.

“You know I want to be there, but I can’t,” I told him firmly.

“Yes you can. You just won’t.” That got me angry. He was trying to lay a guilt trip on me to convince me to go down. I was not okay with that.

“Don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t do. You have no idea what I’m going through and how I feel!” I yelled into the receiver.

“Tanner, it’s one fucking day!” he yelled back.

“For one stupid hockey game that we all know you’re probably going to win!” I retorted.

“Oh, so my career is stupid now? Thanks a lot.” I groaned in frustration and anger.

“You’re really taking things way out of context here,” I growled through clenched teeth.

“You called the game that could put us back into the Stanley Cup finals stupid! How exactly am I taking that out of context?” he questioned angrily.

“There are more important things in life than you making it to the Stanley Cup finals, Sidney.” I could feel a headache forming and tears building in my eyes.

“This is my life! It’d be nice if you cared, just a little,” he yelled. I wanted to take a minute and calm down before responding, but that’s not what happened.

“I care. I care so much it hurts. Unfortunately I have a life too. I have cancer! I’m in constant pain and my life is on the line! Don’t you even pretend that lifting some fucking trophy is more important than my life!” I screamed.

I paused, waiting for a reaction. I could hear background noise on his end, so I knew he was still on the line, but he wasn’t responding. He didn’t say a word. Then I understood, and my stomach dropped.

“Unless it is. Unless that trophy is more important to you than my life,” I said quietly, realization hitting me like a freight train.

“Tanner, come on,” he started. It was too late. The tears were already streaming down my face.

“I’m going to go. I have things I need to do. I wouldn’t bother calling back. You probably won’t get through.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I hung up the phone. The next thing I did was turn it off. I didn’t want to hear his voice right now, or read anything he may write in a text. Nothing he could say would make me feel any better. If he didn’t care about me, I wasn’t going to care about him.

“Fuck!” Sidney yelled as he hung up his phone. He dialed her number and heard it go straight to voicemail. “Fuck!” he yelled again.

“Everything okay?” Flower asked poking his head in the door that Sidney hadn’t fully closed.

“No everything’s not okay,” Sidney growled at him.

“Is Tanner okay?” he asked, worry in his face.

“She’s fine. Unfortunately our relationship isn’t,” he sighed, leaning back to rest his head on the headboard of the bed behind him. Marc walked into the room and shut the door behind him.

“What happened?”

Sidney didn’t know where to start. At what point had he turned into an asshole? That conversation had gone from good to bad in no time and he wasn’t sure where he’d screwed it up.

“She thinks that winning the cup is more important to me than her surviving cancer,” he told Marc.

“How did that happen?”

Sidney told him about the entire conversation. Marc listened and then shook his head at him. Sidney didn’t even allow him time to tell him what he’d done wrong. He already knew. He never should have pushed Tanner to fly down. He’d tried to guilt her into it, and upset her. Then he threw her concerns about her health aside and thought only of how angry he was about her choice of words. Of course Tanner hadn’t meant his career was stupid. He was an asshole.

Marc talked to him a bit longer before leaving for the night. Sidney tried Tanner’s phone a few more times with no success. She’d obviously turned it off for the night. It was a good thing they had an off day tomorrow, because he knew he wasn’t going to sleep well.

He woke up the next morning after tossing and turning most of the night feeling both upset and exhausted. He met the guys in a conference room set up for a private breakfast in the morning, but didn’t join in conversation. He’d tried Tanner’s phone again when he’d woken up, but it was still off. That’s when he noticed Jordan texting on his phone.

“Hey, Staalsy, can I borrow your phone for a minute?” Jordan gave him a strange look.

“What’s wrong with yours?” he asked.

“Nothing. I was just wondering if I could use it to call Grace?” he asked. Jordan narrowed his eyes at him.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he told him.

“Why not?”

“She’s really pissed off at you after your conversation with Tanner last night,” Jordan explained.

“Just give me the phone!” Sidney demanded.

“It’s your life,” Jordan commented, handing it over. Sidney scrolled through Jordan’s contacts until he found Grace’s number. The phone rang a couple times before he heard her voice.

“Hey, sweetie,” she greeted cheerfully.

“Grace, sorry, it’s Sidney,” he said into the phone. He half expected the line to go dead. After hearing Grace’s response, he almost wished it had.

“What the hell do you want?” she asked him, venom dripping from each word.

“I wanted to talk to Tanner,” he explained, hopeful. She laughed, but without humor.

“Not gonna happen,” Grace told him.

“Please, Grace. I need to apologize. I really screwed up last night.” He hated admitting that he was wrong, but in this case, he really was.

“Yeah, you screwed up, but you’re going to need to give her more than an apology.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. He’d do anything if it meant making Tanner realize that her life mattered to him more than anything else in the world.

“Right now she’s questioning whether she should have ever taken you back when she woke up from the coma. She loves you, Sid, so much it hurts. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s done nothing but put you first, even after she found out about the cancer. She knows that as long as you’re playing hockey, it is going to come first to you and she’ll be second. Even so, she thinks that while she supports you all the time, you can’t find it in yourself to support her,” Grace explained.

“That’s not true. I’m there for her every chance I have,” he argued.

“You sure have a funny way of showing it. If you can’t support the decisions she makes about her health and her life without being upset about it inconveniencing you, than why should she expect you to support the decisions she makes about her future and her career?” Grace asked.

“I know I was a jerk last night. I didn’t mean the things I said. I can’t believe that she thinks winning the Stanley Cup is more important to me than her life.”

“Deep down she knows that’s not true. It doesn’t matter. She’s an independent person who’s always done what she wants. Ever since she met you she’s done what you want. She was fine doing that until she felt that you’d never give any of that back to her. To her, it’s always going to be about you.”

“It’s not, Grace. I swear it’s not going to be like that.” He couldn’t finish what he was saying. She cut him off.

“If that’s true then you need to leave her alone. Don’t call her, don’t text her, don’t come over until you can put her first. She doesn’t deserve to be second place when she’s fighting for her life. Just leave her alone until the day when you can make it all about her and not at all about you. Unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.” She hung up before he had a chance to respond.

It hurt to hear the things that Grace said, but they were all true. Hockey had always come first to him. Tanner had never tried to change that. She’d even understood. The problem was that he’d taken complete advantage of her. Now he was on the verge of heading back to the finals and he didn’t have the one person that he really wanted there. He wasn’t sure he’d ever have her there again.