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.