Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chapter 57

So this is kind of a short chapter. Like I said last post, it's more filler than anything. It's also going to be the last for this story until after the Olympics. I have to see how they go before I can write the next one.

“You look great. Very professional,” Sidney told me, walking up behind me and catching my gaze in the mirror.

“Are you sure? I’m not too casual?” I asked. He grinned at me and chuckled as he looked at the crisp white shirt, black pants, and flats.

“If you get the job, you’re going to be wearing khakis the rest of your career. You think this is too casual?” he joked. I returned his smile and nodded.

“I can always count on you to put things into perspective. Thank you.” He placed a kiss on the top of my head and turned me around to face him.

“Don’t worry. They’re going to love you. Zack’s already basically told you that they were going to hire you. This is just a formality,” he said, referring to the head zookeeper we’d already met before. I let out a breath and nodded knowing, or hoping, that he was right.

“Okay, I’ll see you before you leave for the game,” I told him. He nodded as I grabbed my purse and resume and made my way downstairs, snatching my car keys on the way.

“Tell the polar bears I say hi!” Sidney called after the closing door. I couldn’t help but smile.

I arrived at the zoo an hour before my scheduled interview time. I figured if I was going to be here already I might as well stop and see the bears for a bit before I went in. I glanced at the other exhibits as I walked by, but didn’t stop until I reached the bears. I leaned on the railing and watched the sleeping forms, not even bothered by the cold January weather.

I went over a few things in my head that I wanted to make a point of saying in my interview. As I did I thought about the possible amazing start that 2010 was going to have. Good riddance 2009, I won’t miss you, I thought. This was a new year, a new start. Things with Sidney and I were perfect, Lulu and Gilly had adapted to our lives well and had made us fall head over heels in love with them, Sidney was officially although not surprisingly going to the Olympics, and I was interviewing for a job I knew I’d love. The year was starting off fantastically.

“How long have you been out here?” I heard someone ask. I looked up to see Zack approaching me with a smile on his face. I glanced at my watch.

“About half an hour,” I told him. He leaned next to me along the railing and nodded as he too looked out at the sleeping bears.

“I always come out here before an interview. The ones worth hiring always stop by and observe for a while before they head into the office. It shows that they really care,” he told me. My smile grew as I took that in. So far so good.

“I would have been here sooner if open hours started earlier.”

“Somehow I know that. Why don’t you follow me back to my office?”

I followed Zack through some doors and to his office. He chatted about things going on with some of the animals along the way and I took it all in. I handed over my resume once I was seated across from his desk and he only glanced at it for a second. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

“I usually start off my interviews by telling people that while working with animals can be fun and rewarding, it is hard work and can be dangerous. I’m not going to give you that speech. You’ve had more than your share of adversity this past year and being dedicated and hard-working is not something I can question you on. In fact, I only have two questions for you. What made you fall in love with bears, and what are you looking for out of this job?”

I was a little taken aback by what he said. I’d been fully prepared to answer questions, list qualifications, and the like. None of that seemed to matter to him. So instead of doing all of that I launched into the story I’d given Sidney about my first trip to the Bronx zoo and seeing the bears. I gave him every detail like I’d just experienced it and I watched him smile as I recounted it.

“As far as what I want out of the job, I just want to help. I want to help conserve not just bears, but any animal I can's existence and habitat. I want to help people be aware of the risks and benefits associated with these animals and help them to see that they can live with them. I want my children to be able to see every animal I’ve had the ability to see in the wild and not just in zoos.”

“The Olympics start in mid-February and last until the end of the month, am I correct?” I knew exactly why he was asking that, and I felt a knot in my stomach. I wanted nothing more than to go with Sidney to Vancouver, but if it meant losing my opportunity at this job I wouldn’t go.

“Yes, that’s correct.” He nodded and thought for a moment.

“Okay, well I’ll take you around the office, introduce you to some people, and get you to HR to fill out some paperwork. I’ll then see you next Monday at 8 am. You can spend until the Olympics shadowing and learning the job. You’ll officially start when you get back from Vancouver.” I couldn’t stop the grin from forming on my face.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Bairstow,” I said, shaking his hand.

“You’re first assignment is to stop being formal and start calling me Zack like everyone else here,” he told me with a laugh as we stood up and made our way out of his office.

He did as he said and introduced me to the people that were currently in the offices. Then he led me over to HR where I filled out all of the information necessary. Despite knowing that I was only interning to start and wouldn’t be getting paid, I walked out of the zoo the happiest person alive. It was starting. My dream was beginning to come true.

I made another stop at the polar bear exhibit to look out over the animals I was soon going to get to know very well. Then I got into my car and drove home to give Sidney the good news. He was asleep when I got there, and I didn’t want to wake him up before the game, so I just watched some TV until I heard him get up and start moving around.

“You’re looking at the new intern at the Pittsburgh Zoo,” I announced when I stepped into our bedroom. He rushed over and lifted me into his arms, kissing me long and hard.

“Congratulations, even though I knew you would be.”

“Well, thank you. I’m glad you were so sure. They even told me without me bringing it up that going to Vancouver with you would not interfere at all, which was my biggest fear.” He kissed me again, obviously just as happy about that news as I was.

“We’re going to celebrate tomorrow night. I’ll take you someplace nice for dinner. How does that sound?” he asked.

“Perfect,” I told him. This year really was starting out with a bang.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chapter 56

So I just want to apologize for this and probably the upcoming chapter. I'm kind of stuck on this story right now. I know exactly where I want it to go, but it's the getting to that point part that's giving me fits. This and the next one will probably be filler chapters just to get to that point. Once again, I apologize!

I walked out of class with an enormous smile on my face. I was free. No more classes, no more papers, no more tests. Well, at least as an undergrad anyway. I stepped outside and paused for a moment to look around at the campus. I’d only be back one more time in a few days to graduate.

I saw other students on campus, some done for the semester, others still with a final to go. Most of them weren’t experiencing the kind of elation I was. Only a small number of seniors were graduating with me in a few days. Most graduated in the spring in May, not in December. I didn’t even know anyone that was. I turned my back on campus and made my way to my car. As I got closer I saw a figure leaning against my car.

My smile only grew at the sight. I knew that figure well. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself at all the people passing him by without a clue, thanks to the low slung cap and nondescript jeans and jacket. I broke out into a run and launched myself into his arms when he saw me coming.

“How does it feel to officially be done with school?” Sidney asked when I pulled away.

“Amazing. Are these for me?” I turned my attention to the bouquet of red and yellow roses.

“No, they’re for my other girlfriend.” I gave him a dirty look. “They said that red and yellow roses together symbolized congratulations. Since I can’t be here for your graduation, I wanted to give them to you now.” I took the roses from him and inhaled the scent. Then I tipped my head up and pressed my mouth to his.

A few months ago I would have been upset, even angry, about him missing my graduation, but not now. Of course it was disappointing that he’d be in Philadelphia instead of in the crowd, but it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t make the schedule, so there was no reason to be angry with him. Just knowing that I felt that way showed how much I’d matured in this relationship recently.

We parted ways, just for a little while, to drive home. Upon reaching it, we fell into a routine we were sure to do a few hundred more times. Sidney sat down next to me on the couch with his laptop on his lap as I flicked through channels. A little bit later he shut the laptop and headed upstairs for his pre-game nap. Two hours later he emerged dressed in a suit and gave me a kiss goodbye before leaving for the rink.

Once he left I made my way upstairs to get into the shower. I spent the next hour after I was out getting dressed, doing my makeup, and then my hair. I put on my jacket and grabbed my purse just as a car horn sounded from the driveway. I hopped into Vero’s car and we headed in to the rink together.

All the girls cheered at the end of the game when the Penguins destroyed the Flyers 6-1 in the first of their home and home. I grinned and clapped at Sidney’s first star selection and then we headed downstairs to wait for the guys. When I walked into the room I saw all the banners and balloons littering the walls.

“Congratulations!” everyone called out when I walked through the door. I couldn’t help but laugh and thank them for their thoughtfulness. I had no idea where I’d be without these girls.

Two days later I walked across the stage to accept my diploma. When the ceremony ended I was met with my friends, including Hailey who had flown in, and my parents and brother. Hugs were given out liberally before what must have been a million pictures were taken.

We all made our way back to my house where my mom cooked a large dinner for everyone and we spent the night watching the Penguins beat Philly in a shootout, with Sidney getting a goal. He was the only thing missing from my day, and I missed him and wished he was there. Unfortunately I knew it wouldn’t be the last time he wouldn’t be around for me on a big day.

A couple of days later he was home from his short road trip. We spent all of his off day decorating the house for Christmas. We’d decided that because they didn’t have a long break to just have our families come to Pittsburgh to celebrate. It was the first time for both of us to decorate a house for the holidays and I pretty much dragged him all around the city to buy decorations.

It took two days and a little help from some of the guys to get all the decorations up. When we had finally finished I collapsed back onto the couch and looked around me. The whole house looked so festive, and I loved it. Even so, I was tired, and fully planned on spending the rest of the day lounging lazily on the couch. Unfortunately, that wasn’t Sidney’s plan.

“Get up, we have somewhere to be,” he told me. I gave him a strange look, not having a clue what he was talking about.

“Where do we have to be?” I asked. He just shrugged and pulled me up off the couch by the hand.

“You’ll see,” was all he said. I narrowed my eyes at him. He knew I hated surprises and yet he was always surprising me.

“Wait, should I change?” I checked when I watched him grab his car keys. I glanced down at the lululemon pants and zip-up I was currently wearing. It wasn’t exactly my ideal outfit to be traipsing around Pittsburgh in.

“No, that’s fine. You probably don’t want to dress up more than that,” he told me. Now I was really confused.

“Are you taking me to the gym?” I questioned, less than enthused as I followed him to the garage and got into the car. He simply laughed at me and shook his head.

Despite my millions of questions, pressing for any information on where we were going, he remained tight-lipped and wouldn’t tell me. I tried to figure it out based on the route we were taking, but I was simply lost. The streets we were turning down made absolutely no sense to me. That was until he pulled into the parking lot and came to a stop.

“Are we getting a dog?!” I exclaimed excitedly when I saw the shelter looming in front of us. He laughed and nodded.

“You’ve been saying you wanted one, and with you just graduating and it being Christmas I thought we could pick one out,” he explained. I clapped my hands together excitedly before leaning over to hug him.

“Have I told you how much I love you lately?” He simply laughed at me again and led me inside. Thankfully Sidney had had the sense to bring me to the shelter to pick up a homeless dog rather than suggest going to a breeder. Pure bred dogs were so much more likely to find a home than a mutt at the shelter.

We were led back to the kennels where the dogs were being held. I hadn’t expected it, but the second we walked through the door I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. As I looked down the row of kennels I wondered how I could possibly pick a dog and leave the others. They all deserved good homes.

We made our way down the rows stopping to look at each dog and find out a little about them. Through some long conversations and heart-wrenching decision making I narrowed the dogs down to two. The first was a female black and tan Rottie/Retriever mix named Lulu and the second was a male black and white Border Collie/Shepherd mix named Gilligan.

“How am I supposed to pick between them? Just look at how cute they are!” I whined to Sidney in complete despair. He smiled at me sadly and shrugged.

I continued to make the trek back and forth between the two kennels, looking at both of them, waiting for something to tell me which one I should get. Both of them continued to look out at me with hopeful eyes, wagging their tails each time I approached them, mouths open in a smile. It was breaking my heart.

“Get them both,” I heard Sidney say from behind me. I spun around in surprise.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.

“If you can’t decide, get them both,” he repeated. My eyes went wide and I tried to keep the smile off of my face.

“Are you sure?” I checked.

“Consider Lulu a graduation present and Gilligan a Christmas present.” I let out a squeal of delight and threw my arms around him.

“They’re both under a year old. Are you really sure?”

“Do it now before I change my mind.”

A little while later Sidney and I walked out of the humane society with two dogs on leashes. He dropped me off at the house before running out and getting all the items I wrote down on a list for them. By the end of the night he was complaining about the lack of attention I was giving him because I was only paying attention to the dogs, who were both complete sweethearts.

“What do you think our families are going to say when they get here tomorrow?” I asked as we got into bed that night. Lulu and Gilly, as I’d decided to call him, were in their crates since they weren’t housebroken yet.

“They’re going to think we’re insane for taking on two dogs under the age of 1,” he replied.

That’s exactly what happened with both sets of parents as they showed up at our house the next day. Even so, they seemed to love Lulu and Gilly as much as I already did. The whole family had them outside playing and running around the backyard as Sidney napped before the last game before break.

Christmas went by without a hitch, everyone enjoying themselves over the couple of days Sidney had off. By the time our parents both headed back home I’d already taught both dogs a few tricks and I was starting to work on a few more. It shocked everyone how quickly I seemed to take to being a dog owner.

I’d never been able to have pets before with my family in Manhattan and I was surprised at how complete I suddenly felt having them in the house. Obviously I’d always known I had a love for animals, but until I took in two of them I hadn’t realized just how much they could fulfill my life. I was in love with my new “kids” as I called them and thankfully Sidney was too.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chapter 55

Sidney walked out of the rink and headed to his car. They’d lost yesterday afternoon to the Islanders and were playing the Rangers tonight. He hadn’t played his best game yesterday, and that was probably due to the emotional rollercoaster he and Tanner had been on the day before. Well, maybe all the alcohol contributed. It had been a back and forth fight and make up session. Thankfully everything had been resolved.

Tanner had moved back in yesterday while he was in Long Island. He’d come home to boxes and bags everywhere. To be honest, they hadn’t exactly gotten a lot of unpacking done after he’d gotten home, either. He’d left the house this morning with her still asleep, but he was hoping she’d gotten up and had continued the process.

He drove home with a smile on his face. Even if she still hadn’t finished, he didn’t care. He was just happy that she was home again. November had been a miserable month for him, but things were starting to look up for December. He pulled into the garage when he got home and made his way into the house.

He heard Tanner’s laughter floating into the kitchen from the living room. His smile grew at the sound of it. There was no better sound in the world right now. When he walked in, he saw that she was sitting alone on the couch, with a laptop on her lap, laughing at whatever she was watching. He could hear a faint voice coming out of the speakers, but couldn’t tell what was being said.

“What are you watching?” he asked, making his way further into the room. She looked up at him, and his smile grew even bigger, if that was possible. The sparkle was back in her eyes.

“I just discovered some website called hockeyfights.com,” she replied. His smile faltered and he narrowed his eyes at her.

“And what’s so funny?” He had a feeling he knew the answer.

“I’ve been watching your fights all morning. I realized that I hadn’t seen a single one of the four.” She giggled again when she looked back at the screen.

“How did you find that site?” She shrugged and closed the laptop, placing it on the table in front of her.

“I was bored and just searching around on the internet.” He glanced around at the boxes still sitting in the hallway.

“If you were bored, you could have unpacked some more.” She rolled her eyes at him before standing up.

“Yeah, because that would have been super fun!” she joked sarcastically. He made a face.

“So you chose to laugh at my fights instead?” She made her way over to him with a sympathetic look on her face, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Aw, I wasn’t laughing at you. I thought it was kind of sexy to watch you bloody those two guys.” He looked down at her skeptically.

“Really?” She kissed him in response. He didn’t hesitate in lifting her up off the floor and beginning to carry her towards the stairs.

“Isn’t it a game day?” she asked, pulling away from him.

“I don’t care.” She giggled before kissing him again.

He was done caring about game day rituals and superstitions. If he could keep a routine, then fine, but he wasn’t going to let something small throw off his entire day and night. There were more important things in life. It may have taken him a long time to figure that out, but he knew that now. Better late than never, right?

As I watched Sidney get dressed for the game that night I sent a text to Vero asking her if she could pick me up for the game that night. None of the Penguins girls, except for Grace, knew that Sidney and I were back together, so I started preparing myself way ahead of time. They were going to want details. Sidney kissed me goodbye just as I received a text back from her.

You want to come? Is Grace working late so she can’t bring you?

“Score a goal for me babe!” I called at Sidney’s retreating back.

“I’ll do my best!” he returned with a wave and a wink. I turned my attention back to my phone.

No, she’s not. I’m just home. I didn’t specify which home that was. I knew that she’d know. When I got a message back from her, I saw that she definitely did.

YAAAAAYYYYY!!!!! I’ll see you at 6. We have a lot to talk about!!!!!

I laughed and closed out of the message before getting up and hopping into the shower. Once I was ready for the game I made my way downstairs to wait for Vero. She was on time and I got into the car to see her beaming at me.

“I missed you!” she exclaimed, reaching over to give me a hug.

“I missed you too!”

She backed out of the driveway and headed for the rink before starting up on the questions. I convinced her to let me wait until we got there and saw the rest of the girls so I wouldn’t have to tell the whole story numerous times. We went to our seats, sat down, and I went through the whole thing with all of the other girls.

Without going into too much detail, because as far as I was concerned the reasons for our fight were between Sidney and I, I explained what had happened to all of them. Then I explained how we ended up having it out and resolving everything. Once I’d told them all, they let it go, saying they were just happy we were back together.

I settled back to watch the game with everyone, a genuine smile on my face. I stood up and cheered probably louder than the entire arena combined when Sidney scored in the first. There was my goal. I’d asked for one and he gave it to me.

I would have been happy with just the one goal, but Sidney had to outdo himself. My smile grew as the third period went on as I watched him score his second goal of the game. Then I stood cheering and clapping as hats rained down on the ice. More than normal flew down in an amazing visual, thanks to the free hats given out before the game.

I remained standing for a while as the ice crew got to work cleaning up the mess of hats. I kept my eye on Sidney, watching him smile and laugh with his teammates. Then he turned in my direction and I watched as he placed his right hand over his heart, a smile still on his face. It was a simple enough gesture that most wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but I knew.

You couldn’t have kept me quiet when he skated out to accept being the first star of the game. Anyone who heard me would have thought they’d won the Cup a second year in a row, but I didn’t care. My life was back to normal again, and the love of my life had just played an unbelievable game. There was a lot for me to happy for.

I paced around the family room once I got down there. I just wanted to see him, to congratulate him, to be in his arms. I just wanted it to be the two of us tonight, celebrating, because come Monday my life was over for a couple of weeks.

December was starting, which meant the end of the semester. That meant papers, tests, presentations, anything to finalize the entire semester worth of classes. That was always followed by finals. Until finals were over, my life was going to revolve around school and nothing else. But not tonight. Tonight my life revolved around Sidney.

I watched the door open time after time, only to see other guys come through the door. They all greeted me and told me Sidney would be a while, but I knew that. Finally, the door opened and it was him. He barely had time to see me before I was in his arms. He laughed as he hugged me.

“Well, hello,” he joked. I pulled back and gave him a long, hard kiss, not caring who was left to see it.

“Nice game,” I told him.

“You asked for a goal. I thought three was fair.” I grinned and nodded before kissing him again.

We walked out of the arena hand in hand with matching grins on our faces. I waited impatiently in the car as he signed autographs for fans and good-naturedly talked with them about the hat trick. Finally he was in the driver’s seat and we were headed home. So this was what normal life was like.