Eeek! Back to school which means I will be disgustingly busy again (and that's why it's taken me so long to crank out a chapter). The posting will probably slow down but I hope to at least post once or twice a week.
Side note: You guys are simply fantastic! Every day I keep seeing the number of readers increase and all of your comments have been so supportive. Hope you guys enjoy this chapter! I agonized over this so well, let me know if it's good or bad. (seriously because it might be bad).
The days following my confrontation with Geno passed by quickly. Thankfully he wasn't the only guy that I worked with and my days rapidly filled with writing press releases, statements and generally doing what I did best: directing people in what to say and do.
The work was a thankful distraction from my own doubts and insecurities- especially since Peter had gotten a hold of my work line and had been persistently calling and sending flowers. The last flower , a lovely set of a dozen tulips, had ended up as a collage of broken glass and scattered flowers in the parking lot outside of my office window.
I had taken a picture of it and sent it as a text message to Peter letting him know that the lovely arrangements were just going to waste. It really was a pity though because I loved flowers- I just didn't want them to come from him.
Even though I knew that I needed to be the bigger person and just ignore his advances, I wanted to hurt Peter as much as he had devastated me- even if it was in small, harmless ways like tossing a flower arrangement out the window.
I left the office early intending to go home and spend more time putting my apartment in order. It had taken me forever to really move in and start decorating simply because I couldn't decide where things should go or what I actually wanted to keep.
In my haste to get out of New York, I realized later that I really had packed up my entire life and this included things that were part of the life I had shared with Peter. Most of my evenings in the past 2 months were spent sorting through all of the things that I still wanted to keep and getting rid of the things that I couldn't bear to look at anymore.
For instance, what had made me pack up the bedding that we had slept on in our bed? When I was leaving, I had packed up everything that I had bought because I was so angry that I didn't want him to have anything that was mine. But still, bed sheets? Why had I packed up something so intimate and dragged it all of the way to Pittsburgh with me?
Last night I had finished sorting through everything and this evening I planned to take the boxes that I had loaded up to a dumpster in the parking garage of my building. I had considered taking as many items as I could and donating them but for some reason I just wanted everything to be permanently gone. I no longer wanted to be haunted by a relationship that had been built on lies and those physical objects that we had shared were representative of that bad relationship. I didn't want those items haunting anyone else either.
The only thing that I hadn't been able to get rid of was my 4 carat princess cut engagement ring. It was hugely expensive and there had been a time when I hadn't been able to take my eyes off of it just because it was so dazzling. I guess I had never really liked it- a big hunk of diamond sitting on my left hand was heavy and it looked like I had something to prove. Not necessarily how I want to exhibit the love I share with someone.
Now the ring was the coldest-looking thing I had ever seen but I also knew that I couldn't just toss it away. I needed to at least give it back or find someone that I could sell it to. What was the ettiquete on returning an engagement ring anyway? Especially if the guy that bought the ring was a colossal jackass? Do I try to sell it somewhere and use the money on something else for myself or do I give it all back to him? Did he expect me to give it back? I had no idea.
After one very cathartic tossing boxes into a dumpster session and another 2 hours of looking at paint samples at Lowes, I felt like I had made some progress in finally getting my home to where it needed to be. I figured if I painted, then the white walls would no longer feel so empty and I could finally get around to hanging my pictures.
Even though I was still feeling high from de-cluttering my life and making decisions for the better future, I still had to get ready to head back to the arena for the night's game. I had sweet talked my way out of having to be at away games on a normal basis but home games were a must.
Geno had also been having some problems with reporters as of late and a few bad articles had popped up about him thanks to the select reporters actually allowed in the locker room. All of the criticism and the hit his image had taken as a result had my boss David in a tizzy and assigned me to damage control.
I talked to Geno about it but I personally didn't see why he was still so reluctant to take some of the pressure off of Sid and start giving interviews. He was an alternate captain after all and his english had improved remarkably since we had begun our chat sessions. What was still holding him back? Basic selfishness? Since getting to know him, I was sure that he wasn't as shy as people made him out to be. Like my ring ettiquete dilemma, I didn't know the answer to this question either.
Earlier in the day I had called Geno and told him not to respond to anything regarding the recent articles and instead told him that he'd be talking tonight after the game- no matter what. He hadn't been too happy about it but he hadn't argued either- he had only asked me if I was going to be there. I told him yes but I didn't tell him that I wouldn't be there to watch over his shoulder or hold his hand either. He was going to have to grow up and do it himself (although I would be secretly watching from somewhere).
After throwing back on my work clothes, I rushed off to the arena and made it in time to see the puck drop. I looked a complete mess but at least I had made it on time.
"You're panting, is everything okay?" I nodded breathing out a "yeah" to the goalie Marc-Andre's girlfriend, Vero. We had seen each other a few times now from sitting together at games and she seemed nice enough- if not just a little bit flaky. I didn't know why they always got me seats with the girlfriends and wives, I guess it was just because David thought that I would enjoy the female company.
"I was busy trying to pick out paint colors for my apartment and lost track of time" I told her making the effort to be friendly. Where was the beer guy at? And a hotdog sounded really good right now.
"Oh! Wait, you're still decorating?" I nodded even though I knew it did seem weird that I was just now getting around to fixing up my apartment.
"It's taken me awhile to get settled" I told her watching her boyfriend block a shot on goal and turn the puck over to another player. I had the hang of hockey now and found myself enjoying it more and more. It allowed me tune out everything else that was going on in life and focus on the motions of a little black disk gliding between players on the ice. Odd that there was something peaceful about that when hockey was actually a very violent sport. When they weren't fighting or getting slammed into the plexi-glass, it was actually a very graceful sport.
"You know, you should come out with us sometime" Vero stated. I wasn't entirely sure who she meant by "us" though. "It has to be lonely to be in a new city and the girls and I would love to add someone else to our bar nights."
I smiled at her offer and found myself agreeing. She may seem a bit flaky but who was I to judge? Besides, it couldn't hurt to have people to have dinner with once and awhile instead of watching "Clean House" and everything else on the Style network by myself at night.
"Excellent- we'll call you next time we go out."
We continued to watch the game and after finally getting a beer, I sat taking a few notes and composing some ideas of what Geno could say after the game. He needed to focus on not adding to more of the discussion or criticism of his play. This was important and he needed to show the reporters that he was ready to move on. If he loosened up and gave just a few more interviews it would make a difference for sure.
My eyes remained focused on the game as I sipped my beer taking breaks here and there to respond to whatever Vero had said. She certainly was chatty and it was hard splitting my concentration between her and between watching the game and the lone figure that my eyes were trained on.
He was so tall and lanky that it seemed odd to see him bulked up in his gear and even taller from the height of his skates. He had been in a bit of a slump lately and it was obvious from the tension radiating off of his body that it was starting to get to him. He was like a coiled spring on the ice ready to pop unless he ended his scoring drought.
I looked down to jot another note down and a reminder to myself to finish something up at the office when Vero shot out of her seat next to me with the rest of the crowd cheering. I stood up with everyone else in our section just to see what was going on when I realized that he had scored. He circled around the ice quickly and I could tell just by looking at him that his body had relaxed somewhat now.
He looked up and angled his head toward our section and I jolted thinking that our eyes had met. I stood motionless trying to get my heart rate back down to normal from where it had jumped up with me. Realistically, there was no way that he had seen me. He could have just been looking up here at the fans around us but somehow I had the feeling that he had seen me watching him and that our eyes had connected.
Vero nudged me breaking my trance. "What was that?" she asked curiously. I could see the makings of a smile on her face and my body went into full alert mode from seeing that expression.
"What was what?" I asked playing dumb. I possessed the skills of an excellent liar and always had. I could even look people directly in the eyes and lie like it was no big deal. Not entirely sure what that says about my upbringing or character but overall, it was a great skill to have. Especially in situations like these.
"Geno totally gave you a look!" Was that the makings of a squeal that I detected in her voice?
"What? He just scored a goal, that's impossible."
"No, I know what I saw and trust me, I've been around hockey and these boys long enough to know these things by now."
Wait a minute, did that mean that Geno frequently gave these "looks" to other women?
"All of the guys do that when they're trying to impress someone. You my friend just had a goal scored for you."
This of course was ludicrous because that would imply that something was going on between him and I.
"Vero, please. He's a man and he's been in a scoring drought for the past couple of games. He didn't score that goal for anyone but himself." My voice had come out sharper than I intended.
"Ouch. Didn't realize how cynical you were" she smiled at me. I could tell that she was partly joking and partly serious but I wasn't going to take the bait and open up about my torrid past to her. At least not until they got me drunk and stupid.
"Not cynical" I told her brushing it off carefully. "Just wise enough to recognize a situation for what it is-nothing." She shrugged mumbling something about it being my call and we sat down again to watch the rest of the game in silence.
Later I reflected over what she said while watching the boys trudge into the locker room. Despite another late 3rd period goal by Geno, the Pens hadn't managed to hold up against the Rangers. Needless to say, the mood following the boys into the locker room was nasty. I held back blending in with the rest of the staff as the guys filed in and went to their respective stalls.
Part of my reasoning for hanging back was that I wanted to see what Geno was going to do. He was one of the last ones in following in behind the golden boy of the team, Crosby, and I watched as he systematically pulled off his gear and brushed a hand through his sweaty, dark hair.
Him and Crosby nodded to each other and Crosby walked away towel in hand towards the direction of the showers. Then Geno sat down and while I was still trying to figure out exactly what was going on, the pack of journalists were on him within seconds apparently taking his silent cue for permission to ask him questions about the game.
Watching him interview and calmly answer the media questions made me feel strangely proud and another emotion that I didn't care to label. Was it happiness that I was feeling? Then again why shouldn't I be happy? He was doing a much better job of handling interviews on his own and wasn't that why they had brought me to Pittsburgh in the first place?
A loud burst of laughter startled me and I looked over to find Geno and the reporters laughing in my direction. He threw a wink at me over the crowd and continued speaking to one journalist as if nothing had ever happened. Knowing that he was fine and answering their questions like we had practiced, I slipped out of the locker room feeling clausterphobic from the amount of people and body heat circulating around.
"Heading out?" I stopped looking over my shoulder at the sound of my bosses voice.
"Yeah, is that okay? It looked like everything was handled in there and I need to grab some paperwork from my office." Even though I really was on my way up to my office to take some work home with me, I still felt nervous from getting caught, by my boss no less, for leaving early.
"No problem, you've done a great job with him so far so you can afford to leave early." By "him" I took it he was referring to Geno and nodded, wishing that the elevator would hurry up. After a long day, no one liked to stand and make small talk with their boss. It just wasn't a pleasant experience.
"Remember that you're coming on the road with us this week to Washington. I need you to field questions about the Ovie/Sid matchup that the press is already making a big deal about."
Double groan. I hated travelling on the road with the guys. We never had time to explore the cities we were in and it meant eating meals with the rest of the PR team who were all significantly older than me. Plus it meant flying at ungodly hours of the night when I should be home in my own bed sleeping. Not sitting in on a plane with a bunch of men that snored. Loudly.
"Got it" I told him making the attempt to sound cheerful. "I'll meet everyone at the plane on time."
David nodded looking satisfied and luckily for me, was called away by Ray Shero himself leaving me to get on the elevator by myself in peace. The ride upstairs was quiet and the hallway empty as I stepped out onto the tiles and made my way down to my office.
The way everything had been going lately, there were days when I actually reveled in the solitude of being the only one still in the offices at night besides the janitorial staff. The hum of the sweeper down the hall was my company tonight as I switched on some music from my computer and hummed along to Alicia Keys, gathering papers as I went along.
Lost in my own world organizing and shuffling papers around, I didn't hear the door crack open farther as another person joined me in my office.
I didn't notice the other person until I turned around and noticed Geno for the first time since he had stepped inside. Even though my brain registered that it was him, I still had the delayed reaction of screaming and stepping back, almost falling over my chair in the process until he reached out and steadied me with strong hands on my shoulders.
"It's me" he chuckled at the look of terror still on my face. I startled easily, especially when I expected to be alone and now on top of that, I was embarrassed.
"What are you doing sneaking around up here?" I asked unable to keep the anger out of my voice. I had wanted to be here alone. Not with him creeping up on me and scaring the shit out of me.
"I knocked but you no listen" he said simply dropping his hands from my shoulders and putting on an innocent front.
I rolled my eyes too annoyed to even bother correcting his misuse of the english language. Again. "What do you want that couldn't wait until business hours?"
"Why are you mad?" he asked ignoring my question and crossing his arms across his broad chest. Both of us looked uncomfortable in our battle modes as we now glared at each other. My heart was still racing from the combination of still being freaked out from him sneaking up on me and now from being mad at him.
"I'm not mad" I lied meeting his eyes and willing my pulse to steady. His eyes narrowed at me like he didn't believe me and I noticed for the first time that his hair was still wet and pushed under a baseball hat. He was wearing the customary suit that players were required to wear to and from games but it looked like he had gotten dressed in a hurry. The top buttons of his dress shirt weren't even buttoned correctly.
"You lie" he stated simply calling me out on my bullshit. "I'm sorry I scared you."
"It's okay" I said deciding that this wasn't worth holding a grudge against him. I wasn't that childish.
"You're so...what is word?" He gestured like he was trying to come up with the word but I had no idea what he was about to say. I was actually just pleasantly surprised that he had used the combination of 'you' and 'are' together correctly to say anything else. "Tense. You very tense all of the time."
"Tense?" I questioned. "What are you talking about?" I asked genuinely confused.
He chuckled again taking a step forward towards me and resting his hands on my shoulders again. "Yes you are. I feel your shoulders." He kneaded them slightly as if to get rid of the tension residing there. Of course, the feeling of his hands moving against my skin through the fabric of my sweater made me even more tense.
I was having a fight or flight reaction and tried to step away. His hands kept me rooted in place as he stared down amusedly at me. I was glad that one of us found my obvious discomfort funny.
"Try this" he commanded. "Close eyes. Breathe."
"What?" He wanted me to breathe? Wasn't I doing that already?
He sighed as if telling me to shut up. "Just try it. Close your eyes" he commanded again and I complied trying to get my body to relax so he would finally just leave me alone.
Once my eyes were shut, he continued. "Now take breath." I gulped in air. "Now breathe out." I slowly exhaled listening to the sound of his thickly accented voice. "Keep your eyes closed."
I did as he told expecting him to walk me through the process of breathing again. I was starting to feel a little more relaxed as we stood there and he had me inhale and exhale again. His voice was the only thing I was focused on, even drowning out the sound of Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name" playing in the background.
He paused and I could feel the hesitation in him as he stood close to my own body. Just as I was about to open my eyes, I felt his warm lips cover my own and I froze, my body literally stuck on pause from the new sensations that had zapped my body.