When I wasn’t selected for the All-Star Game, I was relieved. I’m sure that’s selfish, as I’m sure there are plenty of people who wish they could go. But I’ve been a few times and it gets old. I was actually thinking about following Sidney’s example. But then they didn’t pick me, and I was looking forward to not having to deal with it, with him, at all for a whole season. And then they announced that “Last Man In” thing and I knew I wasn’t going to escape it. I know the fans think they’re being supportive when they voted for me, but I did all I could, when the reporters asked, to hint that they didn’t have to vote for me, if they didn’t want to. But of course, I couldn’t say that right out, management wouldn’t have liked that. Sure enough, I was voted in. I’d have to go. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the game itself. It can be fun, showing off, hanging out with guys you don’t get to see usually. The problem is that sometimes not usually seeing someone is what’s best for both of you.
Marc-Andre and I never officially dated. We never put a name on it like that. We never actually lived together like that. I take full responsibility, or blame, for that. He tried to be whatever he thought I wanted him to be. The trouble was, I never knew what I wanted. Sometimes I thought I could date him, that we could be a family with his kids and mine. Sometimes I didn’t want him to touch me, the very thought of it made my stomach knot up. It wasn’t him, I kept telling him, that it wasn't him, it was me. It was all me. That wasn’t exactly true. It was Luc.
I fell in love with Luc the moment I met him, in the way that only teenagers can, completely full of passion and romance. The perfect whirlwind. I don’t know if the reality was something else, and I don’t want to remember it any other way. I gave him my whole heart and everything else I could think of to give. We were going to get married someday, raise a family, play side-by-side on whatever team would take us. We were going to win the Cup together. My career went a little faster than his, but that was fine, he told me. If I won it myself, that was the same as both of us winning it, since we were us. He was just as excited as I was during my first playoff run.
May 29, 2008. My whole life is divided into before and after that date. Right in the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals. I didn’t play another game that season after I lost him. I sobbed through the moment of silence they had for him during our next game. I would not have cared less if we won the Cup, but I was glad we didn’t. I didn’t want to win it without him. I didn’t want to play hockey ever again. I didn’t want to do anything ever again. I didn’t know how I was going to breathe again, no matter lace up skates. The Penguins named me rookie of the year, handed me an award named for another French-Canadian player that died at 21. I couldn’t think of an award I wanted less at that moment.
Marc-Andre came to stay with me for part of that summer. We had become friends the season before. He was easy to talk to, and I was thrilled not to have to speak English. I told him I wasn’t good company, but he stayed anyway. I played some of Luc’s music for him, he had been a fantastic guitarist. I cried and he let me. He didn’t talk much, just listened. He helped me survive that summer. I’m not sure if I would have otherwise. I know that I wouldn’t have come back to the team the next season if he hadn’t been there for me. I don’t know if he knows exactly what he did for me that summer, I was too full of my own emotions to thank him.
If he knew what I’d put him through over the next nine seasons, I don’t think he would have shown up that summer. If I had known, I wouldn’t have opened the door, I would have saved him from me. We ended up in bed together that next season, but it wasn’t passion, it was comfort. At least for me. He wanted to stay with me, I asked him to leave. He tried to give me space, I told him I didn’t want to be alone. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, but I didn’t know what I wanted back then. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. He told me he loved me after we won the Cup that season. I wanted to say “I’m sorry”, but I didn’t. I didn’t say anything. He didn’t say it again for years. I’ve never said it to him.
I have to credit Brooks for a lot of the, well, awareness that I gained in the following years. When he caught me getting too introspective or down, he’d give me the same order, “Go fuck the goalie.” More than once, he said it in front of Marc-Andre himself. Brooks has many positive qualities, but subtle isn’t one of them. He was the first one that told me, in his not so subtle way, that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life focused on Luc, because he wasn’t coming back, and I had someone that loved me in the here and now. I got mad at him at the time, said a lot of things that I shouldn’t have, but later came back to tell him that he was right, and I was sorry. He hugged me and told me he already knew that. I’ve had a lot of partners since then, but none that did for me what he did by actually saying those words out loud to me.
So, Marc-Andre and I were together off and on for a while after that. I was never ready to move in, even though he asked me to. It was going fine, his place or mine, sometimes alone. And then James came into my life and caused a whirlwind. As I understand it, James causes a whirlwind every time he starts on a new team. He wasn’t the best decision I ever made, but he wasn’t the worst either. One doesn’t really date James, one experiences him for as long as that lasts. Rumor had it, he had a boyfriend on another team, but he certainly didn’t act like when he was here. If he had stayed on the team longer, I might have been serious about him. But he didn’t and so I wasn’t. And when he left, Marc-Andre was still there. I don’t know why he let me do that to him, but he did.
Two more Cups (only one of which I earned), three kids (two his and one mine), and a whole bunch of All-Star Games later, we knew he’d be heading to Vegas long before the draft actually happened. The Penguins had too many players to protect and not enough spots to do it. He was the odd man out. We decided it was easier for both of us to split as friends. We’d see each other once in a while, when we played, or at events, but it was better if we looked elsewhere in the meantime. I agreed, of course, but I wondered if he’d actually do it. He didn’t while James was around (and I didn’t miss the irony when we found out James would be in Vegas with him). In fact, I had known Marc-Andre to date only one other person, and that was way back when I was with Luc. But I didn’t call him out on it. Distance was going to force it on him.
It wasn’t until the following February that the next whirlwind came into my life. I told people that I wasn’t looking for anything, I was focused on my game and my son. We had just found out we were having another. I kept in touch with Marc-Andre and his girls, but I made sure to keep my distance. I love those girls, but I didn’t want to upset them. I was uncle, and that was fine. I could be his friend, nothing more. I was better off single, at least in that regard, and I told him that. I said I hoped he’d find someone worthy of him in Vegas. He laughed at that, but never did explain why it was so funny.
By the time Derick joined the Penguins, he had three ex-teams and two ex-husbands. The minute you met him you understood why. He was charming and absolutely beautiful. I could see how easily someone could be drawn in by him, but he was capricious at best. Carl warned me as soon as the trade came through. He’d known him in New York, and he said they were friends. He told me it would be better for me to keep my distance, that he wasn’t good for me. It wasn’t my fault we were put together. Management saw QC in the ‘birthplace’ column and handed him to me to show around.
Of course, I wasn’t going to get involved with him, but I could be friendly to the guy. It was nice to hear French around the arena again. I have a lot of good things to say about Sidney, but his French isn’t one of them. And I wasn’t about to walk into Mario Lemieux’s office just to hear my native language. Pleasant conversation in French, that was all, I told myself. So, after his first skate, I invited him out for lunch. I told him I’d show him good places to eat around the city. He accepted and we took my car.
“Were you sad to be traded?” I asked once we were on the road. He sure hadn’t looked upset about it, but people hid things like that all the time.
“I’m annoyed I had to go through all that immigration nonsense. It’s not as if I am coming from Europe, I’m Canadian. Why was it so difficult? I spent three days in Toronto dealing with paperwork, and that made me miss games.” He paused, which gave me time to school my laugh at his absolute exasperation at Canada daring to inconvenience him like that. He shook his head, “You mean the team. No… I don’t think I feel bad leaving. Not this season anyway.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, “What does that mean?”
“I’m not bitter about the playoffs last season anymore.” He flashed a brief grin. “No, you see, last season, I was playing with my ex-husband again, and that was nice. This season, I was left there alone with his new… whatever he is.” Derick shrugged, clearly annoyed with ‘whatever he is’.
I didn’t want to repeat myself, but I couldn’t help it, “What does that mean?”
He looked at me for a moment, “Are you in love with your partner?” He asked, seemingly out of the blue.
I blinked a few times, glancing over to him, “No. Why?”
“My ex—that is, my first ex-husband, he was a defenseman like you.” He shook his head, “No, he was nothing like you, but D all the same. And he fell in love with his partner. We were together for five years in Columbus with no problems, he never looked twice at his partners. But he goes to Ottawa and—” He snapped his fingers, “--meets a Swede.” He scoffed at that, as if it was the most ridiculous thing one could do, in his mind.
“A Swedish defenseman in Ottawa?” I asked.
Derick rolled his eyes, “Yes, that one. His partner. But I was in New York and I had Mats, so the whole thing was just fine with me. At the time.”
There was something about the way he was telling the story that lead me to believe that if I asked his ex, he wouldn’t tell the story in exactly the same order. That was something I’d learn about Derick quickly, no one saw an event the same way he did. And you couldn’t tell him that, because to him, his version was the only true way it happened.
Derick continued, “I loved being in New York. Wonderful city, great team, and Mats was… very exciting. But then I find myself traded to Ottawa where Marc was. Which, if I had to go somewhere, it was nice to have someone. Even divorced, Marc and I are very close. But Mats didn’t like it. And he finds himself with the Swede they traded me for! So that was over. I am really tired of Swedes. Do you have any here?”
I blinked a few times. You do that a lot when Derick tells stories. Rather than comment, I just answered his question. “We have two. Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist.” I made a mental note to keep Derick away from anyone Scandinavian, just to be on the safe side.
“Oh, I know Carl, he’s a good guy. What about the other one? Is he likely to steal someone’s husband?”
I paused a moment before I answered. It wouldn’t do well to introduce Derick to Patric using his nickname, so I made sure I was careful as I answered, “No, I don’t think he would do something like that. Do you have another husband to make that an issue?”
He shook his head, “Just making sure. So, I am in Ottawa and then off Marc goes to Dallas, leaving me alone with his new whatever.” I didn’t know if they were married, but I did know that he’d never call him his ex’s ‘husband’ if his life depended on it. “But that’s all in the past. So, no, I wouldn’t say I’m sad about being traded. Besides, your people say you need me.” I wasn’t sure if he meant the Penguins or me personally and I wasn’t about to ask. He flashed me a smile, but there was something else behind it. Something wicked, something that screamed he enjoyed making trouble and was looking forward to making more here.
I caught his look out of the corner of my eyes and a lightbulb went off. I looked over to him at a red light. “When did you play in the Q?” I asked.
It was his turn to blink at me, “Um… 2003. To… well, I went to Columbus in 2007. Why?”
I nodded, “I thought so. I remember you.”
He scoffed at that, “How could you remember me? We didn’t play together.”
I grinned, putting my eyes back onto the road.
“That’s not fair. What do you mean?” He demanded.
I parked in front of the restaurant that I had picked and turned to look at him, “You caused one of the first fights my boyfriend and I ever had. You--”
He interrupted me, annoyed, “You have a boyfriend?”
I took in a slow deep breath. “Had. He… passed away…”
Derick’s eyes went wide for a moment, but he hid the surprised and backpedaled in the casual and charming way that comes so naturally to him, “So, I caused a fight? How?”
I gave him a little smile, to let him know that the backpedal was successful. It had been almost a decade since I lost Luc, and I didn’t always fall apart at his mention. I had worked hard on that. I gestured that we get out of the car as I replied, “You did something that pissed Luc off. I don’t remember what it was, but probably you scored, or you tried to hit me. That’s what usually set him off. Anyway, he was yelling at you and you were yelling at him, and I was watching it. And according to Luc, I was watching you more than I was watching him. I don’t think I was, but Luc’s jealousy was fun.” I laughed, “I didn’t remember that until just this moment.”
“I’m sorry to say I don’t remember you or him from back then. But I can tell you that you’ve stood out since then. You have nice hair. Though I have to admit, I liked you better with the long hair.” Derick took the seat the hostess directed him to, but I saw a momentary flash in his eyes, and I wondered if he actually expected me to hold his chair for him.
I took the seat across from him, self-consciously running a hand through my hair, “You’re not the first one to tell me that.”
“Am I the first one to tell you in French?” He asked with a grin.
I didn’t look up from the menu, “No.”
We spent the rest of the meal chatting about the city, former teammates we had in common, Canadian bureaucracy, and shop talk in general. Derick flirted as easily as breathing, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I found myself incredibly comfortable talking with him almost instantly. There was something about him that made you feel like you’d known him your whole life after an hour-long conversation. It was very relaxing to be able to chat casually in French again. I paid the check and was just about to ask him if he had a rental car back at the arena.
“Could you take me to my hotel?” He asked. His tone and the slight smile he wore left absolutely no question as to what he meant by that.
I was silent all the way back to my car. By the time I had buckled in, I had convinced myself to stop thinking so hard about it. I could hear Brooks, like a little devil on my shoulder, telling me to go for it. I think I must have laughed, but I didn’t mean to.
“Something funny?” He asked.
I shook my head, “Are you staying at the Fairmont?” Derick was a five-star kind of guy, I could tell already, and that was the best that Pittsburgh had to offer. James had said it wasn’t really a five-star hotel, but he hadn’t stayed there long anyway. I had a funny feeling Derick wouldn’t be either.
He smiled, “I am. You know how to get there?”
I didn’t dare look at him. I could feel the look he was giving me, and I could feel my body already reacting to it. Looking at him would make things happen much faster than I wanted them to. “Yes.” I was answering both the question he asked, and the one I hadn’t answered earlier. I stepped down on the gas harder.
By the time we were in the elevator, he had lost all pretext of coy. He pushed up against me, sliding his hands over my shoulders. He’s only a little taller than me, really a perfect height to kiss, which is exactly what he did. I slid my arms around his waist as his lips descended on mine. Derick did nothing half-way and his kiss proved that. It was all at once passionate and consuming, pure fire and just as dangerous. I slid my hand under his shirt, to touch him skin on skin, and felt rather than heard the purr that elicited from him. It wasn’t fair at all that he could do so much with just a kiss.
We all but fell out of the elevator when the doors opened, and I was grateful to find the hallway empty. All the same, I fought to keep my hands to myself as we walked to his room. No one wanted to be the first one to get caught. I sent a quick text as he unlocked the door.
“Cancelling plans?” He asked with a grin.
“Letting my wife know where I am.” I replied.
He scoffed, “In case you go missing?”
I moved closer to him as the door closed behind us, “In case I don’t want to leave the bed.”
He hooked his fingers in my belt loops, pulling me against him, “Good idea. Because I don’t think I am going to let you leave.”
Any reply and any thoughts I had were swallowed by the kiss. That’s the thing about the way Derick kisses, it takes up your entire mental focus and then some. It’s the way Derick does anything. He demanded to be the center of attention and in the moment, I couldn’t think any reason he shouldn’t be. After a few more moments, I couldn’t think of anything at all. Besides him. Which was exactly how Derick liked it.
We were almost late for his first game as a Penguin.