Thursday, April 15, 2010

71.) On the Road Again

The mood to begin our drive back into Montréal was infinitely more enjoyable than the one during the ride up to Shippagan. When we had driven up to New Brunswick, we were both a little cranky. Mom had interrupted our Valentine’s celebration, which I think had left Jo a little tense and uptight. Then there was the whole meeting-my-mother thing, which I’ll admit definitely didn’t go as well as I had hoped or thought it would. Factor in the uncomfortable conversation we’d had as we left home, and the whole trip had become a recipe for disaster.

But the return journey started in a much more relaxed and pleasant way. It’s like our entire relationship seemed easier and lighter, like any pressure was gone. The expectations of hearing “I love you” had evaporated because now we could both let the words roll off our tongues without fear of the other’s response. It was a good feeling that set the mood for the day.

Even though the trip was going to be long and boring, just like it had been a few days before, the ambiance in the cab of the truck was completely different. We woke up to leave pretty early in the morning, and even though Jo was tired, she promised me that she would stay awake to chat and laugh with me. That way, it wouldn’t feel like I was driving alone for hours on end. We hadn’t stayed up late the night before because I wanted to be well rested for the long drive, so I wasn’t at risk to fall asleep behind the wheel. I think that Jo, however, had a restless night, because she was awake before the alarm went off in the morning. Jo’s never awake before me.

Before we got out on the highway, we stopped for gas and she got coffee, and then we were on our way toward Montréal. Jo, in order to keep her promise, asked me lots of questions, between her long, deep yawns, about what my plans were for the remainder of my break.

“I don’t know, really. Relax. Lie around and do nothing. It’ll take the rest of my break to recover from last night,” I teased, taking my eyes off the road for a split second to glance over at her. I wanted to see her smile at my joke.

“You’re such a wimp. I thought you were professional athlete. I thought you were supposed to have endurance.”

“I do. But I’m supposed to be taking it easy and not exert myself.”

She giggled and then covered her mouth as she yawned once again. “All right, Mr. Lazy Ass. So that’s it? Are you just gonna lie around and have your mom pamper you?”

“Nah. She’ll wanna do stuff. I’ll probably take her out to lunch, take her shopping maybe. Whatever she wants to do.”

“Aww, well, aren’t you just the perfect son.” She yawned again. “Anything else?”

“No, not really.” I paused. As soon as I thought of the other task I had to tackle, the mood soured. “Ugh, I take that back. Gotta talk to Kent. Stupid contract stuff.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” I felt a little weird having this discussion with Jo. It’s no secret, how much money I make; in a salary cap world, all that information gets disclosed. But it was never a conversation topic between us. I wasn’t a flashy, big, superfluous spender, and Jo was just as low maintenance as I was. She didn’t ask me to buy her things or expect it; in fact, I never spent any money on her that I wouldn’t already be spending on something, like rent, bills, or groceries. She rode up on a chartered plane with me and Max that we would have paid for anyway, but she had been the one who booked and purchased the return ticket for tonight’s flight home.

“You don’t sound thrilled about that.”

Shrugging, I said, “Well, it’s not really something I’m looking forward to. I hate having to deal with this kinda stuff, because it takes away my focus from the game. And there’s just so much expectation surrounding the ordeal. I wish it was over with already so I could just know what was happening and get back to the important thing, the game itself.”

“What do you want?” she asked directly.

“Um, I’m not sure what you’re asking me....”

“You’re an RFA this summer, right?” I nodded to answer her question. “So, other teams can make you an offer, and Pittsburgh can decide to match it or not? You’re a right-handed shot, an offensive defenseman, and you’re good, Kris. You’re a good player with a lot of upside. I bet there are more than a couple teams with a hard on at the prospect of getting you—”

“First of all, that’s just gross. Please don’t ever say anyone has a hard on for me, ever, ’kay?” That was a disgusting concept that I never wanted to think about again. Jo giggled, despite our now serious conversation, and nodded. “And second, I don’t know what you’re even getting at.”

“So if a team makes a qualifying offer this summer, what are you gonna do? Are you going to be proactive and take it, that is to say if Pittsburgh won’t match it, or are you just gonna reject it so you can wait and see if Pittsburgh will resign you?”

I didn’t hesitate to tell her, “I don’t even want to get to a point in time where that’s a decision I’ll have to make. The whole reason behind talking to Kent is to see if we can extend my contract so I don’t become a free agent at all. I love playing in Pittsburgh. The Pens drafted me, they gave me the chance to play, the guys are all great, and I want to stay with the team. And besides the hockey aspect, I don’t wanna just pick up and leave. It’s hard enough to go away on road trips, Jo, so I can’t even imagine having to play a whole season barely getting to see you.”

Smiling over at her, I waited for her reaction. No way would I look for a reason to leave Pittsburgh when I had everything I could possibly want here. I’d be crazy to not give up a lot to stay here—hell, a lot of players would give their left nut just to play in Pittsburgh, let alone the fact that I had a great girlfriend to keep me warm at night.

But she didn’t smile back. She didn’t even look at me. I didn’t get it. “What?”

“Kris, you know that I just want what’s best for you.”

“I know you do, and I love you for it.”

“Then promise me that you won’t let me hold you back from anything.”

Now I was really confused. “Hold me back? From what? You’re not—”

“What if staying in Pittsburgh isn’t what’s best for you? I don’t want to cloud your judgment. I don’t want you to think that you’ve gotta stay here... for me... because you don’t.”

“Jo, what are you saying?” I asked point-blankly, my questions flying out of my mouth at breakneck speeds. “Are you saying you don’t want me playing for the Pens anymore? That you don’t want me around? Because I don’t get why you’d say that after telling me just yesterday that you loved me—”

“Kris, honey, calm the fuck down,” she replied steadily, her voice warm. “I don’t want you to go anywhere. Like, duh, why would I? I don’t know what I’d do if you signed with another team, but that’s pretty selfish of me to want you to only play for the Pens just because I live here. Especially if what’s best for you is to sign with another team.”

“Why would signing with another team be what’s best for me?” Even though she was trying to reassure me, I still felt agitated and unnerved by the fact that she was stating anywhere else would be better for me than Pittsburgh. I wanted to stay.

She ticked off a finger as she began to list several good reasons behind her rationale. “Let’s see, more money. More playing time. Bigger responsibilities. Long-term contract with a no trade clause. Maybe you wanna play for a shitty team like Tampa Bay, so you show off how good you are. Or maybe you wanna play for Montreal, the team you watched growing up. Or Vancouver, for Luc’s old team. Although why you’d want to play on a team with those creepy, ginger twins....” Jo shivered, obviously uncomfortable with the Sedins. Which I found to be very odd, because she herself was a twin—even if only fraternal. “Shall I continue?”

“No, stop. Okay, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about that kind of stuff, or that it doesn’t play a role in signing. But for me, that isn’t everything. It’s about the team, too. A player doesn’t always fit into a team’s system. I may not fit in with any of those teams, but I do fit here. And I play with world-class guys. I’m getting over twenty minutes of ice time a night, and they’re using me as a shut-down D man. And I think they hand out pretty fair contracts, so as long as they want me, I’m not worried.”

“But why settle for ‘fair’ if you can cash in? It’s the nature of the beast, this salary cap. You should go wherever they’re going to pay you a lotta money.”

“But the money doesn’t matter to me as much as the location does.”

“You told me before how you want to make sure your mom doesn’t want for anything, that you wanna buy her a bigger house out in the suburbs. There’s a team out there willing to pay you a substantial amount of money, Kris, I know it. You’re too good to not command a decent salary.” She sighed. “I’m trying to be practical here, Kris. You can’t be blinded by the comfort of staying here if it means providing for your family, because I know how super important that is to you.”

“But what about you?” I asked her, trying to figure out why she was acting so selfless or magnanimous all of a sudden.

“What about me?” She sighed again, and then yawned as she gazed back out the window. The sun hadn’t even poked its head up over the horizon, it was early early morning, and here we were, having this conversation. “That’s my whole point here. You need to do this for you, for your family. You don’t have to factor me into your decision making.”

I tried to speak, but she held up a hand as she turned her head and looked back at me. “I’ll understand that it’s what’s right for you, and we can figure out ‘us’ as we go. I just know how important taking care of your mom is for you.”

I paused, wondering if she was finished. “Can I talk now?” I asked, following the lines on the road.

“Sure,” she answered teasingly.

“I didn’t mean ‘what about you’ as in, what are you going to do. I meant ‘what about you’ as in, but you’re important to me, too. Yes, you are a factor in this because I want you to be, not because I think you need to be. You’re telling me to do what’s best for me, and that includes being with you. Trust me when I say that staying in Pittsburgh is the right thing for me. Everything’s so good right now, and I want to keep it that way.”

I hoped that everything I had said conveyed what I wanted it to. I couldn’t even fathom picking up and leaving this summer for a new team, for anything in this world. Plus, this was all months away—and could possibly not even matter, if Kent ironed something out with Ray in the coming weeks like we hoped for.

Jo shrugged. “I don’t want you to think that you need to stay in Pittsburgh because I need you to, when staying means sacrificing a lot of things that could be really good for you.”

“This isn’t about what you need, Jo. It’s about what I need. I will consider all my options when they arise, once they arise, but I really, really, really hope that Pittsburgh gives me the right offer before this even becomes an issue. It’s what I want. ’Kay?”

“’Kay,” she replied. Then she sat up in her seat and pointed a finger at me. “And I know when you’re lying, Kristopher, and I’ll be pissed if this all turns out to be baloney that you’re feeding me.”

“It’s not bologna, Jo, I promise. And when have I ever lied to you?”

“Never,” she sighed, settling back down and resting her head against the window. “So don’t start now. And you’ll let me know when it gets sorted out?”

“Jo, I promise you, you’ll be one of the first to know, after Kent, me, and my mom,” I laughed. But then I got serious. “But would it be so wrong if I wanted to stay because of you?”

“Yes,” she groaned. “I forget this sometimes, Kris, because it seems so recreational to watch your games and cheer for you, but this is your job. Your career. You need to be doing what’s best for your career, and relationships shouldn’t dictate that. Even if I am crazy in love with you,” she smiled softly, trying to show me that she really did want was best for me, even if that meant having to surrender some of her own happiness.

Weirdly enough, that kind of made me smile. Knowing she’d give up a lot for me was reassuring; I just hoped it wouldn’t come to that this summer.

“Well, we’ll see what happens. Maybe it’ll get figured out before the postseason, and this whole argument will have been for naught.”

“Argument? Who says we were arguing? We weren’t arguing, we were just talking.”

“Jo, I think you need sleep. You’re cranky when you’re tired.”

“I told you, I don’t want you to have to drive alone.”

“I’d rather drive with you sleeping than drive and put up with your mood swings,” I laughed, shaking my head. She opened her mouth to say something, but instead yawned for a long fifteen seconds. “Seriously, Jo, sleep. Did you not sleep at all last night?”

“Not really. Someone’s snoring kept me up all night, I think.”

“I do not snore,” I gasped, mocking anger and shock at her comment.

“Mmhmm. Sounded like you were sawing logs all night long. Very annoying.”

“Well, might as well sleep now, then, while it’s nice and quiet. I mean, for trying to stay awake, you’re not even touching your coffee.”

“It’s not sitting right,” she yawned. “Not good on an empty stomach.”

“Why didn’t you grab something to eat?”

“Not hungry,” she told me with a shrug. “I think all that whipped cream last night grossed me out, especially since we didn’t eat dinner, either.”

“When’s the last time you ate a real meal?”

“Uh,” she mumbled as she thought. “Breakfast at your mom’s?”

“That was Monday! Jo, that was two days ago! And you threw that up! What... why... what were you thinking?”

“Don’t yell at me, Kris. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat.”

“How can you not be hungry for two days?”

“Well, I wasn’t feeling well on Monday, and yesterday there were other things going on. It’s fine. I’ll eat when my stomach settles again.”

I was instantly concerned. “Are you okay? I mean, feeling okay? You’d let me know if something was wrong, right?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I promise. Things have just been really crazy and stressful. Once everything calms down and I get back into town and start doing my regular things, it’ll all sort out again.”

Even though Jo insisted that she was fine, I still worried. She tried to sleep a bit during the ride but couldn’t, and I could tell that she was slightly tense and still not feeling up to snuff. It was a miserable, long ride for her, even though she tried to play it off like she was fine. But she soldiered through it for all eight hours, and we only made one short stop, for gas and a bathroom break, before we got right back on the road.

8 comments:

  1. Well, you just made a contract negotiation into a romantic gesture, very nice. Although it tortures a Canuck fan to have to hear that a cute, talented defenseman might even want to play for us, all in Jo's mind unfortunately. Kris is considerate to the max but very serious, and Jo's teasing provides a nice balance for him.
    I love this line:
    “You’re such a wimp. I thought you were professional athlete. I thought you were supposed to have endurance.”

    Great writing, a nice interlude for me, now back to watching the playoffs.

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  2. I heart this story. I would have been like, "boyo, you better not leave the 'burgh."


    -elle

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  3. I'm with @MelTing - who knew a contract negotiation could be so sweet, lol!

    Great writing, as usual, and I love the end of their conversation where Jo tells him not to start lying to her now...so true! Jo and Kris have the type of back and forth that everyone wants to have in a relationship, that is the most appealing thing to me about this story.

    Whew, who knew I had such a long comment in me, lol!

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  4. I'm so surprised that I can even write a coherent thought right now after reading that last chapter ;P

    But this story just keeps getting better and better. No lie, Jay. I absolutely, 100%, adore this beyond belief. I love that Kris wants to stay in Pittsburgh not only because of it's kick ass-ery but because of Jo<3 Although I'm getting pretty nervous because there seems to be some heavy duty foreshadowing going on here with the nausea and not-eating. I guess my impatient self will just have to wait to see how it all turns out!

    “First of all, that’s just gross. Please don’t ever say anyone has a hard on for me, ever, ’kay?”
    ^^LMAO That is SUCH a Kris comment.

    "Although why you’d want to play on a team with those creepy, ginger twins....”
    ^^Too friggin funny! :D

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  5. Can I start off by saying... BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA GINGER TWINS!!!! Yesssssssssssssss!

    Alrighty, I feel like I should be writing a really long fantastic comment to show you how awesome I thought this update was, but instead, I decided to make a list of reasons why I think your a fantastic writer.

    1. Your stories are never cliché, or juvenile. You deal with realistic problems, in a realistic way.

    2. Your female characters aren't perfect! They're real! They have flaws and issues and quirks and when I read your stories I feel like I can relate to them... they aren't supermodels and they don't have a bizzilion guys falling all over them.

    3. Your characters develop like no other. In so many blogging stories, characters stay static. Even if the story is good, they never learn anything (other than working out a relationship). In your stories they not only learn about themselves, but they become better people.

    4. You are one of the few blog authors who can write stories that make me laugh out loud, bawl my face off and yell at the computer screen.

    5. ^^ To continue that notion, I forget that this is a blog... all the time! I get so into your stories that I feel like I'm reading a New York Times best selling book.

    6. Your attention to detail makes me feel like I'm in the situations with the characters. Whether it's a comment that I can totally see someone making in a certain situation, or the way you describe an action, or a look... sometimes I have to re-read things twice because you pack so much into a single sentence.

    8. You include ALL the Pens... or at least the vast majority. Unlike a lot of stories who focus on the same five Pens, over and over and over and over...

    9. You not only focus on hockey, but you are wonderfully obsessive with your facts. You not only use fantastic characters and a natural writing style to make these stories amazing, but you use real stats, real dates and real situations to make them that much better.

    10. You wrote me a Jonathan Toews story. Win.

    ... alright... more Pens game lol.

    In case I didn't mention it yet... fantastic update... and still LOL @ the creepy ginger twins.

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  6. is she pregnant by chance and that's why she's sick? Well whatever it is i love the story!!!!

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  7. she's pregnant.
    i'm calling it.
    hahah

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  8. hahahaha attack of the ginger twins!!

    Dear Jay,

    You are an amazing writer and I spend more time reading your stories than studying for classes.

    It's nice to see Jo finally say "I love you" to Kris and not freak out when he says it. I love the progress of their relationship. It seems more natural. I've read other stories that are pretty much all in with the first few chapters but this is more realistic.

    Now Kris - You know jo's life inside and out. When are you going to trust her with yours?

    -O

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