Saturday, August 7, 2010

117.) Final Preparation

Last year, my team had won the Prince of Wales trophy. This year, my team had won Campbell Trophy. It was hard to believe that in the span of two seasons, I had been at the top of each conference. Sure, most of the work this year was spent with the Pens rather than the Sharks, but I liked to think that my contributions to the Sharks during the last twenty-game stretch of the season as well as in the playoffs had helped get San José to this point. It wasn’t an easy thing, to make it to the Finals at all—and I had the good fortune to find myself with this opportunity for the third year in a row. I hoped this year would turn out like the one before in 2009, instead of the outcome of 2008.

When we beat the Blackhawks and became western conference champs, at first I felt relieved; however, that relief didn’t last for long. Soon after, the tension set back in. All the pressure was on now. It was exhausting, both mentally and physically fatiguing, to play for so long each season, but I wouldn’t change these experiences for anything. As far as a hockey player goes, I’m pretty lucky to see my hard work pay off year after year.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if any other team had won the eastern conference, but we were going to go up against the Habs: my hometown team. The team that I had cheered for since infancy, and the team that I had always hoped to play for some day. For at least two games, I’d be playing in front of all my friends and family at home. This was huge. Montréal’s such a big hockey town, and this was a large stage to play on.

Of course, this was only increased because I was Quebecois, playing against the Quebec team. The reporters always look for a storyline to amplify the competition. The Stanley Cup Finals is already a big enough deal for people who know hockey, but they need something to help market it. In Montréal, they wouldn’t need anything to bolster the series; but in San José, they would. Of course, they’d say that this was our big chance to win, but the guys like me, Pickles, and Mitch were going to be under the microscope as we played the Canadiens.

We would have a few days off, but not many. I was relieved to get back to California and my hotel, so I could collapse into bed and sleep like the dead until late morning, or maybe even noon if I were lucky. I really tried to be quiet as I slipped into the room, but I was so tired that I didn’t realize how much noise my dragging feet were making.

“Congratulations, babe, I’m so fuckin’ proud of you,” Jo whispered, sitting up in bed.

“Thanks,” I replied, toeing out of my shoes in the middle of the parlor and struggling with my tie. I just wanted to sleep; I needed a break because I was thoroughly exhausted.

“Aw, let me help,” she cooed softly, throwing back the covers and getting out of bed. I felt bad that she helped me unknot my tie and pull it off, and then work on threading the buttons of my dress shirt through their holes. “You look beat.”

“I am.” I closed my eyes for just a second, feeling like I could fall asleep at that very moment. When I opened my eyes, my dress shirt was open and she was undoing my belt. It was like I was a child, needing to be taken care of. My hands covered hers. “I can do it.”

“It’s okay, Kris. Let me do it. You’re tired. I wanna take care of you.”

I didn’t need much persuading. I let her drop my pants and push my shirt off my shoulders. When I was down to my boxers and tank top, she grabbed my hands and pulled me toward the bed. Immediately, I lay on the mattress and closed my eyes again, but I could feel as Jo was pulling off my socks. She knew I never slept with my socks on; I had to have bare feet.

She asked me, “Do you have to be up at a certain time tomorrow?”

“No,” I yawned, stretching out on top of the comforter. It felt impossible to get two, simple, one-syllable words off my tongue. “Off day.”

“Don’t you want under the covers?”

I couldn’t even respond to her at that point; I tried to shake my head, but I don’t think I even managed that. Jo curled up at my side and rested her head on my shoulder, placing a hand on my chest. With the very last bit of my energy, I rolled onto my side and slung an arm over her body. Then I nuzzled my face into her hair. After that, I was out like a light.

I didn’t wake up once during the night. In fact, I don’t even think even moved a millimeter from the position in which I fell asleep. Jo was still there, partially under me and partially next to me, her finger twirling a section of my hair. Once she noticed I was awake, she kissed my nose. “Mornin’, champ.”

“Morning. But please don’t call me that,” I said with a yawn, kissing her jaw. I thought it would be best to wait to kiss her properly after I had brushed my teeth. “Have you been up long?”

“A little while.”

“What time is it?”

“One thirty.”

“In the afternoon? Fuck. I didn’t mean to sleep in so late.” I groaned and rolled onto my back, still keeping my left arm around Jo’s shoulders. Well, she was on top of it, so I’d have to wrench it out from underneath if I wanted it back. I didn’t feel as tired, but I still felt drained. “Have you been up and lying in bed with me the whole time?”

“Kind of,” she replied, turning onto her stomach, placing her hand palm down on my chest, and then resting her chin on the back of her hand. Jo looked into my eyes and gave me a half shrug from that prone position. “You were sleeping so soundly, and I knew how tired you were. I didn’t wanna risk waking you up.”

“I can’t believe you just stayed with me for hours while I slept.”

“You just looked so peaceful,” she informed me, very matter-of-factly. Then she yawned and stood, stretching her body. Jo raised her arms in the air and arched her back as she went up on her tip-toes. “Now I have to get up and get moving. I’m going up to the pool. Wanna come?”

“You’re a regular fish now, aren’t you?” I chuckled, thinking that Jo went up there every day.

“Well, I love swimming, but in Pittsburgh, it’s really only hot enough to go swimming in July and August. It’s May and it’s hot, I’m enjoying this little luxury for now. I mean, we’re only going to be in San José for, what, two more weeks?”

I nodded as Jo went into the bathroom, and I could see as she pulled the pieces of her bikini from the shower rod—but she stepped far enough into the room that I couldn’t watch as she pulled off her clothes and changed into her bathing suit. Of course I knew that that was for the best, but I missed the small intimacies of our relationship. Only for a little while longer, and then we’d be on the sandy beaches of Hawaii enjoying each other’s company and spending every night holed up in our room.

“So?” she asked, reminding me of her initial question. “You wanna come with me?”

Shrugging, I got out of bed. “Yeah, I guess I’ll come. I’ll sit poolside. I think I’m just gonna relax and take it easy, though.”

Since I knew I wasn’t going to get in the water, I dressed in khaki shorts, a white shirt, and then I put on a ball cap. I planned on finding myself a chair in the shade and hanging out as Jo did her thing. It wouldn’t have been any different than if I had decided to linger here in the room, but I wanted to be in the same vicinity as Jo even if we weren’t going to be right there with each other.

That’s exactly what we did. There were a few people gathering up around the pool, mostly girls lying out to get a tan. There was a table with an umbrella in a corner of the pool area, and that’s where I took my post as Jo threw her towel over a nearby chair. She kissed my cheek and then hurried over to the pool, quickly descending into the clear, blue-tinted water.

I watched as she ducked her head under, completely submersing herself in the water. She pushed off from the edge and took a few long, slow strokes in the pool. Jo wasn’t the greatest of swimmers, but she got her body moving. It made sense, because she must have felt cooped up during the day. This gave her the perfect chance to burn off some energy and get out and do something.

She went back and forth, and I dug my phone out of my pocket. My mother hadn’t called me yet, which was weird. Whenever I had a big win, she called. Usually not right after the game, but the next day at least. I looked at my phone, only to find that it was off. That, too, seemed off. I turned it on, and that’s when I figured out what must have happened: I had so many texts and voicemails that Jo must have turned it off so I wouldn’t be disturbed while I slept. I had messages from all the usual suspects: Mom, Mamie, Charlene, Suzanne, Big Luc, Kent Hughes, friends at home from Montréal.... And then I had some from people I wouldn’t have necessarily expected to contact me but probably shouldn’t have surprised me: Crosby, Staal, Kelsey, Heather, Dupuis, Philippe Boucher, Alex Burrows, Mario Lemieux, Bylsma, even Ray Shero....

It would have been nearly impossible and incredibly time consuming to get back to them all, so I began with the important calls. First, my mom. She would be the most mad if I didn’t get back to her as soon as possible, so I called her and talked to her for about half an hour. She was so excited to talk to me, so I pretty much just listened as she went on and on about who she talked to about me and how proud she was and how she couldn’t wait to come to my games in Montréal. She told me that I had to make sure to secure a block of tickets for her, Henrí, Mamie, and probably at least three others per game for anyone else who wanted to go. She said that Luc’s family would probably like to go to at least one, and it would mean a lot to them if I could get them tickets, too. I had to laugh at her zealousness and explain to her that I might not be able to get that many, since it was the Finals; sure, we could request a block of tickets, but that didn’t mean we’d get them.

Next, I called Mamie. Talking with her was a lot different than talking to my mom; she listened more. She asked questions and waited for me to answer them. Mamie was very excited at the prospect of being able to watch me play in the Finals. Last year, it was too difficult to get them to game seven, which was our first opportunity during the series to win the Cup, because seats were so hard to come by. This year, though, was perfect for them to come to the Sharks’ away games. Too bad that also added a lot of pressure on me.

After those two calls, I was spent. I probably didn’t have to respond to any of the other messages, since they were probably all sent as a courtesy since I won. In fact, I was pretty sure that my former teammates weren’t even watching the games since they lost.

Jo got out of the pool after a while, glistening and wet. The sun reflected off the droplets on her shoulders and stomach until she made it into the shade and grabbed her towel. “You done?”

“Swimming,” she replied. “I usually lay out for a while.” She grabbed a chaise lounge, lowered it to its flat position, and then stretched out on her stomach. With quick fingers, she gathered her hair and pulled it away from her neck, untied the straps, and unfastened the clasp at her back.

I asked her, “Can you do that?”

“Do what? Tan? No one’s said anything to me before about it. And I’d rather not have tan lines. Besides, it’s not like I’m showing anything.” She paused. “Does it bother you?”

“Uh, no,” I said, flipping my phone over in my hands. Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. While she wasn’t overly tan, I could definitely tell that she had more color to her. It had been a long, cold winter in Pittsburgh with too much snow; Jo was definitely enjoying the hot, California weather. As she soaked up the sun, it looked like she was just wearing bottoms. From my position on the chair, I could not only see the view of her back, including her legs, butt, and back with her tattoo of my number, but I should see the small swell of her breast visible with the back of her top unfastened. Side boob, I think it’s called. Under normal circumstances, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. But we hadn’t had sex in a while, and I wanted to. Jo had been really good about backing off and giving me space, which in turn made this easier on me. Right now, things were getting hard. I mean, more difficult.

“I only do about ten minutes a side,” she said, talking about it like tanning was a science. “I don’t wanna burn, but I don’t want to try to get too tan too fast. It’s like getting a base tan.” When I didn’t say anything to that, she changed subjects. “So, who were you talking to?”

“Mom. Mamie. They were just saying their congratulations and saying about how they can’t wait to come to the games in Montréal.”

“Does that make you nervous at all?”

“Yeah. I mean, I guess I’m used to playing in the Finals, if there is such a thing as being used to playing for the Stanley Cup. I’m lucky to be so young and have the experience of playing the last two years. Well, last year and a few games the year before.” Jo knew that I didn’t finish out the season in 2008; I couldn’t play in those last few games. “But this is something totally different. It’s such a bigger deal in Canada, and it’s going to be crazy in Montréal especially. It’s tough playing in that building already. I can’t imagine what it’s gonna be like now in the Finals.”

“Do you think it’s going to be worse for you because you’re French?”

“Yeah. Oh, yeah.”

“Big game players step up when the stage is bigger. I know you’re gonna do great, Kris.”

“Thanks,” I sighed, looking down at my hands. “Do you wanna come to the away games? Not just to game six, I mean, if that just so happens to be the only possible away game we could possibly win it. I mean, like, three and four, and then six, too, if that’s how the series goes?”

“Do you want me to be there?” she asked, turning her head to the side and looking at me. I just nodded silently. I knew how stressful this whole thing was going to be, and even though I’d have to do things with the team and our time would be incredibly structured, I just thought that it would help to know she was there. She had a free place to stay at my Mom’s, and... I just wanted her there. “Then yeah, babe, I’d love to be there for all your games.”

I nodded again, not being particularly eloquent. When there was a lot of stuff going on in my head, it was difficult to figure out what to say. “’Kay.”

Jo reached behind her and fastened the clasp to her top, but she left the top straps untied as she turned onto her back. She was careful to make sure she held it in place though, and she strategically moved the straps to her sides to reveal as much skin as possible. It was all to avoid noticeable tan lines. Her eyes were closed to block the sun’s bright rays, but she didn’t stop talking to me. “So, what’s your schedule like? Do you know?”

“Tomorrow’s media day. Lots of interviews. Meetings, watching a lot of game tape. Figuring out how to beat Halak. Practice on Friday. First game on Saturday.”

“This Saturday?” she asked, hoping for clarification. Again, I only nodded, forgoing a verbal response. She had to hold her hand over her eyes as she looked over at me in the shade. “The twenty-ninth? May twenty-ninth?”

All I could do was continue to nod. It was going to be tough to have to begin such an important series on that particular day. I already wasn’t looking forward to it. Jo could tell all this. She picked it up somehow, telepathically or empathetically. She pursed her lips and let out a long, exaggerated breath. There weren’t any words for her to say either, and I was glad that she didn’t try to come up with something to ease my mind. I wasn’t sure that would even be possible.

7 comments:

  1. I am sooo freakin ecstatic that you updated!!
    He's ridiculous to still be holding out, but I guess if that's what works, by all means.

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  2. i cant wait for the hot sex !!!! lol
    i DONT want this story to EVER END

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  3. Their consideration for each other is so beautiful. That Jo lay there watching him, turned off his phone, undressed him, everything so that he could get a great night's sleep is so amazing. It's like this huge love that can only be shown in delicate ways.

    I did think that they could make love after winning the series, but if you're superstitious it's whatever works.

    It's so cool that we're in imaginary playoff land now, because I have no idea what the game results will be. Have to keep my fingers crossed.

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  4. Yay! All caught up with this story again and it was wonderful!

    My favorite line of this entire chapter: "Things were getting hard. I mean, difficult." I DIED laughing from the double entendre.

    I am VERY excited to see where the Sharks keep going in this series. Also, was it significant that Ray Shero called Kris? My eager mind jumped and got excited because of course I took it to mean that the Pens want him back. But we'll see.

    Anyway, I loved this chapter and I can't wait for another one!

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  5. Loves this story!! can't wait for another update. :D

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  6. I just read the last three chapters and wow! There is so much great stuff in them I wouldn't even know where to start...

    I am going to reread all of it so I can pick out my favorite things, but I love how sweet Jo is being about everything. The undressing him, turning off his phone and not getting out of bed until he woke up amazing. The fact that the series starts on the 29th and she know how hard that's going to be for him and knows there is nothing she can say or do to make it better shows just how close they are. *sigh*

    I love you Jay, you gave me the best off season gift possible.
    !!!!!THE HABS ARE THE EC CHAMPS!!!!!

    I love your reality so much more than everyone else's.

    Just exquisite! Thank you.

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  7. @msd - loved your last two sentences of your comments!

    Wow, what an awesome chapter...I, too, am amazed that Kris has held out for so long...also, the kindness they show to each other is a good lesson to remember for those of us in relationships!

    Loved it, loved the writing, fabulous!

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