The alarm on Sidney’s phone rang at 9 AM. He slapped around the nightstand, found the phone and threw it across the room. It kept ringing.
Twenty minutes later, Maddie was washing her face when room service rolled a tray into the room. She smelled bacon.
“Did you order that last night?” she asked.
“Yesterday before we left,” he said. “I knew I’d forget the minute you were in here with me.”
They devoured the bacon, with eggs, pancakes, juice and toast. Maddie wore her capri pants with a t-shirt. Sid had instructed her to wear sneakers. She had no idea where they were going.
He tossed her a sweatshirt. “Just in case.”
At 10 AM, they were standing at the hotel’s main entrance. A van pulled up with ‘Papillon’ emblazoned on the side.
“Crosby?” the driver said, sliding open the door for them.
They drove for a few minutes then turned off the strip. Sid was smiling, but refused to say anything. He’d snatched a laminated sheet from the driver’s console and sat on it before Maddie could get in the van. She gave up and watched out the windows as they approached a gap in the buildings. It looked like a parking lot until they turned the corner.
Two white choppers with orange and blue paint detail on their tails sat on a helipad outside a low-slung bungalow. The sign on the gate they drove through read ‘Papillon.’
Maddie snapped her head around toward Sid. “HOLY SHIT!”
A huge smile broke across his face and he clapped his hands. The van rolled to a stop and Maddie jumped out.
“We are going to the Grand Canyon for lunch!” Sid announced. Maddie jumped up and down and gave a little shriek.
“Who told you?” she demanded.
“Cynthia,” he laughed. “She gave up all your secrets.”
Maddie had always, always wanted to take a helicopter to the Grand Canyon. She’d been to Vegas a few times before but never taken advantage. It was kind of expensive, but not ridiculous for the fact that it was a helicopter to the freakin’ Grand Canyon. She’d floated the idea to the girls in preparation for this trip.
“I cannot believe this!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Her eyes were shining. Sid squeezed her tight.
“Surprise!” he whispered and kissed her again.
Maddie’s stomach dropped as the helicopter lifted, bounced and then rose up from the ground. She was clutching Sidney’s hand in her lap, and her other hand was on his leg. They wore headphones with microphones so they could talk to each other and the pilot. Without them, the roar of the rotor was deafening.
The chopper hummed with vibration. Maddie watched the asphalt drop away. The sensation of moving straight up without going forward was new and unsettling. She met Sid’s eyes – he was having a little trouble with it too.
“Have you been in a helicopter before?” she remembered not to yell into the microphone at her mouth.
“Yeah, but it’s still really weird,” he squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, you get used to it after a minute.”
The pilot broke in. “Hold on, folks.”
The helicopter cleared the buildings and swooped forward. Maddie’s stomach did another somersault. Outside the window, everything seemed closer than it should be. She could see the cars and tiny little people – nothing like being at 30,000 feet in an airplane. She took a deep breath.
As they flew away from the strip, they passed over Vegas’ urban sprawl. 15 minutes later, they crested a rise and saw the Hoover Dam. Behind it, Lake Mead sparkled dark blue in the sunlight. The pilot flew over the lake and circled south, giving them a view of the Dam’s famous 700+ foot high retaining wall. The helicopter banked and continued on its way.
“This is incredible,” Maddie whispered, though Sidney could hear her clearly. He lifted the microphone from her face and kissed her lips.
“It is pretty awesome,” he agreed.
For half an hour they flew over the desert. In the distance, the pilot pointed out where the rim and shadow of the canyon first became visible. Maddie and Sid watched as it grew closer quickly, the chopper eating up the distance.
“Here we are,” the pilot said.
The ground disappeared. Beneath them, the dust-colored rock cut away to reveal the depth of the Grand Canyon. Maddie gasped. The edges were sharp – it looked like the end of the world. She hadn’t expected the colors – dark green blue, even hints of red. It was fantastically wide. The chopper flew over the famous Skyway bridge that spanned a gap in the chasm. Tourists looked up.
“They’re jealous,” Sidney pointed out.
“I would be too!”
They took in as much of the Grand Canyon was twenty minutes would allow, then flew farther down its length away from the observation decks and crowds. Without much angle, the helicopter began descending.
“Did I mention that lunch is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?” He elbowed her in the side.
Maddie’s mouth was open. She fought the urge to freak out in the chopper for fear of disaster or at least deafening the pilot. She settled for quickly pounding on Sid’s thigh to release her excitement.
Dropping into the canyon was like descending into the center of the Earth. When they reached the bottom, a Papillon representative ducked them beneath the rotor wash and led them to tented area looking out over the Colorado River.
As they dug into their lunches – locally farmed organic steak, greens and risotto, Maddie sipped her wine.
“Sidney Crosby, this is the best date I have ever been on. In fact, this is the best date in the history of time. Better than Romeo crashing Juliet’s party. Better than Wesley rescuing Buttercup from the Fire Swamp.”
“You’re nerding out again, babe,” he smiled. “But I’m glad you like it. I wanted to give you something back.”
She scoffed. “I was just thinking I haven’t given you anything.”
“And I was thinking about last night,” he smirked. “No really. You hardly even knew me and you took a huge risk going to the awards with me. I know it doesn’t seem like that big a deal here, but for me, that was huge.” He raised his glass to her. “Thank you, Madeline.”
“I would do it again,” she said.
He sipped. “There is always next year.”
On the way home, the pilot flew them over the Las Vegas Strip. Starting with the high tower of the Stratosphere, they passed the pyramid of the Luxor and the fountain at the Bellagio. All the landmarks were clearly visible for their low altitude. When they landed, Maddie felt dizzy with gratitude and adrenaline. She smiled the entire way back to the Palms.
She went upstairs to change into her bathing suit. A note was on the bed in Deanne’s handwriting: Cabana 93, bitches!
Sidney was alone in the cabana when she arrived.
“Hi gorgeous,” he said, reaching down from his hug to pull up her sundress. It went over her head and he tossed it away, then hugged her again.
They waded into the water and swam to one of the islands. It was Saturday afternoon and the pool was absolutely packed. Like the day they’d first arrived, music blared and the whole scene seemed one drink away from being a porno movie.
Jordan was laying on his back, taking up most of the island. Deanne sat next to him, happily sipping an umbrella drink. Jordan squeezed her hair, dripping the water down her back. Cynthia and Kris were in the water, leaning on the island and each other. Erin sat next to Deanne, her arms over Jordan’s legs, sunning herself. They all sat up as Sid and Maddie approached.
“How was it?!?” Deanne squealed.
“Amazing,” Maddie said. “Epic. Life-changing.” She turned to Cynthia. “Thanks for telling him about that one.”
She beamed. “It was that or having him somehow join the pirate show at Treasure Island, swing down in short pants and ravish you on the deck of a ship. The Grand Canyon seemed easier.”
“Mmm, pirates,” Erin said dreamily.
Sid and Maddie climbed onto the island. Sid lay down next to Jordan. Maddie put her head on his stomach and her feet in the water. She closed her eyes, soaked up the sun and relived the day’s trip in her mind. She kept thinking about the champagne toast right before they’d taken off from lunch to return home.
“Thank you for this. You are amazing,” she’d said.
“I have one more amazing thing up my sleeve,” he’d replied.
Maddie had been surprised when Sid knew where she lived. He certainly sounded like he planned to continue to see her after they left tomorrow. “Only 250 miles from Pittsburgh,” he’d said. But the season was months away, and she wasn’t sure when he’d be back in town. At least two months. Until then, she assumed he was in Nova Scotia for the summer. Maddie wasn’t sure she could wait that long. In two months time, this whole trip could seem like a silly fling, remembered only in photos from the red carpet.
Max jolted her from her thoughts. He swam up, grabbed her foot and pulled her off the island. She went right underwater with a little scream. She popped up, sputtering, to find Max shaking his wet self over Sidney and Jordan. Then Geno popped up behind her turned back and dunked her again.
“Hahaa, two times!” he laughed.
Maddie scooped the wet hair from her face, splashing him. Then, over his shoulder, she saw something and froze. The look on her face made Geno turn too.
“Erin,” Maddie hissed.
“What?” she said, turning. She looked at Maddie’s turned back, and followed her gaze. “Ohmygod!”
Joe Thornton was standing forty feet away, at the bar of a thatched tiki hut. By now, Deanne, Erin and all the guys were looking.
“Uh oh,” Deanne said.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me! Jumbo Joe?” Max said with mock indignation. He was smiling at Erin like he was hatching a plan.
“Nononononono. Max, please.” She was bright red. “I’m sorry. I… I….”
Maddie cringed, wishing she’d pointed Joe out in a more covert way. Her surprise had gotten the better of her. And she had no idea if anything had happened between Max and Erin the night before. What if they’d hooked up and I just gave her up liking another guy?! Maddie thought.
“Oh no, cherie. You will be sorry,” he smiled devilishly at her, stood up on the island and shouted, “JOE!”
Joe’s head swiveled around, almost like he was unsure he’d heard his name over the music. Max waved his arms over his head. It took Joe a second to see everyone on the island, then he recognized them and waved. He emptied the last sip of his drink and started walking toward the edge of the pool.
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” came from Erin. She looked ready to crawl into a hole and die.
Sid touched Maddie’s arm. “Are you going to freak out too?”
She shook her head, reasonably sure she was not going to spaz out. She might not be able to speak though. Joe stepped down into the water and walked toward them. Like Geno, he was very tell and the water only came to his waist. His curly hair was messy and bleached from the sun. He had a light beard growing. He was shirtless, which was nothing new – he was infamous for doing most of his post-game interviews topless. Erin and Maddie were well aware of this.
“Hey boys, ladies” he said, shaking Geno’s hand first. Maddie stepped a little behind Geno to hide. Sid and Jordan both sat up and shook, as did Max. Kris waved from the other side of the island.
“Joe, this is Erin, she’s a big fan of yours,” Max put his hand on Erin’s head. She smiled, almost painfully. She was still blushing but fighting it hard.
“Oh yeah? Nice to meet you.” He reached his arm across the boys to shake Erin’s hand. She was probably trembling. “Sorry you’re stuck with these clowns,” he said. He introduced himself to Deanne and Cynthia, who also waved. Then he turned to Maddie. Geno abandoned her.
“And you are the lucky lady,” he smiled. He was standing in front of her, all 6’ 4” of him, smiling down. That’s a lot of shirtlessness, Maddie’s brain said. She stuck her hand out to cover her silence.
“Madeline, Joe Thornton,” Sid said, laughing. “Maddie is a fan of yours too. And she gets a little spastic under pressure.” Maddie scrunched up her face and everyone laughed.
Joe put his arm around her shoulders. “Then you know she doesn’t like Ovechkin at all! You did well on stage at the show.”
“Thanks,” she managed. “I’m partial to Canadian boys.”
“Hey!” Geno said.
Joe flagged a waitress and ordered them a round of drinks. He pulled himself up onto the island and sat next to Jordan’s feet. He was wearing teal shorts, just like the Sharks colors.
“What are you guys doing tonight?” he asked.
Erin almost choked on her tongue. Max was next to her now, and slapped her on the back with zero subtlety. Then, just in case Joe had any ideas, he placed a gentle kiss on her temple.
“Okay babe?” he asked. She nodded. What a devil, Maddie thought. Did anything happen last night?!
Kris resced her. “It is our last night in Vegas. I think we should go big. What’s that place at Caeser’s?”
“Pure?” Jordan said. “I’d go for that. VIP baby.” He tickled Deanne’s midriff.
Joe nodded. “Sounds good. Some of my guys are still here, maybe they’ll join us. I’ll check in then get us on the list at the club.”
Maddie figured he would probably call someone with the NHL home office, or maybe at the Palms, to get them into one of the Strip’s hottest nightclubs on a busy Saturday night. When they were finally tired of lounging in the heat, they agreed to call Joe later and see if he wanted to have dinner with them beforehand.
“Cool, see you guys in a bit,” Joe said. Then, “Bye Erin. See you later.” He winked. Erin almost bolted.
4 years ago