Maddie waited near a side entrance to the theater. Sidney had planted her there, out of sight of most of the setup and press line. He slipped in the door. Maddie looked around while waiting, knowing she looked odd in full hair and makeup wearing Erin’s button down shirt and Capri pants.
She looked up as the door opened and Mario Lemieux stepped out.
PHWOAR, Maddie involuntarily thought. Mario stood 6’ 4” and possibly better looking than he’d been 15 years before. He too was wearing a black suit. And before Maddie knew it, he was giving her a 100 watt smile.
“You must be Maddie,” he said, taking her hand. She blinked back at him. “Sid has told me a lot about you in the last hour.”
Sid looked ready to catch her if she passed out. “Maddie?”
She snapped out of it and shook the hand holding hers. “It’s an honor to meet you. Sir.” She blushed.
Mario laughed. “The pleasure is all mine. I understand Sidney has asked you to be his date today. And that you’ve only agreed if I approve.”
“Why did you want my opinion, if I may ask?”
She looked at the floor. “I thought you would be overprotective of him. So if this was in any way bad for him, you wouldn’t let us do it. I can only guess at the situation,” she took a deep breath. “A mistake here isn’t going to cost me anything. But Sid could stand to lose a lot.” She looked at Sid. “I couldn’t do that to him.”
Mario leaned back, like he was thinking. “Maddie.” He simply stated. “Maddie.” And he pulled her into a hug.
She was so surprised she almost forgot her makeup. Careful not to press her face to his chest, she returned his hug. When he let go, he kept his hands on her shoulders. “I came out here having already decided to say no to this, without even meeting you. I almost made a terrible mistake.” He let his hands drop away.
"I've hoped for a while now that Sid would meet a girl. I even said he could bring them over to the house! But he puts to much pressure on himself, especially during the season. And the thought of something public - well, from a PR standpoint it's scary to lose that control."
"I think you have some grasp of how huge this is for Sidney. For his image, sponsors, everyone. I don't want to be melodramatic, but I need to be honest. This won't be on CNN or in Time Magazine. But it will feel, for you both, that the world has come apart completely. Like you've set a bomb off in your own lives."
He put his hands in his pockets. "That said, I think it's time. Let's not over think it and ruin what it's supposed to be about.
“I would love it if you’d join Sidney on the red carpet for today’s awards show.”
When Sidney left for his interviews, Mario asked Maddie to wait a moment. He disappeared inside. Five minutes later, a smiling blonde woman came out.
“Maddie?” she asked. “I’m Nathalie. Mario’s wife.”
“Oh,” Maddie said, recognizing her now. “It’s nice to meet you.” Nathalie was wearing a simple, Jackie O-style black dress with a boat neck and pearls.
“Do you have a few minutes to talk before you dress?” Nathalie gestured to a nearby casino table that was closed. They sat.
“Mario told me that he changed his mind. You must have made quite an impression on him,” she said. “Though frankly asking for his permission was a pretty amazing move. What made you do that?”
Maddie sighed. “I wanted someone rational to make sure Sid was doing the right thing. He seemed so excited by the idea, I knew he wasn’t being objective.” She met Nathalie’s gaze. “I don’t want to cause trouble for him.”
“But you do want to be with him?” Nathalie encouraged.
“I think so,” Maddie bit the inside of her cheek. “We just met yesterday, I know. But if I’m honest with myself, there’s something there that has nothing to do with the number on the back of his jersey. And maybe that deserves a chance. Does that sound stupid?”
Natalie put her hand over Maddie’s. “Maybe to someone who’s never been exactly where you are. But not to me.”
Maddie’s shoulders sagged with relief.
“Mario also told me you said something about how you don’t stand to lose anything in this. Maddie, this is very important. Do not underestimate them,” she waved at the press line, now filling in. “You will be the target of some craziness. And it may get nasty. Not today, probably, they’ll be too surprised. But by the time the show is over…”
Maddie nodded. “I’ve thought about that. Just enough to know I have no idea what to expect.”
“Well know this,” Nathalie said. “I was far from perfect when it happened to me. And I got through, we got through. There’s been a plan all along to orchestrate this for Sid, to cover every angle of his first public relationship. But to be honest, it’s crushing him. He’s missing out on a lot in life without something like this. Someone like you. Part of me is very relieved this has come up quickly before it can become a group project. I say,” she looked around the casino, “let the chips fall where they may.”
That made Maddie laugh. “You just called it a ‘relationship’ when this is really our first date! I wonder what Sid would think of that.”
“Believe me, Maddie. He wouldn’t bring you here if he wasn’t thinking about that.”
They stood up and hugged. Nathalie put her hands on Maddie’s shoulders, the same way Mario had done.
“You can do this. And Sidney deserves it, God knows. That boy is a saint,” she said.
“I’m going to be on the cover of the newspaper tomorrow, aren’t I?” Maddie asked.
“Right next to a composite photo of what your future babies will look like.”
3 years ago