May 20, 2010

Chapter 17

As soon as the photographers spotted Sidney, Maddie felt the room close in. They were behind a barricade, but the energy level in the room surged. They pushed forward, angling against each other for the shot.

Sid stepped out of the crowd, onto the carpet. With a squeeze of his hand, he pulled Maddie through behind him. A beat went through the press line, like an awkward silent moment in a crowded room. Then the roar.

Sid pulled Maddie’s hand behind his back, bringing her into his side. He moved his hand to her waist, posing for the photographers with his arm around her. Maddie willed herself to smile. As she stepped into him, she relaxed a touch. Her grin became genuine.

“Sid, who’s the girl?” “Is this your girlfriend?” “Is she Canadian?” “What does Mario say?” The predictable questions came out in a tumble.

Maddie didn’t say anything, wondering if Sid would. How will they caption the photos, she thought, if they don’t know my name?

From the corner of her eye, she saw Erin and Deanne standing at the back of the red carpet. Geno and Jordan were talking together to a TV crew. The girls had been photographed, then had stepped away and let the guys do their interviews. Maddie had a distinct feeling that Sid would not be letting her go.

“Madeline,” Sid was saying to the closest reporter. “Madeline Cartwright.” The person was writing furiously, asking one question as Sid was answering the last. Sid turned and caught Maddie’s eye.

“Jake here wants to know if you’re my girlfriend,” he prompted.

Maddie blushed. She could have kicked him in the shin. Jake was looking at her expectantly.

“Maybe someday, if he’s lucky,” she smiled. Jake scribbled.

At that moment, Max appeared from their right. He was carrying the Stanley Cup.

“My date!” he said, holding it out toward Maddie. His smile was ear-to-ear. The Cup was beautiful up close – shining in the lights and camera flashes. Max easily held the 40 pounds, swinging it around to show everyone.

The photographers screamed for Max to pose with Sidney. For Max to lift the Cup. For Sidney to hold it. Someone waved Jordan and Geno back to the top of the carpet, for a group photo. Bylsma turned up. Maddie stepped back, hidden behind the group.

Then they were yelling for Maddie to be in the photos. Maddie to join the guys, Maddie and Sid with the Cup. Maddie smiled and touched Sid, but she didn’t touch the Cup. Someone shouted for her to hold it.

“When I win it myself,” she said, waving them off.

Max hefted the Cup and moved down the press line. Sid reached out for Maddie’s hand again, and approached the first TV crew – Sportscenter.

“Sidney,” the interviewer said, looking between them, “who’s your date?”

Sid smiled at Maddie. “This is Madeline. She’s my off-season coach.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ve been working on agility out by the pool.”

Maddie almost laughed out loud. She’d barely regained her composure before the microphone was in her face.

“What’s it like to be Sidney Crosby’s date?” he asked her.

“So far, so good,” she answered. “But if it doesn’t work out, he’s always got Stanley over there.”

They moved down the press line, people asking the same questions at each stop. How did Sid plan to spend his day with the Cup? How long had they been dating? How was Maddie prepared to be the envy of women worldwide?

Sid brushed aside many of the questions regarding Maddie. For someone called a ‘dull interview’, he was managing the situation to his advantage. Maddie smiled a lot, but said little unless Sid drew her into an interview.

“I think women would be jealous even if he weren’t famous,” she told a morning program. “I mean, look at him!”

As they moved to the next interview, Sid turned and whispered to Maddie, “Watch out for this one.” She saw a short woman with short, spiky brown hair. She reminded Maddie of the mean reporter who gave Hermione a hard time in Harry Potter. The sign taped to the carpet in front of her read ‘Hello! Canada.’

The reporter leaned way in. “Sidney, who is this lovely creature and where did you find her?”

“Kris Letang introduced us,” Sid said. “We haven’t been seeing each other long.”

“Are you prepared to break the hearts of women across North America for Madeline here?”

Sid smiled. “It’s still new, and I’ve got my own heart to worry about.”

She turned to Maddie. “What’s it like to date Sidney Crosby?”

“So far, it’s great,” Maddie answered honestly.

“And are you prepared for the pressure and gossip storm that will surely follow this debut?”

Maddie looked at Sid. “Sidney deals with a lot of pressure for the sake of his sport. I think I can handle some for the sake of him.”

“Hmmm,” the reporter said. “And for the millions of women who would steal him away from you without hesitation? Drag you through the mud to destroy your relationship? What do you say to them?” She was digging, trying to elicit an unpolished reaction.

Maddie wouldn’t let her in. “I hope they all want what’s best for Sid, because that’s what I want. Even if that ends up not being me.”

The reporter looked at her dismissively, then turned back to Sid. “Does this mean you’ll be spending the off season dating, instead of training and preparing for next year?”

Sidney refused to be galled. “I train better when I’m happy.” With that, he moved away from her.

"You're good," he whispered.

"I've seen Bull Durham a billion times, Meat. I know what to say."

The rest of the interviews were similar. Oy. He really does answer the same ten questions all day long, Maddie thought.

“At least I get to talk about something new,” he whispered, reading her thoughts. Then he stuck his tongue out at her, just a little. “Don’t turn around. They’re photographing your legs.”

“Probably shouldn’t Google search yourself for a while,” Bylsma said, squatting down at the end of their row. Sid was in the aisle seat, Maddie next to him. Geno and Erin were beside them, Jordan and Deanne behind with Kris and Erin. Max was on the end of the row in front of them.

Maddie batted her eyelashes innocently. “Why? People might find out why my nickname is Disco?”

Bylsma shook his head and laughed. “I like her,” he said to Sid.

The Awards show began, and Maddie could feel the cameras on her. She half-wished she could see the broadcast – hear how they were presenting the fact that Sid had brought a date, see what she looked like on screen. She was sure that at least one camera was on them constantly.

The League wanted to do something to highlight the growing rivalry between Sid and Alex Ovechkin. They clearly hoped this matchup would become a cash cow, and Sid had agreed to do their little schtick and present a charity check with Alex. A production assistant tapped him on the shoulder when it was time to go backstage.

“He’s got nothing on you,” Maddie said before he snuck down the aisle.

Geno grumbled something in Russian that Maddie was pretty sure couldn’t be said on TV.

A few minutes later, they were announced. Sid came from stage left and gave the crowd a little wave. Alex came from stage right… carrying the Hart Trophy for the league’s Most Valuable Player. He’d won it at last year’s awards. Technically it was his until awarded again this afternoon.

Sid stopped at center stage, and Ovechkin sauntered over. It could have been a weird moment, but Sid gave him an exaggerated crazy look. Ovie’s bravado was legendary, and Sid was smiling like he’d expected nothing else. But then he got something else.

“I hear you brought a date,” Ovie said.

Sid went fuschia , ducked his head and started cracking up right into his lapel microphone. His boyish, high-pitched giggle made everyone in the theater burst out laughing. It took a few moments for him to get composed.

“Yes, I did bring a date,” Sid smiled.

“Well, where is she? You don’t want her to meet me?” Ovie scanned the crowd.

Maddie immediately slouched as far down as she could go. Her knees were pressed into the seat in front of her. Geno looked at her, laughed and then raised his hand.

“Malkin. So helpful,” Ovie said, shielding his eyes against the light. “I don’t see her.”

Sid laughed again. “I think she’s hiding.”

Omigod, Maddie mouthed to Erin, who was practically lying across Geno’s lap, her arm stretched out and holding Maddie’s.

“Let’s bring her up here,” Ovie said. “She can’t be too shy if she’s going to date you. Unless, you don’t want her to meet me.”

“Uhhnn, no. I think we should bring her up here.” He was so unsure it sounded like he was asking a question. “She can’t kill me with this many witnesses.”

The crowd laughed again, and people were turning in Maddie’s direction.

“You have to go,” Erin hissed. Geno was levering her up from her chair.

Oh for fuck’s sake! Maddie thought. She took a deep breath, stood up and smoothed her dress. As she started down the aisle, people applauded. She could hear Jordan and Max whistling and hollering. Her heart was pounding.

They were seated in the 8th row, so it was not far to the stage. Don’t fall, don’t fall, Maddie repeated as she climbed the stairs. She met Sidney’s eyes and glared at him. Taking his outstretched hand, she made a little curtsey to the clapping crowd.

“Alex, this is Maddie,” Sid said, with mock graciousness.

Ovie looked Maddie up and down ostentatiously. He was kind of cute up-close, very tall with floppy hair. When he smiled, Maddie saw that his famously missing front teeth had been replaced.

“Not bad, Sidney,” he said. He came right over and held the Hart Trophy out to Sidney. Sidney looked confused, but he had to take the big torch-shaped statue being passed into his stomach. As soon as he was holding it…

Ovie stepped past him and scooped Maddie up like a princess. She let out a little cry of surprise, and he made to leave the stage.

“Hold that till I get back!” He said, as he walked off with Maddie in his arms.

Maddie could hear Sid laughing into his microphone over the laughter of the crowd. Ovie carried her all the way off stage and into the green room. He was laughing too, but someone must have turned off his mic.

“I am Alex,” he said, putting her down. “Sorry to joke at your expense. But Sid… he makes it too easy.”

Maddie was flustered and flushed but also laughing. “The Hart Trophy for me? That is in no way a fair trade.”

Ovie took her hand and kissed it. “Well I haven’t won the Cup yet. Maybe next year.”

What a goober, Maddie thought as she rolled her eyes. Someone came offstage with the Hart Trophy, and Alex followed it out. Maddie could hear someone else talking onstage with Sidney – they must have had a backup ready to present the check.

Maddie sat on the arm of the couch behind her. Her heart was still racing, but the adrenaline had cut out and her legs felt a little wobbly. Didn’t fall on the way in, can’t fall on the way out.

The crowd applauded the check presentation and two seconds later, Sidney bounded into the green room. When she saw his look of genuine concern, Maddie burst out laughing. The last of her headrush was fading.

“I… I don’t… he’s so… sorry,” Sidney stuttered. “I’m so sorry!” He put his arms around her, standing next to the couch.

“It’s okay! It was funny, really,” Maddie caught her breath. “At least I didn’t fall going up the stairs!”

Sidney squeezed her against his body. “It was totally a setup. Shanny was waiting in the wing to do the check. Assholes! They’re doing the Cup next. Can you go back out there?”

“Yes, of course. I wouldn’t miss that!” He took her hand and led her out, and kept holding her hand all the way up the aisle past everyone, into their seats.

When they sat, Sid turned to Geno. “You’re dead, bro. Dead.”

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