May 5, 2010

Chapter 9

“WHAT?” Erin yelled at Geno.

He repeated himself, still completely unintelligible.

“I think he’s speaking Russian,” she said to Maddie. “But it’s so loud I can’t really tell.”

They’d moved downstairs to Rain, the Palms built-in nightclub. It was dark and packed and sweaty… and loud. Every hour, it pretended to rain. Looking around at the people and the amount of tanning and grooming and preening that had gone into getting them here, Maddie half wished it would really pour on them.

Not that Jordan and Deanne minded, they were somewhere lost in the crowd and in each other. Maddie always marveled at Deanne’s ability to do that – take a single, good feeling and dive right into it. Sure, Jordan was hot. And he was into her. So she let go and gave in in a way that Maddie wasn’t sure she could ever do.

Marc and Vero had pleaded out and gone upstairs. Kris and Cynthia were back at the craps table, hopefully bringing down the house. Max’s blond had left but he had recovered nicely, now buying drinks for three Scandinavian girls at the bar. Geno had caught up to the party quickly, and was putting on a show of giving Erin the time of her life. He kept lifting her up to twirl her around, a huge, goofy smile on his face. She didn’t seem to care that she couldn’t understand him.

For his part, Sid hadn’t left Maddie’s side for a second. When they’d reached the club, they bypassed the line as VIPs. Sid grabbed her hand and held it. She got the impression that he felt again like someone might recognize him, might make a scene, and he didn’t want to spoil anyone’s night. It made her sad to think that he always had to carry that with him. It must be ingrained, she figured, because there was almost no chance anyone was going to recognize him here. Sure, he was famous in Canada and the ‘Burgh, and with hockey fans. But this was Vegas. If Britney Spears could party here, surely there was some room for Sidney Crosby.

But she liked having him close, and took every opportunity to press against him or lean in to talk. Since it was so crowded, she got the feeling he wouldn’t want a PDA. He’d kissed her fifty times upstairs, but not down here. She understood that too, and wondered how long before they could politely leave.

“Want to get out of here?” His voice was in his ear, the heat from his body had risen in the crowded space.

“Thank God,” she replied. They said goodbye to Max, and to Geno and Erin. Maddie gave Erin ‘the look’ and Erin just smiled back. Taking one look at the dance floor, they didn’t bother trying to find Jordan and Deanne.

The only way out was the front, so they exited by the same VIP entrance they’d used. Sid was holding Maddie’s hand as they passed some people still waiting in line.

“OHMYGOD,” someone screamed. Another high-pitched noise joined her. Sid stopped dead, Maddie nearly collided with him. She saw two girls, probably 20 but trying to dress older, having an absolute spaz attack near the end of the line. They promptly jumped out of the queue and rushed up to Sid. Maddie dropped his hand before they could really see her. She stepped away.

The girls were laying it on a little thick, she thought. They probably weren’t old enough to get into the club. Hell, you had to be 21 just to be in the casino. But they were cute enough, and they were obviously over the moon about Sid. She watched as he talked with them and smiled, but it was a standard-issue smile. The one RBK had the rights to. He signed something from one of their purses, and the other had a camera. They took turns getting photos, and thanked him about a million times. One of them was suggesting they, “Forget the club and…” when she saw Sidney look at Maddie.

The atmosphere changed in a second. The shadow that crossed their faces was black as a rain cloud. They plastered on the fake smiles, but their eyes were starring daggers at Maddie. She felt them take her in at a glance, from shoes to dress to kiss-stung lips. Her first reaction was shock. These girls hated her. Absolutely, dead-in-a-ditch, wouldn’t-save-you-from-drowning hatred. She knew theoretically how they would feel, but she’d never been the target before. Now, for barely any reason at all, she was reviled…

… And she almost laughed. She’d done nothing to them, and almost nothing had even happened between her and Sid. But they couldn’t know that. They couldn’t know anything, and that’s why they were so mad. They felt invisible.

Maddie caught the eye of the bouncer. She gave him her best VIP smile, and nodded toward the two girls. He looked between them, then he smiled and nodded back. Maddie walked up and put a hand on Sid’s shoulder.

“Good thing you met us, girls,” she stared one right in the eye, then the other. “You could have been out here in line all night. But any fan of Sid’s gets the VIP treatment. They’ll let you in this way,” and she stepped away to let them pass.

They looked floored. They both went pale, and started sputtering out thank yous. As reluctant as they were to leave, now they had no choice. Trapped by your own game, Maddie thought.

“That was incredible.” Sid said as soon as the girls were inside. He spun around the face her. “I can’t believe you just did that.” His wide eyes and grin showed he wasn’t mad.

“That was crazy! Jesus, I hardly know you and they would have gladly burned me at the stake!” Maddie laughed, realizing now how flustered she had been.

“Well, yeah. I mean… that’s what I mean. That’s how it is. And worse.” He suddenly looked sad. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I shouldn’t have brought you here.”

Maddie put her hands on his shoulders. “Sidney Crosby. Stop it! I can handle myself. If some girl wants to tussle, she’ll get it. But I’d like to think I’m smarter than they are, so if there’s a way around I will find it.” His chocolate brown eyes met hers, but she could see that he was sagging. She quickly kissed him and slid her leg between his knees. He perked up at once.

“You definitely handled it. I have never seen it handled so completely.”

“Well, I am not run off so easily. Not wearing this dress!”

Sidney put an arm around her waist and started walking. They walked through the casino, past the tables where Kris and Cynthia had given up playing a just stood, kissing, in a crowd of people. He didn’t stop. They passed the gift shop and high-roller room when Sid turned left.

The pool was closed and the pool deck was empty. It was warm out, and only a few thin clouds joined the huge moon in the sky. Sid took Maddie’s hand and snaked her through the pool chairs. He stopped at cabana #93.

“I still have a question coming. I never asked it before,” he said.

“I thought the kiss was the question.”

He stepped in and pressed his body against hers. “I wouldn’t have kissed you if there were any question.” He kissed her now, softly.

“So you have one more. Better make it a good one.” Her eyes were shining, the moonlight reflecting off the pool was dancing around them.

“Madeline,” he said, “Would you like to come to the NHL Awards with me tomorrow?”

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