This took a little longer than I'd thought it would to write. I started and stopped, deleted and began again a few times. I changed my mind, made up my mind and reworked it about three times and then I deleted it all and redid this morning and I think it feels right. Let me know what you think.

Chapter 18

"My bike," she says weakly, hicupping as she wipes at her eyes for the umpteenth time.

"It's okay. Kris is bringing it here," I whisper, gently guiding her head back down to my chest, where my t-shirt is almost soaked through with her tears. She sniffs a couple of more times and then struggles to get upright again.

"No not..," her grey blue eyes meet mine and I just shrug.

"I know it's not ideal but there's just not that many guys on the team who can ride, not including me," I admit, reaching up to trace the path of a tear down her cheek. That, unlike everything else I've tried in the past couple of hours, seems to get through and she smiles weakly. "Go head, call me a pussy, I know you want to. C'mon, maybe it will make you feel a little better." I'm rewarded by the tiniest hint of a smile as she shakes her head. "Alright," I shrug, "but you only get so many freebies." She nods and sniffs and then turns her back to me.

"Why are you doing this?" she asks in a voice that reveals how exhausted she is after hours of sobbing like her heart's been torn out.

"Well I think I already gave you the answer to that and you didn't like it so I'm not gonna repeat it," I tell her sincerely and earn another bemused smile.

"No really, I've been such a fucking bitch to you. Why are you being nice to me?" she sighs, running her hands through her hair and hanging her head between her knees.

"Uh, again, the answer to that kinda falls into the same category," I reply, reaching out to caress the hand she puts down on the bed and I'm sort of surprised when she lets me. "Besides," I add, inching closer to her, "you called me, remember?"

"Texted," she corrects me and I can almost hear a smile in her voice as I wrap my arms around her. She leans back against me and I can feel her relaxing by degrees. "Jesus…did today really happen?" she mumbles as we ease back down onto her bed and she gives in to the demands of her body and starts, at last, to relax.

"So I'm assuming that wasn't what you wanted me there for?" I ask the question as delicately as I can but even so I can feel her stiffen in my arms.

"Of course not," she bristles and then I literally feel her take a deep breath and relax. "But uh…I'm glad you were there," she adds, very quietly.

"Hey, that's what friends are for," I remind her, giving her a gentle squeeze. For a long time, minutes, maybe half an hour, we lie there in silence and eventually I close my eyes, thinking she's finally given in and fallen sleep but then she stirs in my arms, rolls over and her gaze locks with mine.

"Are you okay with that?" she asks very suddenly and bluntly, her eyes looking as lavender as I remember seeing them the first night we met. I get a tightening in my gut and I want, more than anything, to deny that I understand what she's asking but I grow a sack and nod.

"Yeah, for now," I tell her, ignoring the way that my heart feels like it's being squeezed in a vice.

"Because I can't…I don't have anything to give and I don't know when I will," she whispers, her gaze searching mine. I want to say that it's okay but the words won't come out. They sort of sit there on my tongue and refuse to leave. "And that's not good enough for you," she sighs, dropping her gaze from mine.

"No, no, I don't expect that. I mean right now, with what just happened and…." Her gaze flicks back up to meet mine and she's wearing this haunted smile that makes it hard to breathe.

"Oh c'mon Crosby, we both know that I'm not the girl for you," she smiles, reaching up to run her thumb along my bottom lip and this time she doesn't want me to playfully bite it or suck it into my mouth. This time it's just a touch to quiet me when all I want to do is stop her from saying what I know she's about to say. "I love you for being here right now and I know that you have my back and that means…well it means a hell of a lot more than I thought it would and I'm telling you right now if some guy puts your head through glass again I want you to know that I'm puttin' on a pair of fuckin' skates and I'll throw down with fucking Ovie if I have to," she grins suddenly and my heart swells in my chest but as soon as I feel like she's not about to crush it in her hand her smile fades. "But I know that what I am and what I really want to do with my life doesn't fit into your world. No Crosby," she smirks and presses her lips briefly over mine before continuing. "I've been trying to make it work in my head because if I'm really honest, the thought of not seeing you…kinda sucks," she admits and rolls her eyes when I can't help but give a little smile of triumph.

"I'm not gonna push you now but if we give it some time…," I begin, only to have her shake her head.

"I've seen what V goes through to be there for MAF and how much time it takes just to be at all those events and all those games and even though I assumed…I thought…." She chokes back a sob and turns her face away from me as she wipes furiously at her eyes with the backs of her hands before continuing. "I thought I'd still have Kev…would still be seeing him every day. But even without that…running a business is going to take up a huge amount of time and that's where I'm going to want to be."

"In the kitchen," I sigh, feeling like I've just watched a goal trickle into the back of my own net in overtime and then it's my turn to turn away from her. I know I've already laid all my cards on the table as far as she's concerned but somehow I still don't want her to see that it hurts me that she won't choose me.

"That's where I know who I am," she tells me quietly and I feel her stroke my face but I keep it turned from her all the same.

"I know who you are," I reply bitterly.

"Yeah, I guess you do," she smirks and lays down on her back so that she can look up at me, her fingertips continuing to brush my cheek. "He wanted me to be with you y'know," she adds softly and I'm sure that statement is intended to make me feel better but it just feels like she's twisting the knife in my guts instead. "Just so you know," she adds a little more firmly, her fingers digging into my chin, forcing me to look down at her, "I liked you before he told me that. I just didn't want to admit it." If that's supposed to make me feel better she's failing miserably.

"Liked, great," I grunt, forcing the detestable word through my teeth, still refusing to meet her gaze.

"Jesus you not that insecure Crosby…you're so not gonna make me say it," she sighs dramatically like now she's the one trying to lighten the mood.

"So, as usual, it's all about you," I grumble, turning my head so that her hand is no longer on my cheek.

"Christ Crosby I am trying to be fair to you," she growls back at me and then tries to roll away, except I won't let her. I can't.


Sometimes, especially when you're little, you have magical thinking; like when you think if you shut your eyes tight enough you can make something bad go away or something that you want with all of your heart appear. When Sidney grabs me and pulls me under him his eyes are squeezed shut so hard that I I know that he's wishing that I could be the woman he wants me to be.

I've never believed in all that wishing on a star bullshit. Maybe it's because I can't tell the difference between a star, a planet and a satellite. Mostly it's because I like to think that I'm a pragmatist and a realist. Like right now, I know that the man trying to kiss a toad into a princess is way out of my league. I could, if I were even more twisted than I am, believe that this moment is some kind of cosmic get even moment for all of the girls who would kill to have this man and never will but the pragmatist in me says that what's going on here is nothing that epic. What I believe, the conclusion that I came to in all of those hours riding around with nothing but the thoughts in my head and the sound of the engine between my thighs is that we found one another because each of us needed someone in our moment of darkness, someone who would not take no for an answer and would do whatever it took to drag the other through the darkness. But that moment is over now and it's time to step into the light.

Or at least it is for him. I don't think I'm quite there yet but I know that the last few steps are ones that I have to take on my own. I know he knows it too when I feel the warm splash of his tears on my face as he holds onto me as if I'm a life raft, like if he lets go he'll drown. He won't. He'll be just fine and not just because he's Sidney Crosby but because there's a kind of light inside of him that makes him glow kind of like a night light. He's nowhere near the badass he thinks that he wants to be.

"I hate you," he hisses as he shoves his hand down the front of my jeans and makes me gasp for breath.

"No you don't," I wheeze before I press my lips up against his again while I claw at his shirt, dragging it up to his massive shoulders at which point he helps me pull it off and then tosses it onto the floor before pressing me back down onto the bed.

For him this is keeping the moment of truth at bay, the time when he'll have to leave and go back to his real life. For me this is a sort of reminder that I'm still alive, that with Kev gone I can still breathe, that my heart still beats and that my life is going to go on. I remember very clearly not being sure if I wanted that, if I still wanted to be able to breathe or if it would just be easier to walk out in front of a bus and have it all be over. Feeling that rush of adrenaline, that full body shudder when he brings me, screaming and scratching up his back, reminds me that I can still feel, that I can still…be.

"I fucking hate you," he snarls as he drags my jeans off and reaches for the snap on his own. I smile up at him, thinking that the right response to someone so clearly in distress as he is now shouldn't be to want to fuck him except that I know that's what he needs. He needs to claim me. He needs to shove his flag pole in me to prove to himself that he isn't really as weak as he's feeling now and I need to let him, for once, have the upper hand.

"That's okay," I whisper as he roughly shoves his jeans down over his hips and positions himself between my thighs, prying them apart with his big, meaty hands. "I love you," I tell him, letting him see the truth of it, just this once, in my eyes.

"Bitch," he snarls, slamming his hips forward and filling me all at once. I gasp, the air driven from my lungs, but I smile too. It feels good. It always feels good with him and I don't hide it this time, don't dissemble or evade. I let him see my appreciation for his beauty, for his masculinity, for his dominance over me. Mostly I let him see, this one time, how I feel.

"I love you," I repeat, reaching for him, lacing my fingers in his big, thick ones. He looks at our joined hands, at the way they fit together and his face twists into something that doesn't look like him at all. It's animalistic and raw and ugly as his nostrils flare and his eyes narrow and those full, soft lips almost disappear entirely as tears spill down his pale cheeks.

"I. Hate. You!" he growls and then falls on me, pressing my arms over my head and takes me like I'm nothing more than a blow up doll, like this is all about him and not about me at all but as he slams into me, as he rams himself deep inside of me with nearly all of his weight pressing me down into the bed I feel myself coming apart, cracking and shattering like broken glass. I feel like I'm an egg that he's breaking and as I scream his name it's with another voice that comes from another woman, a new woman entirely.


There's only a note on the pillow next to me when I wake up. Somehow I knew that would happen. I don't even have to read it to know what it says. This place, her apartment, doesn't even feel like hers as the morning light creeps across the floor. It feels cold and empty. Even that ripe green apple smell of hers is gone somehow. She's gone and I know that the note I'm reaching for is going to tell me that she won't be coming back either.

I expect it to hurt but as I swing my legs over the side of the bed and reach for my underwear I'm surprised to find that my chest doesn't ache as much as it did last night. I even find myself smiling, just a little, as I tug on my jeans and look up at that pin up picture of her that isn't her. Not the Violet I knew. The Violet I knew was never that playful, not really. She's someone else's Violet and I realize, as I take the picture down off the wall that she probably will be that Violet for someone else, sometime later, when she's ready.

I know I'll miss her and that the picture will always be a bittersweet reminder but I take it anyway because I don't want to forget her and I could. Hockey's taught me how to wipe moments, games, even entire days from my mind and I could do that with her memory because I know that thinking about her will always sort of hurt, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that little pain will remind me to keep my head up.

"I love you," I whisper to the ghost in the room, to the empty space on the counter where her cake decorating tools should be that tells me she isn't going back to the restaurant either. I wonder if the note will tell me but I don't read it. Not yet, maybe later. "Bye Vi," I whisper as I pull the door shut behind me and head down to the street where I'm pleasantly surprised to find my SUV in one piece.

I slide the picture onto the passenger seat before I get behind the wheel and am tempted to read the note while I let it warm up but the sun is just coming over the tops of the buildings and the wet streets are glittering and suddenly there's a rainbow in the sky and I just stare at it and smile.


Epilogue

"I'm telling you this place has the best scones in the city and I'm starving because someone didn't feed me last night."

I let myself be lead through a door that jingles welcomingly as it opens and suddenly the nip in the air is gone and I suddenly feel as if I've been wrapped up in a favorite old quilt next to a roaring fire. The small bakery is as hot as a sauna, its windows steamed up and everyone inside has rosy cheeks and big smiles that are as warm as the temperature.

"Oooh look, pastaciottis, oh and sfogliatelle!" I chuckle as I watch Mel lick her full lips as her big dark eyes roam over the display cases full of pastries and colorful cakes and cookies.

"Get whatever you want babe, but hurry up or you'll be late for your own hen party," I remind her with a glance at my watch. The flight to Atlantic City isn't for another couple of hours but she doesn't know that, it's just one of the many surprises planned for her this weekend.

"But there's sooo many choices," she whines, biting down on her bottom lip in that adorable way that always makes me want to grab her and kiss her. I slide my arms around her waist and pull her back against me, kissing the curve of her neck while she giggles. That giggle, it's sucked me in since the day we met two years ago.

"Then get one of everything," I whisper, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek before she digs her elbows into me and struggles free.

"Yeah, cuz then I'd need a tent for a wedding dress," she says, heaving a sigh. "I guess just one sfogliatelle…and maybe a blueberry scone," she adds with a flash of that infectious grin of hers'.

"Can I suggest the orange poppy seed ones? It's a new recipe but they're really yummy." You'd think something like the sound of a person's voice you'd forget over time, but the minute that I hear it all these emotions come swimming to the surface and even though I'm surrounded with the smell of freshly baked bread and ground espresso suddenly all I can smell is leather and green apples and I'm not at all surprised when I turn around to find myself staring into a pair of lavender eyes. "Hey you," she smiles as if I'd only seen her yesterday, not three years ago.

"Violet." It feels like I'm whispering a prayer when I say her name and her smile broadens, her eyes light up and all of a sudden she looks like the girl in the picture back home in the study.

"Can I get you a mocha or a latté?" she asks Mel, knowing, I guess, that I won't have one. I watch her light eyes give my fiancée a quick inspection and just for a minute I worry that the Violet I used to know will say something crass but her warm smile doesn't even fade at the edges.

"Mmm a peanut butter mocha with lots of whip cream and Reese's pieces," Mel replies moving towards the big brass and gold plated machine behind the counter. Violet gives some younger woman quick instructions and then starts boxing up the goodies Mel ordered. I watch her lovingly putting the pastries in the box and can't help but notice that there's no ring on her hand and just a little part of me feels bad about that.

"I hope you're paying," she winks at me and moves towards an old fashioned looking metal cash register. I get out my wallet and realize my hands are shaking. "She's a cutie patootie," Violet says without looking up from punching in our order. "You make a cute couple," she adds, glancing up at me with those eyes that make my heart miss a beat. I don't know what to say to that so I just hand her a twenty which she makes a meal out of holding up to the light and turning over in her hand as if it might be counterfeit. My gaze goes to the tattoos on her arm and as she goes to slide the twenty into the cash drawer I catch sight of a small but unmistakable addition on the inside of her wrist that looks a lot like the number on the back of my jersey. I open my mouth to ask her about it when the doors to what I can only guess by a glimpse of gleaming machinery and long flour covered tables is the kitchen swing suddenly open.

"Mama!"

"Boo, you know you're not supposed to be out here." The grin she's suddenly wearing makes her entire face light up as she bends down to pick up a small boy whose dark hair she ruffles as she presses a kiss to his temple as she settles him on her hip as if it's something second nature.

"But I'm hungry," he pouts, his very full, very pink bottom lip juts out.

"You're always hungry, you little monster," she teases, poking his little belly and making him squirm. "It's going to be lunch time soon. You can wait a little longer."

"Can't I have just one cookie?" he asks and turns to look at the rows and rows of them in the display case. His light colored eyes are surrounded by long, thick dark lashes.

"One," she says sternly, "and not any of the biscotti, do you hear me Patrick?" she adds as she puts him down. She watches him go and I listen to the sound of his little feet as he runs around behind the display case. His little face reappears as he reaches for a chocolate dipped macaroon and there's something about the look of concentration on his face as he carefully puts his hand around it that seems so familiar….

"He's adorable," Mel says admiringly as she reappears at my side with a steaming cup of something sweet smelling.

"He's a handful," Violet replies with a smirk as she watches him walk back to her. She picks him up and puts him on the counter. "Now…change…it was a twenty right?" she mumbles as she goes back to the cash register.

"Forget it," I mumble, my gaze still riveted to the little boy with the wavy dark hair.

"Sidney," Mel elbows me. "Don't be such a show off."

"Yeah Sidney," Violet drawls holding out my change, "listen to the lady. It sounds like you're keeping him in line," she adds with a wink towards Mel who blushes and gleams like a new penny all at once.

"I do my best," Mel grins, slipping her arm into mine. "C'mon, or we'll be late, like you said," she adds, bumping her hip against mine. I don't want to go but I find myself staggering towards the door, my gaze still on the boy on the counter and his mother who seems to be whispering something to him that makes him turn and watch us go. They both wave and I do too and then the door closes with a jingle behind us.