Wednesday, August 6, 2008

FORTY-TWO

I stood near the metal detectors and craned my neck so I could see the guys leaving the terminal. The team was finally back from their roadtrip, and I couldn't wait to see Sidney.

In the week that he had been gone, I painted and decorated the entire house, packed up my apartment, and I was in the process of moving all my belongings from my apartment to our house. The only thing I didn't do was find a new job. I was really getting worried—if I couldn't find a job at a bank or with a large company, the chances of me being hired by a smaller business not located downtown were slim. I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. Stress was a constant force in my life now. When I woke up in the morning, a feeling of dread was already present in my stomach. February 14th was creeping closer and closer, and I wanted nothing more than the ability to stop time. I tried to be optimistic, but it was looking more and more like I would be packing everything up again in a month, but this time moving to Paris instead of Fox Chapel.

As soon as I saw Sidney exit the terminal, all my negative thoughts melted away. I smiled widely as he hurried through security. His smile was even bigger than mine, and he couldn't keep his eyes off me.

Familiar butterflies rose in my stomach as he practically ran to me. I wondered if I would ever get used to his presence, if the butterflies would ever go away. I hoped they wouldn't.

"Hi," he said as he pulled me into a hug and lifted me off the ground.

I giggled and kissed him passionately. "Hi," I whispered. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you more," he insisted as his lips met mine.

"Get a room," Colby teased as he passed by us.

I felt a tiny, sad pang in my stomach as I wondered how many more games Colby would play as a Penguin. I quickly pushed the thought out of my mind and tried to maintain an unaffected expression. Aunt Nathalie said nothing was definite…I would have to take her advice and pretend she told me nothing. After all, I couldn't look upset every time I saw Colby. Sid would definitely know something was up.

"He's just jealous," Sid said with a smile as he spun me around.

I laughed as Sidney returned me to my feet. "Ready to go home?"

"Yep." Sid slung his bag over his shoulder and we walked to my car. "Have you moved out of your apartment yet?"

"Not quite," I admitted. "I tried spending last night in the house, but it was so empty. I don't like staying there by myself."

"You won't have to for a while," Sid said reassuringly as he wrapped his arm around my waist. "We're home until Saturday…and I want you to start traveling with me. I don't like being away from you."

"Afraid I'm going to leave the country again?" I joked.

Sid laughed and shook his head as he slid into the passenger seat of my red Ford Focus. "Have you heard back from anyone yet?"

"No," I sighed. "I don't know where else to go."

"You could take Mario up on his offer…"

I had spoken to Sid every night that he was gone, so he knew all about Uncle Mario offering me a job with the Penguins. "I'm really not comfortable doing that, Sid," I replied. "I want to be hired because I'm qualified, not because my uncle owns the team."

"Yeah, I understand. You'll find something, though. Who wouldn't want you?" he said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.

I smiled bitterly. Apparently, there were ten companies in Downtown Pittsburgh that didn't want me. Otherwise I would have had at least one interview in the past week.

"So what's the game plan for today, Mr. Crosby?" I asked, eager to change the subject.

"Actually, I have to be back at the arena at one. We're going to the Children's Hospital in Oakland to visit some of the kids. You should come with me."

"Are you sure? Won't the press be there?" Although we hadn't been too secretive about our relationship, Sid and I tried to avoid the press when we could. Luckily he hadn't been faced with any annoying questions about me, and they all seemed to accept the fact that I was around the team so much because I was Mario's niece.

"It doesn't matter," he replied. "I guess it's probably time we went public. And I want you to meet these kids. A lot of them are less than half my age but they're so inspiring. There's this one boy, his name is Connor…he's my hero. He's sixteen years old, and he's been in and out of the hospital because the cancer keeps coming back. But he isn't bitter at all…he knows this Christmas was probably his last, but he isn't cynical. He just wants to make the most of his life."

The emotion behind Sid's words brought tears to my eyes. I had no idea he felt so strongly about those kids…I knew he loved the team's yearly visit to the hospital, and he often visited the hospital on his own, but this was the first time he ever spoke about it with me. "I'd love to meet him," I replied.

***

I gave Sid a tour of our newly decorated house (he loved everything, although I was sure he wouldn't tell me if he didn't) and we ate a quick lunch before returning to the Igloo to meet the team for the trip to the Children's Hospital. All the guys were wearing their jerseys with jeans, and each had a pile of Pens gear to give to the kids. We loaded onto the bus and drove the short distance to Oakland. Several reporters and photographers from local newspapers were waiting for us outside of the hospital.

"I want to see Connor first," Sid said as we entered the building. Two photographers and three reporters followed close on our heels as we broke away from the rest of the team and made our way to the oncology ward.

"Sid, who's the girl?" one of the reporters asked as she hurried after us.

"My girlfriend," he called back, never breaking his stride. He intertwined his fingers with mine and the reporter pressed on.

"What's her name? How did you two meet? How long have you been dating?"

"Just ignore them," he muttered into my ear. "We're here for the kids today, alright?" he said loudly to the reporter. Sid studied the room numbers as we passed through a long, bright hallway. "Here," he said, stopping in front of room 342. The door was closed, so Sidney knocked before opening it.

He pushed the door open and smiled widely when he saw the fragile-looking boy sitting up in the hospital bed. "Hey, Connor," he greeted as we stepped in the room. He shut the door right in the faces of the camera crews and reporters, leaving them standing in the hallway wearing stunned and offended expressions.

As soon as Connor saw Sid, his expression brightened. "Hey! It's about time you get here."

"How've you been, man?" Sid asked as he approached the bed and shook Connor's hand.

"Good, good," Connor replied.

I stood by the door awkwardly, studying the sixteen-year-old chatting easily with Sidney. If Sid hadn't told me Connor was 16, I wouldn't have believed it. He was very thin and frail—he couldn't have weighed more than 110 pounds. He was wearing a Pitt baseball cap, but I could see that he didn't have any hair due to his chemotherapy. His bed was surrounded by monitors and IVs, all with tubes leading to his body.

"Who's she?" Connor asked, inclining his head in my direction.

Sid smiled and held his hand out to me. "This is Karine Lemieux. My girlfriend," he said as I joined him at Connor's bedside.

"Girlfriend? Dude, when did this happen?"

Sid laughed and wrapped his arm around my waist. "We've known each other since October. Remember, I told you I was spending Christmas with her. That's why I couldn't come see you."

"Ohh, yeah," Connor replied.

"You ditched Connor for me?" I asked Sid. "You shouldn't have done that."

Connor shrugged. "It's not a big deal. I would ditch my friends for you, too," he replied with a charming smile. I laughed and blushed slightly. "Are you related to Mario?"

"He's my uncle," I replied.

"Awesome. So you're probably, like, really good at hockey too."

I shrugged. "I used to play."

"She's great," Sid interrupted. "She kicks my ass all the time."

"Nice," Connor replied with a grin.

"Hey, I brought you some stuff," Sid said, opening his duffel bag. He pulled out a replica of his throwback jersey from the Winter Classic, a black tee shirt with the Penguins logo printed on the front, and a light blue Winter Classic knit hat.

"Awesome," Connor said with a huge smile as he held up the jersey. "Thanks, Sid."

"No problem, man." He looked at his watch and sighed. "We gotta go join the rest of the team," Sid said reluctantly. "I'll try to stop back in before we leave, okay?"

"Sure, sure," Connor replied. I couldn't help but notice he looked a little disappointed. "It was nice meeting you, Karine. Keep Crosby out of trouble," he added with a wink.

"I'll try," I laughed.

Sidney opened the door, then closed it very quickly. "There's more of them," he said, looking very annoyed.

"Maybe I shouldn't have come…" I knew he was talking about the press—news that Sidney's girlfriend was here probably spread throughout the people covering the team's visit, and I was the new 'hot story.'

"It's not your fault," Sid replied.

"I feel badly. The kids should be getting all the attention today, not me."

"Get used to it," Sid said with a bitter smile. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't want them hounding you all day."

I glanced at Connor. "I could hang out with Connor while you make the rounds with the guys. As long as he doesn't mind putting up with me for an hour."

Connor's face lit up. "Sure! Only if I can get a picture with you, though. My friends won't believe I was alone with such a hot girl."

I laughed and blushed again. For only being 16, this kid was smooth.

"Keep your hands to yourself, Connor," Sid said, only half-joking. "I'll come get you when we're done," he added to me. He gave me a kiss and left the room.

"Sid told me a lot about you on the way here," I said to Connor once we were alone. "I couldn't wait to meet you."

Connor rolled his eyes. "He makes me out to be some kind of hero or something just because I have a brain tumor. What else am I supposed to do, you know? I have to deal with it."

"You're really positive, though. I don't know how I would handle being in your situation."

He shrugged. "You'd be surprised what you're capable of handling. It isn't all bad…I just pray and hope it gets better. And I have a lot of family and friends who are helping me through this. It's the third time the cancer has returned…it's probably not going away this time."

I felt tears forming in my eyes and stared at the floor. He was so young, only a teenager, and he had already accepted the fact that he wasn't going to win.

"Hey, don't be sad for me," Connor said quietly. "It isn't all bad…it put everything in perspective for me. I really appreciate my family and friends more than ever…I understand what really matters now. I'm not mad that my life will be so short, because I've made the most of it." Connor opened the drawer of his nightstand and handed me a photo album. "My mom made this for me."

I opened the first page and read the inscription: "Don't count the breaths you take, count the moments that take your breath away." The album was full of pictures from the past year of all the amazing things Connor had experienced—there were several pictures of Sidney. From the dates, it looked like he visited Connor at least once a month, up until October. I felt a pang of guilt…Sid stopped his regular visits once he met me.

"Connor, I'm really sorry Sid hasn't been visiting you as much. I didn't know he was here so often before I came along."

Connor smirked. "It's no big deal. At first I was a little mad, but now that I see you…I understand why he spends so much time with you."

"We'll come see you more, I promise."

"I'd like that," Connor replied with a smile. "Maybe we could play some hockey."

"Definitely," I replied, although I couldn't imagine this weak boy even walking, let alone playing hockey. "You and me against Sid. We'd completely own him."

"Yeah," Connor replied with a smile. He yawned and rested his head against his pillow. "Sorry I'm being so boring, but I had another round of chemo this morning and it really wiped me out."

"It's fine," I replied. "Take a nap…I think I might try to find Sid and the rest of the team anyway. It was great meeting you, Connor."

"It was nice meeting you too, Karine. I'll see you soon?"

"Of course."

Connor relaxed in his bed and I quietly left the room and went off to find Sidney. Sid had been right—Connor was an amazing person. Although I had just spent time with a terminally ill, teenaged cancer paitent I couldn't focus on how unfair the world was. While I couldn't understand why good people like Connor had to suffer, all I could think about was how infectious his positive attitude was. All of my worries seemed so trivial now. Connor was truly inspiring. He wasn't allowing something as ugly as cancer control and define his life…he was taking charge and making the most of the time he had left. What an amazing boy.

7 comments:

pensfan4life said...

Wow! This one made me tear up! I love this story! Can't wait for more!

Kaity said...

Another really good post (:
Update Soon, please !

Kimmy said...

Aww, I totally love this story.

More Soon!!!

Anonymous said...

Your story is amazing.
Update soon please[:

Anonymous said...

I love your story!

Can you please tell us when your next updates will be? -just so I don't have to check like every hour! Thanks! :]

KylieD32 said...

I agree with Pensfan, I definitely got a little misty! Once again, great chapter!

Summer said...

Oh geez, I don't even know when I'm going to update. I can tell you this much though, I won't be putting anything up tonight because I'm exhausted and going to bed. But I get off work at 1 tomorrow afternoon, so I'll try to post when I get home. I might put two parts up, even.

I'm sorry my updates have been kind of boring lately...I'm seriously lacking inspiration. If anyone has ideas for where they'd like this story to go, please please please leave a comment or IM me @ LookandConnect

Thanks for all the nice comments guys. I really appreciate it. =)