Wednesday, September 14, 2011

chapter nineteen


It's a terrible thought to have first thing in the morning.  But I'm glad I saw it before I got to work.

Patrick Kane - Stepping Out?

With the new season right just weeks away, Blackhawks star Patrick Kane has been making a show of himself around town with a certain young lady.  We wonder how she feels about this picture, allegedly taken two nights ago, which features an apparently passed-out Kane and a different female companion.  Sources verify that Kane and teammates Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were seen partying hard in several spots around town that night.  Has Kaner hit the skids again, after last-seasons slide out out of the championship spot?

"Fuck you," I say under my breath, not sure if I'm talking to the gossip columnist or Patrick.  There's more:

Kane will participate in a Hawks press conference today at 1 PM at the Madhouse.  He is set to reveal his cast-free wrist, healed from off-season surgery, and discuss his summer training regimen.  Or maybe he'll tell us which of these lucky ladies gets to enjoy his two good hands.

I don't even care that the window on the El probably hasn't been washed in a millennium.  I lean my head against it and close my eyes.  After Patrick sent the flowers to my office yesterday, I stared at them while I typed, talked on the phone, pretended to accomplish anything they pay me for.  But I didn’t call him.  Now he's talking to the media today.  He has worked so hard and now, yet again, this is what they'll be asking about.

He made his bed, let him suffocate in it, says one half of my brain.

He is more than this. I still believe that, the other side countered.

The two halves of my brain have been arguing for days, wearing me out and keeping me up.  My common sense is very haughty - I'd ignored it the first time and look where I ended up.  There is a lot of internal 'I told you so' going on. But at the same time...

I close the paper. Seeing the picture makes me feel sick.

The crowd of commuters carries me off the train and onto the street below.  It is a pinball game trying to break free and head toward the office - I dip and duck and dodge.  Right into someone.

"Oh sorry! I.... Oh."

Patrick wears a baseball cap pulled low over his blond hair and one of last years long sleeve shirts gets cozy with his new, thicker chest.  His hands - both of them - are stuffed in his jeans pockets.

I study his face for a second.  His usually clear blue eyes are stormy, like an overcast sky.  The delicate skin beneath looks dry.  He hasn't been sleeping.

"Hi," he says.

Goddamn it. My knees go a little weak and my heart wheels.  Both arms tremble with the urge to reach around him; I wouldn't even have to move my feet.  Everything below my shoulders cries mutiny.

"You’re early," he points out, like he’d know my schedule.  “I just got here.”

The hint of his smile threatens to detach me from the Earth.  I hope he doesn't notice the deep breath I take.

"I, um, I wanted to give you this."  From the newspaper box next to him, Patrick picks up a single wrapped flower. I already know what it will be.  He uses his newly free left hand to give it to me.

It's possibly more gorgeous than the other ones, something you could spend your whole life trying to match.  His fingers brush my skin as he places the one lily in my hand.  He smiles tentatively.  I wish I could scrub his lips clean and kiss him again for the first time.  I wish I could be the taste on his lips, because I still taste him on mine.

"It's perfect," I say.

"It's amazing I ever got near something so beautiful."

If he leaned in, he could kiss me.  I would not back away.  But he doesn’t know that and he’s so scared of going too far.  I can tell he wants to, badly.  Instead, he just gives me a half-sad smile and stars to leave.

“Hey,” I call after him, afraid to use his name in public.

It’s like a scene from a movie, the way he turns back over his shoulder, the brim of his hat casting half his face in shadow as people swarm around and between us.

“Good luck today.”

Again that half-sad smile.  “I’m going to need more than that.”

I see Kristen coming down the steps from the El.  Even in the mass of humanity she seems brighter and in sharper detail.  One minute later and I would have missed her.

She doesn’t see me, so I wind my way toward the bottom of the stairs.  If the crowd carries her anyway I’ll lose my moment - I wonder if I would even follow.

But fate brings her right into my chest.  I don’t need another step.

"Oh sorry! I.... Oh."

I’m not good at reading people’s faces.  After a few seasons as a hero, I was so used to seeing positive things that now I just see what I want.  I imagine a brief pang of desire flashes in Kristen’s eyes before shock fades into something guarded, unreadable.

I start blabbering about how she’s early and I just arrived - way to sound like a stalker.  Next I’ll be telling her I had to look up the El map to find the stop because it’s not like I ride the damned thing.  The only way to shut myself up is to cut right to the chase.

“I wanted to give you this.”

Her face softens because she already knows what it is.  The corners of her soft pink lips curl and I can feel the last kiss we shared, just after our first time together, when I thought we’d have all the time in the world for more.  It’s one of the last things about that day I do remember.

Kristen’s dark hair is pulled into a ponytail that hangs forward over her far shoulder, showing off the creamy skin of her neck.  That graceful slope runs into the hollow of her collarbone like an invitation to rest your head.  She tells me the flower is perfect.  I can barely pull my eyes from the line of her jaw.

"It's amazing I ever got near something so beautiful."

I mean that, as much as I meant any apology.  Standing inches from Kristen, knowing that I may have cost myself all this, I am astounded that someone like her ever even gave me a chance.

If I leaned in, I could kiss her.

But instead I go.  There’s too much between us now to just reach out and take it.  I don’t know how to win her back but hat’s not it.  I don’t expect her to call for me, but she does.

I am going to need more than luck today.

Back at home, I change into a dress shirt and slacks.  Crosby can wear a t-shirt to his press conference, but with or without Kristen I have got something to prove this season.  And maybe the person who needs to see it most, and first, is me.

Dennis calls me at noon to make sure I’ll be on time.

“The picture with that girl, it’s in the Red Eye today.  It’ll be mentioned.”

All I can do is sigh.  Kristen will have seen it by now - maybe she saw it before running into me.  No, I doubt it.  With newsprint rubbing it in her face, why would she have talked to me?

“Any luck with your girl?” he asks, the hope plain in his voice.

I am ready to lie.  I’m ready to say the picture is old and cover my own ass.  But more than that, I want to protect Kristen.  Her face is out there too.  Allison cannot be allowed to hurt her anymore than I already have.  I failed last time and I will not do it again.

“No.  I’m on my own today.”

I add the new lily to the little collection on my desk.  It gives the tiny bouquet perfect symmetry.  Even the smell is a constant reminder of what I’m already obsessing about - how battered he looked this morning; the fact that he went to the train instead of my house or office; the way it felt to be close to him.  No matter what I work on, I keep glancing over at the flowers.  It’s well past noon when Teresa catches me looking and assumes I’m mooning over a gift from my famous boyfriend.

“Hmmm, not what I would have expected from Kane,” she says.  It’s the first time anyone at work has said his name in to me in two days.  

“He is full of surprises.”  I leave out that he’s also full of obvious mistakes.

“That uh... that picture in the paper today....”  Teresa stops short of intruding, but she’s as worried as she is curious.  For all she knows I’m in a tailspin that will end in a fiery crash the way it did after Tyler.

My stomach clenches: the moment of truth.  Yesterday I claimed not to know what Arianna was talking about.  Now the picture has been seen by a hundred thousand people.  Either I’ve seen it or I’m the worst potential-girlfriend ever.

I lie to protect myself, but also to protect Patrick.  No one would be surprised if they knew he slept with some other girl while we weren’t even exclusive.  No one would be surprised if it happened when we were married.  I want to help him change that, even if he’s not quite there yet.  The idea of Patrick as the untrustworthy cliche breaks my heart.  Even so, my voice catches as I speak.
“It’s old.”  I hope my face lies along with my mouth.  “It really happened, but it was last season.”

Teresa smiles like she wanted nothing more than that answer.  “Good.  See, dating you has already done good things for Patrick Kane.”

I hear the words out loud before they even register in my brain.  “Could I take a long lunch?”

She looks at me like I’m a book open to the last page - she knows right where I’m going.  

“Of course, go on.”

Five minutes later I am mad dashing across town, wondering if I’m really going to the United Center.  It’s quarter to one.  I may not make it.  I may get there and turn around.  Truth be told I don’t even know how I’m getting in - except for the print out of me and Patrick at the baseball game I stuffed into my purse.  Though in the last of the summer warmth and my hurry, I may look nothing like that girl when I arrive.

For the last block, there’s practically no one around.  Without a game or show it’s eerily quiet.  The closer I get, the more imposing and impossible this place seems.  The number of people it can hold, the amount of money that flows in and out.  It’s the first time I ever come close to understanding the pressure Patrick must feel.

At the Michael Jordan statue out front, I stop.  My heart is beating too fast.  This is the only entrance I’ve ever used - and it looks closed.  I don’t know where I’m going and I wasn’t even invited.  The whole hurried way here I kept picturing Patrick as he was that morning: bashful and hopeful, and the way he was our last morning together: adoring and sweet.  The Patrick that no one else knows yet.  But beneath the walls of the stadium change that image changes - Patrick as larger than life, unchangeable.  Patrick as he’s always been.

Is protecting him the same as forgiving him?  Is being here the same as being with him? Because I’m not ready to do either one of those things.

Five minutes to one.


I nod, assuring our GM Stan Bowman that I’m set to face the firing squad.  He doesn’t have to say anything else.

I shouldn’t think of the press that way; most are nice and know their stuff about hockey.  This was meant to be a good news day.  But one of them holds the bullet in their gun.  One of them is going to ask about the photo, and I am going to lie.

Part of me wanted to tell Kristen this morning.  Warn her.  For all I know she’s told everyone what I did, and now by saying the photo is old I’m going to publicly call her a liar.  As if she were just like Alison.  

It’s ironic that my only solace comes from the true heart of my problem:  No one will believe me.

Dennis and the rest of the team know as well as I do that whatever I say, I’ll be guilty.  Old or new that picture is the same damning evidence of my immaturity and non-commitment that has been paraded out a million times.  I can deny when it happened, but I can’t deny that I did it.

So I’ll lie - another facet of Old Me that I promised to squash - even though it won’t matter to anyone but me.

Dennis bustles backstage, smiling broadly.  “You are good,” he tells me in an odd tone, like he’s impressed that I’ve filled the room.

Flashbulbs pop.  The space is packed and everyone leans forward.  I wave lamely with my repaired left hand and take my seat.  Stan introduces the doctor, who starts explaining my injury.  To keep from looking bored I use an old trick from media training - I focus my eyes toward the back of the room, as if I’m always looking at someone just behind the crowd.

Only this time there’s actually someone there.  Against the far wall, between a TV cameraman and the door, is Kristen.

Now I know what Dennis meant.  A huge smile cracks across my face before I can slam it shut, school my features and probably fail at looking deliriously happy.  And relieved.  And amazed.  Jesus it’s going to be all over the news tonight and I don’t give a shit.

She’s wearing a jewel-bright blue silk top with a tie that knots at her waist.  Her ponytail is still pulled forward on one side, only know the skin atop her other shoulder is bare almost to the edge, where her shirt hangs like it would much rather fall off.  Those perfect lips I knew so well just days ago fold into a flat, pent-up smile.  It’s encouraging and emotional and confused and above all, protective.

I try not to stare as I go into autopilot.  It’s my turn to discuss rehab and how I’m ready to go for the season.  Bowman opens the floor to questions and the first few are easy - why did I wait for surgery, did it affect my play at the end of last season.  Nothing new.  Kristen shifts her weight nervously.  It’s time.

I let my eyes fall on a woman at the end of the second row.  She’s the gossip columnist for the Tribune and has had her hand up since the first moment.  There’s no hesitation in her voice.

“Patrick, can you address the recent photo that surfaced of you after a night of partying with your teammates?  And is it your intention this season to maintain the lifestyle that kept you in the news last year?”

The urge to look at Kristen is strong, but I don’t.  Bowman moves in his seat beside me.

“The picture you’re referring to was taken last season.  While I was out with my teammates the other night, none of us intend to lose focus once the season arrives.”

“So you won’t be partying?” she continues.

I shrug and give a short answer, trying to end this topic.  “I’m sure I’ll go out, but try to keep it low key.  The team is my priority.”

“And the girl you’ve been seeing, if you still are?” she needles.  “TV and the papers can’t be very low key for her.  Where do dating and personal life fall in your priorities?”

In my peripheral vision, I see Kristen stand up straighter against the wall in the back.  It draws my eye and she’s looking right back.  That’s my permission.

“She knows how important she is.”

I say it to right to Kristen.  Most of the heads in the room turn and she just half-smiles back at me, ignoring them.  Grace under pressure.  It all lasts a moment while they register this girl who is man enough to stand by me.  But that’s enough.

“And she’s almost as happy as Toews for is me to have that cast off.”


  1. Just wonderful! I love the lilies and the unspoken communication between Patrick & Kristen was a great touch. Hopefully this isn't the end?

  2. WOOO loved this... it would work so well as a film! :)

  3. YES! So happy she went to the press conference

  4. Amazing, I hope they can work it out.