Riley rubbed her gloved hands together in a pitiful attempt to keep warm. Now he’s gone, she mused, the voice in her head bitter. Sidney had left early that morning, before the snowfall, for his two game road trip. That night they would be playing Tampa Bay, and the next night the Panthers. Both teams, she thought, were in the warm state of Florida. She was envious.
As her fiancé would be soaking up the sun, she would be in the beginning stages of planning her wedding. And if that wasn’t stressful enough, in a few hours Riley would be telling her mother for the first time that she would be marrying a professional hockey player. Eliza Jacobs was never someone who enjoyed the sport of hockey, and she was definitely not someone who took to being told important news near last. So Riley had prepared herself for her mother’s angry wrath once she found out that she would be hearing the news of her daughter’s engagement after her future son-in-law’s hockey team did. There was one thing to be grateful for though, Riley thought, the news of hers and Sidney’s engagement was kept under wraps, with only close friends and family aware.
She took two deep breaths as she walked up the beautiful stone steps of the Lemieux mansion. She and Nathalie, Mario’s wife, had planned to get together a few hours before the scheduled affair to get everything ready. Nathalie and Mario had insisted that it be at their estate instead of the apartment Riley and Sidney shared. Not wanting to seem too defiant, and after realizing that the apartment could not comfortably hold a dozen women at one time, Riley agreed that it be held outside of her home.
She cleared her throat and knocked on the large wooden doors. Moments later it opened, Mario’s eldest daughter, Lauren, greeted Riley with a bright smile.
“Hey Rye,” she said in a bubbly tone. “Come on in.”
“Thanks.” Feeling the need to make conversation, Riley smiled at Lauren and said: “How are you?”
Lauren returned the smile. “I’m good, congrats on the engagement by the way; you and Sid are great together. Oh, and my mom is in the kitchen, if you’re wondering.”
“Thank you. Are you going to join in on the wedding planning, by any chance?”
“Probably,” she answered. “This is going to be the most talked about wedding here for the next few months.”
“Don’t remind me,” Riley said before making her way into the kitchen to greet Nathalie.
The back wall of the kitchen was the main focal point of the whole room. It was all windows and displayed the gorgeous backyard that was now covered with a few feet of white snow. It was an interesting contrast in the winter months. The kitchen countertops were a solid black made from granite that coincided perfectly with the light-coloured wooden cupboards.
She spotted Nathalie instantly; the woman was hard to miss. She stood with her back to Riley, cutting up some vegetables. She was dressed in dark jeans and a light grey sweater; simple, easy, comfortable. That was one thing that Riley really looked at Nathalie for: simplicity. Yes, the woman could doll herself up to look like Barbie, but on most days she looked like an average woman, a woman who could relate to anyone and everyone. She had it all—and Riley wanted to be just like her, with a few minor differences, Riley added with a smile to herself.
“Good morning, Nathalie,” Riley said in her sweet voice.
Nathalie turned around to face Riley quickly, delighted to hear her. “Riley! It’s good to see you again.” She smiled brightly and handed Riley a celery stick. “I’m so excited!”
A laugh bubbled out of Riley’s mouth. “I’m a mix of emotions; excitement, nervousness, bewilderment.” She crunched down on the vegetable. “Everything is going by so fast; everyone is growing up.”
“Oh, tell me about it!” Nathalie exclaimed. “I’ve got a sixteen-year-old daughter who is quickly approaching seventeen and three other growing kids.”
Riley laughed, grabbed a carrot stick and smiled when the man of the house wandered in. “Good morning, Mario,” she greeted.
Nathalie quickly turned around to face her husband. “You’re still here?”
“What, you don’t want me anymore?” Mario joked.
“No! Get out of here. It’s a girl’s day,” Nathalie told him.
As they bantered back and forth, Riley thought of how cute they were together. After years of marriage, four kids, and a retirement they still acted like a young who were foolishly in love. But then again, Riley thought, that’s exactly what they were.
Was her relationship with Sidney like that? Of course it was, she mused after a moment of deep thought. He was her best friend. He knew things about her that she didn’t know about herself. He knew what each tone meant, what each action symbolized. He understood her reasons for focusing so much on her work, for wanting to be the best. He understood her moments of happiness and spurts of doubt. But most of all, she thought, he got her.
But did she understand him? Riley had come to the conclusion long ago that she would never understand why he chose a sport as his career—but she accepted it. She also recognized his need for privacy; all his life he had been in the spotlight of the hockey world. Riley knew Sidney as the quiet, genuine guy he was, not the hockey god he was portrayed as.
And that was it, Riley concluded. It was the fact that they knew each other for who they were not what they are that would benefit them in the long run. Sidney would always be a hockey legend and she would be known for her journalistic talents, but at the end of every day, he was just Sidney Crosby and she was Riley Jacobs—without the titles.
“I’ll see you later, Riley.” Mario smiled at her when she looked up, then left the room.
Nathalie sighed but Riley could tell it was in a loving way. “He takes so long to do anything.”
An hour later, Riley sat in her Jeep in complete silence as she cruised the roads of Pittsburgh. The drive to the airport took her no longer than 30 minutes but she used the time wisely; she basked in the serene silence. It wouldn’t last much longer, she thought as she approached the airport.
Her mother was not going to get a warm welcoming. Let the games begin, Riley thought as she got out of her car and walked the fair distance to the crowded building. As soon as she got to gate 5 the loud voice boomed over the speakers. Riley listened carefully to the announcement of the Montreal flight arrival. Minutes later, she spotted her mother and sister. Riley noted that her mother walked in brisk strides and that her sister walked nonchalantly.
“Rye!” Storm, Riley’s younger and only sister shouted when she spotted her.
“Stormy!” Riley hugged her sister tightly, then turned to her mother. “Bonjour maman.”
“Riley, vous regardez bien.” Eliza hugged her daughter quickly, then made her way to the airport exit.
Here we go, Riley mused and sighed. She turned to her sister, who was now only an inch or two shorter than she, and smiled. “Comment allez-vous?”
Storm smiled, showing offer her white, perfectly straight teeth. “Je suis bon, vous-même?”
“Je suis bon,” Riley replied but thought, not for long. She watched her mother, who was a few strides ahead of her, shove her way through a crowd. Riley then thought of how a few months ago her sister had been telling her of the English lessons she was taking and decided to ask her about them. “Parlez-vous anglais?”
Storm looked at Riley, smiled, and said: “Yes.”
Riley laughed at her sister’s strong accent. “You’re getting there,” she told her.
When they reached Riley’s green Jeep, she saw how many bags her mother had brought with her. She didn’t think there would be enough room in her apartment for all of it. But with Sidney gone, they would have some extra room.
“Mom,” she said in quick French, “how much did you bring?”
“Enough for the week,” she quipped.
“Week?” Riley echoed. “I thought you were only coming down for three days?”
“Your sister and I wanted to check out the city and some stores around here, so we extended the trip. We also thought we’d give Ben a little visit.”
And, Riley thought, that little extension was going to throw her whole schedule off. She had only planned for a simple three day visit from her mother, not seven. Riley had timed it so that she could entertain family while Sidney was away. Now she’d have to call him, she thought darkly.
“So, Riley,” Eliza started in her sharp tone. Riley thought it sounded even worse in French. “Why all of a sudden did you want to catch up with us? We haven’t heard from you since your break up with that hockey player.”
Riley knew that her mother never accepted the fact that Sidney played hockey for a living. Telling her that she was about to marry him would only make things worse. “About that,” Riley returned in her native language. “Sid and I talked it out—”
“You went back to him?” Eliza cut in, astonished with a hint of rising anger.
“We both agreed to give it another go—”
“You went back to him.” This time, Riley knew, it wasn’t a question—it was an accusation. And she didn’t appreciate it.
“Maman!” She was going to get it out now before they arrived to the Lemieux place. “I love Sidney. I’m in love with him. I asked you to come down here because I wanted to tell you in person that Sid and I are getting married.”
There, she thought, it was out. She felt weightless now, the truth was out there whether or not Eliza Jacobs liked it or not.
“What?!” Eliza screeched. “You’re what?” She gripped the strap on her purse tightly; trapping it between the perfectly manicured claws that she called nails. “What?” she said one more time.
Riley took a deep breath, let it out threw her teeth. “Sid and I are getting married.”
“It hasn’t been decided yet.”
“When did he propose to you, Riley?” The tone of her mother’s voice, the authority in it brought the fangs out in Riley.
“It wasn’t really a proposal, it was more of an ultimatum, but it was about a month ago.”
“A month? You waited a month to tell your own mother that you’re engaged? Riley Jacqueline Jacobs, have you no—”
“Goddamn it, mother—”
“Don’t you swear at me, don’t you dare.”
Riley had to take another deep breath to calm herself or she would end up saying something that she would later regret. “Mother,” she said, this time in calm French. “I didn’t tell you because I thought it would be better to wait and tell you face to face. Wait,” she said when she noticed Eliza getting ready to interrupt. “I also held back in telling you because I knew, I knew, Mom, that you would cause a scene just like you are now.”
There was a moment of silence and Riley thought that she had finally gotten through to her mother, finally made her see if from her point of view.
Eliza sighed, closed her eyes and then spoke. “I’m happy for you, Riley. Even though I don’t understand his lifestyle one bit, I can learn to accept it because I want to be happy that my daughter has found what’s right for her.” She paused and turned to Riley, opening her eyes into tiny slits. “Who have you told before me?”
“Mom, don’t do this.”
"Come on, Riley, who else knows?”
She sighed. “Not many; we wanted to keep it as secretive as possible. Only close friends and family know.”
“But I was the last to know?”
Even though Eliza’s tone had softened, Riley didn’t trust it. “Yes.” She glanced quickly at her mother as she pulled into the Lemieux driveway. “Please, Mom, just leave it at that.”
“Fine,” she sniffed and stepped out of the Jeep.
“Well I’m happy about your engagement,” Storm said from the backseat.
“Merci,” Riley said as she, too, stepped out.
When they stepped inside the warm house, Riley noticed that a few of the other women had arrived and were already helping themselves to the delicious display of fruits and vegetables. She spotted Nathalie and gave her a look that screamed: Help me!
Sure enough, Nathalie sauntered over, arms open, to the three Jacobs’ women. “Eliza, Storm,” she greeted in an excited voice, “vous deux semblez merveilleux!”
With her mother and sister off on a tour of the house, Riley wandered over into the large living room where several women were scattered about chatting with each other. Vero approached her by linking her arm through Riley’s and showed off her bright smile.
“Rye,” Vero said, “Where have you been?” She brushed the question off quickly. “It doesn’t matter. Now I know that there are a few women who you probably have never met or just don’t remember, so I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
She led Riley off towards the group of unfamiliar women, chatting the whole way. The only thought in Riley’s mind, however, was how in the hell she was going to get everything back into a calm order. Hopefully, she thought, without anymore unwanted surprises.
But she couldn’t have been more wrong.