Written by Mitch de la Guardia and Shataivian
No matter how comfortable, well-equipped, and luxurious a team jet could be, after flying to Hawaii, then Seattle, and back home to Las Vegas, the Wildcards had clearly received their fill of being cooped up in an airplane. It was with much relief, and stretching, that they disembarked, each player ready to head to their own homes, eat food from their own kitchens, and sleep in their own beds - especially after back-to-back losses on the road.
Sure, they were against the Kahunas and the Summit, both formidable teams in their own right, on their own turf, but after the Wildcards’ longest winning streak of the season, it was a damper on everyone’s spirits. And, as Crosby had observed both in person and on Tweeter, they had taken a special toll on Lisa DuPont.
The normal teammate pep talks were said on the plane, and they received their coaching staff’s usual attempts at going over what went well, and what needed improvement, but this… this was different, and Crosby bit his lip at his most recent Tweeter exchange with Lisa, as he sat at home. Something was wrong, something which could truly hurt someone, or multiple someones, and the genet felt ill-equipped to help. But he would at least try, so the arrangements were made.
What had started as a one-time outing had become something of a tradition after home losses, yet he’d never offered after an away game loss. It didn’t feel right, typically, but now, well, it was at least an opening; a way to try and see if he could figure out what was eating at his teammate, and friend. Not to mention an excuse to show off his new car a little, but that was beside the point. So, he pulled up outside Lisa’s place in Jackson Price’s old Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead coupe, and together they headed across town to an unassuming old diner and headed inside. Peach pie, and some coffee. It would at least get the conversation started, though after the awkward silence for most of the drive, Crosby took it on himself to open the dialogue.
His fork tapped at the tip of his slice of pie, the crust flaking lightly. Running a paw through his long, wild headfur, the genet finally came out with what he’d been wanting to ask ever since the night before.
“Lisa… are you okay?” he asked. His tone was quiet, caring, yet nervous, all at once. “The game, it wasn’t your fault.”
Lisa kept her gaze on her own plate. She knew he was probably right about that, but that didn’t stop her from feeling like she had a hand in this loss. “I could have been better,” she softly answered back.
“Heh, we all could have been better,” Crosby tried to chuckle. “I mean. I wasn’t exactly burning up the scoreboard, and my rebounds have been down. Misha… barely showed up. But still, as a team we did well. We were facing a tough team who got to blow their budget on superstars, on their turf. I don’t expect to win those games, but I still try my best.”
He lifted his coffee cup and took a sip. “And I know you did, too. But that’s… that’s not what’s really bothering you, is it?”
“What? No-no-no. I’m… I’m just off my game is all. I wasn’t really feeling up to it.” Lisa looked off towards the floor knowing that she wasn’t fooling the genet. She wanted to get this off her chest but with how things were going recently in the FBA, not to mention her little stunt over All-Star week, she figured she had been in enough trouble.
Crosby sighed. The sort of sigh that comes out through your nostrils, down over pursed lips, because it’s not a sigh for yourself, but for someone else. “You’ve been feeling up to a lot of tweeting, though,” he said, and his fork pierced down through the tip of his pie, carving off a bite, but he didn’t lift it to his lips just yet. “The kind of tweeting that will get the attention of FMZ if you’re not careful. And you’re not being careful.”
“Dammit,” she said under her breath. “I don’t know how I keep forgetting about them.” She finally picked up a piece of her pie and nibbled at it. “You… you ever make a mistake knowing it’s a mistake while you’re doing it?”
“Oh yeah,” Crosby nodded. Pie was needed to fill his mouth in order to give himself time to think over just how much he should say. When at least it cleared, he actually blushed. “When I was in my rookie year, I was teammates with Lance Cheval, and I thought he was a super hunk, and… I crushed on him. Hard. I knew it was wrong. I knew he was straight, and I was some nobody rookie, while he was a star. Backfired on me hard, because, well, he was more observant than I thought, and I wasn’t as subtle as I thought. Poisoned our working relationship with each other for a few seasons and destroyed any communication with him off the court. I was a stupid, horny kid, and it hurt me both professionally and personally. So, yeah, I know all about making a mistake when you know better, and how much it can cost.”
Another sip of coffee. “It’s a lesson I’m afraid you’re about to learn, too, but yours may very well be worse.”
“W-what?” Lisa’s voice was wispy. “I…” She was busted. Maybe, just as the genet was, she wasn’t as subtle as she thought. “So, do you know?”
“I might,” Crosby said. His voice was that of a disappointed father. “I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’ve somehow come to the wrong conclusion, but… your face is telling me I’m on the right track. I heard the call, last night, and I saw you leave. Misha said you didn’t come back to the hotel, and I’m pretty sure Damario didn’t come up to Seattle just to see you. So, was it Jason?”
Lisa took a sharp breath in and grabbed her hair just above her forehead. “Dammit! Dammit dammit dammit!” She felt a quick sharp pain in her chest. He had indeed caught her.
Just because you suspect something does not always mean you want it to be true. In fact, there are times in life where it is preferable to be wrong, completely wrong. Crosby found himself in that very situation, shoulders slumping and head hanging in the confirmation of his suspicion.
“Lisa,” he began, then closed his eyes for a moment. “I… I just… Do you know what it feels like to be cheated on? What it feels like when you really love that person?” His voice was starting to break, his left paw trembling on his fork as old heartache was pulled back to the surface.
“Of course, I do,” she said into her forearm as she continued to hold her head in her palm. “I know how much it sucks. I’ve been there… more than once… I’m.” She sighed. As she ran her fingers through her hair, she took the time to think. Letting out a few more sighs, she eventually found herself chuckling to herself. “What do you think he’ll do? Damario, I mean.”
Crosby’s fork poked at his pie again, and the genet could only stare at it as he tried to process everything and tried to help. Sometimes helping hurt, though, for both parties. Yet pain preceded healing, in most things in life, he had learned.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “He might break up with you. And, I’m going to be blunt and say this as a friend, that may be what’s best. For both of you.”
The genet’s eyes lifted, looking at Lisa again as she cradled her head. “I’m no newcomer to this game. I’ve been through more than I often let on, and if there’s one thing we ballers aren’t good at, it’s getting our ego bruised. But I have to, Lisa. For your sake, I have to, so please don’t hate me for this.
“You’re not ready,” he said. “You don’t know what you want, yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve been thrust into a position in the spotlight, given money and fame, and everything you may have ever wanted, but that doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing, off the court. Very few of us did, that early in our career. I know I was an idiot, myself. But you’re dealing with more than that. You’ve got something else going on with your dad, and you’re letting that affect your relationships.
“I know you want love. We all do. Trust me, I had something beautiful, and I wrecked it, and I kick myself every single day for that. But I can’t let that hurt define me. I can’t let it get in the way of figuring out what I really want. You need to figure out what it is you want, Lisa. What you really want. Is it love? Is it lust? Is it something else? Whatever it is, it needs to be the thing which can satisfy you, not simply sate you.”
With her eyes closed, tears ran down her cheeks in contrast to the huge smile on her face. With her hand still on her head, Crosby would only be able to see the tears streaming down her face. “‘One and done,’” she recalled. “That’s what my dad had asked Jason when he first thought about ending things with his wife. One mistake and everything was over for them. She slept with some friend of hers and the two got a divorce. You think this was a scheme he cooked up to get me and Damario to break up,” she rhetorically asked. “Damario’s been so good to me. He’s never done anything wrong, so why…? What’s wrong with me?”
It was a lot to take in, and a lot to unpack. Answering would not be simple, Crosby knew that much. So, he started by not answering, but instead taking his napkin and reaching across the table to gently wipe the tears from Lisa’s cheeks, drying them with a soft smile.
“The same thing that’s wrong with all of us,” he said. “We run on emotion when we see danger signs, because we don’t have enough experience to know what those signs mean yet. That experience only comes with time, and pain, unfortunately.” His paw then very softly placed the side of a half-curled finger beneath her chin to lift her head up.
“You’re a kid,” he smiled. “I know you feel like you should be an adult by now, and the world sees you as one, but you and me, in this game? We’re so focused on the game, we don’t get the same kinds of experiences others do. A normal life isn’t a luxury many of us get, is the sad truth. It took me a while to figure out how to grow up, and I made mistakes along the way. Thankfully I was just a bench player, so the world didn’t notice me much.
“But as far as you, Jason, and Damario go, is there one of them you could truly see yourself with forever? Or are both just ‘for now’ kind of guys? I think that’s the question you need to answer for yourself, first, and once you know that, you’ll know what choices you’ll need to make.”
“But,” she thought for a moment. “I can’t choose Jason. He should have known better. I can’t be with someone who keeps making the same mistake. And Damario…” She caught herself rambling on and took a breath to start over, not to mention how hypocritical she was starting to sound. “It’s so hard. I feel so comfortable around Jason. I can joke and sorta be myself around him. And Damario. I guess… With Jason I feel comfortable, and with Damario I feel comforted, you know what I mean?”
She laughed to herself again, finally pulling her head out of her palm. “You know, I think you’re right. I have no idea what I want.” Her face went blank as she continued to eat. “You know what I do want? I just want this whole thing to disappear. I just want everything to be like it never happened. I think it’d be better that way.”
Crosby’s paw pulled back to his own side of the table as Lisa emerged once more, and he cut off another bite of pie. “That’s not how it works, though,” he sighed. “And you know it. You can’t fool yourself into thinking that it could. But what I do think is that you need to tell Damario, and then maybe take a break from both him and Jason while you decide which one, or if either of them, is right for you.”
A light chuckle then made his shoulders bounce, and he pulled stray headfur out of his face again. “Though, it does mean less ‘fun,’ I know. Been over two years since I’ve had any of that, myself, because I’ve been trying to figure out what I wanted, and now that I have, it’s difficult to find. But it’s worth it, Lisa. Real love, that’s worth it.”
“But I have real love,” Lisa shouted as she slammed the table. “I can’t tell him! I already messed things up big time with him and almost lost him when I trusted my dad over him. I tried to fix things and he turned me down, saying that I was acting like a kid. It was only by sheer luck that he changed his mind and showed up at my door. What do you think’ll happen if I prove him right? I can’t. I’m not like those other jerks who’ve cheated on me. This was a mistake. A stupid mistake that I can learn from. Why can’t I just learn my lesson and leave it at that?”
The outburst caught Crosby off guard, and he sat like a deer in headlights for a moment until things began to make sense. “Lisa, I… I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t know everything involved, and I’m not going to pretend to. But, here’s what I do know: It’s better to learn the truth from someone directly, rather than through someone else. And, you need to take the time to figure out why you went with Jason, last night. If it was just a fling, tell Damario that. If it was because you still have feelings for Jason, then you’ve got a bigger problem. But if it was to give yourself an excuse to avoid commitment, then you’re giving yourself all the signals of success, right now.”
One of his ears twitched, and he reached up to adjust one of the microphone units pierced into it for his cochlear implants. “Ow,” he grumbled, fussing with it until his ear stopped twitching.
Lisa scoffed. “Look, I get what you’re saying. And if I were in your shoes, I’d be telling a friend exactly the same thing. But this is completely different. I’m not like the others who’d just do it for a fling or whatever. I’m not a jerk or an asshole. I… I can’t do it. Not now anyway. Things have just started to feel good between us. Like, really good. It will hurt him much more if I just throw this at him now. I can’t right now. I just can’t.”
“And that’s your choice to make, and no one’s but yours,” Crosby nodded. Another sip of coffee, and he sat back in his booth seat. “What I’ve said? That’s just between you and me. No one else knows, as far as I know, and I’m not the type to go blabbing. I hope I’ve earned at least that much trust, by now. But we live in a world with FMZ, and scummy reporters, and shady, selfish buttholes, so while I won’t say anything to anyone… I may not be the only one who knows. So, take the time you need with Damario. I’d personally suggest not seeing Jason again. It sounds like you really do love Damario, so work on that love, and you’ll know when the time is right. Just bear in mind that you don’t always get to choose the timing, when you live in a high-profile world like we do.”
Lisa nodded back at Crosby as she kept her focus on her plate. “This is stupid,” she mumbled. She then stuffed the last bit of pie in her mouth despite its size. “Thank you,” she said with her mouth full. “Thank you for everything.” She swallowed hard and drank the rest of her coffee to wash it down. Clearing her throat, she thanked him again. “And thank you for not saying anything. You… You didn’t tell Misha or the others what you were suspecting?”
“No, of course not,” Crosby replied, his brow pinching in concern, and no small amount of self-defense. “Misha thinks you went out to a party, or something, so I just let her keep thinking that.”
“And you? Are you okay…?”
At that, Crosby smiled, honestly chuckling. “It’s been a long time since I was okay. But I’ve learned to accept that, and just keep moving ahead. Don’t you worry about me. Now, looks to me like you’re ready to head out, so why don’t I get the tab, here, and drive you back home.”
Lisa let out a sharp sigh through her nose and nodded. Not sure how Crosby would take it, she got up from her seat and gave him a light hug. “Sorry, I’m a butt sometimes.”
One of Crosby’s long arms reached around her shoulders to return the hug, then he stood as well and flicked some bills from his wallet onto the table. “Nothing wrong with that. I happen to like butts,” he laughed, sticking his tongue out playfully. “C’mon, let’s get you home.”