Friday, March 29, 2013


(January 1)

“I have to go to Toronto, there’s a meeting tomorrow morning,” Sid said in a weary tone.  He could hear it himself.  The rest of New Year’s Eve had gone fine, even though every muscle in his body was tense to keep from touching Leah.  By the time he got home after two o’clock, he was exhausted from the kissing and the fighting and stopping.  This morning he could still taste her mouth every time he licked his damned lips.  Pulling a Chapstick from his pocket, Sid did his best to erase the evidence.

Taylor nodded.  “You should take us.  We could go tonight and stay over.”

“Me and Leah.”

Sid laughed.  The idea was so absurd and unfathomable that he actually hadn’t considered it, not even after last night.  His focus was, and would stay, on the lockout and any prayer of progress that could be made.  A League meeting was not the place for his sister and certainly not the place for his brand new best friend/biggest problem.

“No,” he said with a chuckle that he hoped sounded casual, “it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Why?” Taylor challenged.  “Because you might have fun?  You’ve had more fun in the last week than I’ve seen you have in a year.”

Sid exhaled sharply – it was true, leave it to Taylor to say so.  “I’m afraid people will see it the wrong way.”  He was half-lying, as much for his defense as Leah’s.  Too bad Taylor had been around that block.

“You’re afraid you’ll try to kiss her again.” His little sister leveled a stare at him.  If she knew, everyone knew.   Cole Harbour couldn’t keep a damned secret, but it sure could make nothing into something.

“Jesus Christ,” Sid muttered to himself.

Taylor saw she’d drawn blood.  “Guess that didn’t go the way you wanted.”

“I didn’t want anything!”  Sid’s voice rose, the same weak excuse he gave Leah, though he could barely get a word out through his offending lips.  “It was midnight on New Year’s and I was a little drunk and it was just a kiss! Everyone was kissing someone!  What is the big fucking deal?!”

Taylor could have laughed, she could have teased him.  But for once in her life, his younger sister played the grown up card.  “If you say it’s nothing, it’s nothing.”

Sid scoffed.  “We’re just friends.”

“Then take us to Toronto.”

Sidney stared at the phone in his hand and knew there was no right way to do this.  If you kiss a girl who doesn’t want to be kissed, an all-expense paid surprise trip is a hell of an apology.  Even if he wasn’t sorry at all.  He hit CALL because if he didn’t, Taylor would do it and she’d make it sound worse.

“Hi,” Leah answered.

The sound of her voice went right through him like a knife.  “Hey.  Uh… how are you?” Sid asked.

“Good,” Leah was in her room at home, thinking about him.  The call came like she’d willed it into existence, except that she hadn’t.  She’d hoped to have a plan for staying friends with Sidney by the time he called again.  The night had been crazy and far more fun than she cared to admit.  He’d kissed her.  In front of a room full of people.  Short of winning an Oscar, it was just about the biggest trophy a girl in Cole Harbour could get.  She’d dragged him out on his ear like a mean school marm and given him hell for the very thing she’d wanted so badly to happen.  They had tempted fate; only the remains of Leah’s slightly drunken wherewithal had saved them.  Now as Sidney’s name showed on her phone screen, she felt the urgency of his kiss for the thousandth time.
He didn’t meant it that way, she reminded herself.

But she couldn’t leave it all hanging as if from a noose.  “Did uh… did we mess up last night?  Are we okay?”

Sidney, relieved to be an invisible signal length away from Leah, lied through his teeth.  “I didn’t mean to kiss you, Leah.  Well, I did,” he stuttered, “but the ‘Happy New Year’ kind.  Not the kind the whole town will be talking about.  I’m sorry,” this hurt but it was the truth, “if I made you some kind of target for gossip.”

Some friend I am, Sidney told himself.

Leah bit her lip so hard she almost forgot what the push of his mouth felt like.  He was not Sidney Crosby, obnoxious superstar trying to stake his claim.  He was Sidney Crosby, shy guy coming out of his shell.  And she was crucifying him for it.

Some friend I am, Leah thought.

“No,” she straightened up in her seat on the bed.  “I don’t care what people say, Sid.  I just… I’m sorry I got mad.  I got nervous.  It’s just… shit.”  She had no idea which of the words in her head and heart made sense anymore.  “Are we still friends?”

“Of course,” Sid said with relief.  “And I called to ask if, as friends, you want to go to Toronto tonight.  With Taylor and me.   I have a meeting tomorrow and you guys can do whatever you want.  I’m buying, of course.”

Hotel rooms and hallways crossed Leah’s mind, and Sidney’s, as he spoke.  Sleeping within feet of each other; inches away from being alone together behind closed doors.  They both silently agreed Taylor was there to prevent anything.

“Uh, tonight?  I guess I could,” Leah tried to sound normal while her heart raced away like a cartoon horse dragging an upside down chariot, bumping and spinning in the dirt.

Sid felt like a jerk for implying it was all for Leah to hang out with Taylor.  “I’d love if you did,” he confessed.  “The meeting will probably go nowhere, so having you guys there will keep the trip from being a total disaster.”

Like last night, he thought, still feeling the full curve of her bottom lip.

Leah knew the only disaster in this relationship was her.  Like the girls she’d made fun of, Leah couldn’t keep it together when it came to Sidney Crosby.  When it came to the thing he needed most - friendship.  “I’ll go,” she said.  “Sounds fun.”
Leah stood in line at the airport Tim Horton’s.  On a Tuesday afternoon not many people were flying out of Halifax.  Sidney and Taylor were in a corner of the terminal with their backs to the waiting room.  Or so Leah thought.
“Hey,” Taylor turned up at her elbow.  “I don’t want to ruin dinner but I need a donut.”  She peered at the display, examining her choices.  “So, I hear my Casanova of a brother kissed you last night.”  Leah’s blood went cold, the color drained from her face.
Taylor glanced back over her shoulder.  “Yup.  Same reaction Sid had.”
“Did he tell you?” If that was the case, Leah was going to have to interrogate this poor girl on the spot.
“Nah.  Heard it from a friend who knew someone who was there.” Taylor cut Leah in line and ordered a glazed maple twist.  “He should be smarter.”
Leah hated that she agreed, and so said nothing.
Taylor just shrugged.  “Unless you like him stupid.”
Sid risked turning his face just to confirm his fears – Taylor was talking to Leah.  Alone.  She was a wild card, his sister, and the one person who could always see right through him.
Well, one of two lately.
The hotel receptionist laid three room keys on the counter: 601, 611, 619.
Sid just wanted things to feel normal. The plane ride had been fine but he needed a few more hours with Leah, in a relaxed setting, to make sure he hadn’t done any real damage with his stupid kiss.  The one his mind still wandered to every time she bit her lip, reached for gloss, spoke or event breathed.  He’d been next to her on the plane, the knit of her gray sweater soft against his arm.  Her jeans were a shade darker than his and he’d studied the difference to keep from looking at her up close.
Mentally rolling his eyes at the futility of it, Sid did it anyway.  “Taylor, you’re six-nineteen,” he handed her the key.
Leah got off the elevator first and stopped at her door.  Somehow she knew Sid would stop right behind her.  Was it coincidence or intentional?  Oh shut up, she told her brain.  Everything was fine between them – he hadn’t even fallen asleep on her during the flight.  The trip was just one night, something fun.  Back to normal.
Taylor pushed between them, tromping on down the hall.  “I’ve gotta meet my friend, he’s coming to dinner.  We’ll meet you guys there.”
Leah looked back just as Sid was glancing up.  Their eyes met, both thinking the same thing:  Friend?  He?  Did dinner just become a double date?
“Ready?” Leah asked.  She had taken a few extra minutes to put herself together, despite the voices in her head.  If she didn’t want to be kissed she shouldn’t look kissable.  But Sidney always looked that way, so she needed to level the playing field.
Of course, it could never be level.  He was a fresh sheet of ice and she was a sinkhole in the dirt.  Or at least that’s how it felt when he opened the door.  He wore a bright blue v-neck sweater, accentuating the muscles in his neck and shoulders.  The sleeves were pushed up in case she forgot his strong hands.  Add perfect teeth, perfect hair, those color-changing eyes and that was Sid.  He smiled and her stomach rolled.
Sid’s smile barely covered his nerves.  One look at Leah and whatever normal they’d reclaimed went right out the window.  She wore a gauzy white top, which he guessed was sleeveless, under a black blazer rolled at the cuffs to show the black and white striped lining.  A tangle of silver chains ended just above the swell of her breasts.  Skinny jeans and black high heels he’d never seen rounded out the look.  Her curls had been glossed and her makeup sharpened – she looked as good as she had for New Year’s Eve.  Sid felt more than ever like this was a date.
Please don’t let Taylor be plotting something, they both prayed silently.
“You look great,” he said lamely.
Leah could have pushed him right back into the room and locked them both inside.  “And you would be hard to miss, Sid.”
The restaurant wasn’t fancy, just a trendy place nearby.  As they walked Sidney told Leah about the meeting the next day.  “It probably won’t fix anything, they never do,” he said.  “They just want me here to say there’s nothing to say.”
“You’re very diplomatic, probably more level-headed than most hockey players.”
“Well I’m going to stop coming.  I’m just another player and this needs to be about everyone.  This is my last meeting,” he said, convincing himself with every word.
Leah bumped against his shoulder.  “Maybe there won’t be any more after this.”
From outside they could tell the restaurant was busy for a Tuesday night.  Taylor had made the reservation – just as well, since Sidney’s name sent people into fits here too.  Leah approached the hostess and Sid kept his head down they followed her - it was always all the way across the room.
“Oh shit,” Leah whispered suddenly.  Sidney, trying to be inconspicuous, bumped right into her.  His head shot up and he saw what she saw.
“Hey guys.”  James Neal was sliding out of the booth, unfurling his long body.  Taylor scooted out of the same side – she’d been sitting next to him – and smiled brightly.
“You must be Leah,” James extended his arm.  Autopilot kicked in and Leah felt his huge, warm hand close around hers.  It was bigger than Sidney’s but not as strong.  The x-rated innuendo in that thought alone made the blood rush to her head.
“Nice to meet you,” she gulped.
Sid stepped right between them, shaking hands too.  “What’s up, Nealer?  How did you guys…?”
“Taylor called me, said you were here for the meeting.  I was close so I drove up.  Good to see you, man.”
Leah took a deep breath.  As with meeting Sid for the first time, she had to hold it together.  She was just meeting a hockey player she had a crush on while out with another hockey player she had a crush on, the one who had kissed her and practically slept on top of her.  The one who had consumed her thoughts and life for the last week.
Sid guided Leah toward the booth with a squeeze to her arm.  It was meant to both steady her and reminder her that he was there.  He didn’t like to look she’d given James, and he definitely didn’t like the look James gave her.  Now he slid in next to her, nice and close.  The urge to put his hand on her leg under the table was so strong that he made a fist against it.
“Should I be worried that Taylor has your number?” Sid asked in his big brother tone.
“I got it from Dad,” Taylor waved the idea away.
Sidney’s father, who sometimes fancied himself GM of the Penguins, seemed to have every piece of information on the team.  Sid figured Mario shared it just to stop him from asking. He didn’t realize Taylor could access it.
“Well now you have to worry about my dad,” Sid said to James.  “Good luck with that.”  James made a face like he’d rather run screaming.  Taylor promised to get a number 18 jersey to wear around the house.
Leah just watched James, as she had on TV a hundred times.  She’s always found him very attractive – he had a quick, unguarded smile and the easy grace of someone confident without being cocky.  But after a week-long battle against the Power of Crosby, Leah had to admit that James’s gorgeous face was still no match Sid’s flawless skin or lantern jaw.  His rangy build lacked the coiled, promised power of Sidney’s stocky form.  And Sid’s lips… Leah shuddered.   She’d gotten a life-ruining sample of what those lips could do.
“Huh?” she said stupidly, since they were all looking at her.
“Sid says you’re a great singer.”  James’ grin almost changed her mind.  “I suggested you come to Pittsburgh and sing the anthem.”
“Oh God, do they put the words on the scoreboard?  I can never remember the American one,” Leah said.  James laughed, another flash of smile.  Sid cleared his throat.  Hormones and tension had been high before, but this was unfair.  She’d have to be superhuman to make it through dinner.
Sid gave Taylor the death stare.  His little sister ignored it as well as ever.
They ordered and were served.  Leah didn’t notice how close Sidney was sitting until she had to reach for her wine.  Their thighs touched below the table.  His proximity seemed defensive, though his conversation was easy and friendly as if he’d invited James himself.  But when James made the girls laugh, Sid scooted a fraction of an inch closer.
Insecure, Leah realized.  Sidney Crosby is insecure.  She couldn’t tell him there was nothing to worry about – that James as a hard nine but Sid was a ten-plus easily, and that was before he’d kissed her.  So she just pushed her leg playfully against his.
Sid thought about putting his arm across the back of the booth, behind Leah without touching her, but didn’t want to make things worse.  Neal knew him well enough to get the hint.  Even off the ice and off the season, Sid was still the captain.  Even if they weren’t a couple, Leah was his girl in this situation.  His friend.  That possessive instinct to mark his territory flared in Sid’s gut.  As if reading his mind, Neal gave him a slight nod… then went right back to talking his way into Leah’s pants.
After their salads had been cleared, Taylor put down her napkin.  “Excuse me, James, I have to get out.”  She was looking right at Leah when she said it, tipping her head encouragingly.  Leah didn’t even have to move to nudge Sid, he was so close.
Once the girls were , Nealer dropped back into his seat.  “I knew something was up when you sister called.  What’s going on with Leah?”
Sid shook his head.  “Nothing.”
“As in you’re getting nothing or you’re saying nothing?”
“Nothing,” Sid repeated.
James shrugged.  “Right, getting nothing.  Why?”
“We’re just friends.”  Sid looked at James as if to back up his own story, but Neal just shook his head.
“You don’t sit that close to Flower.”
Sid rolled his eyes.
“But then, Flower wouldn’t look as good sucking your dick.”
Sid recoiled, hand coming up like he might launch across the table and cave Neal’s face in. James just rocked back, safe in his seat and laughing.  The crass comment was just the test Sid’s reaction, which had proven James right.
“Don’t act like you haven’t thought about it,” Neal said.
Chirping was part of more than hockey, it was a part of life on a hockey team.  Sid knew he’d have to take more of it about his personal life in his quest to be a normal guy.  He shredded a packet of Sweet-N-Low and simply said, “Fuck you.”
“Well I don’t like guys, but if she’s into threesomes I could be persuaded.”
Sid glared at James, who just shook his head like he’d found a lost puppy.  That’s how Sid felt, now more than ever: like he should make a play for Leah.  If he didn’t, some other guy would.  Some other guy would live out the few fantasies Sid had allowed himself, including the one James had mentioned.  James was probably thinking about it right now.
“Your sister looks good,” James added.  Sid went rage-red and it set Neal off laughing again.  “I’m just giving you shit!  You’re so easy.  Leah seems great, so what is your problem?”
“She is great,” Sid answered.  “That’s the problem.  I don’t want to start something I can’t finish.”  He meant that he didn’t want to drop Leah when the lockout ended.  But she wouldn’t be the only one hurt by his sudden departure, and dragging a broken heart back to Pittsburgh was no way to start what would be left of this season.  “I could be leaving tomorrow,” he reminded James.
James shrugged.  “All the more reason to make tonight count.”
Leah washed her hands until they were alone in the bathroom.  “What are you doing, Taylor?”
The younger Crosby smiled wickedly into the mirror.  “I thought you liked him.”
“James?  I… I do,” Leah stuttered.
Taylor tipped her head.  “So you say.”
Leah put her hands on her hips.  “What does that mean?”
“Just that I don’t really see it out there.  Of course, with my brother trying to hump your leg it might be tough to flirt with his teammate.”  Taylor gave Leah a perfectly sweet and innocent look.  “I wonder what that’s about.”
She escaped so quickly that Leah didn’t catch up till they were nearly at the table and the time to cross-examine Taylor was gone.  What was what about?  Sid sitting close?  Leah knew he felt threatened by James’ presence – she did too, honestly.  It threatened the little house of lies she’d built in her head: Sid was a friend, just another guy.  Because James was much more than another guy… yet as clearly as she saw them both standing by the table, Leah knew that James had nothing on Sid.  Not even a little bit, not even at all.
Leah moved in and Sid sat down.  This time she was the one to move closer.
“It was nice to meet you,” James folded Leah into a hug on the sidewalk outside the restaurant.  “Don’t suppose you’d be up for a drink or something?  I know Sid has an early meeting.”
Sid stared daggers at James, since Leah was busy being wrapped up in his broad upper body.  James winked back.
Bastard, Sid thought.
Leah declined, blaming fatigue left over from New Year’s Eve.  She couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth, essentially “No thanks, James Neal, I don’t want to spend time alone with you and alcohol and the key to my hotel room.”  But she was tired physically and tired of whatever weird game was going on over dinner.  James didn’t ask Taylor to go out. They parted ways, turning back toward the hotel.
Sid was quiet.  He was thinking about killing Taylor in her sleep.  Leah was quiet, wondering how one guy had changed so many things in her life without actually doing anything.  Taylor was quiet, considering options to sneak out and meet up with James.
They each went to their separate rooms, waited five minutes, and decided to act.
Taylor was texting James when there was a knock.  Sidney pushed the door out of her hand and let himself in.  “What’s up, bro?”
“What was that all about?”
“You need a kick in the pants,” she said openly.  “Just admit that you like Leah.”
“I don’t!” he cried.
Taylor scoffed.  “I thought you were going to pee on her like a fire hydrant, Sid, because another dog tried to walk on your yard.”
“I just don’t want my friends having one night stands with my teammates!”
Taylor’s phone beeped.  They both looked at it, then each other.  Sid’s jaw dropped open.  Taylor slid it into her pocket without checking the screen and smiled.  “What about your sister?”
Sid stormed out.  James would never, not if he wanted to live.  He stomped into the hallway and stopped.  Leah was at his door, hand lifted like she’d just knocked.  She still wore her skinny jeans only now she was barefoot with a green t-shirt on.  The sleeves were long enough to ball in her fists.
“Hey,” he forced calm into his voice.
“Oh, hey,” she smiled at the sight of him.  His cheeks were flushed - he’d probably been giving Taylor hell.  “I just wanted to say goodnight.”
I just wanted you to invite me in, she thought.  She had no idea what she’d do once she got there, but two doors and twenty feet between them all night seemed like way too much.  After the New Year’s party and the airport, then dinner and James, Leah was drained from the constant worry about people watching and judging them.  She just wanted to be alone with Sid.
Less than 24 hours ago I kissed you, he wanted to say.  He’d done something kind of brave, kind of ballsy and it had nearly cost him.  Now he’d spent the night watching another guy want Leah.  If Taylor meant that to kick him in the pants, it had.  But not in the ass.  Sid felt powerless.
“You guys have fun tomorrow,” he said as he neared the door.  She had not moved.
“Good luck at your meeting.” Leah felt the air between them become solid as a wall.  She reached out and rubbed Sid’s arm – a casual gesture, but it felt wrong.  Weak.  That would never get through this tension piling up.  So she stepped in and kissed his cheek, as slowly as the night they went to Madigan’s, the first time they were in public together.  It had not gotten easier since.
Sid almost turned his head.  He barely resisted the urge to capture her mouth with his own and kiss her for the second time in a day.  There was no one to see and nowhere to run.  It would make or break them for good, a single kiss.  Too bad he was more afraid of the break.  Her soft skin slid against his, then disappeared.
“Night, Sid,” Leah said through tingling lips.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


(December 30)

“Oh,” Sid sounded far more disappointed than he meant to.  “It’s cool, you’re busy.”

Leah was lying flat on her bed, laughing at the bare ceiling above her.  Did Sidney Crosby sound a little jealous?  “Gotta pack the dentist, doctor and a haircut all into one vacation.”  If she was going to hang out, it might have been with him.  But she had scheduled real life things before he’d waltzed in and taken over the place.  “How about tomorrow night?  Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”

“Uh, no,” Sid realized that the holiday had arrived surreptitiously and the lockout still was not over.  Shit, he’d planned to be playing hockey by then.  “I don’t.”

“Well I’m pretty sure half of Cole Harbour is expecting you to be my date tomorrow night.  So do you want to come to a party with me?

“Is.... it a date?”

Well, yeah, if you want it to be, Leah thought.  Why did he have to be so dense all the time?  “No, Sid, it’s not a date unless you plan on sticking around Nova Scotia long enough to make it several dates.”

Sid froze.  Wait, is that a real option?  “But I don’t know when I’m leaving....”

She laughed - that same laugh that got him in trouble the first night at the skating rink, standing alone in the semi-darkness deciding if this would be a one night thing or a many night thing.  It was becoming even more nights now while Sid flailed helplessly at the idea of a real girl in a real life situation.

“It’s New Years’, Sid.   You can leave with whoever you want.  If you want.”  Leah sincerely hoped that he wanted to leave alone, because while she had no claim on Sid she didn’t know anyone in Cole Harbour who was good enough for him.  She would spend the night playing police if she had to keep the tramps away.

“Oh, okay.”  He tried not to sound disappointed.

Leah heard it a little bit anyway, and it made her feel special.  It meant that Sid felt safe.  “Don’t worry, I won’t let you make any really bad decisions.”

Ending up with Leah would not be a bad decision for Sid.  Unless he planned to lose the only real friend he had at home, the only person who had backbone and seemed to actually want to spend time with him but not broadcast it to the world.  He had checked her Facebook feed - totally public, zero mentions of him.  A few people had posted about seeing them together; Leah had not even responded.  It relaxed Sid at the same time it activated the very male response to mark his territory.  Maybe on New Year’s Eve.  He’d get Leah to post a photo from the party, in which they looked like a couple.  Even though they weren’t.  

Or he could just make sure every last person in Cole Harbour – the world as far as his life currently went - knew they were on a date.

“Tomorrow night, dinner first?” he asked.

Leah ran all her errands and went to all her appointments.  Then she went back to the mall where she’d been with Sid and Taylor just the day before.  A dress had caught her eye in one store.  Normally she wouldn’t buy something new for a friend’s house party, but it was New Year’s Eve and she had a date.  A sort-of date.  One who needed to learn how to either relax around a girl or make a move that stuck.  Leah could hardly bear to think of sending Sidney back to Pittsburgh in his current state.  The first girl he let in would take the sweet, awkward guy who’d become her friend and tear him apart.

Everyone will be dressed up, right?  In the mirror she saw sequins - dark blue sequins covering a spaghetti strap party dress that ran out just short of mid-thigh.  The fit skimmed her frame, suggestive without being tight.  There was a lot of leg though, and the color made her hair look redder than ever.  Leah lifted onto her toes to imagine it with heels.

She snapped a photo in the mirror and texted Gina: Too much?

Gina: More than I’m wearing.

“Well good,” Leah said out loud, because she wanted it.  What good was New Year’s Eve, or a faux dinner date even, if she couldn’t have a little fun?  Her phone buzzed again.

Gina: Crosby will be choking on his tongue all night.  Or you’ll be choking on his tongue.  Either way.

“Fuck you,” Leah told the screen.

She was home and fed before eight o’clock.  Usually she savored nights in alone, just hanging out watching TV or talking to her mom on the phone.  Tonight she couldn’t get comfortable on the couch or read the words in her book.  She drove to her sister’s house.

“Well if it isn’t the winner of The Bachelor: Nova Scotia,” her brother-in-law Tommy said as she walked in the front door.  “Where is he?”

“He,” Leah paused for emphasis, “is doing whatever he does.  We’re not attached.”

“Could’ve fooled the people at Madigan’s,” Kate came from the kitchen to hug her sister.  “Three separate people have shown me phone pictures they took of you dancing.  I wouldn’t have pegged him as a dancer.”

Leah rolled her eyes.  “Me neither.  It wasn’t anything though.”

“So he wasn’t buying you presents at the mall yesterday?” Kate asked.

“What?!  How did you know we were at the mall?”

“Honey, you know the whole town talks when he goes to the supermarket.  But the mall with a girl and his sister?  Clearly you’re in tight.  Barbara from the library thinks you’re engaged!  I said you’d known him three days and she seemed to think that was long enough.”

Leah led them back into the kitchen and grabbed one of Jake’s juice boxes from the fridge.  “Most girls wouldn’t need a day.”

“Good for you,” Tommy said.  “You ask me, he could probably use someone to hang out with.  Sittin’ around here waiting for the lockout to end, and you know his dad is nuts.”

“So long as it doesn’t break her heart when he leaves,” Kate added like Leah wasn’t even there.

“It’s not going to break my heart! We are just friends,” Leah said.

“I know,” Kate patted her arm.  “He just seems like the kind of friend you should keep close.”

Leah retreated to the rec room and played a few rounds of Mario Kart with Jack.  He didn’t ask her about Sidney once, but it was on her mind so much that she lost the third game by a mile.  Focusing on a rematch was nearly impossible.

When Jack went to bed at nine-thirty, Leah went back to her empty, boring house.  She tried every station on TV, settled on a dumb reality show then changed it to a history program.  That didn’t work.  A makeover show was just starting so she watched an average, alright-looking girl get transformed into a slightly slutty bombshell.  It made her think of the New Year’s Eve party and her dress.  Maybe it was too much after all.

On the table, her phone beeped.

Sid: Cole Harbour is boring.

Leah: Everyone’s busy talking about seeing you at the mall with a girl.

Sid: Doesn’t ring any bells.  Was she cute?

Leah: Apparently.  I hear you two are engaged.

Sid: Think I’d remember if I bought a ring.

Alone in his own house ten minutes away, Sidney laughed.  He was so used to people reporting his movements like... he didn’t know what.  He wasn’t going to score goals at the mall or win awards in the grocery store, so it baffled him why people cared where he went.  That feeling used to keep him from doing those things.  Now he was starting to find it funny - as long as no one else got hurt.

Sid: Sorry to drag you into it.

Leah: People assumed I had higher standards. They’ll get over it.

Apparently she was fine, or at least graceful enough to lie.  Sidney appreciated it either way.  He also wished that, like last night, she’d come over or they’d done something together.  But seeing the same girl every night sounded like more than friendship, even if Sid told himself otherwise.  To everyone in Cole Harbour it already looked like more.  Tomorrow night they would be in a very public spot, and he’d probably cling to her the way he had at the bar.  A night off would not stop the rumor mill, but it might slow his racing heart.

Sid:  See you tomorrow night.

Leah: Night, Sid.

(December 31)

The day was endless.  Sidney worked out long and hard, but like anything he was told not to think about, he had Leah on his mind all day.  No doubt she was under his skin, more than any girl in recent memory.  And all by doing less than every other girl tried.  Sid was still thinking about it when he climbed into bed to take a nap, but closing his eyes only brought Leah rushing back.  It wasn’t just her face or the sound of her laugh, but the warmth and the size of her hand in his, the press of her lips to his cheek and that dark, sweet scent he’d so briefly found on her skin.

Friends friends friends, he repeated to himself, shoving his hands under his pillow before they got any ideas about traveling down his body.

Eventually he slept and woke happy that time had passed.  He dressed in jeans and black shoes, left his black button down shirt untucked and rolled the sleeves up.   Girls loved that… said his teammates.  A little hair gel and even less cologne, then he brushed his teeth twice and was ready to go.

Leah opened the door just as he rolled to a stop in front of her place.  Her long coat wasn’t enough to cover bare legs that ended in delicate high heels.  Sid took a deep breath and swallowed as she hurried through the cold to the car.

“Hi!”  The smell came with her, just enough for it to reach him in the next seat, filling his senses.  Vanilla and something that smelled dark red, maybe a flower, hit him in the face like a door.  He’d been trying so hard to remember it.  Bouncing long curls and a smile followed.

“Hi,” he croaked, hands white around the steering wheel.

Sid drove to the restaurant thinking about the time a girl had made him watch the first Twilight movie.  That vampire guy could not resist the smell of Kristen Stewart’s blood, it made him crazy.  Now Sid knew how it felt: it hurt so badly though all he wanted to do was kiss her.  At the door, the hostess looked surprised to see them.  Perhaps she’d thought the reservation was a prank.  But her eyes went right to Leah, to see what all the fuss was about.  Leah smiled back so perfectly that Sid resisted the urge to take her hand.

The place wasn’t really fancy, and their booth was right at the center - not a single person missed them walking in.  Leah snickered softly; middle school giggles.  In front of a hundred people watching, he helped her out of her coat.

The first thing he saw was bare skin and lots of it.  Her shoulders, then her arms, were uncovered save for the thin straps of a dress that spilled down her body like the eyes of everyone in the room.  Sparkly enough to catch the light and dark enough to absorb it, Leah twinkled like a star in the night sky.  That pile of curls tumbled down from one side, sending another breath of perfume Sidney’s way.  The sight and scent wove together and punched him in the stomach.

“Wow,” he said quietly, speaking for everyone.  “You look amazing.”

Leah wanted to die twice: first over the number of people seeing them together, like they were showing off.  She would have worn a different dress.  Then again for the familiar look in Sid’s eyes, the one that begged her to do something, anything, to change the category they’d put themselves in.  The look that said he wanted her, and he’d be worth it.

No fucking kidding, she told herself.  His custom-made jeans were almost vulgar in the way they hugged and hung from every thick part of his lower body.  The black button-down he wore would lose its life at the first flex.  Already he’d popped the buttons on the cuffs to get them over bulging forearms.

“You too,” was the best Leah could do.

They sat with Sidney tucked into the booth as out of view as possible.  Leah felt like a hood ornament - the shiny thing people see first, before moving on to look at something expensive and perfectly engineered.  Sid suggested a bottle of wine; Leah kept her eyes on her menu and nodded.

“Hey,” he said when the waitress was gone, “is this okay?  I should’ve told them to put us at the back.”

Leah turned her attention to Sid.  His face was full of genuine concern - a piece of her heart broke off and fell.  He must get this all the time.  No wonder he was nervous to go anywhere, and now she was not giving the help she’d promised herself she would give.

“It’s great.  It’s gonna be great.  I just wish I’d maybe worn a different dress, if everyone was going to notice.”

Sid smiled widely, crumbling another chunk inside her chest.  “Everyone would notice you anyway.”

The first glass of wine helped a little, the second helped more.  By the time appetizers arrived, Leah had relaxed enough to behave normally.  Sidney handled the situation like a professional, hunkering into his corner and never letting his attention waver.  Over entrees, he and Leah talked and laughed until it was obvious to everyone but them that they were on a fantastic date.

“So who’s going to be at this party?” he asked.

“Some people you know.  You know Ricky Calvert and those guys, right?”

Sid had played youth hockey with every single boy in Cole Harbour.  Not many went on to play professionally, but they played beer leagues and pick-up games.  Sid had joined Ricky and some other guys a bit during off-seasons and training to come back from his injury.  They were always around when he called, always up for hanging out.  But they never called him, like they were nervous about including him.  It left Sid feeling like an outsider.  Still, he figured tonight a few familiar faces couldn’t hurt.

“Yeah, they’re cool,” he said.

Leah stole a bite off his plate.  “And probably a thousand other people who heard I was going and figured that meant you too.  It’s my friend Bill’s house though and he’ll kick people out if they’re being weird.  Or too drunk.”  She smiled.  “Really anyone I don’t like, and I’ll just blame it on you.”

Leah had that warm, fuzzy feeling often found at the bottom of a bottle of wine.  She’d have to slow down or she wouldn’t make it to midnight - at least not with her dress still on.  For now she really just wanted to climb over the center console of Sidney’s car, right into his lap, and wrap her arms around his neck.  Even if they just hugged until midnight, it seemed like the kind of reassuring and comfortable thing they were both after.

Leah hummed absentmindedly with the song on the radio.  Sidney noticed it was pitch-perfect, every note.

She directed him to Bill’s address, a big two-story plantation style house with a wrap-around porch on the second level.  It had been the best party house since high school, and now that they were old enough to really party, was the site of most of Leah’s favorite nights.  Every light was on and people were visible through every window, even at half past ten.  Sidney found a parking spot a block away.  They both looked at the window at a party in very full swing.

“You don’t have go in,” Leah said, then corrected herself.  “I mean we don’t have to go in.  If you don’t want to.”

Sid didn’t want to.  More than anything he wanted to stay right in the car and talk to Leah all night, hear her laugh, revel in whatever that god damn scent was that made his heart ache.  Inside that house were all the gawkers, autograph seekers, bullies and stupid girls he tried to avoid by staying out of public.  Too bad tonight was not about his hesitation.  It was about him being normal and trying harder.  It was also about Leah and that dress.  More than wanting to be a regular guy for himself, Sid wanted to show Leah that he could do it.

“Just remember your promise,” he said, “and don’t let make any really bad decisions.”

Music was thumping through the first floor but it still seemed like everyone at the party heard them come in.  Leah led the way with Sid hot on her heels, straight for the kitchen, as if she knew she’d find their host there.  A tall, bearded guy in a vintage Soundgarden t-shirt was pumping a keg in a plastic bucket on the kitchen floor.

“Hey, Leah!”  Bill caught her up with his free arm, giving her a quick squeeze.  He set a red SOLO cup down and turned to Sid.  “Crosby, nice to meet you.  Glad you could come.”

“Thanks for having me,” Sid liked this guy immediately.

“Any friend of Leah’s,” Bill grinned.  He poured them each a beer as Leah said hello to everyone she knew.  Most didn’t wait to be introduced to Sid, they just started talking about hockey or the lockout until Leah politely excused them to approach another group of people who did the same thing.  She moved them again.

“Gina,” Leah practically fell into her best friend and pushed Sid past her until his back was to the wall.  “Hold him, don’t let anyone talk about hockey.  I gotta pee.”  And she was gone.

“Right,” Gina laughed.  “Hi Sid.  How’s your adventure in the wild, dangerous real world going?”

Sid looked at Gina’s face, which was just beautiful enough in itself to keep his eyes off the rack spilling from her silver dress.  It was strapless but held up with no problem by tightness and fullness.  If she’d walked past his team in that, they’d have attacked like wild animals.  Here she was bouncing on the ball of one foot to the beat of Fun. blaring through the speakers, champagne glass in hand.

So if by the time the bar closes…

“Good so far.  I think Leah was uncomfortable at dinner, there were a lot of people.”

“She’s okay if you’re okay,” Gina said.

And you feel like falling down…

“Well I’m okay because she’s okay.”

“Then you two are perfect for each other.”

I’ll carry you home tonight.

It might have been funny if it weren’t true.  Sid sloshed half an inch of beer in the bottom of his cup.  “Need a new drink?”

Gina forged a path to the kitchen.  Sid was almost grateful for people calling out random greetings as it kept his gaze from wandering to her ass in that barely-there dress.  Where was Travis?  Would Sid ever let his girl go out alone looking that good?  Just as he was wondering that, Gina stopped short and he crashed into her back.


Sid looked over her shoulder - Leah was talking with some guy in a blue v-neck t-shirt.  She was smiling tightly and her body language was all wrong - weight back, like she might run or swing a fist.  Her shoulders were rolled down and her head high, proud, defiant.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

Gina turned to face Sid, she needed to gauge his reaction.  “Leah’s ex.”

Leah made a detour from the bathroom through the kitchen.  She’d spotted a few more friends, and wanted to thank Bill for having them, again, as if bringing Sidney Crosby didn’t make her the best guest in town.  She squeezed between two groups of people and looked across the room - right into Jesse’s eyes.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck, she thought, stopped short like she’d walked into a glass door.

Mild panic crossed his face, quickly replaced by a shit-eating grin.  Jesse was always cool on the surface; too cool for Leah.  Now she was in a bad spot, and she was also the girl who’d come to the party with Sidney Crosby.  People she didn’t even know would be watching every move.  Leah stood up straight and continued on her way.

“Hi,” she said when she reached him.  Jesse’s hair was a shorter but he was still the same fit body in a tight-ish t-shirt.  Or at least what she used to think of as fit, before she started looking at Sid every day.  Clothes looked happy to commit suicide by being stretched over Crosby’s body.  In comparison Jesse just looked like another guy who shopped at the mall.

“Wow, Lee, that’s a great dress,” he ogled her openly, something she used to find flattering.

“Thanks.  You, uh, look good.  Been a while.”

Jesse didn’t waste any time.  “You’ve been busy.  Hear you’re shacking up with the Crown Prince.”

Leah laughed a loud, sarcastic note, right in his face.  While Jesse was the last person she wanted to see, it felt good to have shown up with the only superstar in town.  “You heard wrong. But Sid is here somewhere.”

“I wouldn’t let you out of my sight looking like that,” Jesse cut her off.

“Then you can be sure to watch me go.”  Leah turned away, bumping right into Sidney.  His big hands closed on her bare arms, at once steady and sending currents of contact electricity through her body.  She gasped, her breasts lifting against his chest.

“Everything okay?” Sid asked quietly, his jaw set in a hard line.

“Yeah, good.  Sid,” Leah turned, “this is Jesse.  We used to date.”

Sidney was sizing up the competition like he did at the faceoff circle.  This guy was an inch taller and broader, but Sid had the advantage.  He worked out every day so that no one, not even some goon, could push him around.  This guy looked like a douche already.  Sid gave him a big, dazzling smile and stuck out his hand, “Hey man, nice to meet you.”

Jesse’s hard face faltered a little - this was still Sidney Crosby.  Leah unceremoniously walked away.  Sid stood eye to eye with her ex and decided Leah could do a whole hell of a lot better.

“How long you two been getting together?” Jesse asked.

“We’re not, and we just met...,” Sid counted back, “like five days ago.”

“Wow,” Jesse rocked on his heels.  “She didn’t even make me wait that long.”

A rumble formed in the base of Sidney’s throat, the way it always did when someone got in his face.   He tried to channel it, to force it down into his stomach like a spark that could ignite his game.  If he was going to spend time in public, the game had to change.  “We’re just friends,” he said.

Jesse nodded, tight-lipped. “So it’s true then, what everyone says?  You are gay.”

Sidney rolled his shoulders back and looked this Jesse guy right in the eye.  “I can see why you and Leah broke up.”

“She wanted me to grow up, whatever that means.  Bet you don’t have that problem.  Girls are so happy to be on your dick they don’t ask for anything.”

Sid took heart in the fact Jesse’s argument changed with every line, and that one of his own favorite things about Leah was when she called him out.  She wasn’t afraid of Sid, and Sid wasn’t afraid of Jesse.  “They don’t have to ask,” Sid said.  “But if she asked, I’d do it.”

In the hallway, Leah ground her teeth together another moment then took a deep breath.  She walked back into the kitchen… to find Sidney and Jesse standing toe-to-toe.  The boys were oblivious but half the party was watching, riveted.  She pushed through a sea of people craning for a better look.

“Dance with me,” she said, appearing at Sid’s side and linking her arm through his.

“Good luck with that,” Jesse sneered.

Sid turned to say he didn’t need luck, he had skill.  He didn’t need skill, he had Leah already tucked against his side and headed for the other room, where he could hold her close and whisper every word on his mind right into her ear.  He didn’t need anything at all, because he had her.

Instead Leah said nice and loud, “Fuck you, Jesse.”

She swung into Sidney’s arms in the middle of a song.  The living room had been cleared of furniture and turned into a mini-club, with people grinding and drunkenly keeping the beat that thumped through the floor.  Leah was mad at Jesse and mad at herself for being upset.  She was a little miffed that Sid hadn’t knocked him out - Jesse had clearly been talking shit about her, the least Crosby would do was defend her honor.  Not that she deserved it.  Jesse was a dick, but she’d still dated him.

“I hate that guy,” Sid said.  “You should have him thrown out.”

Leah, half-drunk and furious, put her forehead against Sid’s shoulder in defeat.  Behind her the music moved at twice the speed of her feet.  “I told you pickings were slim in Cole Harbour.  I dumped him three months ago and he still calls me, despite whatever he told you.”

Sid pushed the hair out of Leah’s face, stopping them mid-dance.  “He practically told me he wants you back, except that you’re easy.  But not for me, because I’m gay.”

Leah looked into Sid’s big, disarming brown eyes and knew that joke wasn’t easily repeated.  He had never broadcast any girlfriend to the hockey universe, now he wasn’t dating the one girl his entire hometown knew he spent every day with.  They thought what they wanted to think - or what made the best gossip.

That look was back on Sid’s face.  The ‘please kiss me’ look of a guy who just wanted something, anything, to happen to him.  Something he couldn’t control or take back that would open up a world of possibilities.  Leah, drenched in the heat of his embrace and the rage of having him fight her battle, was tempted to do just that in return.  She wanted to kiss Sidney Crosby in a room full of people.

She wanted to kiss him with no one else around.

Friends, she swallowed the word like a shot of tequila and it burned all the way down.  Kissing him would prove these people right.  It would make her easy, make her obvious.  It would take away the strange but strong friendship she and Sidney had forged in such a short time.  And between them, things would be lost.  She held onto Sidney and moved to the music, feeling what she couldn’t hear over the voices in her head.

“What?” she asked, seeing that Sid’s glorious lips were speaking.

“I said, I take back what I said about Neal - he’s a million times better than that douche.”

“I don’t need Neal,” she said, tipsy and aggravated.  “I have you.”

You have me.  The words echoed through Sid’s mind, empty except for the rage of knowing the last person to touch Leah was that asshole Jesse.  Maybe the last person to kiss her.  Here it was ticking down to midnight, when kisses were free, and Sid was wrapped around her like a blanket.  They moved to whatever beat they heard - it didn’t match the music, but most people were too drunk to notice.  He struggled not to slide one thigh between hers and make this song really count.

He shouldn’t drink.  Not in public.  Sid was proud of himself for fighting the battle against Jesse with only carefully chosen words.  On the ice, he had a problem with complaining first and thinking later.  It was one of his things to improve upon if this season ever started.  Right now though, the season could take it’s time.  Leah was against his chest, feeling small by comparison to how angry he was about fighting with her ex.  She might not need his protection but he wanted to give it anyway.  At the moment, the least he could do was hold her.

“One minute!” someone shouted.  People looked at their watches and the TV, showing live shots of a packed Times Square.  The countdown to New Year’s had officially begun.

“Next year will be better for you.”

Sid looked at Leah to find her gazing back, bright blue eyes wide.  She was speaking quietly.  “Twenty thirteen will be great.”

Leah could hardly believe she was about to spend the turn of the year in the place every girl at this party wished they could be.  Yet when she looked at Sidney, she didn’t see famous or hockey or hero.  She saw a little piece of home sent out into the world, making his way the best he could.

Everyone at the party assumed they were together.  The more they denied it, the more certain people became.  People hollered “Ten!” then “Nine!”  Somewhere around eight Sid knew what he should do.  At seven he decided to do it.  The next six seconds were endless.




He leaned down and kissed Leah hard on the mouth.

Time stopped, hanging the stroke of midnight in the balance.  The room disappeared and they were as alone as the first night at the rink, when he should have done this very thing.  Except it would have meant never doing it again and Sidney wanted her now more than ever.  Leah’s lips were soft and warm though her body went tense in his arms.  He held her right through the initial panic until she relaxed just a touch.  The urge to open his mouth, to kiss her for real, roared in his head.  Sidney shoved it aside and kept his lips closed against her sweet kiss.

Leah felt like a house had fallen on her.  All at once: blackout, silence, nothing but the urgent press of that legendary mouth to hers.  She froze to keep from kissing him back like she meant it.  Her heart swooped so hard she had to hold on to stay on her feet.  Sid’s strength and smell and structure were an assault on the senses, but they had nothing on the urgency of his needy, weak-in-the-knees kiss.

Her brain suddenly blinked back to life, a computer re-starting after a crash.  WHAT AM I DOING?!  Leah pulled away, breaking the kiss with a gasp.  Fear and anger flooded her system - she spun on a heel and stormed out into the night.

Sidney had not been ready for that; suddenly his arms and lips were empty.

“Leah,” he chased her out the door and down the steps into the darkened yard.  She moved quickly on those heels.  “Leah.  Hey!”

Five long-legged, high-heeled steps in front of him, she spun around.  “Why did you do that?”

Because I’ve wanted to kiss you since the rink, he thought.  Every minute of every day since I met you, I have wanted to kiss you.  But he said lamely, “It’s just midnight.”

“That was not a midnight kiss!” Leah exclaimed.  Midnight kisses were pecks that you instantly forgot, from friends and on cheeks.  They didn’t root you to the floor, or make a hundred people who were staring at you disappear in one fell swoop.  Her heart hammered.  “You know that everyone assumes we’re sleeping together, right?  They don’t believe for a second we’re just friends because you’re Sidney Crosby and I’m... no one.  I’m not Carrie Underwood.”

The anger in her voice surprised him.  “I don’t care what they think!” he shot back.

Leah’s eyes and shoulders fell, everything about her turned down.  “I do, Sid.  I have to.”

“Well then I’m sorry I kissed you!” he shouted, still reeling.  “I’m sorry I thought I could be a regular guy for a second.”

“If you were a regular guy, I wouldn’t be sorry.”

Sidney was dumbstruck.  He had been so sure that Leah was with him: this was something good, even if it was short, even if they were just friends.  He would treat her better on the worst day than Jesse ever did.  He’d taken one liberty, the same one a million guys were taking at that moment, and now Leah was spitting mad.  It took a long, silent moment for him to swallow the lump in his throat.  “I thought I was finally there, Leah.  That I’d found someone who didn’t look at me like I was a name on a fucking scoreboard.”

“I don’t care about that, and you know it,” she growled.  “But I have to stay here when you leave, Sid.  If we make a mess, I’m the one who has to clean it up!”

“You. Are.  UGH!” he spun away in frustration.  They should not be fighting.  It was New Year’s Eve!  It could be his last night in Cole Harbour and he was letting it get ruined by the very thing he promised would never happen.  Friends didn’t fight over stuff like this.  He took a deep breath and faced her.

It didn’t help that she was so beautiful.  Not tonight, with just enough makeup on to advertise that something special was happening.  Her dress and legs and high-heeled shoes - they were all for something.  Maybe they were for nothing at all.  They certainly were not for him.  Sidney cursed his luck for befriending a girl who made herself more attractive by being strong.  He sighed heavily.

“You are the first person in a million years to tell me no,” he said in a low voice.  There was no pride in this.  “About anything.”

Leah, on the verge of tears herself, laughed weakly.

“Definitely the first girl, no offense,” Sid went on.  She looked away but she was smiling.  He took a step toward her.  “I don’t want to fight, Leah.  I’m sorry I kissed you.  You make me feel so normal, and I was so mad at that jackass, I forgot to be careful.  I forgot to be a big deal.”

They were standing close together in the freezing cold Nova Scotia winter.  Snow crunched under her stiletto party shoes and her bare arms and legs must have been freezing.  Sid wanted nothing more than to wrap himself around her and hold on, protect her from the cold and fighting and almost crying on New Year’s Eve.  Some friend he was being.

Leah hated herself for acting like a drama queen.  She knew girls got hysterical over Sid all the time, now she was proving to be just like them.  If he wanted to let her off the hook, she’d take it.   Some friend she was being.  I won’t do it again, she promised herself.

“You’re not that big a deal,” she teased, her voice sticky.  That happened when her emotions and hormones got to whipping around her insides like shrapnel.  “I’m sorry too.  Hot guys don’t go around kissing me all the time, I probably shouldn’t freak out when it happens.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “You think I’m hot?”

“Well not before you kissed me,” she said sarcastically.  “Now I have to reconsider.”

How about another go? He almost asked.  I’ll make you sure.  But it wasn’t the time or the place - those would never come, he’d have to be okay with it.  Soon he’d be gone anyway.  Better to leave behind something good than something broken.

“Let’s go inside before everyone thinks we left together.”  Sid put a hand on her back, just in case she felt unsteady.

His touch was warm, like a compress, right through her dress and the bitter night air.  “Now they can call me a loser instead of a slut,” she said.

If anyone noticed they’d been gone, it wasn’t for long.  Leah led them right back to Bill and the center of attention – the keg – so the whole party would see they were still around.  She didn’t want to dance, she didn’t want to feel Sid’s body so closely or his breath on her skin for fear that she would not be able to stop that kiss from happening again.  Or herself from starting it.

The kiss was a blur – surprise, panic, bliss.  Leah wished she’d been ready, because she would have remembered it better.  Now as Sid talked to Bill and a few other people, all Leah could feel was that soft mouth touching hers for the first time.

If he’d done that at the rink, the first night, I never would have stopped.  The idea almost made her laugh.  Parents bringing their kids to early morning practice would have found her and Sid there, still going at it.  It would have undoubtedly been the last time they ever saw each other.  Now she saw him every day, and wondered in frustration if it was better or worse.

Sid felt Leah back off, felt her recede like the tide going out.  His instinct was to the same, but in a house full of strangers he had nowhere to go.  So he talked to her friends, found he liked them, and tried to smooth the situation the way he always did – talking, saying what was expected, keeping his real thoughts to himself.  All while Leah stood there, making her fifty dollar dress look like a million.  Making him want to take back the apology he’d lied to her earlier.  He wasn’t sorry he’d kissed her.  It was not just midnight.

He couldn’t dance with her.  He could not touch or smell her.  He pounded another beer in hopes of not being able to drive her home, because once they were alone in the car, there was no ‘blame it on the party’ safety net.  Whatever happened, it would just be them.

It didn’t work though and after a few beers Sid stopped trying – he was too worked up to get drunk.  By one o’clock Leah was yawning.  “Let’s go,” he said quietly.

Her eyes flashed.  Go as in leave?  Go as in somewhere else?  Go as in together?

SHUT UP! she commanded her brain.  It was time.  “Okay.”

They said goodbye to everyone who was too drunk to remember, a kind of alibi.  Then Sid held the front door open and Leah went down the same steps she’d used to flee the scene of the kiss.  Snow crunched under foot as they walked back to his car.  Leah’s knees were wobbly, and not from the drinking or from her shoes.  Sidney felt a million miles away.  At the car she buckled herself in quickly and turned to him.

“I’m sorry about before,” she said.

Sid dropped his hand, left the key hanging in the ignition.  He needed to fix this or he’d never sleep.  He’d never get out of bed tomorrow and face endless time in Cole Harbour by himself again.  Between the party and the past few days, not kissing Leah was the most fun he’d had in a long time.

“I get it, Leah.  People see what they want, and I don’t want you to regret being friends with me,” he said honestly. 

Leah wished she could take that kiss, the one moment both their defenses crumbled, and hold it by itself.  She’d have made it last a lot longer.  Then she’d hide it away, so only they would see each other’s weakness.  “I would never regret it.”

The resolve in her voice made Sid weak.  It was a battle of who had more to lose, and her strategy was smarter than his.  Another part of his new game that needed work.

“Was Jesse the last guy you kissed?” he asked.  Leah, embarrassed, nodded.  Sid smiled.  “Then I don’t regret kissing you.”

Leah looked out the window the whole way home, counting houses, wondering exactly how many people in this town knew her.  They all knew him.  How many would hear, or talk or care come morning about Sid the Kid kissing a local girl?  She had the sinking feeling they would love it; one more way Sidney Crosby could be a hometown hero.  After all, people saw what they wanted to see.