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. 


  1. GAH!!! I just want them to get together so BAD!

    I'm psyched the Sid stuck up for her against Jesse and that he kissed her finally! I can't wait to see what happens next!

  2. EEK! Love love love!