She dropped the helmet she was carrying; it spun-bounced to a stop
against his feet. Bending down in hockey gear wasn’t easy, but it gave
him the chance to hide his smile.
“Here you go,” he said, offering the fallen equipment. Her blue
eyes were wide and bright, with just a hint of black makeup around the
lashes. Auburn curls fell in an unruly mop over one shoulder, uncared for
and caught in the collar of her bright green parka. Beneath that she wore
a black turtleneck sweater, jeans and high suede winter boots straight out of a
Robin Hood movie. Her pretty pink mouth was open in surprise. His
probably was too.
“Th… thanks,” she said, blinking back to reality.
The face gazing back at her was one she’d seen a hundred thousand times
but never in person, like this. Not without a pane of glass between them.
Not when he’d actually been looking back.
“I’m Sidney,” he said.
You sure are, she thought. Every inch of him, and a
lot more of hockey equipment, standing in a hallway in Nova Scotia like it was
just another day. In real life, he was practically a Ken doll - alabaster
skin, short dark hair, that legendary mouth. If anything, he
was shorter than she expected, what with his sneakers on instead of skates.
And he was staring at her, waiting for a reply.
“Leah, I... hi,” she tucked the helmet under one arm and offered her
other hand to shake. Autopilot. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Sidney said. Her hand was small in his, and cold from
outside. She’d been rushing before she ran into him. There were a
hundred young hockey players somewhere in this building, buzzing for their
game. He was a surprise guest, right now headed back to fetch his skates
from the car. Of all the things to forget.
“Are you here for the game?” He pointed at the helmet. The
main event tonight was an annual charity game to raise money for his own Crosby
Foundation, one he was never around for it. Before that game, local kids
scrimmaged for the typically small crowd.
“My nephew Jake is playing. Got his helmet mixed up with someone’s
and if he loses another, my sister will freak.” Leah bit her tongue, she
was babbling. “Are you, uh, playing? No one said anything.”
Sidney shrugged. He was home, it was his organization and he
thought he’d look like a jerk if he didn’t at least show up. But his
presence off the ice would take away from the whole game - a superstar stealing
the spotlight. If he played, though..., “It’s a surprise.”
Leah laughed. “It’s a good one. This place’ll be packed
before the first intermission.”
And then I’ll never find you in the crowd, he thought. As usual, the gap between his mind and his mouth was
a bottomless pit. A smooth guy would do something. This was the
time. Instead Sidney stood there looking at this girl’s very pretty face.
She was staring back. Of course she was - Sidney fucking
Crosby! Live and in person! The Cole Harbour cell network would
collapse the minute people realized he was here. In fact she was
violating some serious friendship rules by not texting madly right now.
For a moment it was just the two of them in an empty hallway, green paint
on cinderblock that smelled like cold air. If anyone turned the corner,
it would be like cueing a riot.
“Were you going outside?” she asked.
Leah turned and Sid fell into step beside her, wishing for the nice
jeans and sweater he’d been wearing earlier. Hockey gear had never been
so awkward. Or smelly. He took an accidental deep breath and
frowned. Really smelly.
“Uh, are you from here? I don’t remember meeting you before,” he
said, hoping to distract from the odor.
“You wouldn’t,” she smiled. Her teeth were perfectly straight, her
smile big and striking. It reminded Sid of Anne Hathaway - she hadn’t
smiled once in the Batman movie, though her catsuit was a decent substitute.
“I was a year ahead of you at school, I didn’t really hang out a lot
with... you know. Boys.” Leah cringed at the admission. The
last thing she needed was him finding a Cole Harbour yearbook. “Then you
He stepped ahead to open the door for her. Luckily the parking lot
was full of cars and empty of people. Leah turned one way - his car was
the other. He needed those skates, it was getting late, if he was going
to do something he really needed to do it now. She half-smiled as if of
course she’d be walking away now.
“Good luck,” Leah said. “I won’t tell anyone, not till you’re on
She stepped between two SUVs, resisting the urge to duck below the
windows. Hopefully they were tinted. A hand to her mouth and Leah
realized she was trembling. Sidney Crosby. That had been
unexpected. And exactly what she expected.
He was perfect. God damn creamy skin and those cheekbones that
sent every gaze hurtling toward his mouth like a runaway train. Eye
contact was no safer, unless you fancied being raked over hot coals in between
blinking. The pictures and interviews and games and countless hours
everyone in Cole Harbour spent pouring over him were not enough. That was
like seeing some exotic location in a movie and pretending you had been there
Shaking herself, Leah hurried to her sister’s trunk and tossed Jake’s
helmet inside. He’d wear someone else’s, no one cared. If she
hurried, maybe she’d catch Sidney again. But when she reached the door it
was closed, the hallway - their hallway - empty. In a few minutes he’d be
on the ice, property of the crowd once again.
“Great game!” a little boy shouted.
It had been. Sid’s appearance had thrilled the audience, which
doubled in size every minute until the little arena was bursting with people.
The local kids had lined up along the far boards and Sidney had to go
through them to get out. But he was in no hurry.
“What’s your name, bud?” he asked a little guy in a blue hat.
“Kevin!” the kid shouted at full volume, bouncing up and down.
Someone produced a marker and Sidney started signing. A parent or
two worked their way into the crowd and Sid posed for photos. Everyone
commented on how nice he was, signing and smiling and asking each and every kid
“Hey, I’m Sid,” he leaned over a seven year old in a black parka with a
“I’m Jake,” the voice in the hood said. Sid tugged it back to
reveal a smiling face.
Bingo, Sid thought. “Is Leah your aunt?”
Jake’s mouth fell open in surprise. Sid appreciated that it was
the same look he’d worn when seeing Leah in the hallway. Wide-eyed, Jake
nodded. “You know her?”
“Met her before. She’s nice, eh?” Sid received another nod in
response. He wondered if Jake would know whether or not Leah had a
boyfriend. Or know her phone number. Or if there was anyway to turn
this second chance into anything at all. Sid squatted down so he was
eye-level with Jake. “How many helmets have you lost?”
Jake dropped his gaze to the floor, pure kid-in-trouble pose. He
showed two fingers.
“Yikes,” Sid grimaced. “I know how that is. Since your aunt
did you a favor, can I sign something for her too?” He took the piece of
paper from Jake’s hand - a rink schedule flyer, blank on one side, that a lot
kids had been using. The half that listed groups and rates, he signed:
To Jake, Hold onto your helmets! and his name.
The other half was a timetable advertising pay-to-skate time. Sid
wrote on the front: Leah, Last time I left too soon. Then
he signed his name - the bottom of the S circling the 11:00 time. He
underlined the number too. It was the best he could do for stealth.
“I met him, I met him! He was so nice!” Jake bounced around the
back seat like a monkey in a tree, waving two scraps of paper. Every car
in the lot contained at least one of the same species.
“Let’s see, let’s see!” his mom Kate asked. Jake handed her one
piece. She and Leah oohed appreciatively before handing back the prized
possession. Jake spazzed the whole way home.
I know how you feel, kid, Leah thought.
She’d been quiet during the game, except when Sidney scored all three of
his goals, and when he was named player of the game. Otherwise she was
busy memorizing everything about that night. During play stoppages she
watched him circle idly and replayed their conversation in her mind. Back
at Sara’s, Leah closed the guest room door and flopped back onto the bed with
her coat still on.
“Leah!” A tumult of feet came hurtling up the stairs and Jake burst into
the room. “I forgot to give you this. Sidney said you found my
helmet. Thanks a million!” He threw his little arms around her
neck, still reeling from meeting his hero.
Leah didn’t hear him leave. She was reading Sidney’s message and
feeling all over again the avalanche of adrenaline and hormones that had buried
her in the arena hallway. He’d remembered. Even Jake’s name.
Last time I left too soon, she read. Too
soon? Like he’d wanted to walk her back inside from the parking lot
Oh. The few words they had exchanged were
already engraved into her memory. “And then you left,” she’d told him
recalling their high school days. It was a lame excuse - she wouldn’t
have met him back then. If she had, he wouldn’t remember. Guess
I left too soon.
Below it, his name was perfectly centered over the 11:00 on the rink
schedule. And it was underlined.
Leah looked at the clock: 10:40 PM.
“Kate!” she shouted, already running down the stairs. “I need your
It was cold. He should have waited in the car. Or brought
gloves, since his hands never fit in any pockets. Instead he was freezing
his sizeable ass off standing in the pool of light outside the arena’s main
door. All that excitement had closed up and the place was quiet as the
night, just the way he remembered it from a million early mornings as a kid.
Back then he never could have imagined wanting to return here, finding
this place like a retreat. Sure everyone knew him. He couldn’t go
anywhere or do anything without somebody noticing. Sid was actually more
anonymous in almost any other place... but this was home.
Sid knew his place in Cole Harbour. He just didn’t know what he
was doing right now, out so late hoping a girl he’d barely met would decode a
message he’d given to a little kid. It wasn’t smooth, it was sad - he
couldn’t even ask someone out on a date. He couldn’t go on a date at all.
Yet if she showed up, Sid sure hoped she expected a date. The flip
side of his celebrity - everyone wanted something. Sometimes he even
wanted to give it to them.
He jumped at the sound, boots crunching gravel as he nearly stumbled.
Smooth, Kid. But she was so pretty. “Hi,” he managed
“Sorry,” Leah said, her straight face lasting one whole second. Sidney
Crosby! Keep it together! A nervous laugh bubbled up in her
throat. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He chuckled too, just to get his bearings. What the hell am I
doing? She wore the same coat as before, bundled higher now, with a
hat pulled down over that wild hair. Gloves and boots and probably thick
socks too. She must think he’d forgotten how to be Canadian.
“I didn’t hear you,” he explained lamely.
She smiled. “Part-time ninja.”
That time Sidney laughed for real. It lit up his whole face, like
a moment caught candidly by a camera, where he was in the background - not the
focus for one short second. He wore a black winter coat zipped high under
his chin. She couldn’t tell if it was puffy or he was just that thick.
Jeans and work boots, no gloves. Just a black knit cap. His
nose and cheeks were red, his breath steaming in the air.
“Aren’t you freezing?”
Sid nodded. “Yup.”
So, whattaya wanna do? Leah thought.
Surely he had some kind of plan, since he asked her... out? Was
this a date? He must have asked her, right? It was a desolate
tundra of dark parking lot on possibly the coldest night of all time. He
was waiting for her. She’d driven the whole way over repeating: I am
not going to the rink to have a one night stand with Sidney Crosby.
But it had to be something.
Sid fished into his too-small pocket and came up with a single silver
key on a simple ring. “Inside?”
It was mostly dark, with only the reserve lighting on in a few spots.
They both knew their way around. He led her down the hallway where
they’d met and turned into the zamboni tunnel. Side by side they stopped
at the glass. The empty arena looked bigger to Leah, as if filling it
with people you knew could make something smaller. Maybe that’s why it felt
smaller, because now she really she did know everyone there.
Finally she said, “I wasn’t sure if your note was a note. That was
Sid shrugged. “Part-time spy.”
At ice level, he could see her breath when she laughed. Which was
often. He started talking about nothing at all just to see it again, and
found it wasn’t difficult to earn. When he ran out of things to say, he
started asking. She liked sushi and stupid comedy movies. Her pet
peeve was when people wore their pants too short.
“That’s what annoys you most in the world?” he questioned.
“Yes.” She was very sure. “Unless they’re wearing cool
They both looked down at his own ankles. His jeans folded a little
where they rested against his boots. Whew, Sid thought, knowing he
had white socks on underneath. And wondering if that was enough to merit
him a kiss.
Leah laughed again. She was doing that a lot, but he was funny,
and she was giddy with a side of confusion. He was still Sidney Crosby
yet the conviction that this was a date of some kind, that there would be any
contact with that glorious mouth, was slipping away with every turn of the
conversation. He seemed so... normal. It didn’t detract from his
allure, merely shifted it.
“Do you miss it here?” she asked.
“I do.” Sid didn’t elaborate. This was the first time in
months he didn’t wish to be missing Cole Harbour from the warmer confines of
his Pittsburgh house, with games on the schedule and weight on his shoulders.
“Do you still like living here?”
“Yeah,” she scuffed a boot against the floor. “I do.”
Leah worked as a guidance counselor at the local school. The
previous counselor, who they’d both met as students, had finally retired after
forty some years. No one had planned for it, so they hired the first
local applicant even though she was only 25. Her parents had moved to
Florida, but her sister and family stayed - that’s where Jack came in.
“He was so excited about meeting you, I think he probably went to sleep
clutching that thing you signed,” she teased. “It was really nice of you
to come. Probably doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but these kids
Sid did know that. It wasn’t his favorite part of the job, but it
felt good to know he’d impressed Leah in the process.
She saw the dip of his head, the modesty and discomfort at always being
something to someone. It was almost a comforting gesture when she reached
out and rubbed his arm. “Thanks for not being some jerk who thinks too
much of himself.”
That was it: his opening. His moment.
But the voice in Sid’s head said, Shit. Now he was the hero
again. The guy who could get anything he wanted, just by asking. Or
taking. If he leaned in to kiss Leah she wouldn’t stop him. Girls
never did. But that brief, lustful plan had fallen apart because Leah
wasn’t just some girl now. She was smart and funny, open and honest.
She knew his favorite places the way he did: the lake, the local movie
theater. She had her own spots - the library, the thrift store near the
high school - and her own secrets. Leah was more than pretty. She
was a piece of home, and he might be leaving home again any moment.
From the minute Leah had started talking, Sid knew he liked her.
And so he would do what he did best when it came to girls, relationships
and chances: nothing.
“Thanks for meeting me,” he blurted out, needing to offer some reply to
her compliments. Some veiled reason why he wasn’t making the move they
both expected. “I don’t, uh....” Then he realized there was no way
to say it right.
Leah tilted her head. “What?”
Sid looked at his watch. It was quarter past twelve. Pretty
soon the RCMP would realize he hadn’t been home yet and activate the Canadian
Celebrity Search and Rescue program. It had been so easy to pass the time
with Leah that they were still standing in the Zamboni entrance, hands to
themselves. He’d hoped they’d be making out in the bleachers by now.
“Wow, it’s late. We should....”
Sid looked up, startled. Leah shook her head, auburn curls
bobbing, and planted her feet wide apart.
“What were you going to say?”
“Oh nothing,” he mumbled, “just that it was nice to do something for the
kids, and the Foundation, and....”
Leah raised one eyebrow so high it almost disappeared beneath her cap.
He wasn’t getting out of this midnight rendezvous without at least a
little flirting. “Are you sports cliche-ing me right now, Crosby?”
Busted. Shit. He always did that.
“No,” Sid lied.
A slow, crooked smile spread across her face, like she couldn’t believe
was she was seeing. “I am not leaving here until you tell me what you
were going to say. Or at least a believable lie.”
Sid exhaled. Why was he talking to girls? This shit always
got him into trouble. Leah was clearly not an average girl either,
as she had not yet forcibly tried to get pregnant or get presents. An
hour without a proposition was like a world record for him.
The words dragged heavy as stones on their way out. “I was going
to say that I don’t actually have a lot of friends here.”
Sid pictured himself alone in a boat, cutting holes in the bottom and
waiting to sink. One conversation with a cool girl and he started telling
every truth. What am I doing? Why did I use the F word?
Friends, Leah turned the word over in her mind. Friends
with Sid the Kid.
“It’s nice to talk to someone,” he admitted reluctantly.
The shy look on his face could have stunned her at a hundred paces.
It was almost enough to make her force that anticipated, elusive kiss on
him, except for the words coming out of his impossible mouth. Friends.
She could settle for that.
“Bet no one ever gives you a hard time either, eh?”
Sid laughed, lifting the slump from his shoulders. “Nope.
Not outside my teammates.”
Well if he wants to be friends, Leah thought as she
linked her arm into his, squeezing him against her side. Almost a hug.
You know, friendly.
She turned them toward the exit. “Get used to it, Cros.”
Sid was not about to get used to Leah holding onto him like that, not
even with two layers of winter jacket between them. It was a shapely and
sexy reminder of the opportunity he’d just given away. The only remedy
was to push her against the wall in that stupid hallway and kiss her till she
forgot everything about Cole Harbour but him. The idea made his pulse race,
but he wouldn’t do it. He couldn’t do that, be that cheap, to someone
who’d already given him more in an hour than he gave most people he’d known for
months. As good as it felt to have her nestled in close, Sid was almost
relieved when they reached the door.
Friends, friends, friends, Leah reminded
herself. She didn’t have any friends built the marble statues whose
jawlines she couldn’t look at up close.
“That, uh, that was fun,” he said awkwardly.
Arms still entwined, Leah put on her best you-want-another-undate face.
“If you’re up for more fun, and friends, we are going to Madigan’s
tomorrow night. We go every Friday.”
“Errr....” Public. Local public. His mortal enemy.
An excuse automatically generated on his tongue, but Sid made the mistake
of looking Leah in the eye. Blue; hopeful blue. “Okay,” he said.
She did not ask for his number or offer her own. If they were
friends then he’d have to do as much work as she did. Dropping her arm
free from his side, she said, “After ten o’clock. I’ll get there early so
you’re not on your own.”
Sid only felt the outdoor chill after she let go. He was already
wishing tonight had gone so differently. “Thanks. See you there, I
“I know where you live. Don’t make me come and get you.”
She was smiling as she said it. Sid thought how much better her
coming over would really be.