Saturday, March 16, 2013


(December 29)

Sidney had to honk twice and his sister still kept him waiting five minutes, but it beat facing twenty questions from his father about where he’d been the night before.  Certainly word had reached the Crosby Compound that their pride and joy was out till last call in an adult establishment.  The look on Taylor’s face confirmed it.

“Dirty stay-out,” she teased, buckling herself into the front seat.  “Sounds like you had a good time last night.”

“I just went out,” he mumbled.  Taylor socked him in the arm.  She was nineteen now, old enough to be in bars on her own though he hated the thought.  Maybe he should have invited her?  No way, Sid thought.  That was too weird.

“You went out with a girl,” Taylor said it like he’d gone out with a unicorn.

“She’s a friend.”

“Who is also a girl,” Taylor pointed.  “Since when do you have girlfriends anyway?”

Sidney rolled his eyes.  “Since now.  And you’d better be nice, because we’re picking her up.”

“EW GOD, GROSS! Sid!  Let me out!”  She flailed, trying to open the locked door.  “I am not chaperoning your awkward, middle of the afternoon date!”

Leah’s house was only a few minutes away, during which Taylor complained loudly about being used as a decoy.  Sid knew there was no point in trying to convince her otherwise.  She’d see once Leah joined them that friends were friends, whether male or female.  Even if sometimes Sid needed to be reminded of that himself.  He stopped in front of Leah’s place and beeped, just like he’d done for Taylor.

“Honking.  Freakin’ hopeless.”  Taylor climbed over the center console into the backseat, leaving footprints in her wake.  Sid wiped at one with his sleeve.

“Hey,” Taylor said from behind him, “I know her!”

Sid felt an uncomfortable swoop in his stomach at the sight of Leah.  A smile sprang to his lips, just ahead of the urge to throw up.  It was suddenly too hot in the car.

“Hi!”  Leah could have bitten off the end of her tongue with the effort of speaking.  It took that much not to crawl across the front seat into his lap.  Sidney’s black hooded sweatshirt and dark baseball cap combined to make his fair, healthy skin look flawless and accentuate his mouth.

Sidney swallowed hard.  This Leah was a mix of everything he’d seen before: at the rink she hadn’t dressed up at all, at the bar she’d been dolled up.  Now she was somewhere between - long curls pulled into a ponytail, glossy lips, winter hat with earflaps.   Beautiful, casual, Canadian.  She was perfect.

“Hi,” he said after way too long.

“Ahem,” Taylor didn’t even pretend to cough.  “Hi.  I’m Taylor.  You’re Leah Hanlon, right?  I’ve seen you sing the anthem at the rink.”

“Yeah, hi,” Leah had not even noticed the younger Crosby in the backseat.  With the tumult of thoughts about Sid, she was relieved to shift focus to Taylor.  “I had some of your old friends at school, I’m the guidance counselor.”

Sid let the girls talk about people they knew in common.  He wasn’t listening, just thinking that friends were totally overrated anyway.  They drove toward the mall.

“So you’re nineteen, right?” Leah was turned partway in her seat.  “Are you a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins kinda girl, or more of a Gabriel Landeskog?”

Sid would have heard that question through anything.  He made a face as Taylor answered.

“Definitely Gabe.”

“Yeah?  I think the Nuge is so cute,” Leah said.

“Cute, yeah.  But Gabe is not cute.  He’s hot,” Taylor insisted.

Leah nodded.  “And he’s not twenty years old.  Unless Viking years are different from human years.”

“Stop it, please,” Sid finally cut in.  The girls ignored him.

“You’re twenty-five?  Twenty-six?  So...,” Taylor looked right at her brother when she spoke.  “Are you the James Neal type or the Kris Letang type?”

“Neal,” Leah said.

“What about Jordan Staal or Neal?”

“Neal,” Leah repeated.

Taylor laughed.  “Okay.  What about Letang or Staal?”

Leah shrugged.  “Still Neal.”

Sid stopped at a red light and put his forehead down on the steering wheel.  Leah reached over and rubbed his arm, even as Taylor was moving on to another hockey player comparison.  He glanced from the corner of one eye and Leah winked back.

Taylor knew what she was doing.  Her brother looked at Leah constantly then looked away almost as quickly.  He turned his collar up and kept his giant hands in tiny pockets that could not contain them.  But he was out, in public, just hanging around.

Which meant he really liked this girl.

Taylor steered them into the first shoe store they passed, where she’d been eyeing a pair of black leather boots to replace ones she’d left at school.  “You still owe me that Christmas present,” she lied.

Sidney didn’t even protest.  Taylor swung the shopping bag over her shoulder and knew she was right.

Leah found herself walking close to Sidney, talking without being too loud so people wouldn’t overhear.  As at the bar - if he stayed nearby, strangers were less likely to approach.  The trick worked again and they wandered from store to store, stopping only when Taylor wanted to look at an item.

“What did you get for Christmas?” Sidney asked, dragging one hand through a rack of soft scarves that he thought Leah might like.

“A watch from my parents, so I’m never late.”  She showed him the nice, white-faced and green-banded watch on her wrist.

“Are you usually?”  It was just one of a million things he didn’t know about her.

She smiled broadly.  “Have I been yet?”

In front of the nail salon, Taylor suddenly changed direction.  Leah saw a small knot of girls standing out front: maybe five of them, all high school age.  They were talking animatedly and looking around constantly.  “I think you’re busted, bro,” Taylor said.  It never took long for news of Sid’s presence to spread.  To his surprise, it was Leah who put a hand to his elbow and steered them away.

“I know all of those girls from school,” she said.  After two steps she glanced back - all ten eyes were looking right at her.  “And yeah, they saw you.”

Sid hated this.  He didn’t want to go home because of nice people who supported him.  Nor did he want to spend the next hour signing autographs near the pretzel stand while the girl he wanted to talk to was pushed aside or worse.  Taylor was walking more quickly now.

Leah felt the mood tighten.  Gracefully exiting situations like this was obviously something the Crosbys had practiced.  Sid would be perfectly polite if approached, and their day would be perfectly over.  Even now his head was down as if trying to hide beneath his jacket.

“How about a movie?” she said suddenly.  “Something nice and dark?  Sit in the back?”

Wait, I don’t mean it that way, she told herself.

I wish you meant that, Sid thought even as he was nodding.

The Hobbit had started five minutes before, so they bought tickets and quietly made their way into the already darkened theater.  It was a lucky break, since they had to climb over a few sets of legs.  People were so engrossed in the preview for the new Superman movie they didn’t look twice at who was passing by.  Sid sat between Taylor and Leah, leaned back and slipped on his 3D glasses.

Sid took up his entire seat, and a little extra.  His sizeable thigh covered the small gap between him and Leah, and the armrest looked feeble beneath his forearm.  She could feel the warmth he exuded.  Sid would be more comfortable with the armrest removed.  That was the nice thing to do, right?  Make a friend comfortable?  Leah nudged his elbow off and pushed the armrest out of the way.

He nearly fell into her.  Sid had been shifted toward Leah in his seat and practically leaning over the space between them, wondering how to do exactly what she’d just done.  He figured that if he was going to sit next to her, he might as well do it right.  Sid readjusted himself nice and close.

On his other side, in the quiet theater, Taylor laughed out loud.

The movie’s plot started slowly, with Bilbo getting surprised by dwarves who took a long time to arrive, eat, sing a song and... Leah closed her eyes for a second, and fell asleep.

Just over twelve hours ago, Sid and Leah had been in a bar.  Thoughts of her had kept him up even later.  So in the cozy confines of the theater, with soft music on screen and a beautiful girl at his side, Sid also blinked one time too many, till he was out.

Rabbits.  And orcs.  Leah shook herself awake and moved to push her 3D glasses farther up her nose, but her arm was stuck.  She used the other hand.  There were indeed orcs on screen, chasing a sled pulled by rabbits, and Sidney Crosby asleep against her side.  He had turned slightly and curled toward her, head tipped forward.  Without the armrest, his inside arm was resting across the front of her body, palm up against her thigh.  Leah’s own arm was hooked around Sid’s bicep and her head lay against his shoulder.

He’s heavy, she thought as her whole body woke up at once.  And really warm.  And big.  And strong, and... shit.

“Sid,” she whispered.  Her lips were practically against his ear without even moving, and she had a front row seat to his long eyelashes behind his 3D glasses. “Wake up.”

Taylor’s face popped into view behind his neck.  “Good luck with that,” she grinned.  Her brother slept like the dead, anytime anyplace.  Years of bus rides and snoring roommates had made that a fact.  If he was out, he would stay that way and she had no hope of moving that much dead weight.

“You’re kidding me,” Leah whispered back.

Taylor smirked.  “Never fall asleep first.”

“Sid,” Leah tried shaking him slightly - might as well try to uproot a tree.  “Crosby.”

The movie got quiet as the dwarves followed Gandalf into the elf city.  Leah hushed.  The longer she stayed there the more it seemed fine to be practically underneath him, her breasts pressed to his thick upper arm, breathing in the scent of his laundry detergent.  The movie had at least two hours to go, and Leah thought this might not be such a bad way to pass the time.

It’s all I’m going to get, she reminded herself as she settled back in, cuddled against his frame.

The movie was good.  It was also long.  Sid shifted once in his sleep, slipping his hand between her knees.  It wasn’t really suggestive even as she stared at the end of sleeve, the last part of that arm she could see.  He sighed in his sleep.

Leah closed her eyes, not from fatigue this time, and thought: Fucking friends.

Someone was holding his arm.  Sid couldn’t focus his eyes for a second, then did, then realized he was wearing glasses - 3D glasses.  Hence the trouble focusing.  He looked at his arm.

“Hey,” Leah said softly.  Her arms were crossed over his, not holding his arm as much as accommodating it.  Sid moved and his shoulder pressed into her chest.  He quickly corrected.  His fingers pulled free from between her knees.  More correction, more quickly.

“Shhhh,” she grabbed his bicep, holding him still.  “Best part.”

Sidney glanced at the screen.  A Hobbit-orc standoff, a tree tipping over, some kind of huge dogs.  He looked back at the arrangement of his body over Leah’s and determined it was much more interesting.

His neck was a little sore.  He’d obviously been sleeping.  In his sleep, he’d at least encroached upon her space if not smothered her.  “Sorry,” he whispered without thinking, “I’m not used to sleeping with someone.”

For a moment, just between them, they could have heard a pin hit the floor.  Leah’s heart beat against Sid’s arm; a tiny breath escaped her lips.  If he turned, he could have kissed her.  If he kissed her, he couldn’t say anymore stupid things.  Thank God he couldn’t see her blue eyes behind those glasses.

It was there again, the expression Leah had seen on Sid’s face in the car the night before.  The one that wanted so badly to be kissed, that asked someone to please do something because he felt like he couldn’t.  Which made Leah felt like she couldn’t either.  That was not a place she was going on her own.

Plenty of girls throw themselves at him.  Someone will do it.  It hurt Leah to think those words.

“Stay,” she whispered back, refusing to let go.  Sidney kept his face to the screen and his arm in hers as they watched the movie end.  When it was over, she untangled herself and rolled her shoulders back, smiling.

“Sorry,” he repeated.

“Guess I kept you out too late.”  Leah was in no way sorry.  It might have been her favorite movie experience of all time, though she’d watched him more than the film.

“You two done cuddling?  I’m hungry.”  Taylor said loudly.  Sid was grateful for the darkness that covered his blush.

His skin tingled all through dinner at some chain restaurant where he could barely eat anything on the menu.  His eyes fell on Leah every ten seconds, most of which she caught, and compared her to the memorized version in his head.  She and Taylor laughed and ate like nothing unusual was happening here, while Sid was pretty sure he was losing his mind.

I’m so stupid, he told himself more than once.  I’m getting so worked up.

He hated things he couldn’t have - or more precisely, things he couldn’t earn.  Sid was always willing to work hard.  He was an overachiever.  But when it came to his personal life, privacy had always been the achievement.  Changing that to accommodate normal life would take some getting used to.  Meanwhile Leah tossed her auburn curls back, exposing the soft curve of her throat and reminding Sid that he hadn’t achieved anything like that in far too long.

I’m not used to sleeping with someone, he’d said.  Tragically awkward and also true.  He worked through his salad like it was a shooting drill just for the sake of concentration.

Leah tried not to watch Sid eat.  She also tried to make him laugh but he seemed reluctant.  Maybe falling asleep had really embarrassed him, though she couldn’t imagine why.  Maybe it was just the restaurant, with all the prying eyes and potential for a scene.

He picked it, she thought.  If he was doing things for her benefit, that needed to stop.

By the end of dinner, she and Taylor were the best of friends.  Sid was a little pouty.  On the way to the car, Leah took a risk and looped her arm through his elbow, since his hands were jammed into his pockets.  Taylor slowed a step, falling back - she really knew her brother well.

“You okay?” Leah asked.

Sid looked down at her.  He felt angry for being helpless and also for making her feel badly.  The lockout could end tomorrow.  Did he want to leave without proving to himself that he could make something normal out of his completely abnormal life?

“Do you want to come over?” he asked.  There was no plan for this.

Leah smiled in genuine surprise.  “Are you going to stay awake this time?”

Sid thanked Heaven that he’d been grocery shopping the day before - another forced activity in his quest to be regular.  It had nothing to do with thinking he might invite Leah over, or any girl.  This place was his sanctuary.

It was also too neat and big for one person.  The colors were conservative, the furniture perfectly matched.  Every room was straight out of a catalog.  It never bothered Sid until Leah was sitting in it.  Her jeans practically covered her sneakers and the sleeves of her navy-and-white striped sweater were pulled down over her hands.  She leaned happily back into the leather of the couch, her thick curls falling forward over one shoulder, more comfortable already than Sid was anywhere else.  He gripped his water glass tightly and made for the nearby recliner.

“Sit with me,” she said, sliding a little left of center.

Since the movie, Leah was feeling very calm in Sidney’s presence.  Maybe it was because she’d finally gotten to touch him, to burn off some of that contact energy in the most innocent way.  His reaction had been the same as the first night at the rink - a little attention and Sid was begging for more.  Then he’d gotten quiet over dinner.  She’d even touched him a few times - bumping his shoulder, hooking her arm into his elbow - but he’d done nothing in return.  Yet he’d invited her over.  One minute hesitation and the next moment action.

Leah held out her hand, palm up.  Sid looked at it then at her.

“Give me your hand.”

He gingerly set his palm down into hers.  A little flow of energy made her heart flutter.  His skin was warm and smooth, his hand huge.  She knitted her fingers between his and just held.

Sid was staring at their joined hands.  Their bodies were comfortably far apart, the kind of self-imposed torture he was built to withstand.  But holding hands, this was not on Sid’s approved list.  Her hand was so small it practically disappeared into his paw.

“You don’t like to be touched,” Leah said.

That’s not true, he thought.  So he said, “That’s not true.  I just don’t...,” he paused but could not stop the words.  “I just don’t get to do it a lot.”  Immediately he wished he could take that back.  “God, Leah, what is it about you that makes me tell always say the wrong thing?”

She laughed, a smile far too beautiful for Sid to be so close.

“I like to be touched,” he made himself say.  Then joking, “Sometimes I even like to cuddle until I fall asleep.”

“I fell asleep first,” she confessed, still holding his hand.  

“Yeah, well, that Hobbit was taking forever.”  Sid quietly exhaled the breath he’d been holding.  Maybe it wasn’t a big deal.  “What about you?  Are you a cuddler?”

Leah made a face like she was busted.  “I am... and you’re very warm.”

“Can I ask you something?” The conversation was getting deeper, opening up.  For once it didn’t scare him - there were things he wanted to say, so he could know things in return.  If Leah sensed it, maybe that’s why she was holding his hand.  “Why’d you come back to the rink that night?”

“Because you asked me to.”  Leah unlaced and re-laced their fingers in a different pattern.  “I wanted to know what you wanted.”

What he’d wanted was to kiss her.  He’d wanted one night that would mean no more nights afterward but would have held him over for a while, especially in Cole Harbour where every move was magnified by the smallness of town and by the bigness of his name.  He didn’t get what he wanted that night, but may he got what he really needed.

“What did you find out?”

For a brief moment, Sid saw that Leah knew what he’d been hoping for.  A look raced across her face - fluttered lashes and a curl of her lip - that revealed she’d read his mind that night.  She quickly rearranged her features.

“You’re less of a player than I thought.  I mean,” she tipped her head toward him and that knowing look was back, “you could’ve picked any girl at that game and been hooking up in the bleachers till morning.”

He blushed, hot and hard.  Had she come back to the rink for that, only for him to fail?

“You’re nicer than I expected, Sid.  Everyone talks about how polite you are but you’re actually nice, not just to fans and stuff.”

“I’m not that nice,” he tried to play down her compliments, just like that first night.  “I was thinking about kissing you on the bleachers.”

“But you didn’t,” Leah said.  Even if she’d wanted him to.

I’m thinking about it now, Sid said to himself.

And you still won’t, Leah knew. 

Once they started, they talked for hours.  At some point, Leah let go of Sid’s hand and leaned back, tucking her feet under his thigh for warmth.  Or just to keep touching him.  Obviously Sidney was a little lonely and a lot isolated – but she could do something about it, at least for now.  She probably could have done a lot more, and Sid knew it.  His eyes briefly darkened with that look that wished to be kissed – he could control that.

Shaking it off, Sid pulled a throw blanket over their legs and told her about hockey, his concussion, his family, anything to occupy his mouth with talking.  She told him about school, her job, why she stayed in Cole Harbour.  It was clear from her tone that she loved it there, this town that called him their hero.

“Do you think the lockout will end soon?”

He’d waited so long.  He wanted to play so badly.  It had faded from his mind a little spending a few days with Leah - that’s why guys had families, friends and lives outside of hockey.  It broke the tension and gave them something else to thinks about.  The mention of it all made Sid bristle with impatience… not that he had any such distractions to ease the burden.

“I hope so,” he said emphatically.

Leah winced.  “Do you hate it here?” she asked quietly.

“No, no, no.”  Sid picked her hand up again and squeezed it.  “I’m glad to be here.  I don’t want to play in Europe or anything.  I just want to be ready when it happens.”

She flipped his hand over, bearing the palm and holding it in both of hers.  “You will be.”

It wasn’t fair, the way she touched him.  It was too easy.  Sid didn’t do things casually and he certainly didn’t touch girls that way.  Every action carried weight, like he was running up a tab he’d better be prepared to pay.  Leah just gave without expecting anything in return.

“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?” he finally asked, in a rush, the thought that had been swimming in his head.  His eyes stayed on their joined hands.

She scoffed.  “I grew up with everyone here.  If I haven’t already liked them, there’s something really wrong with them.  Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

“I... don’t trust most people.”

Leah nodded, pushing her thumbs into the soft space between his thumb and forefinger.  “I thought it was because you couldn’t figure out how to get a girl into the bleachers.”

Lightning reflexes: Sid hit her with a throw pillow.  “I can get any girl I want into the bleachers, thank you.” Biff, biff.  “That’s the problem - it’s too easy.  They just want to say they dated me or sell some story.”

“So what you’re really saying is that you’re too famous?  Everyone likes you?” she grabbed at the pillow.

He feigned shock.  “Well you’re too picky.  You don’t like anyone!”

Leah shrugged.  “I like James Neal.”

“Never,” Sid threw the pillow.  The idea made his heart clench.  Neal was a good guy but he’d have had Leah on - and under and over - those bleachers the first night.  “He’s not good enough for you.”

She wiggled her toes, pressing them up into the underside of his leg.  “Spoken like a true friend.”

“What about your singing?  Do you ever write your own stuff?”

“A little.  I can play piano, but they all end up sounding like songs I already know.”

“Would you ever think of trying to sing professionally?”

“And be a rock star?” she laughed.  “There’s only room in Cole Harbour for your famous face.  I think sometimes about doing a contest or something, you know, maybe win a bunch of money.  But I wouldn’t want that life.”

That life was exactly what Sid was handling, albeit a hundred times less famous than the average pop star.  That Leah could potentially be famous on her own - more famous than he was - but didn’t chase it, proved that she really was different from most girls he met.

“You could though.  You’re good enough,” he said.

Her cheeks got red.  “Thanks, Sid.”

Before long, midnight chimed and Sid offered to drive Leah home.  He would have much preferred she stay over - they’d already had the girl talk part of the slumber party, he deserved a pillow fight or something.  But having her across the hall behind nothing but a door meant he wouldn’t sleep a wink.  Leah was closer now than ever, which just meant Sid had to be more careful to keep her away.

Leah accepted the ride.  She found it far too easy to read Sid and plenty of clues still said something was happening here.  For a lonely guy who didn’t get touched often, she’d done plenty in one day toward fixing that.  Any closer and she’d be taking advantage of the weaknesses he’d just admitted, one he’d told her in confidence.  Friends didn’t do that.  So she needed to go.

Sid drove through the dark streets he knew so well.  When they stopped outside her place, Leah pulled him in and kissed his cheek, then put her forehead to his temple.  Sid’s hand closed around her wrist.  For a very dangerous moment he held her there, eyes closed and just breathing.

I should have kissed you that night, he wanted to say.

“Go on, ya cuddler,” she winked as she got out.


  1. *sigh*

    More soon please?

  2. ditto on the sigh... the best kind of tension at work here. Love the exploration of both their personalities and how they fit together. Enjoy the home setting and how difficult it must be when he is there and all the expectation.
    Write on!!

  3. Love the build up, can't wait for more!

  4. This is beyond good. Love the tension between them