Friday, March 8, 2013


(December 28)

Sid sat on the couch in his living room.  The clear night was bright through a big picture window, illuminating the room just enough.  At some points during his concussion and post-concussion syndrome, even this would have been too much illumination.  He’d forced semi-darkness to become a retreat for him, instead of a trap.  Now he found it soothing.

His fingers and toes were still cold, but Sid was used to that.  The new idea occupying his mind was Leah.  She’d been as unexpected at the rink as she had been in the hallway, not by her presence but by her personality.  He’d wanted to kiss her more as they were leaving that the moment she arrived, even as he was more convinced it was the wrong move.  Part of her wanted it - but was it the part that just wanted to tell her friends?  Or was there part of her that actually wanted him, Sid the guy not Sid the Kid?

Being hurt had changed Sid.  It was an unavoidable consequence and he didn’t think of it as a bad thing.  Previously consumed by hockey, he’d missed out on some normal things.  By avoiding the grocery store, movies and bars, he’d turned the appearance of Sidney Crosby into a sighting of a rare and timid species.  It drew looks, even crowds.  If he could go back in time, Sid would have forced himself into public from day one.  People would have stopped caring long ago.

When he had hockey, he was focused.  The sudden disappearance of hockey through injury made him realize how little else filled his life.  The errands and outings he’d loathed suddenly became adventures, if only to fill time.  He vowed that he would recover, and when he did he would stop taking that time for granted.

He got well.  Then the lockout happened.  It unleashed a new tide of commitments and duties; he ended up the face of the NHLPA instead of the NHL.  People were angry and frustrated where before they’d been concerned.  For the past few weeks he’d been almost hiding out in Cole Harbour, training, waiting for anything at all to happen.  It was nowhere near as bad as his concussion days, but this was not the life he’d wanted to reclaim.

Maybe there was still a chance.  He would be friends with Leah.  He would try to flirt with her, have some harmless fun - practice being a regular guy, for a while.  Home was a safe place.  When the lockout ended, hopefully soon, he could go back to Pittsburgh with something more than physical conditioning to show for his time off.

I could find a girl like her in Pittsburgh, he told himself with far more hope than conviction.

He carried himself upstairs to bed, promising that he would not only go out with Leah tomorrow but he would have fun.  He would make more new friends and impress everyone with his normalcy.  Maybe he’d even impress Leah into a re-do of the date that wasn’t.

Leah pulled the covers of her sister’s guest room over her head and smiled.  Hugely.  She smiled until her cheeks ached and her lips threatened to crack under the pressure.

Sidney fucking Crosby.

He was so... nice.  Sweet.  He was oddly gentle-seeming for someone with such physical presence, not to mention the fact she’d long ago memorized his face.  Being Canadian was like being brainwashed into the Crosby Army, but Leah realized for the first time that she hadn’t know Sid at all.

Now they were friends.  Wasn’t that the end-all?  As much as it made her want to squee, a little piece of talking with Sidney tonight had broken her heart.  He was isolated by his fame.  She’d barely managed to keep her reaction under control upon meeting him, and Sid had responded to her slight restraint like a puppy begging to be petted.

Well, not actually petted.  She giggled.

Clearly he had not meant to ask her on a date.  And why would he?  She asked herself for the hundredth time.  Sidney Crosby should be dating Mila Kunis or a Victoria’s Secret model, not a girl from the middle of nowhere.  Even if that nowhere was somewhere to him.  But ‘friends’ was a good title; she could do friends.  It would be better than just one night.

It also meant she could flirt with impunity, be silly with confidence because she wasn’t throwing herself at him.  He was not interested.  If he’d done anything by letting her know that, he’d done her a favor.  Leah could do a favor for him in return.  Sidney was lonely.  She could fix that if he gave her the chance.

“Going out?” his father said, flipping a magazine down into his lap.  He sat in front of the TV, watching a fishing show, his feet up on the coffee table.  Sid stopped between the kitchen and the door.  This was why he tried not to come over too often, but he’d been hungry and stir crazy watching the clock tick toward ten.

“Yeah, meeting some people for a while.”

Troy Crosby nodded that nod filled with every warning dads had ever given their sons and publicists had ever given their clients: don’t do anything stupid, permanent or with your pants off.

“Night,” Sid said, letting himself out.

He’d been upstairs in his old bedroom, looking through a junior high yearbook.  It had only taken a minute to find Leah’s photo, taken when he was fifteen.  Sid laughed quietly.  Her curly hair was shorter, a shoulder-length bob that was more triangular than rounded.  She had the same smile though, all genuine and dazzling.  He paged through - she played soccer and softball, was an extra in the school play and won a position on student council.  He had the next year’s book too - someone had given him one to keep up with friends after he’d left for Shattuck St. Mary’s.  Leah’s photo had longer hair but a smaller smile, as if she were embarrassed to look happy about school.  That year she headed fundraising for her class, there were a lot of event photos.  Sid didn’t remember attending any of them.  Unless she’d been dressed as a goalie, he never would have seen her anyway.  He closed the yearbook wondering who she took to the prom, what she’d chosen for her senior quote.  By then, he’d been long gone to hockey school.

Now, he pulled into the parking lot feeling like he’d just arrived back in his hometown.  Madigan’s was like a million other Irish-ish bars across North America.  It was more authentic though - the random collection of things stuck to the walls had not come in a box.  They’d gone up before such decor was cool.  He knew a Crosby Canada jersey hung next to a Crosby Penguins jersey in the place of honor over the stage.  Nothing he could do about that as he pushed through the front door.

Leah looked over her shoulder every twenty seconds.  She was so used to seeing Crosby paraphernalia around town that she was blind to it.  Cole Harbour was a living museum.  Tonight she realized that besides the jerseys there were photos from his games, his day with the Cup, his gold medal ceremony.  She cringed... and glanced toward the door again.

“Sit still, girl,” her best friend Gina slapped the table.  “You’ll know when he walks in ‘cause this place is gonna freeze.  He’ll have to walk all the way over here with everybody watching and sit right down next to you.  You ready to be the Queen of Cole Harbour?  At least you look good.”

Leah had actually taken the time to wrestle her hair into a glossy pile of defined curls, thick and russet-colored, the way she did for dates.  The way she would have done last night if there had been time.  Her eyes were carefully lined and moderately smudged.  A black t-shirt with a deep v-neck showed just enough of her shape, plus skinny jeans and boots.  Not too much.

She did feel it when he walked in, as much as the gust of cold air that followed.  Her head turned first but plenty of others followed.  “Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss,” went the whisper like a popped balloon zipping across the room.  His eyes scanned until he found her.  Leah gave a little wave.  He moved like a big cat, ropy and strong with a slow, rolling gait, right up to their table.

“Hey,” he smiled and she nearly swallowed her tongue.

Fuck, they both thought silently.

Sidney Crosby was Sidney Crosby and he did not disappoint.  Leah thought the third time seeing him in real life might be the charm.  He wore a blue and white plaid button-down over a navy t-shirt, open at the chest, just missing the Superman logo underneath.  She knew he wore jeans down below but could not handle looking.  He’d skipped the baseball cap.  Now he was just full lips, high cheekbones and dark eyes.  He stopped next to her, broad as a brick house.

“Hey Sid,” she stood up awkwardly.

He fixed his eyes on Leah’s face to keep from ogling her in front of a live audience.  It was easy enough to be captivated by her hair.  Long, shiny curls bounced like a shampoo commercial, begging to feel his hands run through them.  He rubbed his palms together against the cold instead.  Leah’s simple black top was just short of scandalous in its fit.  Jeans and boots, like it was any old day and he was just dropping by.  Makeup drew him to her bright blue eyes; they held the same hopeful, friendly look as when last he saw them.  His composure faltered - he stepped close and carefully, kissed her cheek.

The smell of her was a flash flood, drowning his senses.  Faint and warm, like vanilla and something that made him think of the color ruby.  He had to be that close to smell it.  His lips brushed her smooth skin far too slowly for a greeting.

Leah’s stomach dropped.  She curled into the contact, reaching out to steady herself.  The only thing near her hand was Sid’s hand, resting on the back of an empty chair.  Her warm palm met his cold skin and stuck for a heartbeat.

“Hi,” she said quickly, pulling back.  “Hi.”  Sidney’s eyes turned a shade darker while she watched, like a secret slipping out in a whisper.  Then it was gone.

“Hi, I’m Gina,” cut in the voice standing next to him.  He blinked back whatever had just happened, turning to the left.

“Gina Kelton, yeah,” Sid said without thinking.

“Oh,” she blushed, smiling like a pinup girl at the recognition.  “How are ya?”

Connection severed, Leah dropped into her seat.  Of course he’d know Gina - every guy did.  Gina had blossomed early, back when Sid was still in Cole Harbour, and held onto it every day of her life.  Her t-shirt and jeans combo looked more like lingerie than Leah did in her actual underwear.  But Gina was her best friend, not a threat.

“This is Travis, my boyfriend,” Gina introduced a very tall guy standing nearby.  Travis beamed and mumbled something, Sid shook his hand.  He was good at handling the initial surprise or strangers.  A waitress appeared, having static-hurdled at least one table to get there.

“Another round,” Sid said.  He pointed to Leah’s almost-empty pint glass.  “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The shock of Crosby walking into a bar lasted about as long as a Bigfoot sighting.  Eventually a few people felt comfortable enough to approach, but they did it via Leah or Gina.  Most quickly left, some lingered.  Sid handled it like the professional he was while Leah tried not to give him that same adoring stare.  Finally there was a break in their table guests.  Sidney picked up his beer and turned toward Leah, effectively blocking anyone else.

“I’ve never been so popular,” she joked.

He lifted his eyebrows and took a big swig.  “It wears off, don’t worry.  You’ll be back to being popular on your own in a minute.”

Sitting so close to her felt good, like lying in the sun and soaking up heat.  Sid shifted in his chair but nothing was close enough for another whiff of her skin.  Damn, he thought, writing that off as a lost treasure.  It would have been better if he’d never known.  Now every time he looked at Leah, which he knew would be often and for as long as he could, Sid would be thinking of that one intoxicatingly intimate detail.  He quickly rejoined the conversation about favorite Cole Harbour places and things with Gina and Travis.  Constant conversation kept strangers away.

Leah scooted in closer like she couldn’t hear.  It was more obvious than ever that Sidney was twice her size, at least.  Also that his hair was curly where it grazed his neck and he had a scar along his right upper lip.  Gina kept on talking while Leah tried not to stare.

At ten-thirty, the band came back on.  They played mostly country music and the shifting dancers made it easier for Sidney to feel anonymous.  Eyes still fell on him when people passed, but it was a fair price for leaning closer to Leah.

“You come here every Friday?”

“Not a lot of places in town,” she reminded him.  “Plus we know the band.  And everyone else.”

“You are very popular,” he said.

“Not as popular as Gina.”  Yet another guy swung past the table, inviting Gina and her tight jeans to dance.  Travis graciously let her go.  It gave Sid a crazy idea.

“Do you want to dance?”

Leah’s eyes went wide.  “You dance?”

“Yeah, why?  You don’t think I can dance?”

“No, no,” she quickly backtracked.  “I just meant... okay.  I don’t think you can dance.”

He pushed his chair back and tugged at hers.  “Up. Now.”

The strains of one song were just ending as they reached the edge of the dance floor.  Instead of cueing up another tune instantly, the singer said something off the microphone to his guitarist.  The message went around.  “One, two, three....”  The jangly guitar of ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ started up.

“Oh God,” Sid rolled his eyes, reaching out and folding Leah right into his chest.  It was like driving into a brick wall - she quickly retreated an inch.

“You say once that a song is your favorite and never live it down!”  Sid laughed but he was grateful, almost absurdly so, for the easy transition.  He’d once told the Penguins season ticket holder audience he loved this song.  Now he couldn’t escape it, but at least this he knew how to do.  He let one hand fall against Leah’s waist, the width of her body small in his grasp.  His other hand found hers, but instead of holding it out formally to one side he curled her hand in against his shoulder.  Then he took a deep breath of that scent on her skin.

“Maybe they’re playing it because it’s my favorite song,” she said over the pounding of her heart.

Friends, Sid told himself as he moved them in a small circle.

Friends, Lena repeated every time she made him smile.

They danced to a few more songs, had a few more beers.  Sid danced with Gina, remembering that he would have died to do such a thing back in school.  She was a legend among the boys his age.  He imagined that a lot of guys who made it big went back home and tagged that one girl they’d always wanted, How do you like me know?-style.  He wasn’t that kind of guy, and anyway he hadn’t thought of Gina in years.  Plus when the song was over, he was all too eager to have Leah in her place.

“I stand corrected, you can dance.”  Leah felt a little tipsy.  Pitchers of beer kept arriving on their table, courtesy of some Crosby admirer, and Leah needed something to do with her hands.  It was no help now, of course, and she put her arms around Sid’s neck without even thinking as Eric Church’s ‘Springsteen’ started to play.  Sid carefully set his hands at the small of her back, not letting them drop too low.  A combination of a few extra drinks with the closeness of Leah had him a little unsteady.  Somewhere between fast and slow, they moved together without actually moving at all.

“Ever wonder how every country singer has a long lost high school love?  The one that got away?”  Leah mused, trying not to touch piece of Sidney’s hair that curled just behind his ear.

“I thought everyone had that.  Well, except me,” Sid shrugged.

“I don’t,” she said.  “Around here?  Who am I going to be all sad over?”

He looked down at her.  Leah was so relaxed - standing in his arms in front of all these people like she couldn’t even see them.  Like they wouldn’t be talking about it - about her and him and this - for a long time to come.  Maybe she just didn’t care.

That was Sid’s goal:  a little bit of not caring.

“Maybe you are someone’s one that got away,” he said.  Leah laughed, a gentle snicker that bounced her body against his.  Sid closed his eyes against the feeling that rose in his chest.

Maybe you’re about to be, Sid thought.

The crowd didn’t seem thin out, and so Sid was caught off guard when the band announced last call.  He didn’t need more to drink, but he could have used a few more hours in the evening.  Next to him, Leah was leaning over whispering to Gina.  Sid averted his eyes - he’d already spent too much of tonight looking down her shirt.

“Thank you for spending your Friday night with us,” the lead singer said.  “Now if we could get a little help up here, we’ll send you off the way we always to do.”

The chair moved and Leah was on her feet.  People began to clap, a few hooted and hollered.  Sid watched her curvy, jean-clad body switch its way across the room.  She had not been walking like that before.  Leah went right up the stairs onto the stage.

“What the...?” Sid was cut off by a roar of music - the instantly recognizable opening guitar riff guitar riff of Carrie Underwood’s ‘Cowboy Casanova.’

“Ohhhwoah,” the singer growled.  Leah swiped a second mike from a stand and the song cut out.  People were cheering.  Sid looked at Gina, who simply patted his arm as if in apology.

“Jeez,” Leah said into the microphone.  “You walk into one bar with a hockey player....”

It got a big laugh, even from Sid who didn’t really understand.  The music started again, piano this time.  People on the dance floor started moving again.

I really hate to let this moment go
Touching your skin and your hair falling slow
When a goodbye kiss feels like this...

It happened all at once.  Sid recognized the Jason Aldean song and how it was so true to this night it was almost cruel.  Then Leah was singing too.

Don’t you wanna to stay here a little while
Don’t you wanna hold each other tight
Don’t you wanna fall asleep with me tonight

Her voice was clear and strong, belting out the Kelly Clarkson part of the duet like she knew what she was doing.  Sid felt the words as much as he heard them, then it was just her:

Let’s take it slow I don’t wanna move too fast
Don’t wanna just make love
I wanna make love last

Sid couldn’t do a thing about the  surprise on his face.  Leah launched a long, perfect note above the guitar then she met his eyes from the stage.

Don’t you wanna to stay here a little while
Don’t you wanna hold each other tight
Don’t you wanna fall asleep with me tonight

He did want those things, more right now than at any time since meeting Leah.  Was she singing them because she wanted them too?  It was just a song and a good one for wrapping up a night.  So why was she looking at him like he was the only guy in the place?

The song ended with a huge cheer from the crowd, who immediately finished their drinks and headed for the doors.  Sid was bolted to his chair.  Leah hugged the boys in the band and got a few congratulations on her way across the floor.

“Amazing as always, Leah,” someone said.

“You’re good, girl,” another person added.

When she reached the table, she was blushing just a little.  “Told you we come here every Friday.”

Sid had almost recovered himself.  “You left out the part where you won American Idol.”

Leah ducked her head at the compliment, the way Sid had done the night before at the rink.  She loved to sing, plus the band paid her tab and it was fun to do once a night in this small town show.  It was meaningless compared to what Sidney did every night when hockey was on.  “It was nothing,” she insisted.

It was exactly what I wish I could say to you, Sid thought.  Instead he settled for helping her into her coat and following her out into the night.

“We’re gonna go to Travis’,” Gina was waiting outside.  “You need a ride, Leah?”

“I’ll drive you,” Sid offered before Leah could answer.  She caught a smirk from Gina who practically ran away without a word of protest.

Friends! Leah reminded herself.

Sid’s SUV was big and black with a soft leather interior.  He turned the key and sat idling for a moment, letting it warm up, wishing it would take longer.  Damn new cars.  He could have rubbed her hands between his or offered other kinds of body heat transfers.  Sadly the car was toasty within three minutes.  Just as well - Sid didn’t really know how to flirt anyway.

I will not invite him in, Leah promised herself.  The idea of him sitting in her living room, making one of her chairs look small, or being near anything long enough to lay down on... nope.  Friends.  It had been a good, fun night.  She’d almost forgotten he was Sidney Crosby for a while there in the middle, when they were dancing.

Invite me in, he thought.  No don’t.  Can I invite myself in?  Maybe to use the bathroom?  My house is ten minutes away.  It’s two in the morning, the voice rambled in his head.  There’s only one reason to invite someone in at 2 AM.  

Please let her invite me in.

The car rolled to a stop at her address.  Leah thought she saw a flicker of hunger in Sid’s eyes - a desire to be kissed, because he would never initiate it himself.  Because he was he was dying to kiss someone.  His full bottom lip quivered and Leah felt it right down between her legs.

“Night, Sid,” she managed to say.  “I had fun tonight.”

She’s leaving, she’s leaving. Sid didn’t have her number or anything.  “Wanna , um, are you, uh, busy tomorrow?  Are you doing anything tomorrow?” he word vomited.

“School break, I’m off.”

Can I come in now and stay till then? He wondered.

Leah’s mind said, I’m off till January 3rd, if you just want to move in.

FRIENDS!!  They both yelled inside their heads.

“Pick you up at two,” he did not ask.


  1. I absolutely love this! Update soon :)

  2. I love how awkward Sid is, it's cute and funny. Love the update as always! Can't wait for more!

  3. 2 chapters and you are humming along at a great pace. The wanting, the wishing and the willing!! Laughed out loud at the Jason Aldean song references. You're good. You make it so real and both characters are so relateable.