Tuesday, April 30, 2013


In breathless anticipation of the playoffs and Sid's impending return...

(January 10)

“What are you so happy about?”

Sid looked up from the counter in the lounge, where he was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his first practice of the new season.  This was a careful ritual, not to be disturbed, and his teammates knew that.  Who would interrupt?

Pascal Dupuis was looking back at him.  “You’re humming, Creature.”

“I was?”

“Taylor Swift,” his older linemate said, eyebrow raised in suspicion.

“Sid’s dating Taylor Swift?”  James Neal rounded the corner.  Sid hadn’t seen him since Toronto but the look on the forward’s face said he remembered everything about their surprise meeting.  “That’s weird, since his sister’s name is Taylor.”

Sid set his jaw.  “I swear to God, Nealer, if you so much as….”

Neal barked a laugh, slapped Dupuis on the shoulder and ambled out of the room.  Pascal gave Sidney another questioning look.

“Don’t ask,” Sid said.

“But I must, mon ami.  Who is she?”

“My sister is not dating Neal and if he starts that fucking rumor I swear to God I’ll have him traded to the KHL.”

“Not his girl,” Duper chuckled in his fatherly way.  “That sack of shit couldn’t get a date with the guy who drives the Zamboni.  I’m talking about your girl.”

“Uh, no one,” Sid slammed the top slice of bread down a little too roughly, sending a glob of jelly flying.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Pascal shrugged.  “Alright, Kid.  Taylor Swift it is.”

“Fuck you.  I heard that on the radio before.  Can’t I just be happy to have hockey back?”

Duper picked up half Sid’s sandwich and shook it in his face.  “This is you happy.  This,” he took a bite, “is about hockey.  But if you’re blushing and Nealer knows about it, it’s gotta be a piece.”

Sid ripped the half sandwich from Duper’s hand, stuffed it into his mouth and walked away.
“Not blushing,” he mumbled with his mouth full.

Sid was so glad to be back.  Coming into the locker room was, for Sid, the equivalent of walking outside on a brilliantly sunny day.  It was the chance to start over, for this to be the day he did something great.  The blood, sweat and tears of it all had been the compass for his entire life – he knew where he fit here, and how to perform.

Outside the rink, it was still far too soon to tell how Sidney’s new outlook would fare in the free world.  He’d come back to his Pittsburgh house, so brand new it practically still had the price tag on and busied himself unpacking, then had dinner with the guys.  Then drinks.  Then he fell asleep, all without calling Leah.

First night accomplished.

But yesterday, his first full off-day in Pittsburgh, had seemed about 12 hours too long.  Sid went to the rink, sat in some meetings, worked out and was home before lunch.  Except that he had no food.  With a hat pulled down so low he could barely see, Sid ventured to the grocery store and carefully walked each aisle, loading a cart while keeping one eye over his shoulder.  In the middle of a weekday, the place was mostly empty.  He was feeling more confident by the time he reached the dairy aisle, letting his guard down a bit by the yogurt, and didn’t realize someone had come up beside him.

“Oh, hey.  You’re Sidney Crosby!”

She was just a shade over five feet tall, with a blond ponytail and side-swept bangs.  Her brown eyes dropped closed as she smiled, covering her pretty face in embarrassment.

“Sorry, that was awkward.”

She had a nice laugh.  No ring on her finger either.  In fact, from her jeans tucked into winter boots and the expensive North Face jacket she wore, Sid thought everything about her was nice enough – nice enough that he was staring.

“Hi,” he stuttered.  “Uh, I am.  Sid.  Hi.”

Loser, he cursed internally.

“Miranda,” she stuck out her hand.  Bangs slipped into her face and she brushed them back.

Her hand disappeared inside his, like he was shaking hands with a puppy showing off a trick.  Warm skin on warm skin and Sid felt… nothing.  No spark.  No zip.  No stab of desire through the parts of his body that still rang with the idea of Leah.  His heart dropped harder than he cared to admit.

“Nice to meet you,” Sid said.  Miranda waited a moment before she let her hand fall from his grasp.  

“So, you’re back in town.  Must be exciting,” she prompted.

“Uh, yeah.  It is.  I’m relieved,” he knew that sounded right, added a little laugh for authenticity.  “Took long enough, you know?  Getting pretty bored sitting home.”

“Yeah,” Miranda laughed a little too loudly and shifted her weight.  Waiting.

She thinks I’m going to ask her out, Sid realized.  One fucking joke and she assumes I’m… wait.  Should I ask her out?

A quick review of Miranda told Sid there was no reason not to – she was pretty and friendly and she knew who he was, three big things in her favor.  She’d look good at a WAG bake sale, could probably stomach a children’s hospital visit.  That smile would go over big in photos online.

“Do you, uh….” he started to say.  Her whole face brightened another degree.  Her grin got a little wider.  Sid could have sworn she sucked in a breath, as if waiting for the big drop on a roller coaster ride or the finale in a fireworks show.  As if him asking her out were already the best thing that had ever happened to her – would ever happen to her - and it hadn’t even happened yet. 

“… watch a lot of hockey?” Sid asked.  He couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t be so much to someone already – even a nice person.  Miranda probably didn’t want to get knocked up and drain his bank account on designer bags but she definitely wanted to tell everyone she knew that she was going out with Sidney Crosby.  Even this encounter by the ricotta display would be on Twitter before she got out of the store.  Sid felt his shoulders drop at the same time he saw hers’ fall.

“Lots.  I love it.”  Now she was lying, pressing to hold his interest.  If he asked what number Malkin wore, she’d probably have no idea.  There were upsides to that in a girlfriend, but Sid had already let the ship sale.  Miranda however was still trying.  “I go all the time with my brother and….”

“Awesome,” Sid smiled to cover up the sound of asshole in his voice.  “Thanks.  We’ll, uh, try to start winning right away.  Sorry it took so long.”

He had to apologize for something – anything – since he couldn’t explain himself.  Sorry, I just got out of a relationship.  Sorry, I just had the night of my life.  Sorry, I’m fucking terrified.

A little cloud crossed Miranda’s sunny face.  It could have rained on his sneakers right there in the aisle nine.  She quickly tossed her blond hair, shaking it off.  Re-writing the Facebook post in her head.  “Nice to meet you, Sidney,” she said, and walked off swinging her hips like it was his last chance. 

He just watched her go.

That night, alone in his house, Sidney worked out a plan of attack.  Flying solo wasn’t the best way for him to get out there – too vulnerable.  So he resolved to go out with the guys more.  To get them to invite him at all, which they rarely did after so many years of him saying no.  Also their girlfriends might have friends who could be vetted beforehand, maybe they could set him up.  He made a list of teammates both nice enough and quiet enough to do something like that without broadcasting on Radio CONSOL that Sidney Crosby was trying to find himself a date.

The list was really short.

“Hey, Leah!”  Ricky Calvert waved from his usual spot in the bleachers, surrounded by the people she’d sat with the last time Jake had a game.  They were all looking at her even before Ricky called her name.  She’d just come up from singing the anthem, maybe that was it.

Leah shook her head, kidding herself.

It had been a weird day and a half.  School was as normal as school ever was – the students were so self-absorbed that her brush with celebrity made her cool for life.  They had no time to think about what Sid’s leaving meant, other than the hometown hero would be back on TV soon. 

In comparison, the rink could have been a different planet.  The whole place felt like Sid – from their first meeting to the moment he’d put his arm casually around her in the bleachers and said to let people see what they want – this was their place.  Only now she was very conspicuously alone.  It seemed like every person was watching her.  Maybe they hoped she’d give them some secret NHL news straight from Sidney or wanted to see her moping around like she’d been dumped by the brightest star in the sky.  A few looked genuinely surprised to see her at all, as if they’d expected her to ditch this place with Sid the first chance she got.

No chance, she thought.

It had been that way at the store too, where she’d stopped on the way home from dropping Sidney at the airport.  She knew everyone in town, so they all felt free to ask about the lockout ending and him leaving.  Leah just said, “Go Penguins” and bought three bottles of wine. 

Just as she waved back to Ricky and started in that direction, her sister materialized at her elbow.  “Sit with us,” Kate said.  “See them later.”

Kate steered into a row and plopped Leah down between herself and her husband.  Tommy’s arm went around Leah’s shoulders.

“How you holding up, bean?”

“Fine, I’m fine.”

“See?  I told you.  She’s fine,” Tommy said over her head.

Kate squeezed Leah’s leg.  “Okay, I believe you.”

They didn’t bring it up again during the game.  Kids skated and shot and fell down just like always.   Jake had an assist.  As the kids bunched around the puck and followed across the ice like a single living organism, Leah’s mind wandered.  She was going to have to take up knitting or scorekeeping or something during these games.  The looks tapered off by the second period, but when she went to the bathroom she swore it sparked a conversation in everyone she passed.  When the game was over, Jake’s team had won by two.

“Let’s go eat,” Kate said, still with the tone like she was taking care of someone.  Leah knew it wasn’t Jake.  Dodging Ricky on the concourse, Leah got in her car and followed but Kate passed the usual Chinese food place.  She passed a second one before finally pulling in at the third.  Jake was off like a shot, Tommy jogging behind him.

“What’s up?” Leah asked, getting out of the car. 

Kate rubbed her hands together against the January chill.  “Maybe you’re used to everyone looking at you now, but I’m not.  Not while we eat.”

Leah groaned.  “Ugh.  They think I’m going to burst into tears like I didn’t get a rose on The Bachelor.”

“Are you okay, though?” Kate asked, putting her hand on Leah’s arm.  “Really okay?”

Leah smiled sadly, not quite able to get the corners of her mouth raised all the way.  The more she asked herself the same, the more unconvincing the answer became.  “I’m fine, Kate.  I miss him, of course.  I’d miss you if you left.”

“Yeah, but I don’t look like that in jeans,” Kate snickered.

“Stop it!” Leah smacked her sister’s puffy jacket.  “I’m telling Tommy you said that!”

Kate twisted away.  “I told him myself!  I’m married, Leah, not dead!”

Leah rolled her eyes and hugged herself against the cold.  It felt good to admit even a little bit about the effect Sidney had on her.  Kate came back to her side, her face a little more serious. 

“Did you sleep with him?”

“Kate,” Leah said flatly.

“Leah,” she returned the tone, “don’t tell me you let that boy follow you around for two weeks like a puppy and you didn’t once pet him!”

Leah felt her cheeks turn hot pink despite the indignant look she was trying to maintain.  All those people staring at the game, all those gossiping tongues thought they were seeing a little girl with an impossible crush.  If they knew what had really happened….

Kate knew.  “Oh thank God,” she moaned.  “If you’d missed out on that I’d have to disown you.  No offense but holy fuck.  Good for you.” 

The serious expression slid right off Leah’s face.  “Kate, you have no idea.”

Leah drove home from dinner feeling full and a little more settled.  Kate made some insinuating comments that their discussion of Sidney was not over, but Leah didn’t mind.  She needed to talk to someone, even if she only said half the things she was thinking. 

I should talk to Sid, she told herself.  A day and a half was longer than they’d gone since meeting.  She was dying to know how things were in Pittsburgh and, if she was honest, find out if he missed her at all, now that he was almost back to his superstar life.  Once games and road trips started, Leah thought he might disappear completely.

As if on cue, her phone rang. 

“Hey superstar,” she said, hearing the smile in her own voice.

On the other end, leaning against his kitchen counter in a big empty Pittsburgh house, Sid almost choked at the sound of her voice.  “Hey there… sunshine,” he said awkwardly.

Leah laughed.  “I see you’ve gotten all smooth with girls since returning to America.”

Sid was so glad she couldn’t see his beet red face.  “There’s a test at customs.”

“Do they let you take it again if you fail?  Like driving?”
“I just smile at the lady and she gives me a pass,” he tried.

“Should show her your jeans.  A-plus, baby.”  Leah took a deep breath, surprised to feel nervous.  “Really though, how is it?”

“It’s good.  The same, you know?  Time kind of stops here, we just come back and start again.”  He picked up some unused kitchen appliance and turned it over in his hand.  “How are you?”

“The same, you know,” she teased.  “Jake’s team won their game tonight.  He wanted you to know.”

“Did you sing?”


“Remember all the words?”

“Yup,” she giggled.

Sid leaned his head back against a cabinet.  “That’s my girl.”

I wish, he thought.

Almost was, Leah said to herself.

She asked about the team, practice and if they’d be ready for the season opener.  He told her about all the work they still had to do.  A lot of his teammates had not played overseas during the lockout which could give opposing teams a leg up.  It was his job to make sure their conditioning kicked up before the grind began.

“This is boring, sorry,” Sid pushed a hand through his hair.  He was brain-dumping forty eight hours worth of hockey over the phone.

Leah drove right past her house and kept going down the block.  “It’s not.  I’m going to sound so smart watching on TV.  Guess I’d better find someone to watch with, so I can amaze them with my knowledge.”

“Maybe Travis?” Sid suggested.  He didn’t want to hear she had plans for watching his game with Ricky Calvert or any of those cut rate guys.

“Probably just Jake,” Leah lied.  She would watch the game at home, alone, glued to the TV in a mix of awe and terror.  She suspected hockey was going to be very different for her now.  Along with everything else.  Finally she pulled into her driveway, while Sid was telling her about the multiple things in his kitchen he didn’t know how to use.  The decorator had gone all out, even putting a Kitchen Aid mixer on the granite countertop. 

“What do I do with it?” he asked skeptically.

“Make cookies.”

Sid’s silence answered for him.  He didn’t eat cookies.

“Birthday cake?” Leah tried.  Nothing.  “Muffins, then.  Wheat germ muffins with bran and soy and sprouts or whatever you are allowed to have.”

He peered inside the shiny silver bowl set beneath the mixing wands, as if it were posing for a photo shoot in someone else’s kitchen.  “It looks like it’s going to come alive and attack me.”

“Not if you feed it cookies!”

Sid laughed though the pang in his heart that told him he wouldn’t find this, the casual safety of Leah.  It was purse ease talking with her.  He thought of Miranda from the grocery store, his stuttering and struggling over nothing at all.

“I miss you,” he said honestly.

Leah bit her lip, tears suddenly burning behind her eyes.  Now she really was a girl from The Bachelor, crying over someone she never really had.  With a deep slow breath, she managed to say, “I miss you too, Sid.”

A long quiet moment passed in which they were both convinced the other didn’t want to hear anything closer to the truth.

“Practice tomorrow?” Leah finally asked.

“Yeah.  Ten o’clock sharp.”

“Tell Neal I said hi, eh?”

Sid threw his arm in the air.  “Not you too!  Taylor is winding me up about him.  Hey, nothing happened in Toronto right?  With them?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” she joked.

“I would punch him first.”

“You could give me his number and I’ll ask….”

Sid growled.  Leah felt it right down her spine, prickling every inch of her skin.  She could picture his eyes narrowing, that piercing glare. If he’d done that within arm’s reach – she shook her whole body, still belted into her driver’s seat, to get rid of the feeling. 

“Fine,” she said, “I’ll just get his number from Taylor.”

“Leah, don’t.”  His voice was a real warning.

Leah smiled at herself in the rear view mirror.  If she couldn’t have Sid, she could still be the only one who gave him a hard time.

“I won’t,” she teased.  “I promise.”

(January 11)

Sleep had not come easily for Sid and he was pissed about it.  The sound of Leah’s laugh had stayed with him all night, even more than the revolting idea of her calling James.  Sid knew she wouldn’t do that.  Still Sid hated that he didn’t want her too, as if he had some right to keep her from a guy.  As if he were going to do something about it besides go to bed alone and think of her in the darkness, a ghost in the empty space next to him.  Now he sat in front of his locker, elbows on his knees, staring at the stop between his skates.

“So, how is she?”

He knew it was Neal, and looked up to find the shit-eating grin he expected.  Sid sneered back.  “Fuck you.”

“Oh come on, Sid.  Don’t be such a grouch. I’m only kidding about your sister.”

“You’d better be.”

“And it wasn’t her I was asking about,” Neal sat down in front of his own stall.  “I meant how is Leah?”

“Fine,” Sid snapped. 

James lifted his eyebrows sarcastically.  “Dude, relax.  I’m not trying to steal your girl, okay?  I mean, I would but she made it pretty clear in Toronto that she’s all yours.”

“She’s not mine,” Sid ripped a piece of tape off hard.  “We are not together.”

“And you’re not in love with her, right?”

Sid’s head snapped up, ready to fly into a rage at the sight of James’ grin.  His own teeth were bared as a declaration of war.  Instead the lanky forward was sitting back, hands resting in his lap.  He wasn’t smiling.

James just nodded.  “Thought so.” 

Leah yanked the last top in her closet off the hanger and shoved it down over her head.  At this point she didn’t care what it looked like, it couldn’t be worse than any of the thirty she’d already thrown on the floor.  It was blousy silk in a bright orange color with tropical looking flowers running up one side.  With jeans and a pair of brown boots, it looked the way it always had.

Tonight that wasn’t good enough.  Leah dropped back onto her bed.  Not even ten o’clock and not even out of her house – she was already exhausted. 

“Can I wear sweatpants?” she asked by way of greeting when the phone rang.

“Don’t make me come up there and dress you.  You won’t like it,” Gina said.  That was true.  Leah knew any wardrobe foray with Gina meant tight, short and see-through in as many places as possible.  The exact opposite of what Leah was going for tonight.

Still she hauled herself to standing, checked the mirror and saw an impersonation of herself that would pass muster at Madigan’s.  By the time she’d have to sing everyone would be too drunk to care what she looked like.

“Remember: it’s not for you, it’s for them,” Gina said.

Leah grabbed her purse.

The bar was filling in, same was always, with the same people who always filled it on a Friday night.  A few ambitious souls were already kicking up their heels to the band’s first set.  Travis handed Leah a beer almost as soon as she was in the door and guided them to a table he’d commandeered.  Leah noticed it was toward the back, as opposed to the front where they usually sat.  Walking through the room still drew enough looks for Leah to toss her head back and smile in defiance.

They think I’m gutted.  Well she wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction of seeing the former not-Mrs. Sidney Crosby looking all sad that her boyfriend’s real life had resumed, even if it did sting more than she cared to admit.  Leah took a long sip from the bottle of beer.  She had known Sid leaving would hurt - regardless of how far they let things go, it was the letting go itself that would sting.  So far, so right.

What she hadn’t really counted on was sharing every single place with the memory of him.  Sidney Crosby owned Cole Harbour, while at the same time he’d been so anonymous.  Leah had become immune to his name, number and picture from ten years of seeing it waved around town like a flag.  Now that flagpole was planted firmly in her way and she kept walking right into it. 

This is where she and Sidney had first been in public together – he came through the door, stopped the world and walked right toward her.  Leah wondered if it had been scarier for him than for her, and decided she took that one.  But the last time… a shudder ran through her body, Leah fought to keep it down.  Just a week ago they’d been drunk and daring, recklessly pushing the boundary they’re built between themselves.  No wonder it had come crashing down.  The way he’d touched her that night, using his whole body, was barely a hint of what he could do yet even that glimmer left her heart pounding.

Fuck, she thought as she set the now-empty beer down.  Her eyes drifted up and to the left, where Canada and Pittsburgh jerseys were displayed above the stage.  Even at a party, Sidney was literally hanging over her head.

A hand on her shoulder broke up Leah’s pity party.  Gina slipped a hand under each arm and all but lifted Leah out of her seat.  Half the guys in the place groaned – they’d been hoping since high school for Gina to grope them like that.  She turned Leah to face her, looking very serious in perfect makeup and a scoop neck full of cleavage.

“Up,” she said.  “And dance.  You can miss him later.”

Sid tumbled into bed, exhausted.  He’d spent every ounce of physical energy at practice then every ounce of mental energy thinking about hockey for the rest of the day.  Tomorrow he would get up and do it all again.  The grind had begun.  It was all he could do to pick up his phone and hit send.

It rang and rang, then voicemail.  At the sound of the tone, Sidney realized it was Friday night and Leah had Friday night plans.  Every Friday night, with or without him.  He wondered if right now she was dancing with someone else.  Sid wondered if, in just twelve days, he’d even left a dent in Leah’s life.

“Hey, it’s Leah.  Leave a message.”  Beeeeep.

Sid closed his eyes.  He was so tired.  “Night, Leah.”

(very early, January 12)

The lead singer laughed when Leah leaned in to shout her song choice over the music.  It was new, but the meaning was clear.  Everyone seemed to be expecting something special out of her anyway.

“You would,” Ben, the band leader, said.

“Might as well give ‘em something,” Leah agreed.

People hadn’t stopped looking at her all night.  She’d walked into the bathroom and dead-stopped every chattering mouth at the mirror.  Something between jealous and pity was in a lot of their eyes – all guesses, of course.  Every woman in the place figured Leah had gotten Sidney, which they wanted, and lost him, which they wouldn’t.  They had no idea that she’d been in on the whole thing from the beginning.  There was a little power in that knowledge, a little self-determination.  Now Leah was about to make some more.

The song had been out about a week.  Leah was a little surprised the band knew it, simple as it was.  Half the people hearing would probably think she wrote it herself, about Sidney.  Leah stepped up to the microphone.

I cut my bangs with some rusty kitchen scissors
I screamed his name ‘til the neighbors called the cops
I numbed the pain at the expense of my liver
Don’t know what I did next all I know, I couldn’t stop.

A few people looked at each other, mostly girls Leah’s age, recognizing the song and its significance.  They weren’t sure she was kidding and she kept singing.

Word got around to the barflies and the Baptists
My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook
I can hear her now sayin’ she ain’t gonna have it
Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look.

From the back of the room, Gina whistled so loudly that a cab stopped in New York.  That’s how Leah knew she looked okay, even if she didn’t feel that way.  If spending time with Sidney had taught her anything, it was that people believed what they saw. 

Go and fix your make up, girl, it’s just a break up
Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady
'Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart.

There were laughs and scattered hollers.  Leah belted out of the rest of Miranda Lambert’s song so even those who missed the joke were cheering by the end. 

It was half past too late when she got home, peeled off the outfit she’d hated all night and slid between her sheets.  Plugging in her mostly dead phone was an afterthought.  It beeped as the power supply registered, then quickly beeped again to remind her of a voicemail.  She snatched the phone from the nightstand.  The missed call notification said: Sidney.  Leah let her head fall back and sighed.  A second later his voice was in her ear.

“Night, Leah,” he said.

She flopped back against her pillow in the dark.  “Night, Sid.”

Friday, April 26, 2013


(January 8)

I won’t miss you, I won’t think about you when you’re not here.  The words tumbled around in Leah’s mind, all square edged and bouncing like lies would be.

I won’t let this break my heart, she promised herself.  The rolling stopped – squares settled onto one side or the other, lies but at least lying still.

Leah arched her back as Sidney’s thumb brushed her clit.  She was still forced wide over his thighs as he worked his fingers deep.  He stroked again, buzzing her hot button, feeling her pussy twitch around the bulk of his fingers.  Leah sobbed out a breath. 

Sid watched her face carefully for clues to what she was thinking.  He knew what she was feeling – it was all over his hand.  Her desperation matched his own and they were way past the point of stopping.  It was only a question now of…

Leah grunted as Sid flicked his thumb.  Her whole body shuddered, the start of an orgasm she thought might be the death of her.  She grabbed Sidney’s hair and smashed her lips to his.  In one motion he lifted her off his thighs and put her right down on his cock.  She moaned into the kiss.  Sid had gotten off over her mouth and she’d almost come for his hand but there was nothing like being taken from inside.  He filled her up, sliding deep on the first stroke then packed another inch into her body until her ass rested against his thighs.  Every nerve ending fired at once – she rolled her hips against the pressure, only to double it back on herself.

“OhhhhGod,” she panted.

This had been on his list of fantasies: Leah is his lap, bouncing against his thighs, coming down harder each time until she fell apart in his arms.  He was always smoother in his mind.  Now Sid ground his teeth together against the tight squeeze of her pussy.  It wasn’t enough.  Her body swiveled and his vision started to lose focus. 

“I’m gonna…,” he gasped.

“It’s o…,” Leah started but Sid cut her off.  He used a foot to push the coffee table away from the couch.  With one arm around Leah’s waist he pushed through his legs, still buried inside her, and twisted them down onto the floor.  Leah was on her back underneath him and he was getting that last inch against before she knew what happened.

“…kay,” she giggled until it turned into a moan.  Her hips tilted, but it didn’t matter. Sid used all his weight, all his leverage, against the immobile surface to get deeper than ever.  There was no more room unless Sidney made room: either he was going through her or she was going through the floor.  Her body was like a bow string ready to snap.  He lifted her ass off the carpet, held her steady and thrust again. 

Leah buried her face in Sidney’s neck as she came.  It ripped from her body, one wave followed by another and another, as she clung to him.  Her toes and fingers curled, her stomach bowed and she whispered his name against his skin as it took her breath away. 

Sid pounded home one last time and stopped fighting.  He collapsed on top of Leah with his own incoherent mumble, flooding her with heat.  It rocked through him again and again until the orgasm beat itself dead.  Until they were a tangled mess of impossible circumstances on her living room floor.

“Leah,” he said, breath catching.

Her lips were close to his ear.  “Sid.”

“You should,” he said.  Somewhere halfway down his chest, he felt her giggling.

“Is that what you’re into?”

Sidney lifted his head.  Leah was on her back, her head against his ribcage like a pillow.  They’d made it to her bedroom and Sid had made it through an entire round with Leah in his lap, her legs around his waist.  Now she drew his arm across her stomach and tickled the sensitive inside of his wrist.

“You’re into it,” he insisted.  As with the living room, Leah had turned on every light before consenting to be ravished in bed.  She rolled onto her stomach and propped her chin just below his nipple.  His hand fell lazily into the hollow of her back, fingertips grazing the rise of her ass. 

“Who wouldn’t want to look at you?” she asked. 

Sidney knew he was attractive, or so girls said.  It didn’t mean much in hockey, because he wouldn’t get endorsements unless he played well.  Plenty of other guys got deals, even if he didn’t think they were handsome.  “Everyone must be sick of looking at me by now.”

Leah laughed and it vibrated through him, a warm purring noise that settled like liquid between his hips.  He’d be ready again so soon it was embarrassing.  It would also be embarrassing if she turned down the only fantasy request he’d been able to say out loud.

“Which mirror?” she asked.

He shrugged, as if suddenly he didn’t care.  “Doesn’t matter.”

Leah rolled her eyes.  For someone so famous and talented, Sid had a surprisingly fragile ego.  For someone so naked and willing, she had a surprising amount of power.  She hoisted herself on top of Sid, sore body struggling to straddle his thighs.  She let her hair swing low and pressed her front all along his.

“You know what that means?”

He had a pouty look on his face.  “What?”

“We try all of them.”

I love you, Sid thought.  He could have reached forward and written it in the fog along the side of the mirror, but he was busy holding Leah up on the edge of the bathroom counter.  Her knees were bent high and he watched in their reflection as his cock disappeared into her body again.  She leaned back, breasts bouncing, like he was in his own private movie.  The sound of their coming together was louder in the small space. 

“You do like to watch,” she said drowsily.

He thrust so hard her ass squeaked along the tile.  “Only you.”

Leah pulled a towel from the bar behind the door and shoved it under her, into the sink.  Then she lay down, Sid standing between her legs.  He lifted her feet onto each of his shoulders.  Leah reached for his hand and guided it between her legs, but instead Sid held her hand down.

“Touch yourself,” he said.  Leah flicked her clit, just above where Sid was losing himself inside her.  Every stroke game out glistening.  Her fingers worked quickly, the pleasure so obvious Sid could feel it quickening along his shaft.  He tweaked her nipples till they rolled like pebbles beneath his palm.  She made a small noise, deep in her throat that sounded like he felt.

Leah moved her hand faster.  Sid clenched his jaw and the tendon along his neck strained, one of so many muscles only he would have.  Her fingers were unnecessary, but Sid said he wanted to watch.  If he wanted to see her come hard – again – he’d get his wish.  Leah matched her stroke to his, letting both pleasures add to each other.

Sid had seen girls put on a show.  He’d seen them work hard to impress him, to be like whatever they thought guys wanted.  So he could tell that Leah wasn’t pretending.  She was getting off on him the good old-fashioned way, the way he had to earn and deliver.  She grunted softly as her fingers hit a mark and Sid got so hard his eye bulged.  The pressure made her pussy flutter.  The squeeze made him woozy.  Like dominoes falling in a row, they quickly took each other down till they were racing for the finish.

It wasn’t like before, when she almost blacked out.  When the orgasm was so strong she couldn’t feel anything else.  This time Leah felt release like a sigh and then the pulse of Sidney bursting inside her.  His soft moan confirmed the story.  She pushed up to sitting and reached for him just as he ran dry.

Sid opened one eye, just enough to see the reflection of Leah wrapped around him in the mirror.  On a night of wonders, it was the single best thing he’d seen.

“Should we talk about this?” he finally asked.  The room was dim – Leah had turned off two lights and they lay in semi-darkness, resting but refusing to sleep.  Giving in meant giving up the last few hours before tomorrow would force them apart.  Sid lay on his back, Leah naked and curled against his side.  He was in no hurry to go anywhere.

“Probably,” she said without moving.

Sid’s experience with relationships was limited.  If his actions spoke louder than words, Leah would know a whole lot more than he planned to tell her.  Still there were things he’d intended to say and they were still important.  “I didn’t come over here for this tonight.”

She laughed softly.  “You didn’t even make it in the front door.”

“I know!” he pinched her side, tickling her.  “You weren’t supposed to be wearing that dress.”

“That’s it?  The Great Sidney Crosby defeated by a single garment from Topshop?  Canada will not be impressed.”

“Har har,” he said.  “I came over to tell you that these last two weeks have been incredible, and that I’m really glad I met you.”

Leah put her head in her hand.  The sight of Sidney Crosby in bed was enough to kill a girl, but in her own bed in her own house – Leah would have to live with this every night from now on.  Thank God he was smiling.

“I’m glad I met you too, Sid.  Like I said that first night, you’re different than I expected.”  She stroked the indent along his ribcage.  “And uh… I’m glad you came over tonight.”

Sid broke into an enormous goober smile: he’d gotten away with it again.  He pulled Leah up to eye level then he kissed her as gently as he could manage in such a compromising position.  It quieted his thumping heart.  When he broke away, just barely, he looked Leah right in the eyes.  “I’m sorry I have to leave.”

She smiled sadly.  “Will we still be friends?”

“Of course!”

“You’re not going to forget about me?”

“I couldn’t forget about you.”

Leah gulped, one last question stuck in her throat.  “You’re not gonna wait for me though, right?  You’re not going to hide yourself away down there, holed up in your house and only coming out for hockey, pretending it’s for some good reason?”

Are you asking me to wait? he almost said.  Is that option on the table?

The waiting would kill us both, Leah knew.  “You need something besides hockey, Sid.  Someone to make you happy.  I hope you find it in Pittsburgh.”

He sighed.  Talking with a real, current girl about a hypothetical future girl seemed like a set up for failure.  “Me too,” he said honestly.

Leah kissed him, as softly as he’d kissed her.  For a moment it felt like goodbye, like writing “the end” on their story.  But like everything about them, it quickly deepened, growing hungry and urgent.  They had said all they could safely say – maybe even a little more.  Anything else would have to be implied.  Leah turned, facing away, and Sid worked his growing erection along the groove of her ass.  He held her close with a massive arm around her chest and his lips never left her skin.

Leah loved his strength – she didn’t have to do anything except let him do everything.  She felt almost guilty for how badly he wanted her.  Even when she was saying yes, it was really code for another no: No this could not last, no it would not happen again.  She bent her top knee and Sid caught her leg - holding it up, opening her.  He drove inside her without pause and Leah just said ‘yes’ again.

Sid took his time.  Every curve of Leah’s body was built to fit this way.  Her thigh was slender in his hand, he watched his fingers dent her flesh.  She turned her head and kissed him, off-center and messy, like she couldn’t wait a second longer.  When he was closer – damn her, it always happened too quickly – Sid dipped his hand between Leah’s legs and touched her the way she had touched herself.

“Oh fuck,” she panted, unable to see his victorious smile.

Leah couldn’t think under these conditions.  She couldn’t be smart and have resolve when Sid made it look so easy.  He manhandled her like she’d never known – he paid attention while fucking her!  How was that even possible?  His mouth came down against her ear.

“You feel so good,” he growled. 

Leah turned her face away, his mouth sliding along her neck, just to hide the tears in her eyes.  All she could do was whisper, “Sid.”

At some point they fell asleep.  The whole thing had been a dream, except that Sid woke tangled in sheets and still sticky.  Leah lay with one hand behind her head, the way she’d been when he barged into his guest room that morning.  Only now he was beside her.  He leaned over and kissed her lips.

“Morning,” he said.

Leah opened one eye.  She closed it and tried the other one.  At least she was crazy on both sides of her brain, it looked like she’d woken up next to Sidney Crosby.  She blinked and tried again – he was still there.  Dark hair stuck up all over the place, flawless skin disappeared into bedding at every horizon.  The bulk of his bicep pressed to her side was like sleeping against a submarine.  Those caramel-colored eyes watched her carefully.

“Jesus you’re beautiful,” she said.  Sid laughed and smiled all at once, perfect white teeth flashing.  He ducked his head, shy despite the setting.  “That is not helping!” She pulled a pillow over her head.

“You think I’m hot,” he giggled, which made him sound like a girl.  It set Leah off laughing and she swung her pillow, catching his square in the face.  Sid fell back dramatically, pulling Leah on top of his chest.

Weak winter sun made the room glow with a pale, bleached light.  Colors were not as sharp.  Leah’s eyes looked the washed blue of sea glass instead of their normal pop of turquoise.  Her curls were a tangled mess, falling around them.  The swell of her breasts was enough reminder that the rest of her naked body was hiding just below, waiting to absorb and obsess him again.

Sid was certain, in that moment, that no one else ever got to see her like this.

I love you.  Sid thought the words so hard that he had to fight to keep them in, like every orgasm he’d battled overnight.  She had to go first.  But she wouldn’t – he knew that.  Leah loved him in her way but it wasn’t this.  It wasn’t something to give up a life over, for someone that couldn’t even offer her a new life in return.  Pittsburgh and hockey were not the place for anything else he cared so much about.  Sid was scared that there wouldn’t be enough of him to go around, and Leah would always get the bad end of the deal.  So he bit his lip and swallowed three little words that tasted like medicine going down.

Leah knew two things: she was in love and she was in trouble.  Funny how things had a way of going exactly opposite of the plan.

“You’re staring…,” she started to joke, for lack of anything more comfortable to do.

Sid was past that.  He’d never been so comfortable with anyone in his whole life.  He brought Leah’s lips to his, paused for a second until she was looking right at him, then kissed her with his eyes wide open.  He kissed her until her eyelashes fluttered shut in pleasure, then he chased his own feeling of euphoria.  Leah swung a leg over his waist, sat up and worked against his lap until the need became solid between them.  Sid helped himself to her breasts, her hips, her hair.  When Leah leaned forward to kiss him, she slipped back right onto the tip of his dick.

“Mmmmm,” she purred because she’d never felt anything so good.

They made love the way they had the first time, only better.  This was what they’d each been hoping for after the morning in his guest room – a chance to tell the truth without any words getting in the way.  Leah ran her fingers through Sid’s hair, listened to the noises he made.  She gave him what he wanted, which was exactly what she wanted too.  Nothing more than minds and bodies, together, for as long as they could both last.

“Come with me,” he said, then gasped softly when he realized the words he’d used.  A damp curl stuck to his forehead, his eyes wide with the reflex of fear.  His heart beat itself bloody inside his chest.

“I… I mean….” 

Come home with me, he wanted to say, but this was home.  Her home. 

The words didn’t register with Leah until she saw Sid’s face.  Her reaction was an instant laugh.  “I know, Sid.  And you’d better come quick,” she teased.

Sid barely had time to be relieved – his body seized and Leah held on tighter till it rode through both of them, leaving ruin in every direction.  Sid pulled her down into his arms and rolled them onto their sides, still joined together.  He kissed her lips softly and closed his eyes.

Come with me, he thought over and over until he drifted off.

Leah knew Sid slept like the dead.  Only this time, instead of sneaking out she reached for her phone.  A quick text made for a lame sick day, but then she pulled the comforter over them and passed out in his arms.

Sidney didn’t know how they’d gotten out of bed.  He did remember the shower, where he’d made Leah sing to him.  Getting dressed had taken a few tries because he kept losing his cool at the sight of Leah pulling little bikini panties up over her ass.  The last few hours had been blissful, but now he was riding shotgun in her car with two hockey bags blocking the rear window and an ache in his stomach.

Leah watched the furrow in Sid’s brow deepen.  She wanted to tell him it was just nerves, that he’d feel better once he got to Pittsburgh.  She certainly hoped he would.  But misery loves company and Leah knew where she was headed as soon as she dropped Sid off.  She flipped on the radio to cover the silence.

Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned
But just because you’re burned doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try, try, try…

Leah slapped the dial, cutting Pink off in mid-chorus.  Sid snickered weakly.  A minute later, the car tires bumped against the airport sidewalk curb.  Sid was already out of the car.  Before she could unbuckle her seat belt, he was at her side tapping on the window.

“I don’t get a goodbye?” he said loudly enough to be heard through the window.

Leah scrambled out.  Next to the car – next to anything normal sized and standing up – Sid looked larger than life again.  With a ball cap pulled down low and the collar of his jacket up he was even more imposing, except for the look on his face.  His eyes twinkled and the corner of his scandalous mouth curled.

“What?” she asked.

“Wait for it.”

She didn’t last a second, but smacked him on the chest.  “What?!”

“I’m going to kiss you in front of all these people. I’m hoping someone recognizes me first.”

He wasn’t kidding about kissing her or caring if anyone saw.  Sid felt scared and reckless, the sex-and-death reflex activated by fear.  This was it.  He’d get on that plane and get into Pittsburgh, into the locker room and his life and there would be no more time for this.  No room to pine over a girl twelve hundred miles away.  He’d gotten more than he ever could have dreamed out of Leah and now he needed a clean break, or he’d be living off that same supply all year.  That meant leaving it here on the asphalt in the winter air outside the Halifax airport on a Tuesday afternoon. 

“Sid….” The blood drained from Leah’s face. 

He told their favorite lie.  “I won’t.  I promise.”

The second their lips touched, his arms easily lifted her off the ground.  Leah held the back of his neck.  She did everything but wrap her legs around his waist, and then only because their winter coats were in the way.  She poured every second of the last twelve days into that kiss – the good moments, the bad ones, the ones that were themselves closer than kisses.  It was sex in a kiss, goodbye in a kiss.  It lasted so long that cars started honking.

They broke apart laughing and smiling, both thinking that’s the way they wanted to remember each other.

In the airport, Sid treated himself to a soda and sat down facing the windows.  The same light that had shown him Leah that morning now poured into the terminal, illuminating every messy bit of leaving going on around him.  A sip of sugary bubbles zipped through his system like new energy.  Like Leah’s kiss.  Sid took a deep breath and resigned to move on.  He’d gotten Leah in the end – that counted for something.  Judging from the way she’d responded, it wasn’t the only thing he knew how to do.  Sid felt confident a way that fit tightly, like a new pair of hockey gloves.  It would need to be broken in before it could be played.  It needed a little time. 

Then his phone buzzed.  Sid nearly dropped his drink scrambling for it.  If she came back I will run out of this terminal and….  It was a text from his sister.

Taylor: You’re an fool.

“I know,” he said out loud.  It buzzed again.

Taylor: Say hi to Nealer for me.