This is a bad idea.
Leah looked in the Madigan’s bathroom mirror and repeated the line over and over. Outside, the dance floor was filling up for the first Friday of every month: Pop Stars night. The country music went off and the Top 40 came on. Usually it was Leah’s favorite night out. Then she’d found Sid.
If they’d ridden together, she could’ve prepared herself. Instead she walked into an ambush of tight t-shirt and visible biceps, of dark hair and dark eyes set to the soundtrack of a hundred stripper songs. He was at a table with Travis and when he stood up, Leah’s eyes went right down the shape of his torso from wide as a bull to narrow as a country road. A thin layer of cotton struggled to cover it all. As if her vision were x-ray, she could see the definition of his pecs, the outline of his tight abs and the flat run of his waist where it disappeared beneath his pants. He reached out to hug her; a flash of skin along the top of his jeans nearly made her faint.
“Hi. Wow. I should’ve dressed up.” He looked so happy to see her, so genuine in his compliment that she was almost sorry she’d worn this outfit.
Gina took one look at Sid and flagged down a waitress with a full tray. She bought five shots of tequila, gave everybody one and set two down in front of Leah. “You’re gonna need it.” Then she looked at Sid again. “Maybe I should give it to Travis, black him out then I can sleep with Crosby.”
Leah tossed back both shots in short order.
“Hey, you okay?” Sid leaned in close. Leah was wearing a very low cut black sleeveless top with a dangly, multiple rope silver necklace that moved freely and drew the eye right to her breasts. Paired with slim cropped jeans and some black heels, she was working it. She wanted to look good and make up for last night, she wanted to be the one Sid wanted even if she couldn’t have him. She wanted those guys from the game to think Sid was so lucky, since they’d never know the truth. In some twisted way she had worn this for him, though she wasn’t supposed to be for him at all.
Either he’d done the same thing by looking impossibly fuckhot, or he hadn’t tried at all and achieved exactly the same result anyway. Some things could not be denied. It made Leah a little suicidal.
“I’m good,” she finally managed to say. “I’m good.”
Now she was in the bathroom, wondering why every song was about sex or money or sex and money, and why she fit so well against Sidney’s body if she wasn’t supposed to be dancing there. Overnight her mind had raced through the scene in the car a hundred times, unable to stop until she rewrote the ending with a kiss. But all day Leah had been fine, reminding herself to be cool. She always went dancing with her friends, and now she was dancing with her friends. Dancing with Sidney.
This is a bad idea.
The door flew open and there was Gina, looking her own brand of insanely good. “You’d better get back out there before you have to cut your way through the women with a corkscrew!” She leaned against the wall. “God. He looks amazing.”
“I know,” Leah said.
“You do too, babe. Those pants love your ass and even I’m looking down your shirt. This is no time to get all shy.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
Gina pulled her away from the sink. “What every woman in this bar wants to do. Fuck him and worry about everything else later.”
Leah did in fact have to shove her way through an encroaching crowd of Crosby admirers. Pop Stars brought out a younger, rowdier crowd. It was also more female, though Leah had never seen so many girls in Cole Harbour history. Somewhere Ricky Calvert and his boys might even get some action. They should be thanking her.
Sid reached out and pulled her into a chair. “Please don’t leave again.”
This was why he didn’t hit the bars with his teammates often. It felt like he was in the zoo with everyone watching, only they all wanted to eat him. Thank God tonight Leah looked like she’d stepped out of a magazine, it might intimidate a few other women.
It should, Sid thought. It was an outfit worthy of a WAG who’d bought and paid for everything Leah got naturally. Not indecent, but mouth-watering in the way he wanted to both take home and wake up with. Of course, he’d be doing nothing of the sort.
He forced himself to look around. I have to get used to this. This was how his teammates met girls. This was how most people under forty spent their nights off. If he wanted to be normal and start dating, Sid would be expected to operate in this environment. He just needed practice.
And sometimes practice hurt.
“Diamonds” by Rihanna came on and Sid bit the bullet. At least on the dance floor he wouldn’t be expected to talk to everyone who passed by.
“Let’s dance,” he said, draining his drink. Leah shook her head. “What? Come on, I can dance to this too.”
She looked up at him, eyes rolling up the broad frame towering over her seat like a statue. He could have at least worn a shirt his size. Then he smiled that ridiculous, blinding smile and like a brainwashed drone she’d follow him anywhere.
The dance floor was just crowded enough for them to disappear. They stayed close together without touching, but as soon as they started dancing Sid knew he was in more trouble here than with a hundred women around. This kind of hip-rolling music accentuated every move Leah made, dipping and shaking in perfect time. Flat-footed with his mouth hanging open, there was nothing else for Sid to do. He reached for Leah’s waist. Her eyes flicked up, full of surprise, and flashed as his thigh slipped between hers. Those heels made her the perfect height to be hip to hip and face to face. Sid didn’t stop - he ground against her like he paid for it.
Leah grabbed his shoulders to keep from falling. And then just because she liked it. His body pushed, daring her to keep up. Her arms came together behind Sidney’s neck and Leah hung on while they moved. Every nerve ending in her body rang like a siren, but Sidney couldn’t hear them over his own blood rushing. He buried his face her neck, breathing in the scent of her skin and preparing to battle his own body all night. It felt too good to hurt so badly.
A few songs later, Gina interrupted them. Leah had to peel herself off Sid like a sticker and struggle to keep her feet. They made for the bar: Sid got right up to the front without asking what she wanted, then came back with two shots.
“I think we need these,” he said. His eyes were black, that hungry look was piercing.
“I think we don’t,” Leah replied, then tossed it back.
Just enough, Sid planned in his head. He needed to let down his guard and get Leah to drop hers. They could torture each other with temptation but at least they’d be even. He could not be alone in feeling this way, but Sid was sure he could stop – he would not make a mistake. He wouldn’t even kiss her. Just last night he’d joked about the whole thing and now the universe was laughing back at him. Leah was as much protection as punishment here. He laced his fingers through hers and pulled her back into the crowd.
The night was a blur of being together and trying not to cross the line. Leah had three shots and two beers; more drunk on Sidney than she was on alcohol. The music changed and she spun around, pressing her back to his chest and her ass into his lap. If he were any other guy, she’d be kissing him already.
If she were any other girl, Sid knew. It was his whole problem. That and the way her backside fit into his front side. Her tight pants slid scandalously along his thighs.
There are no other guys like him. All at once Leah realized how brazen she was being and turned to face Sid, stepping back. His arms were too strong.
“Please, Leah,” Sidney’s lips were against her ear. He was hanging by a thread - if she pulled away, he’d be forced to chase her. And when he caught her… Sid was questioning his resolve. Being buzzed always made him tell the truth. “Just dance with me.”
Leah closed her eyes. She’d danced with how many guys in her life – just danced, nothing else. Dancing was no big deal, except that Sid multiplied everything by more than eighty seven. He barely knew his own strength: riding against her, his hands in her hair. Leah felt like a car teetering on the edge of a cliff. One wrong move and she was going over.
“I won’t,” he said, not elaborating on what exactly he was resisting. “I promise.”
She didn’t want a promise. She wanted the Sidney who did the things his eyes said he needed; the Sidney who kissed a girl because he lost himself in desire, not because she had been stamped with some NHL seal of approval. Except Leah wasn’t sure that guy was even inside Sid, and either way she shouldn’t meet him on a night like this.
Still - hockey, the Penguins, hell even his family – they didn’t tell her what to do. Leah slid her hands up Sid’s biceps and along his shoulders, until she held him the way he was holding her. Give and take, she told herself, that’s what friends do.
Or what friends don’t. They danced for as long as they music lasted, saying nothing but admitting it anyway. A little liquor and a lot of physicality could do that. It sated the need just enough that they sobered together and when Gina came to fetch them, Leah and Sid smiled at each other and untangled.
“Do you need a ride?” he asked. They had three cars for four people – bad odds in Crosby’s favor. The buzz was gone, Sid was the kind of tired found in people who never stay up late. He wanted to curl up and sleep for a week; all the better if he wasn’t alone. Leah’s eyes were blue even in the street light outside the bar, her hair streaked with red highlights. She’d zipped a coat over the view but Sid would never forget the way her body felt.
Leah thought that in a perfect world, Sid was offering a one way ride to his house. They could hide from life and Cole Harbour and the prospect of hockey lurking around every corner. But those shots of tequila had faded from her system. Leah’s brain was in charge now, taking over where her hips and hands had been before. It told her lips to kiss his cheek, then her feet to carry her away.
“Night Sid,” she said, fingers slipping from the thick curve of his waist.
“You’re kidding!” Leah insisted.
“Nope,” Sid said into the phone. “I am actually sore.”
“From dancing,” he confirmed. It wasn’t the dancing, but rather grinding against Leah without actually jerking off. It had been on the dance floor so it was close enough.
“All that working out you do, and I’m in better shape,” she teased.
“I’m pretty sure I was holding you up.”
“Yeah, yeah. But you don’t have to prep seventy five student profiles today. If I could get out of bed, I’d be looking at a mountain of paperwork.” Leah had been awake for a while, thinking about the night before. Bed was a dangerous place to remember all the pressing and groping, the way Sidney pulled her hair gently as he whispered into her ear. Especially when the phone rang with that same voice on the other end.
Sid bit back a groaned. He was out of bed, but the idea of Leah still wrapped in her sheets was enough to send him right back.
If she’d given him any opening as they were leaving the club, he’d have taken her home. Instead he’d taken it out on himself once before falling asleep and once after waking. It felt like he was violating their friendship by thinking of her that way, but everything about her felt so right. Sid focused on the physicality they had shared and let her star in his fantasy. It was the only way to release his tension – he told himself it was for the good of their friendship.
“So you’re busy all day?”
“Someone’s been taking up all my time!” Leah hated it, she didn’t want to miss a day. Not now. “Really, I’ve been putting these off all break. Is it true they’re meeting in New York again today?”
“Yeah,” he said. That was the call that had woken him and he’d turned down the chance to fly in. Let the NHLPA be represented by whoever was close. If there was any real progress by tomorrow, maybe he’d go. “Probably nothing, I’m saying here. Will you be done by tonight?”
“Ugh, I cannot go out. If I even smell tequila I’ll barf.”
“And I don’t want gossip getting around that you had your way with me until I couldn’t walk. How about TV, my house, we’ll order dinner? I’m about eight episodes behind on Suits,” Sid said.
“Okay, but I’m wearing sweatpants.”
By the time dinner rolled around, Leah had a suggested plan of graduation attack for the top 75 kids in grade 11. They were applying to colleges, getting accepted, hoping for scholarships. It was a big time for them and her job to help. Once she had done that, she hauled herself into the shower, skipped makeup but compensated with her favorite clingy black yoga pants.
He’d look better in these than I do.
Leah chose a soft, bright blue long-sleeve shirt and socks with matching blue toes. A little work on her dried hair made it presentable; Leah wanted to prove that she was fine after last night, even if she could still feel Sidney’s hands on her body and still hear him whispering ‘please.’
It was amazing her phone had not rung all day with a curious friend or nosy sister wondering just how far this friendship was going. Surely half the town had seen them last night. Maybe it hadn’t been as obvious as Leah remembered, or maybe people were getting used to it. Not that there was anything to get used to. The meeting in New York, so soon after the meeting in Toronto, made her more nervous than she cared to admit. At Sid’s house, he’d left the garage open for her to hide her car inside.
“Hey,” he called from the kitchen. One whiff told her that ordering out had been a lie.
“What are you doing?” Leah followed the smell of lemon and garlic, the sound of sizzling.
Sid looked up from the stove and nearly dropped the wooden spoon. Leah looked like she’d climbed out of the window at one of those PINK stores next to Victoria’s Secret. Something about Sid’s inner athlete roared over workout-type attire - stretchy, fitted clothes killed him every time. Scenes from his x-rated daydream flashed through his mind, and probably right across his face.
“Cooking,” he croaked. “Dinner.”
“You can dance AND cook? Jeez Sid, wait till girls find out about this.” She leaned over his arm and inhaled deeply. Chicken in a white wine reduction was scattered with herbs, veggies alongside soaking in the broth. A pot full of drained egg noodles were keeping warm nearby.
She stood very close and Sid looked down into her eyes. Leah’s heart skipped a big, hard beat. He licked his lips. Water boiled at full volume.
“Looks great,” she said in a softer voice.
Sid’s hunger for food was replaced by another kind. “Wait till you taste it,” he replied.
Fleeing toward the fridge, Leah helped herself to a glass of juice. She retreated to the opposite counter and hopped up, feet swinging well above the floor. It was the prime location to watch Sidney cook. He wore dark jeans, white socks and a gray t-shirt that had been washed a thousand times. Leah bet it was really soft were it stretched over the bulk of his shoulders and where it brushed his flat stomach at the top of his pants.
People were always watching Sid. In public they watched out of curiosity, at games they paid to watch him play. He’d long since become immune to the feeling. But tonight he could feel Leah’s eyes on his body as clearly as if she were touching him with her hands. Normally it made him tense, but she had the opposite effect. Her gaze soaked his skin like the sun and he rolled his shoulders, stretching.
“Need any help?” she asked from behind him.
“Nope,” Sid said. It was easier to hide his blush this way.
Sid set their plates down on the coffee table. He never used his dining room, and besides this was not a date. It was just a homemade dinner, alone, with a girl in tight pants who he wanted very much to kiss. Not a date. Leah was already seated on the floor, two glasses of wine poured and the TV remote in hand. She cued up the season’s first episode of Suits.
“Can we re-watch the first one? I didn’t see it.”
“Of course.” Sid needed a few minutes to eat and get his thoughts in order anyway. Much like he’d done post-New Year’s by taking Leah to Toronto, he just wanted a little time together that felt normal. Dancing at Madigan’s had been anything but, still Leah was acting like things were fine. Sid needed to get back to that place too. As Leah raved about his food between scenes of the show, he started to relax.
Leah wasn’t lying. The food was really good. She wondered if there was anything that Sidney Crosby couldn’t do… and decided no. She’d just have to hold it together every time he demonstrated a new weapon in his arsenal. One episode ended – they refilled wine glasses and started another. Partway through, Sid moved to the couch. He tugged her sleeve and Leah followed, sitting with her legs tucked up and the balls of her feet touching his thigh. He slid down in his seat till one forearm rested against her thigh.
They pretended to pay careful attention to the show. Neither could have said later what it had been about. At the end of the fourth episode, Sid glanced over to find Leah asleep.
Well shit, he thought. Some evening he’d planned, inviting a girl over and boring her into a nap. He glanced at the clock - nearly midnight. Leah shifted and her foot slid up onto his thigh. With a guilty shake of his head, Sid pulled her legs across his lap. She turned onto her back, head tilted toward the cushion, and kept right on sleeping. Sid pushed play on episode five.
Leah woke up on the couch, all the lights on and the TV still playing. She was stretched out, using Sid’s legs like an adjustable mattress. His head was back and he was fast asleep. The DVR screen said one o’clock in the morning. She prodded Sid’s thigh with one foot.
“Hmmpph,” he said, blinking awake. “Oh, sorry.” A drowsy smile came to his face. “You feel asleep first this time.”
“You could’ve woken me up.”
“Figure I owe you one from The Hobbit.” Sid scratched the back of his neck, putting one arm and his chest into full display.
She bit her lip. What to do?
Sid didn’t look down. He didn’t know what to say. His palm was wrapped around her small foot - it was an easy slide up her calf and behind her knee, a little pull and she’d be sitting in his lap. A little push and he’d be on top of her. There were no prying eyes, just the two of them and everything that had made ten days feel like ten months of having a crush on the girl, or boy, next door.
“I should…,” she started.
“Stay,” he said out of nowhere.
“Okay,” Leah answered just as quickly.
“I, uh, I have room. Three rooms. It’s late and you’re tired and…,” Sid babbled.
Leah didn’t even look out the window. “I think it’s snowing,” she lied.
“Stay.” Sid repeated.
Leah too. “Okay.”
He showed her to a guest room. She borrowed a t-shirt to sleep in. Sid had a bunch of travel supplies; he went to get a toothbrush and Leah stayed in the hallway, she never even looked inside his bedroom. When he came back, he held the toothpaste out between them like a rope across a chasm. She took it without touching his hand. They were barefoot, staring at each other.
“Night,” Sid said, more like a cough. Everything about Leah, from the blue of her eyes to the way her hair tossed back, dared him to kiss her. Dared him to resist again and miss his best chance at getting this girl.
His best chance at losing her too.
“Night.” Leah’s chest ached. If she could have hugged him or touched him without setting off a fire, she’d have done it. Never had she seen someone with so much direction look so lost. It was temporary though; he had a direction. No matter how much she wanted him to stay, it would carry him right out of her life.
“Night,” Sid echoed again. The carpet burned under his foot as he turned away.
The phone was ringing. Sid reached a hand out into the dark to find the noise. The last thing he remembered was thinking about Leah in her bed across the hall and not being and to sleep. Then apparently, he had slept.
“’Lo?” he said gruffly. The red readout on his alarm clock said 4:18 AM.
“Sid. It’s Pat,” his agent’s voice came through much too clearly for the pre-dawn hour.
Since we got to see Sid's not-at-all-ruined face today, here's a bonus chapter. It doesn't do much to help with my emotional exhaustion over knowing he's okay! - J