Saturday, May 25, 2013


(February 8)

“Hey, it’s me.  Just saying hi.  Feel like I haven’t talked to you in forever and, you know, really exciting things happen all the time here.  There’s a lot to tell.  So give me a call, if you can.  Oh, and Sid?  Good luck tomorrow.”  Leah disconnected.  It was their fourth or fifth message traded, but she seemed to be in the shower or a meeting whenever Sidney called back. 

He always calls back, though.

Sid watched his phone light up, saw Leah’s name on the screen.  It was within reach of where he lay sprawled across his bed with just a towel wrapped around his waist.  He couldn’t even lift an arm to pull the blanket over himself, forget answer the phone.

His head hurt.  His body hurt.  Combined they hurt only about half as much as his heart.

So, so stupid, he told himself countless times. Risk was not Sidney’s style off the ice.  He was more than the heart of his team, he was the poster boy for a League that really needed all the help it could get.  During the lockout he’d held everything together, seemingly for both sides, and he had just managed to let it go when the whole thing ended anyway.  Now he was back to being the captain of his team and the face of hockey, not to mention the pride of his city and meal ticket for more people than he cared to count.  One stupid night could ruin a whole perfect life.

He groaned.  That was his father’s voice in his head, the drill sergeant conscience Sidney had always carried with him.  Some of it made sense, the rest was melodrama.  It was just hockey.  Nothing from last night could affect his ability to score goals and lead his team.  At the end of the day, that’s what mattered.  Sid hated himself for believing in his own hype.

There was nothing to lose.  Except Leah.

How can you lose what you never had? he thought despondently.  A message icon appeared.  Sid pushed it away and closed his eyes.

The same ringing noise woke him again hours later.


Mario Lemieux’s voice scared the shit out of a very disoriented Sid.  What time was it?  Why was he sleeping face down in just a towel?  Worse: Did Mario know about last night?


“Yeah, hi.”  He sat up and rubbed his eyes.  Fast asleep to hating himself in two seconds flat, Sid thought of Theresa and worst case scenarios ran through his mind: tabloid, police, pregnant.  “What’s up?” 

“Did you ask about someone singing the anthem?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Okay.  The in-game entertainment office didn’t have your cell so they called me.  Someone just cancelled for tomorrow.  We have a backup, but they wanted to offer it to you because it could be April before another chance opens up.”

“T… tomorrow?”  Sid tried to remember what day it was.  “Oh Saturday.  Against Carolina, right.”

Mario’s voice took on that fatherly tone.  “Are you alright?”

“Fine.  Groggy.  Let me ask – it’s a friend from home, she’d have to fly down but it’s Saturday so maybe….”

“Their deadline is five o’clock today.”

When the call was done, Sidney flopped to the mattress and lay on his back, looking at the ceiling.  Tomorrow.  Saturday.  Leah.  The cold, foul memory of the night before crept in around the edges of his happiness, like vines growing over the only door that led to escape.  Sidney shook his head.  He could wipe that away.  Leah could not arrive at a better time.  He’d charter a jet or rent out the space shuttle if he needed to.    

Swiping to unlock his phone, he saw there was a message from the night before.  Leah had called while he was with that other girl.

Gross, he knew.  I am gross.  But there was no time for a pity party.  Her message was bright and happy, just the thing he needed to erase the mistake from his mind.  Leah would never know, he would compartmentalize it with other horrible things like last year’s Round One loss to the Flyer.  Once Leah arrived, whatever happened, happened.  Even if it was nothing Sid knew it would be better that what he’d done.

“Oh, and Sid?  Good luck tomorrow,” her voice said on the message.

“You’ll be here to see it,” he told the empty room.

A phone buzzed.  The vibration gave it away.  Leah ignored it once, but the second time she looked displeased at the student across her desk.  School had a strict policy about cell phones being off during class hours.

“It’s not mine,” the girl said.

Oh for fuck’s sake.  Leah reached into the drawer by her leg, into her purse, and squeezed both sides to quiet the vibrating phone. “Sorry.”

When the meeting was over, Leah retrieved the phone.  Four missed calls in an hour, all from Sidney.  There was one text.

Sid: Call me nowwwwwwww pls!

Leah’s disgust for poor text grammar did not outweigh her curiosity.  She closed her office door before dialing.  Sid picked up on the first ring.

“Say you’re not busy tomorrow.”  His voice was breathless.

“I’m not busy tomorrow?” Leah said, unsure of how to match his tone.

“Would you, Leah Hanlon, like to sing the National Anthem as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Consol Energy Center?  In front of twenty thousand people?”

A bus could not have hit Leah harder.  Tomorrow.  Twenty thousand people.  Sidney.  Tomorrow.  Sidney.


“Ohmygod,” she said quietly.

Sid was still in his bed, where the whisper of her voice went right through him like a knife.  It was the kind of thing she said in bed, full of surprise and almost reverence.  Short of saying ‘I love you,’ it was about the best thing she could have done at that moment.  Sidney needed this – needed her, needed absolution for his sin – more than he imagined.

“Please,” he added.

“Yes.  I, wow.  Yes.  Of course, Sid.”  The words tumbled out in rush.  “How?”

“I’ll find you a flight.  Or a plane.  Reindeer, maybe?  I think it’s their off-season.”  He joked as  nervous energy filled his veins.  This was really happening.

She giggled.  “Is that okay?  I don’t want to put you out….”

Sid cut her off.  “I can’t wait to see you.”

Leah looked skeptically around the store.  She had not done a lick of work after Sid’s call besides print out the American anthem and read it ten thousand times.  At final bell rang she sprinted for her car, raced to the mall and nearly ran over Gina waiting in front.

“I’m going to wear jeans and a… jersey or something to sing,” she said, looking around the store they were in.

Gina pulled her head out from a rack of clothing.  “His jersey?”

“Uh, I don’t know.  A blank jersey, maybe?  I’m sure I can borrow one down there.”

“You should wear his jersey.  A big, authentic one that looks like he just took it off so everyone will know.”  Gina brandished a hanger.  “And this underneath it.”

Leah rolled her eyes.  She did not need a peach colored satin push-up bra with darker peach lace overlay, the matching barely-there thong laid on the table or the thigh high stockings that Gina had picked out.

“It’s a hockey game, not a strip club.”

Gina smiled broadly.  “Not until you get to his house.”

Truth be told, Leah already felt fluttery.  She rationally told herself that Sid was her friend, even though they’d hooked up, and visiting each other was something friends did.  If it lead to more, that was fine too.  She wasn’t counting on it and that’s certainly not why she was going all the way to Pittsburgh.  Gina’s expression said are you shitting me?

“You’re not flying halfway across America on a day’s notice to see one of Hello! Canada’s most beautiful people in old underwear from Target!  I am not running a second rate escort service, Leah.  That is final.”

Leah laughed and gave Gina her credit card.  They discussed post-game activities, which Gina insisted would involved a bar or club, and what to wear.

“What if they lose? No one will want to go out,” Leah said.

“A) They’re not going to lose.  B) If they do, that’s what the underwear is for.  C) If they win, you need a dress to go over the underwear.  It’s like a cake.  The better they do, the more layers he gets to enjoy.”  Gina dragged Leah toward another department.

“He’s seen me out here in jeans so many times.  I’ll be fine!” Leah protested.

Gina marched right to a display and pulled down a metallic, light gold colored dress.  It wasn’t too tight, too short or too low cut, but it was definitely a big night dress.  She held it up between them. 

“Jeans are fine for Madigan’s and boys you went to school with.  You know Sid likes you that way.  But jeans are not fine in a club full of catty bitches who want to get knocked up by your man.  And jeans in a club will not go over well on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, 25 Stanley or the blog I am starting for this occasion.  You have to think about this stuff now, babe.”

“You are demented.”

Gina yanked the dress away.  “Remember New Year’s Eve, when you wore that blue dress?”

“Yes,” Leah kicked a spot on the ground.

“Remember when Sidney almost punched your ex-boyfriend that night?  When he couldn’t resist kissing you then chased you into the freezing cold night to beg your forgiveness?”

“Yes.”  Sigh.

Gina nodded.  “A dress it is, then.”

Sidney circled the airport for the fourth time.  He was nervous, and early.  He was early when he was nervous.  Parking and going inside was not an option.  Sid didn’t know what he’d do when he saw Leah but it couldn’t happen in front of people.  He needed time to adjust.

I’ll hug her.

I’m not going to kiss her.

What if she kisses me?

I’m going to throw her into this backseat and park on the median then climb back there with her and…

His phone rang.  Sidney jumped so hard he nearly rear-ended the airport taxi in front of him.  Hitting the Bluetooth button, he angled around the traffic.

“I’m here!” Leah sang.  In fact she’d been on the ground in Pittsburgh for a few minutes.  After wheeling her carry-on from the plane, she went into the first bathroom, closed herself in a stall and freaked out for a good thirty seconds.  It was only the second time she’d done that today, and the airplane bathroom had been too small for a proper spaz attack.  Then she finger-combed her hair, checked her makeup and tried not to be sick.

“Which door are you near?  I’ll pull up.”

Sid peered ahead, watching the airline names overhead.  He found United – she wasn’t at the first sign.  Or the second.  Then suddenly there was Leah, in the same bright green parks and high black winter boots she’d been wearing the night they met at the rink.  Her hair was redder than he remembered, curlier too, as if the shiniest its of her had been worn down by memory.  She spotted him and smiled, Sid’s heart nearly stopped.

“Jesus,” Leah said under her breath.  Even from ten yards away behind the windshield of a car, Sidney had the most intense gaze she’d ever seen.  His face lit up with a huge, goofy grin, all awk shucks and white teeth.  The ground swayed like an earthquake.  His black Range Rover rolled to a stop and she opened the passenger door.

“Hi.” She stood there, staring.

“Hi.”  He started back.

“Oh, right, sorry.”  She snapped to attention and fumbled her suitcase, reaching for the back door.  The small wheelie laid easily on the backseat.  Leah climbed into the front and closed herself in, sneaking a deep breath before turning to look at Sid.

It was the night sky.  The ocean.  Something else you could look at for a hundred years and never see it all, something you could memorize but never accurately describe to another person.  Sidney tried to take in every detail of Leah at once to reconfirm the picture he’d kept all this time in his head.  It turned out he was a bad artist, he hadn’t been doing her justice.

“Hi,” she said again.

He pulled away from the curb, into the left lane and made for the highway ramp.  Once he was on it, Sid got up to speed before he let go of the gearshift and reached for Leah’s hand.

She wrapped her slender fingers between his thick ones, freshly nicked and bruised as they were despite his hockey gloves.  Without a thought in her head, she lifted his hand and kissed the back of it.  His skin was as warm as she remembered.  Sid pulled their hands to his lips and brushed them across her knuckles, sending a shiver down her spine.

They barely said a word the whole way home.

Sid as surprised when the red brick front of his house came into view.  He couldn’t have said how he got them home.  All he remembered was holding her hand and having no idea what else to do.  Auto pilot had brought them home before he could figure it out.

“Wow, look at this place,” Leah said, leaning to see out the window as they pulled into the drive.

It’s yours, he wanted to say.  It’s new, I had it built and it’s yours if you’ll have it.  Along with everything inside, including me.  He bit his lip instead.  Now that Leah was here, Sid could not imagine ever letting her leave.  They weren’t even to the front door.

Leah knew Sid was rich.  She even had an idea of the amount of money he might have but seeing the house was something else.  It wasn’t opulent, wasn’t a palace.  A mansion, maybe, but she’d seen bigger and shinier.  What struck her was that this house was his, bought and paid for at the age of twenty-five.  He could have ten houses and twenty cars in theory, but the reality of this one brought her own life into sharp contrast.  It made her feel like a child despite her own accomplishments.

That disappeared the minute Sid opened her door.  She’d been daydreaming while he got out and went around the car.  Suddenly he was standing there, one arm out to the door handle like he was half-ready for a hug.  But he got a whole one.  Leah jumped out of the SUV and into his arms without her feet ever touching the ground.

Sid caught her, wrapped around her and held both Leah and his breath for a long moment.  When he did risk it, the scent he remembered from all their time together came rushing in like a tidal wave.  Vanilla and ruby red.  He felt it down to his toes.

“I missed you,” she said into the front of his coat.

I need you, she thought.

“I missed you too,” he said, thinking, I love you. 

Leah was afraid to pull back.  She would be inches from his mouth, defenseless and senseless.  The size and weight and warmth of him was enough to sink her, so she clung to him like a raft.  Eventually Sid realized she wasn’t letting go.  Not that he minded, but it did make him chuckle softly.

“Do you want to come inside?” he asked.

“Yes,” came the voice from near his neck.  Her face was tucked in there, hidden.

“Do you want to come inside today?” he tried.


“What are you waiting for?”


He laughed and started to let go.  “So, if I….”

Leah cinched her arms tight, trying to pull him back in.  It worked – sort off.  Sid leaned left, dipping her toward the ground.  She held on but her head tipped back.

He hadn’t planned to kiss her.  But then nothing with Leah had ever gone according to plan.  Their lips touched and stuck, closed but still very much a kiss that could mean anything at all.

It’s a good thing Sid was holding her up, it meant he couldn’t let go.  Otherwise he’d have dropped them both to the floor.  Leah felt lightheaded, upside-down, spinning.  She wrapped a hand around the back of Sid’s neck and pulled herself up with him.

“Come inside,” he said.  Leah could barely hear over the sight of his gorgeous mouth.

“Okay.”  She smiled shakily, her hand still clutching the nape of his neck.  Sid wanted her to never be any farther away than she was right then. 

He reached for her suitcase, unlocked the door and held it open for her.  Light and heat beckoned like sparkles from inside.  Leah crossed the threshold.

Absolutely nothing was settled.

Sid took Leah’s bag from her hand and placed it against the wall in the entryway, then nearly snapped the handle of when he saw her peeling off her coat.  That puffy, soft green jacket gave way to her true shape, one he remembered as well as if he’d designed her himself.  A simple white sweater had never looked better.  It ended just above the design stitched into the back pockets of her jeans.  Her hair seemed longer, well past her shoulder blades.  Sid clenched the suitcase handle to keep from reaching out and touching her.

The kiss had been unavoidable, but now that it was done that might be it.  Sid wasn’t sure he had anything more to look forward to than twenty four hours of proximity torture and the inevitable loss of this dream.  But first, a tour.

“The living room is this way,” he said.

From room to room – big living room with a bigger TV, kitchen with a gleaming marble counter, den full of Penguins memorabilia – Leah saw hints of Sidney scattered around.  A messy stack of papers sat on the desk.  An appointment card stuck to the fridge, a pair of sunglasses next to the phone, an issue of GQ on the coffee table. It wasn’t much, but after weeks of seeing hints of Sidney in every place she went, Leah was accustomed to finding them.

The rest of the place was straight out of a catalog.  It was a beautiful space, more home-y than its size suggested, but it was not lived in.  Sidney could not occupy all this space himself and he clearly had no help.  It made Leah a little sad – the matching throw pillows, the area rug that perfectly matched the accent wall.  She might have chosen the same things, because they looked great, but in this house Leah thought they felt empty.

Sid’s life felt empty.

“You don’t like it.”  Sid had been watching her face carefully as she surveyed his house like she was looking for something.  Should he have had a photo of her?  Of them?  He didn’t have any photos at all, except hockey.  It was spotless too - he wasn’t in most of the rooms enough to make a mess, but the housekeeper came once a week anyway.  So why was she frowning?

“No.” A flash of fear crossed her face, Leah did not want him to misunderstand.  “It’s beautiful, Sid.  It’s just… so big.  For you.  Alone.”

“Well I won’t be alone forever,” he said defensively, then added, “I hope.”

She was at his side, hand on his arm.  Through the sleeve she could have burned his skin.  “I didn’t mean that.”

He still bristled a little.  “It’s okay.”

“No,” she repeated.  Being close to him made it hard for Leah to speak – she was looking at his mouth, not thinking about her own.  Right now, his was tight.  “I’m sorry.  I….” She took a deep breath to sync up her brain with her words.  “I worry about you, Sid.  Down here in this big place by yourself, I know you want to hide away.  Or you used to.”

His dark brown doe eyes were glued to hers.  Sid listened with his entire body, intensely, searching for a word in what she said that was the key he needed. 

Leah tried a little smile.  “Maybe not anymore.”

No, not anymore, he thought as she stood in the place he wanted her to stay.

Leah squeezed Sid’s arm, breaking the tension.  She’d have to be more careful with her words and more comfortable in Sid’s space.  To start, she walked over to the couch, picked up two patterned accent pillows from their carefully angled spots and dropped them both onto the floor.

Sid stopped at the top of the stairs.  There were four bedrooms, three baths and a hallway.  The last and largest was his. 

“Which one’s mine?” Leah asked as if reading his mind.

“Any one you want,” Sid said.  Including mine.  But he had things to do, rituals to observe that could not be messed with even because Leah was there.  Especially not because he intended to play the best game of his life in front of her tonight.

“I do need to take a nap soon,” he looked at the closed doors.  Some host, bringing a friend down for a day and spending part of the perfectly good day sleeping.

Leah had expected nothing less.  “Oh I know all about your superstitions. Show me.”

He opened the door to each guest room as they passed.  The one closest to his was the second-largest with an en suite bath.  He put her suitcase outside that doorway, between that room and his own.  Leah smiled at the gesture but said nothing.

This is more like it.  His bedroom had light gray walls with white moulding.  A dark headboard anchored a king size bed that made her mouth dry.  The white and charcoal striped duvet was slightly rumpled, the pillows heaped atop it.  Leah saw a million signs of life.  Half a glass of water rested on the bedside table, next to a phone charger and a Chapstick she would have sworn was cherry flavored.  He’d cleaned this room himself – a stock stuck out of the closed top drawer, the watches on a velvet-lined tray where in a pile.  It even smelled like him.

Sid glanced sideways, afraid his face would give away every crazy thing he was thinking.  Mad ideas like maybe he could go without his pre-game nap, maybe he could break the no sex on game day rule, maybe he could call in sick to the game and just keep her here until she missed her flight tomorrow.  The corner of her lip curled enticingly, like she was thinking something good too.

“This looks like home,” she said.

Sid saw his room, but more importantly Leah in his room.  “Yeah, it does.”


Thursday, May 23, 2013


(January 26)

Leah woke to the sound of her phone ringing.  Only two people would ever call her before ten on a Saturday morning, so she answered without looking at the screen.

“Morning Crosby,” she said groggily.

“Aw crap.  Are you still in bed?”  He’d slept in, then seen her racy text and felt the urge to, well, do a lot of things.  So he got up and dressed, into the car and on the way to practice.  That should have kept him from getting… distracted at the sound of her voice.  Or so he hoped.

Awake now in her own room, Leah smiled.  “That depends. Are you outside stretching on my lawn again?” 

Sid remembered the day he’d turned up like a stalker and convinced her to go running.  He wished today were that day, or any other day at home.  The sassy tone of her voice said it would be well worth the trip back in time.  “What if I were?”

“Then yes I am in bed, and there’s a key under the flower pot.”

“Tease,” Sid groaned.  Just like that he’d have trouble putting his cup on at practice.  She laughed, making him even more feverish.  He pictured her wrapped in a sheet, auburn curls tossed against a white pillowcase, wearing nothing but that grin that went right over his castle walls.

“Sorry about the game last night,” she said.

“It’s okay,” Sid was surprised to find he meant it.  “Like you said, we’ll get there.”

“My my, you are all sunshine and light this morning.  What have you done with gloomy hockey Sidney?”

“Meh.  That guy was lame.  What are you going to do all day without me there to keep you in bed?”

There it is, she thought as she drew him into flirting.  His brain wasn’t entirely committed to practice yet.  “Hmmmm, I might stay in bed all day with just that idea.  I mean, there are a lot of Sidney Crosby workout videos on the internet.”

Sid’s voice dropped a note.  “Leah.”

“Mwahahahaha.”  Leah joked, but the power of twisting Sidney so easily was intoxicating.  No blind date Facebook girl had taken her place, not yet.  It meant she was, in fact, hard to forget.  “If you insist on ruining my plans, I supposed I will get up and go to the gym.  Maybe wear something tight, get all sweaty and breathing hard.  I hear that really turns some people on.”

Sid pulled into the player’s parking lot.  “You’re evil.”

“Well you wouldn’t want me to be boring.”

What he didn’t want was to be hard walking into practice, but Sid was pretty far past that.  He glanced around – most of the cars were there, maybe he could get away with… no.  At home at night was one thing, Sid was not about to have phone sex with Leah while in his car.  He couldn’t just expect her to get him off every time they spoke, even if she started it.  He might be crazy but that was depravity.  And he would be late.

“I have to go,” he said with a frown.

Leah clicked her tongue.  “Oh well, maybe next time.”

Sid put his head down on the steering wheel.  Just when he was feeling a little normal – the date with Brooke, the picture on Facebook, even sleeping in – it all came apart talking to Leah.  She was too good to give up.  Every option he tried failed.  Every word she said was like a hand on his skin - a soft, firm hand that knew what he liked and wanted to please.  His cock twitched in sympathy.  The only hand around here was his: a poor substitution and not even enough time for that.

He realized he hadn’t asked what she sang at Madigan’s the night before.  He realized he hadn’t thought about her singing in a week – maybe since coming back to Pittsburgh.  An idea fell from the sky and landed in his lap, landing on top of his other thought about Leah.

Leah brought the keyboard up into bed with her, making music in in an effort to distract herself after the conversation with Sid.  He always sounded so close, like his voice was inside her head.  Playing the notes of her song over and over did nothing to drown him out.  The temptation became too much; Leah switched to her laptop and found a video of Sidney doing… did it matter what?  First he was running: resistance band around his waist while a muscle-bound guy tried to hold him back.  Then he was climbing a rope, doing pushups, hitting something with a sledgehammer that might as well have been her heart for the way she felt it right through the screen.  There was even a video of him making a sandwich that managed to look like porn. Surrender didn’t take long after that.  Maybe she was wrong to use Sid that way but he never seemed to say no.

Afterward Leah lay still, waiting for her heart rate slow.  Waiting to forget.  That’s what Saturday mornings were for: orgasms and guilt.

She had expected the desire to fade.  Sidney would always be Sidney – he’d always look like that, skate like that, be inescapable in the media.  Leah thought his absence would make it easier but that wasn’t happening.  Since his Facebook photo debut, Leah had been fighting the sinking feeling that Sid was moving on and she was not.  Perhaps that was her biggest mistake – thinking there was something in Cole Harbour to move on to. 

Still, he called her to flirt.  He called her at all.  She just hoped it meant as much to her as it did to him. 

The same tune had been bouncing around in her mind for days.  She played it again, her hand flowing more naturally along the rhythm.  Leah began testing out verse and bridge melodies, though she knew they would only come when the words did.

“It is no wonder that you need blind dates.”

“Pardon?” Sid hadn’t been expecting his call to get picked up so quickly.

Brooke spoke very slowly.  “You’re. Not. Very. Good. With. Girls.  Are you?”

“What did I do now?!”

“It’s taken you five days to call me.”

Sid leaned heavily against the counter in his kitchen.  “After the first date where you told me there would not be a second date?”

She laughed.  “Yes, that one.  But I thought we were gonna be friends!  I got a hundred thousand comments on that photo of us and I had to talk my mom off a ledge when someone printed it and brought it to her house.”

“Oh God,” Sid groaned.  “I’m sorry.”

“Ha! I’m not.  I think it’s on her fridge now.”

Sid was glad to hear Brooke laugh.  He’d felt very comfortable on their date, if he could call it that after she’d turned him down.  Part of Sidney’s plan for a normal life in Pittsburgh included having more friends and there was no rule saying those couldn’t be girls. After all, he and Leah had started out that way.

“Are you busy today?  I was thinking about going to a movie or something,” he asked.

“Another date?”

“No, I mean, not as a… you have a boyfriend.”

“I have a crush, Sid.  It’s not the same.”

“But, I…,” Sid stuttered.

“Let’s have dinner first.  I’ll explain it to you.”

Brooke was pretty.  Really pretty, in fact.  Sometimes Sid’s attention drifted while she was speaking, taking in her soft-looking hair and the green of her eyes.  It wasn’t often he let himself really look at a girl up close, in case she thought he was hitting on her.  In this case, Sid had already tried and failed so there was nothing to lose.  The twinge of guilt he’d felt on his blind dates was gone and he was comfortable in her company.  Funny how that only happened with girls he knew he couldn’t have.

Brooke tilted her head and smiled, breaking his daydream.  “You’re hopeless.  I am giving you pearls of wisdom and you’re staring at my boobs.”

“I wasn’t!” Sid flushed purple.  He’d been looking at her curvy lips… to keep from looking at the v-neck in her sweater.

“Well at least you’re doing something right.”

Now Sid was thoroughly confused.  “I am?”

“Girls don’t like it when you give up so easily, Sid.  Be a little persistent.  Make them feel like you’re really trying.”

“Are you saying, with you?”  Sid was pretty sure that when Brooke said no, she meant no.  But if she meant maybe... except that he just admitted he wasn’t doing that right thing at all.

“No.  You should stop trying with me.  Even if my boobs are great.  I mean in general.  If a girl says ‘no thanks,’ sometimes she means ‘try harder.’”

“Oh.”  This was news.  Effort was not a requirement for someone with his skill set – fame, money and a face that girls seemed to like.  Attention came too easily if anything.  “Okay.”

Brooke rolled her eyes.  “Not that you ever have to try.”

“Sometimes,” Sid admitted, “I really do.”

(January 31)

Ring.  Voicemail. 

Sid hung up without leaving another message.

During the season, time moved quickly.  The post-lockout schedule was more hectic than ever and Sidney felt as if the Penguins had a game every other night.  He and Leah had been playing phone tag for a few days so he hadn’t told her about his idea and plan.  He hadn’t had a chance to, as Brooke said, try harder. 

The plan was shaky, at best, which seemed to fit their situation.  Sid had not yet figured out the ebb and flow of his relationship with Leah.  He wanted to talk to her every day but not act like he was waiting for it.  He wanted desperately to see her without seeming desperate.  Even a phone call held promise and danger for them, sliding toward the physical though they were a thousand of miles apart.  That part was getting worse – he didn’t want to use her, but he wasn’t getting any from anywhere else and he wanted release so badly he could taste it.  Like a flame, Sidney kept reaching toward their spark just to be sure it was still hot.  This idea would stick his whole hand in the fire – even if he was afraid of burning the whole place down.

He texted Leah: Don’t go to sleep yet.

The Pens finally landed in Pittsburgh after a one game trip to New York City and a shutout of the Rangers.  He zipped home, changed and got into bed.  Just in case.  It was almost midnight when he finally called.

“Six shots, not bad,” Leah said on the first ring. It was past her bedtime but she reminded herself that it wasn’t every day Sidney Crosby called.  Or any boy, for that matter.  It also highlighted just how much she missed him.

“Didn’t score though,” Sid replied.

“Is that why you wanted me to wait up?”  She half-hoped he’d been thinking of her that way.

Sid laughed to stamp out the roar in his chest.  Yes, he wanted that too.  “I actually have a surprise for you.  “I asked about having you sing the national anthem at a game.”

“Oh.  Wow.”  She’d almost forgotten about that.

“They book pretty far out, especially in the short season, but I know people,” he joked stiffly.  He was nervous.  “It might be a few weeks before I know the date.  Then, uh, you could visit.  Me.  Visit here.”

In her room in Cole Harbour, all at once, Leah’s heart swooped right out of her chest.  She’d been avoiding the topic since he left.  It had only been three weeks but felt like a lifetime.  They could barely talk on the phone without getting all flustered.  The idea of a visit thrilled and scared her.  Would they be like they had at home?  Should she expect that?  After all, she was the one who said friends first, the one who told him not to wait. 

Then she spent the whole time hoping he was waiting anyway.

Maybe the date did it.  Maybe Sid went out with one girl and realized that he wanted no one but her, Leah thought hysterically.  But that had been ten days ago.  What was taking him so long?  What took him that long to invite her in the first place?  None of these answers would solve their biggest problem - the space time continuum.

Leah was quietly freaking out.  “Okay,” she said quickly. 

“You want to, right?” He was talking about the singing but really asking about the visit.

“Yeah, of course.”  Leah was talking about the visit too.  “Thanks, Sid.”

“I said I’d do it, didn’t I?”

Actually he hadn’t.  Sidney had never suggested Leah visit him in Pittsburgh, a fact they were both painfully, silently aware of at this moment.  He had left or she had sent him away, but not once had he asked her to come with.

“Really it was James’ idea,” she tried to smooth it over with a joke.  “But I’m glad you asked.  He’s, like, not that important anyway.  It’d be next year before I got a spot.”

The genuine excitement in Leah’s voice made Sid feel incredible.  He hoped some of that was for him, not just the chance to sing on such a big stage.  “You’re going to perfect,” he said.

Instead Leah felt shaky already.  “Hope I remember all the words.”

A fragile silence fell between them as they were each afraid to say the same things.  What would happen?  Would that be friends or more?  What were they now?  Sidney wished he could claim to have the situation under control, but he didn’t.  Even if they couldn’t be together, even if Leah’s visit would lead to another month of missing her like a hole in his heart, Sidney wanted it now.

Leah wasn’t so sure.  She saw Sidney every day, on TV or in pictures.  It kept every feeling alive in a kind of suspended reality, like her heart was holding its breath.  Visiting him would either kick start it or stop it for good.  Her body ached for him, right up to her eyes that ached to see his smile.  The first moment would be the best hug she’d ever had, no matter what happened after that.

“You should sleep,” Sidney told her in a quiet voice.  “Thanks for waiting up for me.”

Word spilled out from the cracks in Leah’s composure.  “I miss you,” she said in a near-whisper. 

“I miss you too,” Sidney said.

At the same time, in their own homes, Leah and Sid both thought: I miss you more.

(February 7)

A week went by and no word came from the front office about an open date for Leah to sing the anthem.  The fizz of Sidney’s initial excitement was turning to frustration, souring his stomach by day and waking him in tangled, sweaty sheets at night.  He had barely spoken to Leah since sharing the idea because he wanted to give her good news, earn a big smile and maybe a little something extra.  Leah was waiting for the word.  Waiting for him, maybe.  Or maybe not.  But waiting on the Pittsburgh end was killing Sidney and he needed a distraction.

“Sid.  You come,” Malkin said in his lumbering voice.  He’d had a goal and two assists in that night’s win against Washington, same as Sid.  Virtually the whole damned team had a point in the 5 goal second period and the Penguins rolled to a 5-2 win.  It was also their fifth win in a row – just enough to stir Sid’s superstitious streak.

“Yeah, I’m coming.”  Sid rubbed a towel through his wet hair and reached for his dress shirt.  All around him guys were reassembling their game day outfits.  It promised a big night when the boys went straight out in their suits.

They chose Diesel.  Sid hated the place – it was always packed, always made a big deal over them.  That’s why his teammates loved it.  Walking up was practically red carpet treatment while half-drunk co-eds in line outside threw panties and phone numbers at them.  Okay, not quite.  It just felt that way.  Sid joined the press of bodies making their way toward the VIP lounge.  This place is nothing like Madigan’s, he thought, surprised at how comfortable that seemed compared to this. 

But Madigan’s was a world away.  This was Pittsburgh.  These were his friends.  Normal people did this all the time and Sid wanted to be normal, even if it meant being here.  Tonight he might even have fun. 

Just enough, he’d told himself that night he spent dancing with Leah.  And it had been enough, for a little while, until Sid had needed and taken and gotten more.  Now that was all gone and he had nothing.  At a table, Neal was pouring a glass already – Sid took it and tossed it down his throat. 

“Alright, alright!” James refilled the drink and moved on to his own.

The club was full, loud, warm.  Sid stuffed his tie in a jacket pocket and hung the coat from a chair.  He wondered what Thursday night meant for people with regular jobs, if it was a jump on the weekend or they just couldn’t go one more day without letting off steam.  He thought of Leah, Gina and Travis doing this every weekend in Cole Harbour.  People were everywhere, drinking and dancing, though it was just eleven o’clock.  Tomorrow night Leah would be doing the same, probably with some other guy.  Some fucking chump who didn’t realize how lucky he was.

Sid moved toward the back of the VIP area, next to Duper and Kunitz standing at a high table, and half-listened, half-watched the scene around him.  Geno and TK were doing shots, sleeves rolled up, egged on by a waitress who’d make enough to buy a car tonight.  He saw Niskanen and Kelly, who waved to him.  Sid waved back.  Maybe he should call Brooke.  Then he spotted Neal and Paul Martin, partners in crime, pointing out to the bouncer which girls he should let into VIP and decided that Brooke should stay a safe distance away.

Everything was in slow motion.  It was taking too long for Sid to start enjoying this or at least get drunk, so he ordered another round.  Sutter did too, followed by Dupuis.  Sid unbuttoned his collar and pushed up his sleeves.  People arrived and disappeared; he didn’t count them.  Nor did he count the drinks that he finished; just the endless minutes of every day that stood between him and Leah’s visit.  And what would happen then?  She would run into his arms and into his bed?  His blood pulsed at the idea - she might, Sid felt confident they still had that connection.  He also knew when they were done, Leah would leave.  And they – whatever they had been - would be over for good.

A long, bare arm appeared in front of him, bearing a shot glass in hand.

“Hi.”  She was short even in her nude colored, patent leather fuck-me heels.  Sidney’s gaze moved up her body, more slowly than he meant to but he was drunk and there was a lot of leg to take in.  When he finally got to the hem of her dress, somewhere just south of her ass, it was bright and tight.  The coral color worked up her body up to a lace halter with a very deep v-neck, which he was looking right down.

She replaced his empty drink with the shot glass and clinked her own against it.

“Cheers.”  Her head tipped back, elongating her neck and spilling dark blond hair over her shoulders.  The round, perfect rise of her breasts strained the top of her dress.  Sidney drained his own shot just to tear his eyes away.  If he hadn’t just been thinking about sex….

The liquid exploded in his chest like a grenade.

Sid didn’t said a word.  He suddenly didn’t trust his tongue to move as directed anyway.  This girl – this full dose of hair and body and dress squeezed into a tiny bottle – didn’t seem to care.  She had dark eyes, full makeup and even fuller lips.  His blood pulsed again, turning traitor.  Neal must’ve let her into VIP.  Sidney briefly wondered if she catwalked right past James to get over here.

“I’m Theresa.”  She picked up his cocktail and took a small sip to chase the shot. 

Sidney dumbly did the same.  It helped – he cleared his throat.  “Sidney.”

“Right,” she said.  “Let’s dance.”

Sid tried to protest but by then he was on the dancefloor.  Things were happening at different speeds inside and outside his body.  People were everywhere – he didn’t notice them noticing him, but he didn’t notice Theresa either until her ass was against his thighs.  Apparently he was dancing.  Had been for some time.  She spun around, hair flying, and moved right up against his chest.

This Sidney rememered.  Only the girl had changed.  He didn’t fit quite right with this new one but the idea was the same – he moved against her, his strength easily steering them both. He could dance and then stop, he’d done it before. 

Just enough, he thought again, reaching for Theresa.  Just enough to scratch the itch, to remember what he was missing.  Just enough to prove he didn’t need Leah, not really.  The music sloshed around inside his head.  First the Theresa’s waist was in his hands, so small it was barely worth holding, then her hips instead.  Those offered more purchase.  Lights spun overhead.  She hitched the hem of her dress up an inch and got that much closer.  Sidney’s hand on her ass certainly helped.

“Hmmm,” she laughed, mouth to his ear, then on his throat.  Right at the pulse point where liquor flowed to his brain, fogging his decisions.  Her lips, tongue and even teeth worked the spot until Sid had to pull away.  That was more than enough.

She looked up through dark lashes, her smirk like a Dare.  Sid hated that game, he always picked Truth.  But tonight the truth was long gone – almost two thousand kilometres away, to be exact.  And it wasn’t thinking about him or waiting for him.  It wasn’t trying to think of any excuse to get here and see him.

Sid leaned down and kissed the look right off this girl’s face.  Her lips parted and a silky tongue slid across his, twisting like the best part of a roller coaster ride.  That tight little dress lost another inch as he pushed his thigh between her legs.  Sid’s body roared like an animal escaping the zoo.

“Woah, woah, okay Captain, I think you need a break!”

Sidney opened his eyes, right into the face of a very surprised Matt Cooke.  Flinching, Sid blinked it away.  He looked down – there she was.  The dress with the hair and the lips.  What was her name again?

“Come on, Kid.”

Sid turned to follow Matt and found a hand in his.  The girl.  Good, he wanted her to come too.  Before they could reach the bar, Matt was leading the girl and Sid was being pulled in the other direction.

“Drunk much?” Pascal asked.

“No,” Sidney glared, a little cross-eyed.

“Well take it easy in full view of everyone, okay?  At least take her home before you fuck her.”

From the opposite side, someone laughed.  Sid had to turn ninety degrees to bring the person into focus – it was James, of course.  “What?” he barked.

James glanced over his shoulder at the girl.  “You.  You do nothing when you should do something, and something when you should really stop.”

Sidney hated being treated like a child just because he didn’t make every bad decision that came his way.  Sidney wanted respect for being perfect, not derision.  But the guys thought it made him boring.  He’d show them boring.  This girl was hot and Neal was just jealous he wouldn’t be taking her home tonight – just like had with Leah.  He got right in James’ face but Neal stayed casual, as if Sid were no threat at all.  That really made Crosby mad.

“I know what I’m doing,” Sid hissed. 

“Then you know it’s wrong.”

Sid glared at his teammate.  What was it Neal had said in Toronto, about taking advtange of opportunity with Leah?  All the more reason to make tonight count.

Well Sid hadn’t done it that night, but he could do it now.  “Don’t be such a buzzkill, Neal.”

James just shook his shaggy head.  “Don’t be me, Sid.”

(February 8)

Pain.  Light.  Darkness again.  Thirst.

Sid tried to lift his head but it was far too heavy, like someone had replaced his brain with a sack of coins.  He cracked one eyelid and got a razorful of sunshine for it.  That didn’t last long.  He lay there, throat parched until he gathered his wits.

And sat straight up in bed.  Not his bed.


No one else in the bed either.  The room was light blue, the offending window revealing clothes strewn around the floor.  His pants were pooled directly on top of his shoes like a fireman’s uniform ready for use.  The jacket hung off a nearby chair – he wondered who’d cared enough to do that.  Just inside the door, balled to the size of a t-shirt, was that lacy coral dress.  Sid moved his foot, feeling texture, and came up with a tiny black thong.

Which he was holding when she walked into the room.

“Morning,” she said.  He remembered the dark blond hair, the lips.  Without her stilettos she really was short, maybe 5’ 1”.  Pretty, but still trying hard.  She wore a thin white tank top over a hot pink bra with her cleavage impressively displayed and low slung sweatpants rolled even farther, exposing a strip of her tiny waist.  The effect was Victoria’s Secret catalog and the makeup she wore was freshly applied.

“Uh, morning.”

She produced a glass of water and two Advil.  Sid tried not to touch her hand, but when he leaned back to drink, the girl climbed onto the bed and started rubbing his shoulders.  It felt devastatingly good; Sid nearly choked.  Before the glass was empty, she was kneeling behind him, legs spread to get close to his back.  She put his glass aside, angled his head forward and pushed her fingers into his neck.

Sid moaned quietly.  He was in no position to defend himself.  Instead he sat there, accepting her massage as friction heated the skin where she touched.  Blood began thumping in his ears as if it suddenly remembered its job was to bring thoughts to his brain.

“Uh, thanks,” he said, moving toward the edge of the mattress.  She made to follow and Sid quickly hopped to his feet.


“Oh God.”  He grabbed a pillow.

She arched one perfect eyebrow, looking him over appreciatively.  “You’re shy all of a sudden.”

Sid just stared at his feet and blushed.

“Probably shouldn’t have had sex in the taxi on the way here then.”

He gasped, locking eyes with her.  She smiled. 

“Kidding.  You tried though, and you’re really strong.  You don’t remember anything?”

Sid shook his head.  He couldn’t lie.  The expression on her face darkened – this was not what she expected.  She’d gotten up and gotten ready again, like waking up in her room would be a proper first date after a very improper all nighter.

“I should be offended,” she said.

The PR machine in Sidney’s head whirred to life.  He hadn’t gotten to be the unscandalized face of the NHL without plenty of media training and he wasn’t about to let some girl whose name he didn’t know mess that up.  Any of his teammates would have just climbed out the window but damage control mode kicked in – time for Saint Sidney to make an appearance.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize how drunk I was.  I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”  As if he could have done anything more humiliating than stand here like the star in a raunchy teen comedy.

Her face stayed stormy.  “No.”

“I remember you being beautiful.  And your dress,” he tried.  That got a quarter of a smile. 

This was why Sidney could never be like some of his teammates.  Forget the risk of ruining his reputation, Sid genuinely felt bad.  If they’d both been sober it could have been casual but for all he knew, this girl was a huge Penguins fan.  Judging by the state he’d woken up in, there could be compromising photos or hell, even a sex tape.  Even if she was just some slutty chick looking to get laid by an NHL player, she should at least get the respect of having that guy remember her name.

His only way out was to keep her happy until he could let her down easy.  And easy usually wore clothes.

“Could I see you again?  When I’m, uh… when I can be more fun?”

It worked like a charm.  She beamed, still kneeling suggestively on the bed in her tight, low-cut clothing.  Sid wondered if that was the most respectful thing a guy had ever said to her.

“Oh you were fun,” she cooed, leaning forward for an even fuller display of her wares.  “Lots of fun.”

The bile rising in Sid’s throat was not all alcohol.  He forced it back with a tight grin.  “I’m paying the price for it now.”

Instantly she was up.  “Do you want breakfast?  I could make eggs or some toast if you’re….”

“It’s okay, but thank you,” Sid shuffled toward the pile of his pants.  “I’ll just rest up at home.”

She looked vaguely unconvinced and there was no hint she’d be giving him any privacy.  Like it mattered anyway; no way last night left anything to the imagination.  He found his shorts and ditched the pillow, feeling her eyes on his cock at the same moment he realized it sore.  The bile rose again.  He pulled the rest of his clothes on haphazardly and only looked at her when he was finished.

“Did you give me your number?” he asked.  She nodded.  “Good.  How about Saturday?  I’ll be out with some of my friends from last night, you could meet us.”

Her face stayed blank.  She’d been expecting more, like a real date.  Or tickets to the game first.  Sid pushed the issue.  “I’m sure the guys would love to see you again.”

I’m sure one of them will want to take you off my hands, he said to himself.  The guys didn’t care.  They’d share a girl in real time, it didn’t matter if she’d been with someone else already.  Especially not Crosby.  It was only two days away and with any luck he could steer her into the arms of a teammate who would keep her so busy she’d forget about last night the way he had.

“After that, we’re on a road trip for a while, so….”


“Cool.  Saturday’s good.  Just, uh, call me when you know where you’re going.”

He moved toward the door.  She met him there, awkwardly passing between his body and the wall like she hoped he would push her up against it.  Sid did his best to look ill.  He didn’t see anything but the front door in tunnel vision as she lead him through the house.

“Let’s say Diesel again. Same time.  Bring some friends, then you can have fun even if the game runs late.   See you Saturday,” he said.

She lifted onto her toes and gave him a soft kiss on the lips.

“See you Saturday, Theresa,” she corrected.

Leah walked around the music store a few times.  There were fewer stores like it every year, but the ones that lasted seemed full to the brim.  The guitar section was enormous, complete with soundproof room for testing out solos without deafening everyone else.  Drums had the same.  Amplifiers and microphones and sheet music –everything.  She stopped at a baby grand, spreading her fingers over the perfect width of the flawless ivory keys.  Instinctively she tapped out the melody of her song.

“That’s pretty,” a salesman said as he approached.

“Thanks.  I’ve never heard it on a real piano, just a keyboard.”  Leah played it again, surprised by the way the notes resonated largely, each with its own weight.

“Did you write it?”

Leah shrugged.  “Yeah.  It’s just a single run.”

The man walked over near the register and came back with a piece of paper.  “Well you never know, it could win you some money.”

The flyer was for a musical competition sponsored by the chain stores.  It called for any songwriter on any instrument to perform an original piece.  The local Halifax date was in two weeks.  Three winners from that would compete in Toronto at the beginning of March.

“Oh, I don’t really play,” Leah said, trying to hand it back.

“Keep it,” he said.  “Maybe you’ll start.”