Sunday, June 30, 2013


(February 14)

Leah heard her phone chirp.  Sidney had texted twice since she had practically hung up on him, saved by the bell.  She was a jerk for not calling back, and she knew it.  But she didn’t know what to say.  The flower arrangements stood like judges on her desk, scowling.

We’re okay, she had told him.  That was true.  They weren’t bad, they weren’t good - they were right down the middle, in between something and nothing.  Friends.  It had been so easy for Leah and Sidney to get there and so damned hard to stay.  Cole Harbour had almost made them something else then Pittsburgh had nearly taken it all away.  She was scared of disrupting their precarious balance, but it was tipping farther every time she ignored that noise.

This time the voicemail notification sounded.  Leah closed her eyes, unsure if she could handle the sound of his voice.  Would he be mad?  Hurt?  With morbid curiosity she dug the phone out - and saw a Toronto area code she didn’t recognize.

That had better not be James, she thought as she typed in her passcode.

“Leah, my name is Kevin Jefferson with the selection committee for the Soundcast Performance Contest.  We received your entry and you’ve been selected as a performer for the Nova Scotia contest date, next Saturday in Halifax.  Please give me a call back to confirm and check your email for the paperwork you’ll need to submit by Wednesday.  Congratulations.”

Her heart pounded so loudly she missed the last sentence.  Suddenly Leah was terrified.  Not of the singing; after the anthem in Pittsburgh she could handle this.  Some of the fear was about playing piano but the song was both simple and shorter.  Lyrics she knew so well sprang to mind – it was the words that scared her.

They’re true, they’re right, she repeated in her head.  The words were everything she felt and couldn’t say – not to Sidney, hardly even to herself.  If she could tell them to strangers it would make them stronger; maybe strong enough to stand up to her own doubts.  Leah forced herself to call Kevin Jefferson back and accept.  Then she called Gina and spilled the whole thing.

“Oh my God, you’re gonna win!  Two thousand dollars, Leah!”

“I’m not gonna win,” Leah laughed despite her still-racing heart.  “But I am going to do it.  I have to.”

“You’re gonna be Carly Rae Jepsen,” Gina insisted.

“You haven’t even heard the song!  It’s not that kind of song, G.”

Her best friend in the whole world didn’t care.  “Soon Sidney won’t be famous enough for you, babe.”

That night, Leah went to her sister’s house and set up in the basement.  Her own apartment would not do for real practice.  She plugged in her keyboard and played, then sang, then did both together.  No microphone.  Just her voice and the individual notes.  Kate paced upstairs – Leah wouldn’t let her listen, not yet. 

(February 15)

Friday night came and with it an odd, almost kinetic energy.  Leah felt great.  She went to Madigan’s with Gina and Travis, cowboy boots and all.  She drank.  She even asked Ricky Calvert to dance.  Looking around the room, Leah saw people who thought they knew everything about her.  Maybe they did.  Sidney was on her mind, as always.  Between this place and the club in Pittsburgh was a world of difference.  Sid managed in both – not smoothly, but he managed.  Leah was beginning to think that maybe Cole Harbour was too small for her after all.  That called for a round of shots, then more beers.  Before she knew it, last call was calling her up on stage. 

“You all know Leah,” the band leader said.  People clapped politely.  Leah wondered if they secretly hated her for this tiny slice of spotlight, any more than some of them hated her for being so close to Sidney.  She wondered if they could ever adore her like that.  No way, she knew – he was superhuman, all she could do was sing.  Still it was something, and it was what she had.

Better than nothing.  She stepped up to the microphone as the song for the night started to play - Jo Dee Messina’s “Bye Bye.”  It was the perfect song for how Leah felt tonight.  A little sad, a little mad, a little over it - but in a good way.  If that was possible.  Also she was a bit drunk and that always made her stronger.

Boy you sure look good there standin' in the doorway in the sunset light
Maybe I read you wrong thinkin' you could be my Mr. Right

Let people think she was singing about Sidney.  At least she wasn’t singing Carrie Underwood’s ‘Before He Cheats’ or some other country done-me-wrong song.  The only thing for Leah to do was get over Sidney.  It would be hard, if not impossible, but Leah refused to be angry about it.  She could only blame herself for falling in love with the hometown hero. 

I've got pride, I'm takin' it for a ride
Bye bye, bye bye my baby, bye bye

It wasn’t really goodbye, of course.  Like their parting in the airport, it was a million things left unsaid and a lot of falling short.  But Sidney was Sidney and Leah would take what she could get.  That meant giving what she could in return – friendship. Which meant returning all his unanswered phone calls, and soon.

She smiled as she sang the most obvious line that wasn’t about her and Sidney, but should have been:

Baby what did you expect me to do
Just sit around and wait on you
Well I'm through watchin' you just skate around the truth
And I know it sounds trite: I’ve seen the light.

The crowd was particularly appreciative tonight – whooping and clapping.  Even the band leader looked extra impressed.  “You’ve been practicing,” he said. 

On the way out, a few other people told her that was her best performance yet, that she sounded fantastic and confident.  Gina snickered alongside her all the way to the car.

“You sound ready to win some money, baby!” she said.

Leah felt ready – not to win, just to perform.  The adrenaline of a live crowd always helped, but the key was to pick a song people knew.  It excited them.  Singing a song no one but her bathroom mirror had ever heard before would be a whole new experience.  Her song would only work if she really sold it.  After tonight, Leah knew she was as ready as she’d ever be.

Speaking of things she was ready to do, Leah sat down on her bed.  It was nearly two in the morning and she’d had more than enough to drink, but she was on a roll.  Sidney was still the most-dialed number in her phone. Before the jitters could take over, she hit send.

It didn’t even ring.  “Hey.  Thanks for calling, leave a message.”

Leah always thought it was funny that Sid didn’t have his name on the recording.  The reason was obvious but so was his voice – anyone calling, even a fan who got his number somehow, would know they had reached Sidney Crosby.  Leah smiled at the idea of him trying to be stealthy.

“Hi.  It’s Leah.  I, uh, I owe you about a hundred calls.  Sorry it’s so late, I just got home and I figured you’d be sleeping but I didn’t want to wait.  I, um… I miss you, Sid.”

Okay stop now, she told herself.   

“Call me tomorrow, okay?  And not like me, when I say okay and then I don’t call.  Okay?”

She disconnected, shaking her head.  Word vomit onto voicemail, the classic drunk dial.

(February 16)

Sidney hit his alarm with his whole fist.  No snooze today, there was a game in four hours.  His routine called for getting up and eating right away, so he could eat again in an hour and feel full for the noon game.  Damned national television.

As was his habit, he checked his phone.  It had been days of calls and texts to Leah, days of disappointment when she didn’t call back.  He thought he’d made progress with Valentine’s Day but had nothing to really show for it.  On long nights in quiet hotels in other cities, he convinced himself it was the road games and scheduling that kept them from connecting.  But home in his own bed, where she could have been and hadn’t, Sidney felt the ghost of Leah fading faster the more tightly he tried to hold on.

His message icon was blinking.

“Holy shit,” he said right out loud.  If it was Colby Armstrong or Jack Johnson or some other friend from far away, he’d be disappointed.  If it was Duper or Tanger or Flower, Sid would kill the guy at practice for getting him this excited.

“Hi.  It’s Leah.”

His heart stopped.  As if she needed to introduce herself using the voice he heard in his dreams.  Now that voice was apologizing for being so distant, which was a nice way of saying she had ignored him. At least she admitted it.

“I miss you, Sid.”

He flopped back onto the pillow like he’d been hit.  She wanted him to call.  She didn’t say not to call at eight in the morning.

“’lo?” Came the mumble answer over the line.

“Leah, hey,” he said quietly.

“Sidney.”  Her voice was soft and drowsy, like it had been twice before – the night he woke her to say the lockout was over and the morning he woke next to her before he had to leave.  Best and worst moments of their short relationship, really.  “I’m sorry, I never called you back, I….”

“It’s okay,” he cut in.  He wanted to say ‘It’s okay, baby’ or something, but figured that was pushing his luck.  At least she was on the phone.  Most of the fault here was his and he wanted Leah to feel just bad enough to never disappear again.  Also if she could magically teleport into his bed, instead of one twelve hundred miles away, that would go over well too.

“You have a game today.”

“Yup, couple hours.”

“You’re also leading the NHL in points too, aren’t you?”

“Mmhmmm,” he nodded.  “A lot happens when we don’t talk for a week.”

He heard her roll over.  “Yeah, like Neal drops out of the scoring race.”

“Oooh, I’m telling him you said that,” Sid joked.  Neal was having a bit of a scoring drought and would not appreciate anyone noticing, especially anyone named Leah.

She laughed softly, a sound that went through Sidney like a knife.  Since their first date at the rink he’d been trying to make her laugh.  Except when he was trying to make her gasp.  It was nice to hear one of the two again.  Sidney felt like this was a big step in the right direction.  If she didn’t hate him, maybe she could still love him.  He would take small steps.

Leah felt the familiar pull of Sidney’s gravity even from so far away.  It wanted to drag her out to sea like a rip tide.  The whirlpool was right where her heart should have been - she closed her eyes against the dizzy feeling rising in her chest. Traitorous thoughts flashed to mind. 

Tell me you love me.  Tell me this is everything and I’ll stop swimming.  I will drown for you if you tell me you’re drowning too.

No no no, she told herself.  Not again.

“Well you go tape your stick and sacrifice a unicorn or whatever you do before games, and I’ll watch later to see if it worked.”

“Okay,” he laughed, “only if you’re watching though.  Unicorns are expensive.”

“Please.  Just write Reebok on it in Sharpie and send them the bill.”

He giggled, that high pitched sound that matched nothing about him.  It spread to Leah and she laughed too.  That was a relief, even if she felt far from normal. 

“Good luck today,” she said.

“Thanks.  And Leah?  I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Sid.”

“I know, you said that in your message,” he reminded her.

“Well, I was drunk,” she scoffed.

“You still meant it.”


“You also said you really want to come back to Pittsburgh and visit again.”

Leah’s blood went cold: had she said that?  No way she said that.  She did, of course, but it was the bad kind of true that should not be acted upon.  If she went back to Pittsburgh, she would never make it out of Sidney’s house.  If that’s what he wanted - well, Leah had no more illusions about that.  He would have to work harder than a phone call and wait until she could keep herself together in his presence.

“Well I can’t just drop my big, important life in Cole Harbour, you know,” she said.  For once that was actually true – she had things going on.  “But someday, Sid.”

Sid maneuvered through the door and sat down heavily, the crowd still on its feet.  He’d just had his first goal of the afternoon, to go along with two assists.  Sweat fogged the inside of his visor.

“What is into you?” Neal cuffed him on the shoulder as they slid down the bench.

Sid had been saving it for a moment like this.  “Leah said you should score more, you’re getting boring.”

James’ eyes went appropriately wide.  “You talked to her.”

“Yeah,” Sid said like it should be obvious.  Neal had been the knight in shining armor for one night, that didn’t give him the right to know everything.  “This morning.  From bed.”

Neal stood, ready to jump the boards for his shift.  He looked back at Sid and lifted one eyebrow.  “You’re in bed and she’s talking about me?  Guess we know what kind of scoring she wants me to do.”

Sidney told the numbers on the back of Neal’s jersey to fuck off, but he was out of earshot.  If Leah was thinking of anything it was Sidney.  She thought of him in the middle of the night when she was drunk, and first thing when he woke her up.  Somewhere at home in front of her TV, she was thinking of him now.

(February 23)

“You ready?” Kate asked.

Leah smiled at her sister.  Kate and her husband Tommy, plus Gina and Travis, were the only people in Halifax to see Leah compete in the performance contest.  They were the only people who knew about it.

The contest was being held at the local performing arts theater.  The judges were seated on a riser in the pit where the conductor usually stood.  Only about five hundred of the two thousand seats were filled, scattered throughout the bottom section.  Twelve acts had been selected and Leah would be number eight.  Currently, number seven was guitar soloing his way through a song Leah had not bothered to hear.  She wasn’t here to win, she didn’t care about the competition.  She just wanted to know that she could do this and do it out loud.

“I’m ready.”

Leah smoothed the front of her dress – a new one, with coral colored overlay against a nude satin sheath.  It was girly and flirty and appropriately modest for a girl about to sit at a piano.  On the stage, the contest had provided a beautiful baby grand.  Three of the first seven contestants used it so Leah knew it was in tune.  She moved her fingers as she thought the notes in her head, mapping them out in a visualization exercise to help imprint the pattern on her mind.  She’d read that hockey players used it all the time to see themselves scoring goals.

Kate hugged Leah, wishing her luck, and went back to sit in the audience.  The guitar guy reached his last note.  Leah felt the edges of her perception closing in, like they always did when she performed.

She thought of Sidney.  The song was about him – to him, really – so he had to be there in a way.  Leah used her trick from the anthem performance, picturing the back of his jersey; big name and numbers in white, the dark curls against his neckline as he lowered his head, waiting for her to sing.  He would be standing still so she could just focus on him.    

Outside the crowd applauded.  The emcee bantered while the judges made their notes about performer number seven.  The few moments of silence were perfect.  Leah heard the song’s first note, holding it in her mind so she’d know just how to start.  The rest would follow. 

When her name was called, she walked right out on stage.

Leah held her finger to the key, letting the last note evaporate like a drop of water.  Her song was over.  Almost before it had begun, she had finished without any trouble.  Rising applause met the dying music and only Leah felt the tiny moment of silence in between.  In that moment, she let the image of Sidney fade from her mind’s eye.  Then she blinked toward the judges and crowd and smiled.

Gina was on her feet, screaming.  Kate, Tommy and Travis quickly followed suit.  Leah loved them so much for that.  Around them, everyone else was also clapping and a few more stood. 

I guess it was good, Leah thought, grin growing wider.

The emcee appeared from between curtains and congratulated her like he had everyone else.  She carefully stood, bobbed a little bow and made her way off stage like someone else was controlling her body.  It wasn’t until she passed out of the lighting and into the wings that her self-awareness came rushing back.

“Nice job!” someone passing by squeezed her arm.  Performer number nine said it was great.  A production assistant handed her a small bottle of water and Leah gulped a sip down a throat she hadn’t realized was dry.

Suddenly, a pair of arms seized her from behind. “Oh my God!” Gina said.  “That was amazing!”

Leah wiggled free to turn around – Gina hugged her again from the front, Travis wrapped around them both.

“Thank you.  It was so weird, I…,” she stopped.  “What?”

Gina had tears in her eyes.  Kate had a look on her face like someone had stepped on her heart.

“Oh honey,” Kate pulled her in.  She didn’t say anything else.

Leah hadn’t told them what the song was about.  She hadn’t told them anything, really, about herself and Sidney.  Gina and Travis knew some of the racier details but Leah had never once said she loved him.  She assumed they could tell.  She had also assumed he felt the same way.  Now Leah knew: like that moment she was stood in the airport waiting for Sidney to say it, hearing the words out loud changed everything.

This time, Leah had changed it for herself. 

“It’s okay,” she said.  “I’m okay.  I promise.”

Most of the five hundred spectators had stayed to the end, believing their friend or family member had a chance at the top spot and prize.  Ten minutes after the last singer finished the emcee announced the votes were all in.  He asked all the contestants to line up on stage in order of performance.  Leah stepped in next to number nine, the girl who’d complimented her coming off stage.

“You’re going to win,” the girl whispered.

Leah laughed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.  Soundcast is very proud to sponsor this event and six like it across Canada.  As you know, Nova Scotia is our last stop and the finals are next weekend in Toronto.  Today’s winner will receive a two thousand dollar cash prize and be invited, along with our second place finisher, to perform in those for the grand prize of ten thousand dollars.  Everyone here today has been fantastic, and we thank you all for coming out to support them.  Now without further ado, judges, may I please have the names?”

The judges were lined up at the corner of the stage.  Leah wondered if they had a hard time choosing – she’d barely heard any of the other songs.  Her own performance had been such an out of body experience, maybe afterward she could ask the judges what they’d thought.

“Today’s second place finisher, joining us for the finals in Toronto, is… David Matelem.”

The fourth performer in line stepped forward, a young guy in a button down who Leah remembered had also played the piano.  The emcee asked David where he was from, what inspired his song choice and said he’d see them again in a week.

“And tonight’s first place prize of two thousand dollars and a chance to sing for ten thousand in our final event is… Leah Hanlon.”

Leah froze.  Surely she had imagined that.  Right?  Next to her performer nine was whooping and grabbing her arm.  Performer seven patted her on the back.  The emcee motioned for her to step forward.  As Leah put one foot in front of the other and broke the line, sound came rushing back.

It was Gina.  Screaming at the top of her lungs. 

Leah roused herself and moved up next to the host.

“Surprised, Leah?”

“Uhhh, yeah,” she admitted with a giggle.  “I am.”

“Well your performance today was no surprise, since we only select the best for Soundcast.  Tell us, where are you from?”

“Cole Harbour.”

“Ahhhhh, figures,” he said knowingly.

Don’t don’t don’t…, Leah thought.

“Nova Scotia’s most famous hometown.  You win the finals next week and you might give that Sidney Crosby guy a run for his title.”

Everyone laughed.  Leah tried not to die.  Her song didn’t mention Sid by name but anyone who remembered the lyrics could put it together now.  There were reporters here too, people who could ask around about her.  Now she’d be singing this song to a crowd in Toronto… well, that will be better, Leah knew.  More people, more possibilities.  She’d be anonymous there, just another girl with a love song.

“So, tell us.  That very personal song of yours, who’s it about?” the emcee asked.

Leah gave him a real smile.  “No one you know.”


Tuesday, June 25, 2013



(February 10)

Leah left.  Just like that.  And Sid didn’t stop her.  He watched until she was through the airport security line and out of sight.  Slowly, he turned around.  James was still standing behind him, far enough that he hadn’t heard what Sidney said.  Or didn’t say. 

James was slack-jawed and wide-eye.  He lifted his arms, palms up, as if asking, What the fuck did you just do?

Sid didn’t even know.  He was frozen.

With a disgusted shake of his head, James turned and walked away.

Leah stared straight ahead as she moved robotically through the airport.  She didn’t want to see a single Penguins item or God forbid the name of someone she’d just left standing in the departures area.  She found a seat near the gate and closed her eyes.  When the plane finally boarded, she took her place and closed her eyes again.

The danger of seeing Sidney’s name did not diminish as she deplaned in Halifax.  Keeping her gaze narrow, she went right to her car.  Eyes on the road.  But she didn’t go home.

The same salesman who’d helped her last time was behind the music store counter again.  Next to him hung the same musical competition flyer he’d given Leah before.  She’d told him she didn’t really play.

“I need a microphone,” she said.  “One I can use to record on my computer.”

It didn’t take much, just a small microphone covered in a sphere of black padding with an extendable stand.  Leah went home, left her suitcase at the foot of the bed and plugged the USB cable into her laptop.  The software installed itself.  She pulled up her recording program – also not very fancy – and enabled the microphone drive.

“Why are boys so dumb?” she sang into the mic.  Her voice registered on the screen, showing her pitch and frequency on the modulation table to confirm the recording.  She played it back.

“Why are boys so dumb?” it sang.  Sounded good too.

She unplugged the microphone – there was much to do before actually recording anything. Now she needed her keyboard and a notebook and that melody that had been in her head for weeks.  Leah finally had something to say.

Sidney sat in his living room that Leah hated.  He got a glass of water from his kitchen that Leah had cooked in.  He had come in on driveway where he’d kissed her like it was all so easy and fun.  Upstairs was the room where he’d seen what she packed to wear for him.  All around him the house was emptier than ever before.

He shook his head.  Nothing had felt right since Cole Harbour, the morning the lockout ended.  It wasn’t climbing in next to Leah or even being with her for the first time that he remembered most – though he remembered every second.  It was the moment, after he was already in the bed, kissing her, with one handful of her hair and another of her soft body, that Leah had reached for him in return.  The instant that Sidney felt like Leah needed him too.

He’d gotten carried away, drunk on that feeling, pursuing her in his typical half-assed fashion.  She told him to cool it, he responded by showing up on her doorstep and taking advantage of their last night together.  Leah had wanted it too – that made Sid feel like Superman.  Then she’d told him to go away, and stay away, and not look back.

That’s where Sid fell apart.

He didn’t trust himself because he’d lied to Leah.  He told her he wanted to be friends.  He said he would go, move on and not wait for her.  Too bad he’d been doing exactly that since the night he stood outside the rink, hoping she’d decipher his code and show up for the worst first date in history.  And she had!  What more did he want?  Then, even then, Sid had chickened out and not kissed her.

Coming back to Pittsburgh, he had cowardly tried to hide his feelings for Leah by burying them in Theresa.  He had cowardly failed to tell Theresa goodbye.  And when Leah turned up, smiling and singing, and taken a big bite out of all the things he was scared of, Sidney had cowardly failed to tell her the truth.

Dragging himself upstairs, Sid did the only thing he could.  He put his phone on the bedside table in hopes that it would ring in exactly as many minutes as it took to fly from Pittsburgh to Nova Scotia, and went to sleep.

(February 11)

The phone had not rung.  Sidney had slept much longer than he intended as his body tried to protect his heart.  The result of such a long afternoon nap was a night of tossing and turning, sleeping fitfully and thinking about Leah the whole time anyway.  He typed out a hundred texts and deleted them all.  It would have been so easy to write what he wanted to say, but Sidney felt he didn’t deserve the easy way out.

Morning finally came and with it practice.  Sid grumbled a hello at someone as he pushed through the locker room door at Southpointe.  Neal lifted his head, saw Sid and immediately found some reason to leave the room.

Fine, fuck you, Sid thought.  The fewer people around who knew he’d been an asshole, the better.  Then he walked right into Dupuis.

“So that went well,” Pascal said in the sarcastic tone he used when his kids tried to eat crayons or drink from the toilet.  Sid opened his mouth to retort but Pascal was already steering him out of the team’s earshot.  Sid couldn’t remember who’d been at Diesel on either the first night, with Theresa, or the second, with Leah – presumably everyone.  They’d probably all watched the scene play out from a mile away, what Sid could not see from up close.  Then they’d all watched Leah leave with James.  Sid sighed heavily and leaned against the wall, prepared for a lecture.

“I take it you two didn’t kiss and make up.”

Sid shook his head.  “She left.”

“Before you had a chance?”  Dupuis looked surprised, like he’d expected better from Leah.

“No, no,” Sid rushed to defend her even now.  “I had a chance.  I just… blew it.”

The concern on Dupuis face made Sid feel worse.  “She turned you down?” Pascal asked.

“No, she... well, I… kind of?”  Sidney stuttered.  The conversation in the airport was like a picture he was too close to see clearly.  He remembered colors and smells, the feel of her in his arms and the way she was too heavy, not right.  He remembered feeling sad.  “I told her I wanted to be with her.”

Duper raised his eyebrows.

“And she said I needed to do something else.”

The eyebrows stayed up.

“That’s it,” Sid said.

Pascal closed his eyes, another habit of a father talking to small people that supposedly spoke his language but did not always understand.  “What do you think she meant, something else?”

“She means I need to get a life here.  I need to figure out….”

Dupuis cut in.  “I didn’t say what does she mean, I said what did she mean.  At the airport.  What was the something else she wanted you to do?”

Do?  Sid thought.  What?  What was I supposed to do besides tell her I wanted to be with her? 

“I should’ve told her I love her,” he mumbled, kicking the carpet with one sneaker.

Duper clicked his tongue.  “You think too much, Kid.”

“WHAT?!” Sidney cried, probably drawing every ear from the other room.  He was grumpy and exhausted, it was no time for guessing games.  “What was I supposed to do?”

It hit him.  It swung out of thin air and punched Sidney in the gut before he had time to tense up.  The thing he couldn’t do, shouldn’t do, the thing he never seemed to ever do at the right time.

“I should’ve kissed her,” he said, almost to himself.

Pascal flicked his fingers hard against Sidney’s forehead and stormed off.

Kissed her

Sid hadn’t kissed Leah at the rink, when he should have.  Instead he kissed her on New Year’s in a room full of gossiping smalltowners when he shouldn’t have.  He’d kissed her when he got scared because the lockout ended, then again on Leah’s doorstep when he was completely terrified of leaving without seeing her again.  One last time at the airport, before he left, saying that he’d do it in public for everyone to see.  And he had.  Maybe that one was the right time.  But they were making a joke of it.

Were we?

The last time Sidney kissed Leah was in his driveway.  In the other place he called home, with the one person who felt more like home than anything in Pittsburgh.  That kiss was supposed to be the start of a whole new everything.  It had been the end.

Sid pictured Leah’s face in the airport, forcing the blurry scene to sharpen in his mind’s eye.  Leah: beautiful, upset, blue eyes flashing.  Sunlight pouring in the windows from a world outside where things still worked right.

I was the one waiting for you,” she had said.  She was waiting right there in front of him.

“I’m an asshole,” Sid said under his breath, just as someone walked by.

 “Yup,” Neal called over his shoulder.

Leah hummed all day at school.  The tune sounded happier than it felt, and Leah was glad for the disguise.  Every single person in school asked her how the anthem had gone.  Almost all had watched it.  It was on YouTube – they showed her twenty times.  When they watched, they saw her confidently belting out a song.  When Leah watched, she saw her eyes focused on a point off-camera, never wavering.  Never even looking at the words.  She’d been looking at Sidney.

Everyone wanted to know about him, of course.  She told them honestly about the game, his goal, how exciting it had been.  A few teachers looked surprised to see her at all, as if they’d been taking bets on whether or not Crosby could really be attached to a girl from back home.  Leah thought about demanding a cut of the money from whoever had bet against her.

The minute she got home, she pulled her keyboard and notebook out again.  Words had poured out of her the night before, and she’d been crafting them into lyrics, a poem to go along with the music.  Fine tuning the bridge was a little rough because she wasn’t sure exactly how much to say.  Leah figured it was best to put all the words in then take out what she didn’t want to share.

The length bothered her; barely three minutes long but the song felt complete.  She tried for another verse but everything seemed clunky and extraneous.  All the things she felt were there on the paper, nothing else was needed.  Leah played it through again, singing quietly to herself.  It wasn’t perfect but she had to admit it felt good to say some things out loud.

She found the flyer from the music store and logged on to the completion website.  Entries for the Nova Scotia portion of the contest were due by midnight that night.  It was seven thirty.

Four hours, Leah told herself.  She took her notebook into the bathroom.  Standing in front of the mirror, she read the lyrics out loud to herself like a speech, over and over again until they blended together like batter for a cake.  A few words were tweaked, a few erased.  One or two were added.   By the fortieth read through, she had it memorized.  The notebook went face down on the counter.

Leah looked herself in the eye and recited the words.

Her voice cracked.  She started again.  And again.  Always from the beginning until she could get through the whole thing without a quiver creeping into her voice.

They’re going to know.  Everyone in Nova Scotia who heard her song would know who and what she was singing about.  Leah shook her head.

They already know. 

She’d been kidding herself since the day she met Sidney, that anyone in this town could think she was less than in love with him.  If they’d been surprised to see her stay, or better yet come back, she’d give them something to be surprised about with this song.

That took a few tries. When it was all there, at the tip of her tongue and ready to deliver with just as much emotion as she wanted to reveal, Leah brought her computer right into the bathroom.  It had the best acoustics in her apartment.  She plugged in the microphone and settled her eyes on the notebook the way she’d settled them on Sidney’s back before she performed the Anthem.  She didn’t need to see the words.  She just needed to sing.

At eleven thirty, Leah played the finished song one more time.  Two tracks, laid over each other, wove together through her headphones.  They sounded seemless.  It had taken endless tries, both the music and vocal tracks, to set them together perfectly.  Leah had tried doing both at once but balanced on the edge of her bathtub it was too complicated.  Live, she could sit at a real piano and play this song – she would have to, if she got that far.  For now she needed a little technological help to beat the midnight deadline.

It’s good, she thought.  The song was a little piece of her heart, carefully cut out and the ragged edge stitched back together.  Now it went in a box and went off, via email, to some people that had no idea what Leah was singing about.  She hoped the song would still work on them.

Once the email was sent, she went straight to bed without a glance at her phone, or the text waiting there.

Sidney: How’s home?

It had taken Sid a lot of nerve to send that message.  He felt like a prize idiot for many things, especially if Pascal had been right and he’d been one kiss away from fixing all of this.  Of course, Sidney knew better.  He couldn’t get a girl like Leah with one kiss – that had always been the problem.  But if one kiss could tip the scale, it was worth trying.  He just needed to load a few other weighty things back on his side first.

Leah didn’t answer.  Sid frowned at the phone in the darkness of his room, in the emptiness of his house.  But he didn’t feel so beaten.

Try again tomorrow, he told himself.

(February 14)

Leah smiled as she approached her office at school.  Five or six small envelopes were wedged into the windowframe – Valentine’s Day cards from students.  Mostly they were senior girls she’d gotten to know quite well, the kind who made things off Pinterest or sent old fashioned snail mail because they thought it was cute.  Leah agreed.  She stood there, reading them for a few minutes before opening her door.

Two bouquets sat in the middle of her desk.  One was roses – six white, six red in a beautiful clear vase with a wide, bias-cut neck that made them flare out dramatically above a knot of perfectly tied pink and white gingham ribbon.  The other was one of those chocolate covered pineapple and strawberry deals, cut to look like flowers, wrapped in plastic.  A card was set carefully in front of them, part of the display.

She closed the door and burst into tears.  If they were from Sidney she might die.  If they weren’t, she might also die.  Whatever happened, no one in the outer office or hallways could see.  It was bad enough someone else had brought them here.  Leah looked at the arrangements for a long time, wondering if it was better or worse of Sid to do this.  There’s no way it was anyone else.  Taking a few deep breaths for emotional stability, Leah sat carefully in her chair and reached for the car.

I don’t always make the best decisions.


Leah put her head down on the desk.  Fresh tears welled in her eyes, but this time she was also laughing.

“Me neither, Sid,” she said out loud.

Sidney looked at his phone so many times he thought it might levitate.  It was ten in the morning, Leah had been at school for hours.  She’d gotten the gifts – he’d called Taylor, who still knew teachers there, and faciliated getting the bouquets put on her desk by someone Taylor swore they could trust not to say anything.  Let Leah wonder. 

But also let her call.  Please let her call.

The Pens had beaten Ottawa the night before.  Sid had a goal, James had two.  Of course he did.  Sid pictured Leah in her living room, on that same small couch where she’d sat him down and knelt in front of him and… had her way, then she climbed into his lap and let him have his own.  Right on that couch where Sid had lied to her again, saying “I won’t.  I promise.” when he knew full well he already had fallen iredeemably hard.  That’s where Leah would have been watching the game.  He wondered if she cheered for him, if she guessed he was thinking about her too.

He checked his phone again.  Nothing.

Leah hadn’t returned his text from the other night, asking how things were in Cole Harbour.  He hadn’t really expected her too – she had every right to be upset.  But this Valentine’s gift was the true test.  If she didn’t call today, Sidney didn’t want to think what that meant.

He was thinking about it anyway when his phone buzzed.

Leah: They’re beautiful.  And delicious.

Sid: What? I can’t hear you.

Ten seconds later, the phone rang.  Sid leaned against the counter in his kitchen and pictured Leah at the stove, making chicken and pasta.  He hadn’t touched her, hadn’t kissed her for fear of so many things, and so sure he’d have plenty of other chances.  Now it was time to get some of those chances back.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said.

Leah felt his voice as much as she heard it.  It vibrated across her skin, through every nerve in her body like a tuning fork pinged at exactly the right pitch.  He’d be leaning against something, she knew, wearing jeans and a t-shirt like he it wasn’t a sin to hide the body underneath. 

“Thanks, Sid.  For the presents.”

At the other end of the line, Sid took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry for the other night.”

She felt smaller and shrinking with every word.  “It’s okay.” 

“It’s not okay, Leah.  I’m so….”

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring.  The bell rang outside her office.

Leah gasped, shaky with surprise.  She was sure Sid was about to be sweet and awkward and he might as well have left the thornes on the roses he sent for how much that would hurt.  She loved him.  She couldn’t have him.  She certainly couldn’t keep doing this… not anymore than she could tell him to stop calling.  Powerless, helpless – Leah took the easy out.

“I have a meeting Sid, sorry.”

“Oh, okay.  Well I, um….”

“We’re okay, Sid.  I promise,” she lied.

“Alright.  Okay.  I, er, I miss you,” he said clumsily.   The only words on his tongue were a carefully practiced apology – this interruption threw Sid for a loop.  He panicked.  “Call me later, okay.  Please?”

“Okay.  Bye Sid.”

Leah had to push the END button twice, her hands were shaking so hard.