Sidney was surprised to wake up because he was surprised that he slept. It felt like giving in to the truth of his own stupidity. He was supposed to be laying in this very spot, Leah wrapped around him, a trail of their clothes leading from the front door to the foot of his bed. She should be smiling now, or sleeping, while he figured out exactly how to ask her to never leave.
He couldn’t block out the dreams though. It had been him and Leah, hot and heavy in that very bed, doing all the things he’d been denied since the day he left her standing next to her car in Cole Harbour. She was as perfect as Sid remembered, but he kept morphing from himself into Neal, in glimpses, and Sid would feel like an evil spirit had climbed into his skin and taken over for a moment. Leah, eyelashes fluttering and lip bitten, seemed equally happy with either of them. Sid rubbed his eyes, trying to erase the sight.
He’d been an asshole. A careless, thoughtless jerk, so excited about Leah’s arrival he’d forgotten about his transgression of the night before. It was just one night, he thought, but it was the wrong night and that meant everything.
Well, two nights, if Sid counted the one where Theresa showed up at ruined everything. He’d deposited her next to Orpik at the bar, her friend sidling up to Paul Martin. Sid barely noticed Theresa’s hand on his waist, except to carefully remove it before he went in search of Leah. Too late – she was gone. He didn’t even look back on his way to the car. Whatever he’d been so afraid Theresa might do, she was probably doing it now anyway. Served him right. It wasn’t Theresa’s fault either that he was an asshole.
He hauled himself out of bed. Maybe he could still fix this.
The guest room was strewn with Leah’s stuff. It didn’t look like she’d intended to sleep in there, at least to his male eye, and Sid’s heart broke a little harder. He reached for one of her shirts and started carefully folding.
There wasn’t much. A few tops and an extra pair of pants made a small pile. He kneeled down to place them in her suitcase and he saw it – lingerie. Sid delicately extracted a piece of peach colored silk; it unfurled like a flag until a gorgeous, lace-trimmed bra hung from his finger. The tag was still on it.
Sid sat next to her bag and closed his eyes. She brought that for him. Hell, she bought that for him. There had been a chance for everything to get right, and he could have been making his case right now for why she should stay.
Running the silky material between his fingers, Sid knew he had to try anyway.
Leah lay with her eyes closed for a long time. She was in James’ guest room, twelve hundred miles from the last guest room she’d slept in and six miles from the one she wished she were in now. If she had to be in a guest room at all. Instead of there, with Sid, she was alone and clothed and last night had really happened.
Her first though was: I’m those girls again. The ones she’d been thinking of the first morning she woke up next to Sid and left him sleeping there alone. Those girls who couldn’t hold it together when it came to him, the ones he wasn’t friends with after. If anything, she’d seen that last night. He had not stayed with that girl in the club, no matter who she was. He came to James’ house, hoping to find her. That girl had been one night, maybe two. Then she was nothing at all. Just like that.
I was two nights, Leah thought. Well, almost three.
Three nights seemed like a big deal when nothing new ever happened in her life, when nothing ever changed. Sid, though, he had this all the time. The games and the clubs and the nights in or out that went any way he wanted them to go. He had options, choices – maybe too many to ever really make one stick.
Leah thought she had stuck. Apparently not.
There was a knock on her door.
“If I made you breakfast, can I come in?” James called from the hallway.
“Depends, what are you wearing?” she asked.
“Just a towel. Small one.” James opened the door and stuck his head in. “More of a washcloth really.”
She waved him in, already feeling better for the smile on her face. In reality James wore jeans and a white v-neck shirt that looked almost as good on him as Leah imagined a towel would. His hair was, of course, perfectly styled. There was also no breakfast, just a mug of coffee.
She rolled her eyes. “Liar.”
James shrugged, grinning. “I don’t have any food.”
Leah took a sip and winced. The coffee was really weak, as if he’d made two cups from what were barely enough grounds for one.
“Or much in the way of coffee,” he admitted.
She should have hated the smug look on his face, but his smile disarmed her as well as his honesty.
“Not a lot of people actually wake up here, Leah,” James explained. “Including me.”
She handed back the cup. James made a face and put it aside.
“He was here already.”
“What?” Leah scrambled up to sitting properly, hugging the blanket to her chest because she wasn’t wearing a bra. She was still wearing James’ t-shirt and no pants. He leaned against the dresser.
“Ten minutes ago. I told him I’d wake you up, ask if you want to see him.”
Leah lowered her gaze to the patterned duvet. She couldn’t look at James right now – he was too beautiful to be so caring and none of that made any sense. He was supposed to be a womanizing jerk, like Sidney had warned her about.
Someone should have warned me about Sidney.
Yet James was still, in a way, defending his captain. Leah wondered if he and Sidney were friends outside of work, and what it said if they weren’t. She was supposed to pass a test here but felt like she’d missed all the lessons.
“He has my stuff.”
James tipped his head. “It’s downstairs. I made him leave it, in case you said no.”
Leah closed her eyes. “I feel like a fool,” she blurted out.
James stopped. He wanted to climb into bed and wrap himself around Leah and just hold her, but that wouldn’t be enough. Even if he could do it, he’d be crossing a line. Taking advantage. He wanted Leah but not this way, and not the way she wanted Sidney. He wanted someone like her.
“Sid’s the fool, Leah. And he knows it.”
She stayed in the bathroom a long time. James had big, fluffy towels and sample toiletries collected from hotels on the road. She finger combed her hair and changed into the only other outfit in her suitcase: a long, cozy gray sweater and leggings. When she finished, James was downstairs making noise. Leah gave into the urge and ducked into his room.
The walls were gray with white trim. A white comforter was pulled back over rumpled sheets in the exact size of James’ body. One pillow was still dented from his head and another stuck out from beneath the blanket, as if he’d been hugging it in his sleep. The idea made Leah weak in the knees. There was nothing on the walls, no photos on the bookcases. Just the detritus of daily life – watch, phone charger, laptop, baseball caps. It looked a lot like Sidney’s room. Leah wondered if maybe they all paid too high a price for their fast lives.
James was doing nothing in an empty kitchen, clearly trying to give her time and space. In his jeans and t-shirt he looked young and healthy – she walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
James squeezed her hand. Fucking Crosby, he thought.
“Could you give me a ride to the airport?” Leah asked.
“You’re gonna leave?”
She shrugged. “I was always leaving today. School tomorrow. You know, real life.”
James turned in her embrace and wrapped his own arms around her, resting his chin on her head. “You have to see him.”
“I texted him, told him to meet us there.”
James looked down met Leah’s eyes. He was surprised at her move, while she wanted his approval. He lightly kissed her forehead.
“Sid did say you like to give him a hard time.”
“I’m sorry, I love you, please stay,” Sidney mumbled to himself. He had three coffees in a cardboard tray – he’d been tempted not to get one for Neal, but Sid knew he needed the high road clear right now. His jeans and sweatshirt and baseball cap had done nothing to disguise him at Starbucks. He’d barely acknowledged the excited girl behind the counter.
Holding the tray with one hand, he paced a corner of the departures terminal. He hated being here, hated being in public when he had no idea what to do or say. But Sid understood why Leah had picked this place: she needed to flex a little of her power here. Sid was the only one who knew she had it all.
He looked up and there she was, walking toward him with James. They looked like a couple, which made Sidney want to vomit. He was tall and cool, she was smaller and beautiful and perfect. Neal was even wheeling her suitcase.
“Hi,” she said mildly.
Sid thought the Earth would open and swallow him. How could he have been so stupid? Her long, dark hair was wet from the shower – in Neal’s house! His brain screamed. Neal had refused to say anything about what happened last night, only saying that he would find out if Leah wanted to talk. If he’d had to wake Leah up out of his own bed, Sid couldn’t blame him.
“Hi,” Sid said. He held out coffees and James too one, gave Leah a look that said I’ll be right here if you need me and walked away.
Leah accepted the last coffee. It seemed like the thing to do when a gorgeous, strapping, guilty-looking millionaire offered. But she didn’t invite him to sit, so she wasn’t giving in.
Sid put the coffee tray on the nearby chair and cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry about last night.”
Kiss me if you mean that, Leah thought. There are a hundred people around, none of them give a shit about some guy kissing a girl goodbye. Or hello. Even if it’s you.
Kiss her so she knows, Sid told himself. Kiss her so all of these people know.
When he didn’t, Leah noded almost imperceptibly. It was done. It was time to stop fooling herself and do what she had promised them both from the beginning – be friends. In a strange way, the feeling relieved her, untying the knot around her heart that kept it from beating all the way. They never would have worked. Especially not since she’d seen his life here.
“It’s okay, Sid. I overreacted, it was stupid,” she lied. “I just… misunderstood.”
“You didn’t,” Sidney insisted. “That girl, I don’t even know her. I just… met her.”
“I’m glad, Sid. I told you to, remember? Maybe I didn’t really think you could do it,” she was telling the truth now, it flowed in her veins like fresh blood. “But you can do anything.”
Sid was frozen, suffocating. Back on that first night at the rink, he had admired this girl because she didn’t try to kiss him. She didn’t want anything from him. He’d fallen in love with her for exactly that reason and now he’d have given anything to change it, anything for her to need him the way he needed her, need him enough to forgive him. The girl he couldn’t get with one kiss was still that same girl.
Sidney felt his chance slipping away. “I don’t want to do anything, Leah. I want to be with you.”
A minute sooner and those words would have done Leah in. Sid wanted to be with her because she was home and comfortable and predictable, he wanted to be with her because it was like staying the same. In truth, Sid needed to change. He needed to make this life his own and find a way to be happy off the ice, on his own terms. He needed to be able to kiss someone whenever he wanted to kiss her.
Sidney wanted to be with her, but not enough to do anything about it, Leah knew.
“You need to do something else, Sid. And so do I.” Leah brushed an invisible piece of lint from his sleeve. The heft and weight of the limb beneath it was a cruel joke now. “I said don’t wait for me, but I need to take my own advice. I was the one waiting for you.”
She was breaking up with him, basically, and Sid was falling more in love.
Sid stepped up and wrapped his arms around her. Leah froze, expecting a kiss, heart hammering so hard she would have fainted the instant his lips touched hers. She could have done it herself from so close but she needed to see that Sidney had it in him.
It could have been a kiss, it should have been a kiss but Sidney panicked and he wasn’t thinking clearly. This had never been part of the plan. Leah was really leaving, he was really losing. Just like when it happened in big games, he was stunned with disbelief that things were actually not going his way. Sidney should have told her he loved her, while all he could say was, “I’m sorry.”
Leah’s blue eyes were sad and her lovely mouth a pinched line. “Me too, Sid.”
She grabbed the handle of her suitcase. James was twenty yards away – she gave him a little wave, he waved back. She could not get any closer to him and she couldn’t get far enough away from Sidney at that moment. No resolve could withstand these conditions and she would give in to someone – either let Sidney off easy or make James an offer he couldn’t refuse and either way, she’d just be killing herself. Her eyes were blurred with tears as she showed her ID to the security agent in the boarding line.
“Rough goodbye?” he asked.
“Heartbreaking,” she said.
Sorry this is short! A week without internet will do that. There's more coming soon, but I wanted to get to this part in the story.... - J