The morning came way too quickly for Sidney’s liking, though there was something to be said for waking up with Leah wrapped around him like a blanket. Her dark curls everywhere were a testament to the wild night they’d had. Sid felt a little sore in all the right places and a lot happy in his heart. He lay there thinking about the future with nothing but hope.
Leah finally came around from what she was sure was the greatest dream in history. And so real. It felt like the dream was still in bed with her, warm and strong, twisting a piece of her hair between its fingers. She picked her head up, already smiling.
“Hi!” she said like a little kid.
“Hi!” Sid couldn’t stop his own grin from lighting up.
They burst out laughing, which turned into tickling, which quickly turned into a kiss so searing it could have set the curtains on fire across the room. Leah knew the rules – since they’d already broken every one – and kept her hands at the back of Sidney’s neck even as his body begged and throbbed for her to turn her attentions lower.
“OhmyGodIcan’t,” Sidney groaned, throwing Leah off of him so she landed a foot away, bouncing and giggling. That certainly didn’t help matters. They both looked down at his full-mast hard-on. Leah sighed.
“I hardly knew you,” she said to his dick.
“We shall meet again,” Sidney replied.
He levered himself out of bed and right into the shower. Leah had no doubt that he’d be taking care of that himself, but she nicely gave him six minutes to finish before wandering into the bathroom naked.
“Good God, woman!” Sid said from beneath the water.
All her stuff was in Jake’s room down the hall, so Leah just sat on the counter and watched through the glass as Sidney washed his hair and body with the hotel soap. When it started to get really foggy, she asked, “A little help?”
Sid used his hand to wipe the clear just the section of the door level with his ass.
“Ahh, your best side,” she said.
When he finished she was still sitting there like a pageant judge. Sidney pretended to ignore her while he slowly and with a ludicrous amount of flexing, thoroughly dried every inch of his body. Then he brought his bag of stuff right in, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, even got dressed in yesterday’s jeans. Leah tsked as he shimmied them up and buttoned the fly, like she was sad to see a beautiful sight covered up. In another slow motion display of every muscle he could find, Sidney pulled a white t-shirt over his head and tucked it in. Then he squeezed into a clean, bright blue sweater.
Leah hadn’t said a word. She was using every particle of her brain to remember the sight. When he was finished, she tipped her head to the side. “You messed up your hair.”
He checked the mirror, saw she was right. “I usually don’t dress with an audience.”
Leah hopped down, again with the bouncing and giggling that made Sid weak.
“Get used to it,” she said and sauntered out of the room.
By the time Sidney was done in the bathroom, Leah and her clothes were gone along. He packed up his stuff then lifted the receiver on the hotel phone and pushed the button for the concierge.
“I need to rent two cars, please.”
He was transferred to a rental car company and briefly explained his situation. Somewhere around telling the operator he needed to leave both cars in Buffalo, Leah came back. She put her bag next to him on the bed and made a show of unpacking the one other outfit she’d brought. Then she started stripping off her clothes. Her top went first – up the flat span of her stomach, over the curve of her breasts and finally through her pile of hair. It landed on top of her bag.
“Window,” Sid hissed.
Leah shook her head like she didn’t understand and stepped out of her boots. She popped the button on her fly, slowing shaking out of the denim. Sid glanced toward the still-open curtains on the window that looked over the city. He couldn’t see anyone in particular, but that didn’t mean no one could see them. He pointed toward it.
Leah turned her back, pushed the jeans over her ass and bent forward, all the way, peeling them off her legs. Sid buried the receiver in the pillow even as the operator was talking.
“Babe,” he said.
She stuck her tongue out and threw her jeans at him. Next was her bra, then finally her panties, while Sid sat there mute as the operator droned about the expense of one-way international car rentals. Good thing it didn’t matter because he definitely wasn’t listening. Leah performed the same routine getting dressed, this time into another pair of jeans, a dark green tank top and a gauzy white shirt over top. Finally she put on dangly silver earrings, ran her fingers through her hair and got her boots back on.
“Thanks, we’ll be there in forty minutes.” Sid hung up. Leah stood in front of him, just out of reach, her hands on her hips. “That was cruel.”
“Imagine,” she dragged one finger across her bottom lip, catching it and making it flush, “what I’m going to do when you’re on the road.”
Twenty minutes and another round of fixing their hair later, Leah and Sid walked into the lobby. Everyone was already waiting. Taylor had her ugly airport hat on, pulled low as if to prove to Sid she’d stayed out too late and not with James. Neal looked fresh as a daisy.
“Good night?” James asked as awkwardly as possible. Leah slugged him in the arm and headed out the door.
Two cabs took them to the rental car place. Tommy volunteered to drive the SUV, with Kate, Jake, Gina and Travis. That left Sid, Leah, James and Taylor for the four-door sedan.
“Oooh, double date,” Taylor whispered to her brother.
The woman at the counter asked who would be driving the second car. At first no one answered. Sid looked at James.
Sid raised his eyebrows.
“Come on man, I’m tired!” Sid finally said.
James laughed, victorious. “Setting a bad example, Kid, breaking game day rules!”
Taylor spun away. “I’ll be outside vomiting.”
The ride was easy, under two hours. Sid texted his coach and confirmed they would arrive by noon. He used his phone to make a reservation at the team hotel for everyone else, with early check in. Then he leaned against Leah and fell asleep.
Leah watched Sid’s eyelashes flutter, knowing he was really out. His skin was creamy and clear, his lips naturally the color of just-kissed. Between the shaggy curl of his hair and the thick, dark lashes, he looked like a Disney prince, drawn to make other men pale in comparison. She could not believe that somehow all this had happened.
His hand slipped between her knees, the way it had when he fell asleep watching The Hobbit. Like she had that day, Leah held onto his arm and closed her eyes too.
“America, y’all,” James said, shaking Sidney awake. Leah blinked blearily out the window.
“Good thing we flew to Toronto, or Kate wouldn’t have Jake’s birth certificate,” she said, searching through her purse. The line wasn’t long so early on a Sunday. James got into a lane behind Tommy and waited while the border patrol did the necessaries and waved the first car through.
“Probably said, ‘Sidney Crosby’s in the car behind us,’ he’ll vouch,” Taylor said.
“That only works coming into Canada, not going out,” James said. He rolled down the window and handed the officer two IDs and two passports. The boys had flown internationally to get there.
“Where you headed?”
“Buffalo for a hockey game,” James said.
The guard flipped open Sidney’s passport, did a double take then leaned down to look through the window into the backseat. Sidney gave him a little wave.
“You’re lucky I’m not a Sabres fan,” the man said, giving back the documents. “Good luck boys.”
They arrived at the car rental drop-off with fifty minutes to spare. Cabs whisked them to the team hotel. Sid checked his watch. “Eleven forty-five. Perfect timing.”
“…For lunch,” James added. He paid the driver and hopped out to unload the trunk. Taylor slid out curbside, followed by Leah and Sidney. James handed them all their bags like he was in a hurry.
“Really hungry, eh Nealer?” Sid asked. He just wanted to lay down and stay there, preferably with Leah nearby but not too close, and sleep for another day. Instead he followed them into the hotel.
“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!” A huge cheer erupted the instant he walked through the door. The entire team was there, like a misfit surprise party, waiting for them. Already Pascal had Leah in a huge hug. James wheeled around and grabbed Sid like he’d scored a goal. The rest of the team followed. Sid got so many face-washes and hair-musses that he didn’t see who half the hands belonged to. When they finally stepped back, Flower delivered Leah right to his side.
“Welcome back!” TK shouted.
Sidney was speechless, still laughing with a face bright red from embarrassment. They’d drawn quite a crowd in the lobby too. “Uh, thanks guys. You all know Leah.”
“We know she too pretty for you.” Geno said with a lopsided smile. Leah winked at him.
“Nice kiss though, Creature. We didn’t think you had it in you,” Pascal said. Sidney knew no one had expected him to take that kind of risk, forget expecting it to work. He slipped his fingers between Leah’s. Someone awwwed loudly.
Leah squeezed his hand. “Neither did I.”
She hugged every last Penguin before they went off to take naps and eat carbs and do whatever they do before games. With her family and best friends watching, Sidney’s teammates had shown they were more than just teammates, they were a family of their own. Leah wondered if they understood what that meant to Sidney, and decided they must. Those guys had been inside Sidney’s barriers longer than she had, and Leah knew the feeling was intoxicating. The way they talked about him, protected him – as if he needed it, as if they really could. Then they opened their arms and made Leah part of that family too.
Sidney rode with her up to her room. They both knew he could not come in. Enough exceptions had been made.
“Wish I could stay,” he said anyway, in the hallway with a dizzying carpet pattern.
“No hurry now.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead and another to his lips. “See you at the game.”
“I love you,” Sidney told her.
She smiled. “Crosby, you sap.”
Jake stood so close his breath fogged the glass. In the 87 t-shirt Leah had bought at him at the Hall of Fame, he fit right in watching the team skate warm-ups. There were quite a few Penguins fans – no surprise there. People shouted for Sidney and a few had signs, but the Kid was pretty well known for keeping his head in the game even before the game began.
Leah was surprised when he stopped at center ice and met her eyes. She smiled shyly, not wanting to be any more of a distraction. Instead of being cool, Sid skated right to them, bouncing a puck in one hand. He tossed it over the glass to Jake, gave Leah a big grin and turned away. She put a hand on the glass to keep from fainting.
“Mother of God,” said the girl next to her, awestruck by the close encounter.
Leah sighed. “You’re telling me.”
After attending the game in Pittsburgh, Leah felt relatively at ease in Buffalo’s First Niagra Center. The mostly Sabres-fan audience was as loud and raucous as any game she’d been too and they had had some very Canadian traditions, like passing the flag over the crowd and even performing the Canadian anthem before every game. Leah could not help singing along.
Jake bounced continuously. They were in the last row of the lower bowl, backs to a wall so he could climb all over them and not bother anyone else. It was his first NHL game – he could hardly be blamed for not sitting still. Just four minutes in, the Penguins scored on a sneaky play by Malkin. James had an assist. Leah ruffled Taylor’s hair when Neal’s name was announced.
“You know, if everyone keeps teasing me I’m gonna go out with him for real,” she said, fixing her part.
“He’s too old for you!” Leah said. Now she sounded like Sidney.
“Fine!” Taylor groaned. “Jack, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Uhhh, no,” he answered, eyes still on the ice.
“Do you want one?”
He shrugged. “Okay.”
Sidney felt like he could fly. Yesterday’s craziness and last night’s bliss were fuel today and he skated like he was brand new. He assisted on the Pens second goal, just before the buzzer sounded to end the first. It was a good thing too.
The video of the kiss had gone viral. Multiple camera angles available. Sports press who’d questioned Crosby’s absence from practice had a field day with the reason. It even made Sportscenter in the US, which covered hockey about as often as Sid climbed on a stage and kissed a girl. On his way into the locker room at first intermission, Coach Bylsma gave him the nod. Sid stepped out of line.
“You talk to your dad?” Coach asked. Sid shook his head. Once he’d found Leah the phone stayed off until he’d alerted the team they’d be on time to the hotel. Clearly James had called ahead a little more widely, which is how the guys ended up surprising them in the lobby. But Sidney had ignored everything else.
“You?” Sid asked.
“Nope. Declined about two hundred calls. Mario?” Bylsma tried.
Sid had not talked to Lemieux, the Penguins’ part-owner and his mentor, either.
“Okay.” Coach brushed a hand over his short hair, something he did whenever he was makiing a game plan. “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” Then he turned and walked into the locker room. The players were all sitting, changing, chugging water or eating a granola bar. Bylsma clapped to get their attention.
“Good period, I like this game. Good pace. What we need to do in the second and third is….” Usually this is where Coach tweaked something minor or introduced a new scheme he wanted to try. Not today.
“… get Romeo here a goal.”
He looked pointedly at his young captain. A couple of the guys cat-called and Sid blushed like a bride.
“Maybe two,” Bylsma went on. “Then there’s a pretty good chance we can keep our jobs.”
Sid didn’t mind getting razzed by his teammates. It had always made him feel like one of the boys, like he belonged to the group rather than some rarified list of superstars. Today it felt even better: he’d done something worth being teased for.
“Media’s gonna have a field day when they get in here,” Dan added.
Sid was well aware. “I’m good, Coach.”
He did go out and score a goal. And another asisst, just to be sure. During TV timeouts, when Sid allowed his concentration to wander, he looked in the general direction of Leah’s seats. Jack must be having a blast up there. If Sid had to be away from Leah at least it was for something like a really good hockey game.
The score was 4-1 at the end of the day. Sidney dropped his soaked jersey and pads into the equipment bin, sat down and crammed his nasty, lucky, salt-stained Penguins hat over his hair. Then he leaned back and waited. When the media were admitted they came right toward him, as usual. This time most of them were smiling. Sid gave them a moment to get their recorders and lights in place. Then he burst out laughing. The reporters did too.
The awkaward tension mostly broken, someone asked, “Who is she?”
“Her name is Leah,” he wiped a hand across his still sweaty face, wheezing. “She’s from Cole Harbour. Anyone want to talk about the game?”
Sid shook his head. “I didn’t think so.”
Leah went back to the hotel with her family. They were buzzing from the win. She had no clue how long the players usually took to return after a game. It would be plus twenty minutes for Sid to get interrogated, she imagined. There was nothing to do – no clothes to change into, no snacks to eat – so she went to her room and waited.
Forty minutes later, Sidney opened the door.
He wore a dark suit, double-breasted and a little too long in the arms. Leah shook her head – the guy had custom made jeans but looked like a low-rent hitman in this getup. She gave him the once-over with a raised eyebrow.
Sid laughed. He’d let Leah pile every one of his suits in the yard and burn them if she wanted. She could start tomorrow.
“Come here!” He threw open his arms; she ran over and jumped in. If any of his teammates had seen that, Sid would never live it down. For now he didn’t give a shit. Leah kissed him, sliding down the front of his body until her feet found the carpet, then she kept on kissing. It was a happy, silly kiss, not a breathless clothes-ripper. A comfortable kiss.
“Nice game,” she said as she opened the button on his coat, “but this is a terrible suit.”
He let her undress him one piece at a time. The jacket went over the chair, his button-down on top of it. Leah threw his shirt on the floor and by the time she was opening his pants, Sidney didn’t care if he never saw them again.
Leah stripped him to boxer briefs. He was like a layer cake, each one perfect and delicious and left you craving more. Muscles slid beneath her hands. No matter how many times she felt that, Leah knew she’d never tired of waiting to feel it again.
Sid picked her up, earning a little squeak, and carried her to the bed. She still had all her clothes on but he needed a minute anyway. Leah did not complain when he kneeled over her on all fours. It was easy to forget this Sidney was the same Sidney from before, at the game. It was easy to forget her own name when he was naked.
“Was the media awful?”
“No. I think they were impressed.”
“Yes, by my singing,” she smiled. “I’m talking about you. Unless you were wearing this when you were interviewed.” Her hand moved over his neck, toward his chest.
“They’ve all seen this before.”
Leah’s fingers dragged across one of his nipples. “It doesn’t get old, Sid.”
He pushed her hand up over her head, holding it down. “I will have to talk to my dad sooner or later, and my agent. And Mario. But that one will be okay, because you’ll be with me.”
Sid looked down into the blue eyes he had come to trust so much. They crinkled at the corners. Everything he’d done – and done wrong – to get to this point was worth it just to see Leah smile at the idea of their future.
“I can’t stay though. I have to finish this year at school, Sid.” She had been thinking about it since she realized Sid was in fact standing with her backstage, having heard her song, kissed her anyway, and put himself on the line. She knew without hesitation now that could do that for him in return. But like Sid, she was responsible and her commitments mattered - both to boys and jobs. “School’s over in two and a half months.”
“Will you come as soon as it’s over?”
“I will get out early on my last day to be there sooner,” she promised.
No one knew if Sid’s season would last until the middle of May. That was a hope whereas Leah was now a sure thing. At some point soon they would be together – really together. He dropped onto his elbows, blocking out the entire world from her view, and kissed Leah deeply. She responded by wrapping her jean-clad legs around his waist and trying to pull his hips down. All she managed was to lift herself clear off the bed.
“Jesus, Crosby,” she laughed. He was made of stone.
“You’ll have to train harder, babe.”
Leah closed the hotel room door softly behind her. She probably could have slammed it and Sidney wouldn’t have so much as rolled over in his sleep. Padding down the hall, she saw her sister emerge from another room in the same fashion. They rode the elevator down to the lobby and found coffee brewing in the hotel bar. A few early rising business travelers were eating, but no sign of any Penguins. Kate sat with her back to the window and dumped a sugar into her mug.
“So, Pittsburgh,” she said.
Leah sipped her own drink. “For a few days. I’m calling school before I go upstairs, I think I can get the week off.”
“I’m sure they’ve seen the video.”
Leah was relieved to see a mischevious look on Kate’s face. She had been the first to warn early on that Leah would fall for Sidney and he would break her heart. Now her sister looked relieved to have been wrong in the end. Still Kate’s opinion was important, mostly because she would not hold back to make Leah feel better.
“Do you think it’s okay?” Leah asked.
“I do. I didn’t before – it just sounded so nuts - and I saw the way you looked when you talked about him. But I hadn’t met him. Now that I know he’s….”
“Crazy?” Leah suggested.
“… completely in love with you,” Kate stressed, “you have to go. And you still get to come back home.”
Leah was scared. Everything had happened so quickly – meeting Sid, getting caught up and then getting hurt and just when she thought she was over it, getting it all back again. At the end of the day there was still Sid and there was still home and those two things were very much a part of Leah, no matter where she went.
“This is crazy, Kate,” Leah said softly.
Kate smiled. “You running off with Sidney Crosby? Honey, you’re Cinderella.”
Leah went into the lobby and called the school, asking to speak directly to the principal. He picked up on the first ring. Apparently, her performance – and Sidney’s – was all over the TV news. Getting the week off was easy, after multiple promises that she was definitely coming back. Leah returned to where Kate was finishing her coffee.
“We were on the news at home,” she said. “My boss saw it.”
Kate held up her phone, showing Leah the log. There were six missed calls from their mother. “Guess who else saw it?”