Leah wanted to be the first one on the team bus. She was nervous about everything except the hand holding hers, which was attached to Sidney, who seemed perfectly at ease. As if it were everyday he took a girl home on the team plane. Leah was still well aware of the many rules and guidelines he and everyone had broken for her and wanted to show them she didn’t intend to make a habit of it.
“Morning, Coach,” Sid said as they climbed onto the otherwise empty bus.
Bylsma looked from Sid to Leah. She gave him a panicked look and the Penguins coach cracked a smile. He seemed like a nice guy who tried to act the hardliner for the sake of his players. After all, he was allowing all this to happen.
Sid took his usual seat and pulled Leah in next to him. At least with her around it was unlikely the guys would rag him too badly about getting laid on the road. Or getting laid at all. The moment she was gone, he’d never hear the end of it. Sid chuckled to himsef – it was a good problem to have. Most guys didn’t care where they sat on the bus, so one more body made no difference as they came aboard. He kept Leah’s hand in his, making sure she felt like she belonged here as much as possible.
The ride to the airport was quick. As they walked through the lobby of the private jet facility, Leah whispered, “Technically this is illegal, you know. I can’t fly to or within the US without a passport.”
Sid had thought of that already. “Or out. I guess you’ll have to stay in Pittsburgh.”
“FedEx, babe,” she said.
With no shame, Sid grinned back at her. He was finally able to do and say the things he wanted with Leah and he planned to take full advantage. “I hope that package gets lost.”
The team plane sat on the tarmac, a set of portable stairs in place before the open door on the fuselage. Leah had never been on a private plane. She followed Sid up the steps; he sat in the first row on the left side of the cabin and once again she took the seat next to him.
“Ooooh,” Letang said behind her, passing.
“What?” she asked Sid. He didn’t get a chance to answer. The next person in line was Marc-Andre Fleury. Flower took one step toward them, stopped, then huffed dramatically even as a big smile was breaking out across his face.
“You’re in his seat,” Sid shrugged casually.
“Well, I….” Flustered, Leah started to get up. This was exactly the kind of thing she didn’t want to happen and now Sid was just blowing if off.
“Plenty of room back here!” Tyler Kennedy called from a few rows behind.
Flower made a face. “I’d rather walk.”
TK laughed. “I meant for her!”
“Now I’m not good enough for you?!” Flower yelled, making his way toward Tyler’s row.
“Ugh,” TK said, putting the armrest between their seats down emphatically. “French guys.”
Sidney drove across Pittsburgh, his awareness increasing with every mile they drew closer to his house. The last time they made this trip it had been full of promise. Some of that promise had been realized, but Sid felt strongly the burden of the mistake he’d made with Leah. He’d shown her a side of himself and his lifestyle that almost didn’t exist. There was no reason for her to believe in him, given what she had seen. Yet she did. Leah loved him – she’d said so herself. That was a gift and Sidney would never risk losing it again.
Leah looked out the window: same view, different circumstances. The city was bigger than home but smaller than most, it seemed manageable and friendly in a way she’d never really considered before. Of course it helped that Sidney was Sidney – but that would also get in the way. Leah knew it. The prince came with a price and now she was willing to pay it.
The tires rolled smoothly up the freshly paved driveway in front of his house. Leah had been so impressed the first time she saw the red brick façade. This was his other home. It was like seeing Sidney’s own interpretation of himself – upstanding, stable, traditional. Solid.
Instead of going for their bags, Sid hurried around and opened Leah’s door. He had done this before and she’d jumped into his arms. The resulting kiss had been as delicious as it had been confusing. Now Sid knew what he wanted and Leah knew it too. He did not hesitate to pull her in and kiss her, his arms around her waist and her long hair lifted by the breeze. Only this time he made sure her feet were on the ground.
Inside was the same as she remembered – big, gorgeous and a little empty. She took off her coat, trying to place exactly what the room needed. It was something about the décor; too put together and lacking a comfortable, familiar touch.
Sidney also remembered how Leah felt about his house. He left their bags in the entryway and followed to the living room. Maybe the muted colors were a bit boring, not doing much with the midday light that poured in through the big window. But she didn’t see the room now as he did. Sid stood well back from Leah and saw how this girl, with her shape and smell and the auburn curls falling over her back, with the way she put her weight to the left and bent her right knee slightly, was the addition the room needed. She was dazzling – a creation colorful and unique enough to make the whole house sparkle.
Leah knew Sidney was watching her. She didn’t want to start changing things, marking her territory with flags and signs. Instead she wanted to enhance his home and his life. Their life together. Even if this place didn’t quite feel exactly like home - yet. She turned to face him. Sidney had his big arms crossed over his big chest, his big lower body anchored him to the floor. There were lines and muscles everywhere so Leah knew that nothing she brought into this house would ever look as good as what Sid brought with him everytime he walked in the door.
“Welcome home,” he said.
Leah felt like her heart might burst. Those girls who lost their minds over Crosby really had no idea how good it could get. She tried her best to keep a straight face.
“Where do I sleep?”
He gave her his captain look. “No more guest rooms for you.”
Leah checked herself in the mirror for the hundreth time: hair curled and styled, makeup as perfect as her trembling hands would allow. All around her she could feel the buzz of Consol Engery Center filling in. It came from the floor and ceiling, from every side.
The door to the ladies’ room swung open and a production staffer appeared. “Ready?”
Leah almost laughed. There was no being ready for this. In the hallway, people wished her luck and smiled nicely and she wondered how many really wanted to see her succeed. Not just tonight, but in general with her new life. If they cared about the team and its’ players, she hoped most would support her. Some would not. She reached the top of the Zamboni tunnel just as the lights went out.
The sound was deafening. Spotlights and graphics whipped around the ice – names, numbers, logos. The starting lineup was announced. Sidney got the biggest cheer. During warmups there had been a few signs – “Hey Sid, I can sing!” and “Sure, NOW we’re on SportsCenter.” Leah had seen them from a suite. Down at ice level all she saw where people. Finally the lights came up and the announcer called for attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please rise, remove your caps and join us as we salute Canada and the United States of America with the national anthems.”
The camera panned the Penguins bench, showing players with their heads down in concentration, then panned to capture the numbers on the backs of the Penguins’ starting five. Everyone saw 87 on screen. Leah saw it too, on the blue line in front of her.
“To lead us tonight, someone you may have heard before.”
She was ready for the joke, some nod to the very public events of the last few days. Sid had slept deeply overnight while Leah was plagued by visions of their kiss video running on the Jumobtron or something equally mortifying. Comparatively, this was a mild jab. She smiled shyly, knowing her face was ten feet tall on the scoreboard.
No point in being subtle. This time, she wore a Crosby jersey.
The crowd went crazy. Whether a gossip frenzy or genuine delight at seeing Crosby’s conquest in person, Leah loved them in that moment. Up ahead, she thought she saw the shoulders of the 87 jersey shaking with laughter.
“Please welcome, all the way from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Leah Hanlon.”
“Close your eyes.”
Leah rolled them first. Sidney opened the front door of his house and led her inside by the hand. He’d picked her up at the airport thirty minutes ago then driven home at the top possible speed. She’d joked he was in a hurry to get laid. In fact, he was in a hurry to do a lot of things.
The playoffs had left the Penguins bruised but not broken. The night before they had defeted the Senators 7-3, and the following night they would eliminate Ottawa from the contest. James would bust out of his slump with a hat trick and credit the whole thing to Leah. No one knew that yet. They only knew that school was over and Leah was in Pittsburgh with a few suitcases full of stuff and nothing to do all summer but make up for the two and a half months they had been apart.
Sidney brought her to the middle of the living room. It had been rearranged to provide a perfect viewing angle of both the TV and the wall to the left. The picture window spilled sunshine over what Sidney had placed in the previously empty space. It was the only change he’d made since Leah left. The rest she could make herself. He leaned forward, putting his lips to her ear.
Leah was already smiling. Sidney was obviously so proud of whatever he’d one that she would have to love it. Every idea went through her mind, from a Piscasso to a mural to macaroni pictures done by Dupuis’ kids. But she had not expected this.
“Oh my God,” she said quietly.
A framed panoramic photo six feet in width spanned the wall. It was less than three feet tall but showed, in perfect scope, the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. To the left was the rocky shore, tipped by the iconic white lighthouse. The vista was surrounded a sunset sky, dusk pushing down on the sea from the inland side. It glowed as if lit from behind but Leah could tell that was just the art of the photograph. [Here’s the picture.]
Sidney wrapped his arms around her from behind. He had wanted to add something to this place, so Leah would feel free to do the same. Not knowing where to start, Sid had searched for any art related to Nova Scotia. He bought the photo without seeing it in real life and from the moment it arrived, it looked even better than expected. Peggy’s Cove was on the far western edge of Nova Scotia. Only an hour from Cole Harbour, it was a place visited mostly on family vacations. Sid hadn’t been there forever. He planned to change that over the summer.
The landscape would have been breathtaking regardless, but Leah had been to Peggy’s Cove many times. It was one of her parents’ favorite places in Nova Scotia. She settled back into Sidney’s embrace, surrounded by the warmth and energy that had buzzed between them since that first night back in the Cole Harbour rink.
“It’s home,” she said.
“Until we get home,” Sid added.
Leah turned her face and gave him a kiss. “It’s close enough.”
*This was originally the end, but now there is one more chapter.*