Monday, July 1, 2013


(February 26)

“This is a world record,” Sid said as he picked up the phone.  He was a little glad Leah wasn’t there to see how big his smile was when her name popped up on his screen.  Of course if she were there she could make him smile in a million other ways.  Either way, Sid knew he was grinning like an idiot.

In Cole Harbour, Leah wandered the grocery store, pushing an empty cart and considering how many people in the checkout aisle would freak if they knew she was on the phone with Sidney.

“I’ve talked to you like five times in a week!” she protested.

“Yeah but that was twenty minutes.  You never call back this fast,” he insisted.

It was true.  Leah had a new plan, one that was working as well as anything else she could think of.  She only called Sidney when she was out of the house.  The store, the car, she’d even gone for a few walks around the neighborhood in the February cold to return his calls.  Anything that kept his voice, and the power it still held, out of her apartment.

Leah was feeling stronger than ever.  She still could not believe she’d won the Soundcast prize - a chunk of which she’d spent on travel to the final for Saturday.  She paid for Gina to come too.  Travis joined in, and Kate and Tommy insisted on bringing Jake.  Leah promised him a tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame after the contest.  They were all flying in Saturday morning and making a night of it in Toronto.

Leah had not told Sidney.

“How was practice?” she asked.

Sidney wished he could see her.  He knew that Leah actually cared what he did in a day, what the team was working on.  Sometimes she even suggested things after watching a game – the coaching staff was already on them, of course, but to Sid that showed a level of attention he’d never expected from a girl before.  Or maybe it was a different kind of attention.  Leah knew most of the guys on the team, so his stories seemed livelier and he told her all the off-ice stuff too.  Anything to talk to her.

Ever since she called in the middle of the night and left a tipsy message saying she missed him, Leah had been so upbeat.  They talked all the time – proof that she really had missed him.  Sid hoped it was also proof that she’d forgiven his blunder in Pittsburgh and he planned to start making his feelings more obvious soon.  Again.  He had to believe Leah knew how he felt, even if he failed at every opportunity to tell her.  They were almost back to normal with each other and Sid promised himself the next chance he would not miss.

Leah listened to Sid’s stories and jokes and told a few of her own.  He rarely mentioned going out and never talked about girls.  She wondered if that’s because there weren’t any or if Sid was being polite by leaving them out.  Either way, she appreciated it.  Only a few weeks had passed since Pittsburgh and she didn’t have anything romantic to report for herself anyway.

She wanted to tell him about Soundcast.  She almost did a hundred times.  Leah could not figure out how to mention it without telling him the song, though, and then everything would be blown.  He’d see through her like a window.  It felt dishonest to keep something so big a secret but Leah was afraid.  She needed Sidney the way he was now – a million miles away but safe in her mind – to get through Toronto.  That was everything to her song. 

After Saturday… maybe, she conceded.

“Well good luck tomorrow night,” she said.  “And tell James I’m still waiting for some goals.”

“No,” Sid laughed.  “He loves to know you talk about him. I’m not telling him anything anymore.”

Leah knew she could get Sid on this one.  “Fine, I’ll have Taylor pass along the message.”

(February 27)

Leah: Do I have to do this?

Gina: Yes.

Leah: I don’t want to.

Gina: You whine more than Crosby.  That’s what they’re going to write about you.
Leah rolled her eyes at the computer screen and exited the chat conversation.  She was expecting a reporter from The Chronicle Herald, the biggest Nova Scotia newspaper, any minute.  They’d been pitched a story by Soudcast and Leah didn’t really have an option to turn it down.  The reporter told her on the phone that David Matelem had already been interviewed.

The phone buzzed – the school office letting her know a visitor was on the way up.  Leah made a mental note to stop by and bribe the front desk administrator into not asking why a newspaper was visiting the school.  That would at least buy her till Friday when the feature ran.  Leah opened her door and waited.

A forty-something woman in a gray coat and black slacks turned the corner, checking numbers.  Leah waved her over.

“Hello, I’m Sophie Garrington.  You must be Leah.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Sophie helped herself to a chair, tugging it to the corner of Leah’s desk.  Sitting opposite always made it feel like the principal’s office.  She laid a recorder on the desk and pulled out a steno notebook.  “Do you mind if I record?  I won’t take much time.”

Leah consented and Sophie began with questions about Cole Harbour and how she’s started singing.

“Here, actually,” Leah explained.  “I did a few musicals in high school, we had a great music teacher named Mr. Barnes.  My last year, I played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  I also joined an a capella group at university for two years, which I really enjoyed.

“Do you perform at all now?”

“Just Friday nights at the local country bar.  A girl I knew used to date the lead singer, so I met him that way and I just do one cover song a week at last call.”

Sophie nodded her way through every answer, making occasional notes and ticking off questions from her list.  “Where did you hear about the Soundcast contest?”

“Over at Abrahms Music, the sales guy gave me a flyer.  They’re really the only place in town and very friendly,” Leah plugged.  That guy had been the reason for all this and she didn’t even know his name.

“And what made you decide to enter?  It sounds like you’re happy singing just one night a week, someone else’s songs, why enter an original performance contest?”

Leah had rehearsed this one and measured her answer carefully.  “It always thought about maybe doing one for fun, and you see them on TV all the time.  I had been playing around with a song for a while, just something that came to me, and it happened to be ready at the right time.  Soundcast probably told you I entered about half an hour before the deadline, so I wasn’t even sure until the last minute.”

“And then you won,” Sophie nodded again.  “They are expecting upwards of three thousand people at final this weekend in Toronto.  Will that be the biggest performance you’ve ever given?”

“I’ve sung the national anthem for a bigger crowd before,” Leah said quickly, hoping to rush past the fact that she hadn’t said where.  There was no way to say Penguins without revealing the whole Crosby tie and Lord knows the Nova Scotia news would be all over that.  Leah would see herself on the front page tomorrow.  It was bad enough people in town would read this and probably wonder what she was singing.  “But I’ve never done my own song for thousands of people.  I’m sure I’ll be quite nervous.”

“What’s your secret for keeping your nerves in check?”

The answer made Leah smile to herself.  “Focus on something that doesn’t move.” 

“Ten thousand dollars is a big prize.  If you win, what will you do with it?” Sophie looked up expectantly.

“If I win, I’m sure I’ll be asked to buy everyone’s drinks at last call.”

(March 1)

Taylor wandered down the stairs of her parents’ house hoping for breakfast.  She was grumpy about spending spring break from college in Nova Scotia instead of Cancun or somewhere warm.  She wasn’t legal to drink in Canada yet, which to her parents applied all the way to Mexico.

“Morning,” she grumbled.

Her father was at the table, his plate already empty and the paper up in front of his face.  As Taylor passed, he laid it down and smoothed it with a giant hand.

“Who was that girl following Sid around before he left?  Lola somebody?  Sings at the rink?”

“Leah?” Taylor said sarcastically.  If her father had his way, Sid would live in the world’s only monastery with an ice rink attached and the glass in the arena would be one-way mirrored like a police station so he never even saw a girl.  “Leah Hanlon.  Guidance counselor at the school.  They’re friends, Dad - you know, when people are cool?  And she’s my friend too.  Why?”

“She singing in some contest in Toronto tomorrow.  Could win ten grand.  Hmmm,” he shrugged, “guess she’s not sitting around her waiting for him after all.”

Taylor grabbed the paper so fast she nearly flipped the table in the process.

“Hey!” Troy shouted.

“What?!” Taylor yelled right back.  There is was in black and white:  Local Singers Compete for $10,000 National Prize.  She skimmed quickly.

Leah Hanlon, 25, of Cole Harbour, was selected the winner in the Nova Scotia Soundcast Performance Contest last Saturday in Halifax.  The prize was $2,000 and with a place in the final round this Saturday in Toronto.  Hanlon, along with second place finisher David Matelem of Bedford, will compete against winners of six other cross-Canada Soundcast events for the grand prize of $10,000.

The article had a brief interview with Leah – she talked about school, singing at Madigan’s, things Taylor already knew.  It even mentioned she had one sung the anthem at a major event but didn’t say what.  The next paragraph was about the second place finisher and Taylor stopped reading.  She didn’t even look at her father, just turned around and ran upstairs.

Troy’s voice was bellowing before she reached the top.  “Don’t even think about it, young lady!!”

She slammed the door as she was diving for her phone.  Her dad wouldn’t follow and if he did, it would take a minute to get up to her room. 

“Come on, come on….”

“Hey.  Thanks for calling, leave a message.”

“GAAAAHHHH!” Taylor growled.  Why did her brother have to be the only person on Earth not physically attached to his phone?  At the beep, she said, “It’s Taylor.  Call me right now.”  The she disconnected and dialed another number.

“Hey Taylor!” James answered loudly.  Normally Taylor would have threatened his life but right now, his show-off reaction meant Neal had exactly what she needed.

“Is Sid there?  I have to talk to him right now.”

“Yup.  He’s here.  Hey Sid, it’s your sister,” James hollered.

In the background Taylor heard a chorus of voices ooohhhing and uh-oh-ing.  She’d never live it down for calling a guy her brother had forbidden her to speak to, but Taylor didn’t care.  There was what sounded like a scuffle.

“What the fuck, Taylor?!” her brother said sharply.

“Shut up and listen.  Did you know about Leah’s contest?”


“Sid?  Did you know?”

“What contest?”

Taylor pushed a hand through her hair.  “Fuck.”

The call ended and Sid stared at James’ phone.  His stomach turned like he was on a roller coaster, like gravity had changed and he was the only one who missed the memo.

“Hey, what’s up?  She still there?”  James asked loudly.  He didn’t get much response; most of the Penguins had already taken the ice for practice at Southpointe.

Sid turned around with a look on his face that made James falter.

“What, Sid?  Everything okay?”

Everything was not okay.  Sid couldn’t speak.  He could hardly breathe.  Here he thought things were great with Leah, casual but confident, and they were moving toward each other again – not on the collision course of the first time but at speed they could handle.  They were getting closer to a place where Sid could start over, start differently, and do things right this time.  He had visions of taking Leah on a proper first date - one they both knew was a date – of holding her hand and kissing her goodnight.  Sid dreamed of being normal and those dreams always included the one girl who didn’t want superstar Crosby.  He needed her.

He thought she needed him too.

“What?!” Neal demanded, inches away and looking very worried.

“Leah won a contest.  A singing contest.  She made the final and she’s performing in Toronto tomorrow.”

James’ face lit up.  “That’s great!  She’s awesome, she’s gonna win!  What’s she singing?”

When Sid’s expression stayed blank, James’ celebration faltered. 

“What’s the… oh,” he said, smile dying.  “That was Taylor.  Telling you.  Leah didn’t tell you.”

There was a long period of time in which Sidney got everything he wanted.  Forget junior hockey and school, when he’d been touted as the second coming.  Starting with the first moment he was a Pittsburgh Penguin, things had gone his way.  Number one draft pick. All Star.  Captain. Stanley Cup Champion.  Olympic Gold Medalist.  Sure these things didn’t happen every time out but the first five years of his career had been unparalleled. 

Then Sidney got hurt and things changed.  His invincibility was a myth.  In fact, Sidney felt the whole world go dark on him.  Nothing worked.  He couldn’t get well.  He couldn’t get back.  When he finally did, he couldn’t stay.  Then when he managed it again, his team lost and lost badly, in a bloodbath, in a shameful playoff showing.  Then the lockout.  Five years of good luck had run out all at the same time.

Until Leah.

There was life outside hockey - Sidney knew that, he just had no experience with it.  The frustrations of the lockout and his required role as mouthpiece for the Player’s Association gave him a rough ride through the worst of business that also felt personal.  Half a season lost, and when he was so ready to play.  Leah had come along at exactly the moment he needed her most.  Things were turning around – the game came back, his world came back and she was part of it.

But Sidney had not come through for her.  Not when it counted.

“Fuck,” he said.  James was still there, staring back at him.  The two of them were fully dressed and fully late for practice.  On his skates, Sid ran from the room. 

Coach Bylsma was at the bench, talking to the goalie coach while the guys did something at center ice.  “Nice of you to join us,” he said dryly.  A Crosby was only as good as the points it put on the board.

“Sorry Coach,” Sid mumbled.  James was right behind him, shoving him in that direction; unsure of what would do now.  Sid knew though.  Finally.

“I need a favor.”

Bylsma raised an eyebrow.

“Someone I know,” he started.

“The love of his life,” James said from behind.

“Is competing in a contest tomorrow,” Sid went on.

“Like American Idol,” from the cheap seats.

“In Toronto.  And I need to go,” Sid finished with a gasp.

James caught Coach’s eye and shrugged.  Nothing more to add.  Bylsma regarded his young captain, always the workhorse, always the whipping boy.  Crosby had never really asked for anything for himself before.

“The anthem girl,” Bylsma made it a statement, not a question.

Sid nodded.

“The cute one in your Timbits jersey who you almost kissed in the lounge in front of everybody?” Coach added.

Sid swallowed hard but couldn’t keep the hot blush from rising in his cheeks.  He had no idea his Coach had been paying attention to that stuff.  Perhaps because he’d never brought a girl around the rink before and didn’t know the protocol.

“The one who left the club with this jackass?” Coach jutted his chin toward James.

James looked scandalized.  “Hey!”

“Yes,” Sid said.  At least Coach knew what he was up against.  “Please.”

“Game tonight.  Leave in the morning.  Get your asses to Buffalo by noon on Sunday.  Got it?”

“Asses?” Sid asked.

Bylsma flicked his eyes toward James.  “Take him with you, in case you fuck up again.”

Leah sank into a wooden chair, grateful for the armrests keeping her in place.  It was the first Friday of the month, which meant Pop Stars night at Madigan’s.  She wasn’t drinking but she had been dancing up a storm to burn off some nervous energy.  Their flight wasn’t until 10 AM tomorrow and there was no way she could sleep.  Better here wearing herself out than home making herself crazy.  Her break lasted one song, before “Scream & Shout” came on and she was back out there with Britney, bitch.

The night seemed to fly by and Leah still had plenty of verve when the lights in the bar flashed.  Usually that was her cue but she didn’t sing at Pop Stars because there was no band.  So why was someone climbing onstage alone?

“Hey everyone, how ya doing?” the regular country bandleader shouted.  “Usually we’re saying goodbye right now but tonight we have a special announcement.  Our very own Leah Hanlon, queen of last call….”

He pointed and everyone turned toward her.  Leah searched the room for Gina’s face – found it and stared daggers.  Gina stuck out her tongue.

“… is competing tomorrow in final round of the Soundcast Performance Contest in Toronto!”

The crowd cheered.  A giddy laugh rose up in Leah’s throat and made her smile, unbidden.

“We know she’s amazing, now everyone else is going to know it too!  And Leah, if you win all that cash and come back and buy us some drinks, hey? Don’t forget the little people!”

It seemed like a thousand people wished her luck as Travis plowed a path toward the exit.  She thanked them and blushed and ran for the door.

“GINA!” she wheeled as soon as they were outside.

“Oh come on!  It was in the paper, Lee, half of ‘em knew anyway!  This bar needs to make some money, ya know?  Local famous singer, every Friday night!” She waved her hand like she could see it in lights.

Leah rolled her eyes and hugged her friend.  “Yeah, and no one tell Crosby!”

(March 2)

“Are you there?” Sid asked over the airport public address blaring behind him.  He and James had taken the first available flight to Toronto, which didn’t land until noon.  They would be cutting it extremely close.  He’d bought Taylor a ticket from Cole Harbour that arrived two hours earlier.  They were just getting to the Pittsburgh terminal while Taylor was boarding.

“Leah’s on my plane,” Taylor said.  “I’m trying to get on first so I can hide.  You owe me twenty five bucks for the ugly ass hat I had to buy.”

Sid’s heart fluttered.  He and Leah were on their way to the same place again.  Finally.  This time is was crucial that she not know about it.  Sid wanted to surprise her, make as big a gesture as he was capable of making without becoming a news story.  After all, he was skipping practice and traveling on a game day and the team was covering for him.  He felt a bit like a secret agent, if not for James rolling behind him, whistling loudly.

“Whatever it takes, Taylor.  Just don’t let her see you.”

“Her friend is with her, Gina, and that guy I guess is her boyfriend.  An older couple too and a kid, about eight.”

“Jake, that’s Jake.  And her sister.”  Sid did some mental math, hoping at least half the people in Leah’s party would be happy to see him.  It depended on how much Leah had told them.  It turned out she could be very good at keeping secrets.

Sid had nearly called her yesterday to ask why she had kept the contest to herself.  Maybe she was nervous.  Maybe she had superstitions like his.  So many explanations could have put him at ease but in the end Sidney didn’t ask was because he feared the other reason: that she didn’t feel the same way about him anymore.

So he planned a big surprise.  Or a surprise at least, involving him surprising her.  That’s about as big as he could do.  Neal was happy for the day off and probably half-hoping Leah would slap Sid across the face and choose another Penguin who’d been there for her.

“Text me when you land.”  Taylor clicked off.

James gave Sid the window seat without asking, and kept his own head down with hat pulled low.  He didn’t want to get into trouble either - at least not before they got there.

Leah felt her stomach drop when the plane touched down and it had nothing to do with landing.  Their takeoff had been delayed once they reached the runway and they were forty minutes late. It didn’t matter, the show started at one and she wasn’t scheduled until midway through.  Still they wanted all contestants there by eleven thirty and this time Leah wanted to watch the competition. 

Kate herded them through the airport with their carry-on bags and Tommy slipped the cab stand guy forty bucks to skip the line.  By eleven, they were on their way to the venue.

“I can change there, I’m sure they just want us all signed in and stuff long before they start,” Leah said.  Gina agreed to go with her while Kate got everyone’s stuff held at the hotel and checked in early if they could.   When they reached the hotel, each person gave Leah a huge hug.  Jake gave her two.

As soon as it was just her and Gina in the taxi, Leah exhaled.

“Holy shit I am nervous!” she said.

“Me too!” Gina squealed, but excitedly.

They rolled past Yonge St., past some of the places she’d walked with Taylor and Sidney when they came for the NHL meeting in January.  That was the first time she’d met James, and also when she’d decided he had nothing on Sidney.  Maybe that had been incorrect.  They’d seen Sid’s picture in the Hall of Fame – she’d see it again this trip, with Jake.  At least this time Sidney wouldn’t be sleeping across the hall, tempting her with every tick of the clock through the darkest hours.

Finally they reached the venue, a good sized concert hall with banners and a radio station truck parked outside.  The cab driver looked from the marquee to the girls and back.

“You sing?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Leah said.  “I’m gonna try.”

The driver held out a card.  “You win, we party.  Call me.  Big good time.”

Gina snatched it from his hand.  “You got it, buddy.”

The venue’s main entrance was crowded.  People were checking in for general seating, others were moving things around.  A table offered keychains and t-shirts for sale.  Gina went straight to someone wearing a badge.

“Leah Hanlon, contestant.”

The guy lead them backstage, through a warren of hallways and doors.  At a table, Leah signed her life away and received a red wristband.  Gina got a blue one.

“I hope this is for open bar,” she whispered.

They were deposited in a waiting room where plenty of other nervous looking twenty-somethings were hanging out, each with one allowed guest.  It was just eleven-thirty.  Leah wondered if anyone had missed the check-in deadline and what happened then.  Scanning the room, she tried to smile at everyone.  They tried to smile back.  The scene made her feel better – no one here was any more ready than she was.  Leah pulled Gina by the arm back into the hallway and made for the stage.

A stagehand in a headset was standing near the gap in the curtain.  Leah rolled her shoulders back and walked right up to him, red wristband clearly on display.

“Hi.  Any chance I could try the piano?”

The guy looked her up and down once then waved for her to follow.  The curtains were closed but the stage footlights were on.  A third of the way out was a baby grand just like the show in Halifax had.  The stagehand went around and unplugged an amplifier, then touched a key.  The note rang clearly but not too loud.

“Be quick,” he said.

Leah sat on the low bench and took a deep breath.  It was harder to focus here – the flight, the rushing, the audience she knew would be outside that curtain.  So she pulled her old trick and thought of Sidney’s jersey, his name and number, the back of his neck.  The vision came to her as easily as the first note of the song.  She played the beginning.  It sounded perfect.  That was all she needed.

When she turned, Gina was watching with a tight smile.

“Are you ever gonna tell him?”

Leah waved toward the curtain, the crowd.  “Maybe someone will.”

Sid checked his watch two hundred times during the flight, only to see they were right on the money landing in Toronto.  The moment the tires were down, his phone was on.

Taylor: Hurrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyy.  It starts at 1.  Leah was 9th but now 8th

Sid checked again.  It was 12:01.  When the plane stopped it was 12:15.  At 12:23 he practically sprinted out of first class, James on his heels.

“Dude, someone’s gonna see you if you knock them over,” Neal hissed.

That was the only thing that kept Sid from running full tilt.  Outside, he gave the first employee he saw a hundred dollar bill.  The guy grinned, “That’s two tips today!” and waved up a cab.  Sid gave the driver another hundred to hurry.

Sidney: In cab.

Taylor: I’m at the back.

Sid had banked on them doing an introduction and stuff, the way nationally televised hockey games never started on time.  The driver was buzzing and Sid willed cars out of the way and lights green.  It was 12:55 when the cab screeched to a halt.  Sid was out before it stopped.

At the door, James elbowed past.  Sid fell back, almost forgetting himself.  There was more of a chance James could go unrecognized, so he quickly acknowledged their lateness, bought two tickets and screened Sid as they made their way inside.

The auditorium was pretty full, about two-thirds of the seats taken and those people were spread out.  James slid along the back wall, heading for the far end.  Taylor leaned off the wall and waved them over.  She hugged James, then her brother.

“You have some kind of plan?”

Sid shrugged.  “You’re looking at it.”

Singer number one was being introduced as they settled back into a corner.  Sid scanned the crowd but didn’t see anyone he knew.

Singer five was a girl with a guitar.  She was good too, sounding like something Leah might hear on the radio before she got home.  So far all the performers had been very strong.  Only one had played the piano.

Leah had dressed a little differently today, a little more standout-ish than Halifax.  She wore narrow black heels, skinny jeans and a bright blue two-layer blouse with a fitted camisole underneath and a loose, transparent layer flowing on the top.  It was just sexy enough without begging for attention.  Her hair was pinned up from her face but long and lose down her back.  Gina inspected the makeup, added some more and pronounced it approved.  Now she stood next to Leah, tapping her foot to the girl with the guitar.

“Grace Hale, ladies and gentlemen,” the emcee announced when she finished.  The crowd was enthusiastic. 

Singer six was a guy.  He stepped up to the microphone and sang a capella, a ballad that Leah thought was quite beautiful.  She wondered if he’d written it himself.  His voice was a little too low for the range of the song to be perfect.  He wouldn’t win.  He might get a job writing for someone though, if those were his words.  They were more poetic than hers.

When singer seven was announced, Leah went back to the green room.  She shut herself in the bathroom and hummed the opening bars of her song – they jumped right to her tongue.  The picture of Sidney standing at the blue line was there too, like a shade she could pull down over her eyes.  Leah was as ready as she’d ever be.

Knock knock.

“Two minutes,” another person with a walkie-talkie said.

Gina was waiting at the side of the stage with the rest of the performers.  She gave Leah a quick hug and kiss and raced to find her seat.  The crowd was applauding performer number seven.  The emcee thanked him, said something about sponsors as the stagehand who’d let Leah test the piano now rolled it back out and locked the wheels in place.  Leah took a deep breath.

“Please help me welcome our next performer.  From Cole Harbour Nova Scotia, Leah Hanlon.”

Sidney saw Gina duck out the door to stage left, just at the bottom of the aisle where he and James were standing.  His heart seized.  Gina ducked low and hurried to the middle aisle, climbing ten rows.  Travis stood to let his girlfriend by.  Next to her was a woman that must be Leah’s sister, then a kid.  Jake. 

James leaned over and whispered, “Game time.”

The emcee stopped babbling.  “Please help me welcome our next performer.  From Cole Harbour Nova Scotia, Leah Hanlon.”

She stepped on stage and Sidney’s knees almost buckled.  James whistled under his breath.  Her confident stride showed off slim jeans and high heels, hinting at the body under that gauzy jewel-toned top.  A pile of curls was held impossibly back, looking like it was ready to tumble free as she gracefully sat on the piano bench and pulled herself close.

Until that moment, Sid hasn’t wondered what song Leah would sing.  The article said it was her own song but the last he heard she hadn’t written any.  A lot of things had changed since then.  Sid hated adding this to the list of things he didn’t know about Leah anymore.

I love you, he thought as she reached for the keys.

[Here’s the song – Come Down to Me, by Saving Jane.  Play is as you read for the full effect. ]

Leah started, a simple but beautiful tune that her voice glided right into:

Words fall out of my mouth
And I can’t seem to trace what I’m saying
Everybody wants your time
I’m just dreaming out loud,
I can’t have you for mine and I know it
I just wanna watch you shine.

A chill zipped down Sidney’s back.  Leah’s voice was clear and strong as her fingers moved easily over the piano.  He knew she’d be good, but he was listening to the words.

Tripping up on my tongue,
It’s all over my face and I’m racing
Got to get away from you
Burning all the way home,
Try to put it to bed but it chases
Every little thing I do

Was it possible?  Was she singing about him?  Did Leah know that was exactly how he felt every time he got near her – he couldn’t say anything right, do anything right?

When the light falls on your face,
Don’t let it change you
When the stars get in your eyes,
Don’t let them blind you.

Or could Leah be singing about her own feelings?

You’re beautiful
Just the way you are
And I love it all
Every line, and every scar
And I wish that I could make you see
This is where you ought to be,
Come down to me.

“Oh shit,” Sidney and James both said at the same time.

Spell it out in a song,
Bet you never catch on to my weakness
I’m singing every word for you.
Here I’m thinking I’m sly
Then you’re catching my eye, and just maybe
You’re thinking what I’m thinking too

Before the verse was over, Sidney was moving.  Leah sang about singing to him without realizing she was doing just that.  He went down the aisle along the wall, out of sight because everyone was mesmerized by the girl on stage.  Each word vibrated through him as if he were reading it in Braille, as if it were being tattooed onto his skin.  He made for the corner.

When you see it on my face,
Don’t let it shake you
I know better than to try and
Take you with me.

No one even noticed Sidney’s approach.  Leah was still twenty meters away. This wasn’t a big operation; the show’s producers certainly didn’t expect anyone to try to climb up there.  Before he could round the first row of seats, Sidney felt his hat pulled of his head.  He glanced back – it was James, of course.  If Sidney were going to do this right, everyone needed to see his face.

You’re beautiful
Just the way you are
And I love it all
Every line, and every scar
And I wish that I could make you see
This is where you ought to be,
Come down to me.

Sid reached the stage as she sang the last word of the chorus.  Leah’s eyes were on her hands, fingers charming the last few bars from the song she had written about him.  About herself.  About them.  Sidney desperately hoped it was one of those three as he hoisted himself onto the stage.

Come down to me, she sang.

Leah hummed at the last note, letting both word and music drift away with the sharpness of her focus.  She took a breath and looked out across the piano.

Right at Sidney.

Leah stood up so fast the piano bench tipped over behind her.  It hit the floor like a gunshot through the auditorium, the applause for Leah’s performance dying just as quickly.  People in front recognized the intruder instantly and the people in back were just confused.  A murmur ran through the crowd – “Is that Sidney Crosby?”  Leah couldn’t hear it though.

Her first thought was hallucination; that she had sung so hard she’d wished Sidney into existence.  But he was there, real as rain, the only other person on stage.  He wore a light grey crewneck sweater – out of every thought happening at once, she recognized the sweater he’d worn to dinner at Gina’s, the same day the lockout ended and she’d snuck out of his bed.  Now his hair was mussed, his perfect lips were parted and he was walking toward her.  Quickly. She couldn’t even move.  The expected crowd of three thousand people watched. 

Well, three thousand and one if you counted Sidney.  No way anyone had expected this.

He didn’t stop at the piano; he didn’t stop at the keys.  Sid walked right up to Leah, grabbed her around the waist and kissed her.  His mouth came down not like a ton of bricks, though she staggered, but like a drop of water bursting.  Leah didn’t need to breathe, she just kissed him back.  And kissed him and kissed him until her heart was thundering.  They broke apart, panting.

Sidney’s eyes were golden up so close.  Leah knew that light color meant he was happy.  His hands cupped her cheeks, holding her there.

“I’m in love with you,” he said.

Sidney didn’t feel a thing between his feet hitting the stage and his kiss on Leah’s lips.  He heard the words from his mouth, felt his chest expand like a binding had been cut.  It was better than seeing her the first time, or when she showed up at the rink to meet him.  It was better than their first kiss or the first time they made love; it was even better than waking up next to her. 

Leah’s eyes were wide in surprise, but they didn’t waver.

“I love you too,” she whispered.

Nothing was better than that.

Author's note: Forgive me for departing from the real-time storyline here. I kept the dates in sync, but I've obviously omitted the part where Sid breaks his jaw. I just couldn't do that to the guy after all this and it didn't fit with the story.

I first heard "Come Down to Me" almost two years ago and I instantly pictured the scene at the performance. I wrote that whole part in my mind, over and over, for two years, then built this whole story around it. Finally putting it down for you to read was probably the most fun I've ever had writing. This isn't the end! - J


  1. That was beautiful! Such an amazing scene! So glad to hear this isn't the end!

  2. Well wasn't that just the best thing to come home to after my final exam!!! As always Love It!!!

  3. Yay! Amazing as always!!

  4. Better than I could have imagined! Can't wait to see how they go forward together. :)

  5. Great Chapter!Glad he finally told her he loved her.
    Now to find out if she won.