"I have to get out of here," she tells Phil. "I'm going crazy."
It's summer, and she shouldn't be thinking about hockey, but there are national outlets picking up the story that Amanda Kessel is retiring from hockey and it feels like everyone in Minnesota is looking at her with pity in their eyes.
She wants to scream that it's just a concussion, that she can come back from it, but then she remembers that with her decision to take one more semester off, she's out of her NCAA eligibility, and her options have dwindled to almost-nothing. There's the CWHL and the NWHL and the national team, sure, but the CWHL doesn't pay, and she doesn't know if the NWHL will survive beyond one season, and the Olympics are a long way off.
"I'm going house-hunting in Pittsburgh," Phil says, drawing her back to the present. "It won't get you totally away from hockey, but at least it's not the Twin Cities?"
"Are you living in a hotel?" Amanda asks. She talks with Phil every week, but he's never terribly forthcoming about what he's actually doing unless she asks directly.
"No," he laughs. "I'm staying at Sid's." Amanda is about to protest — there's no way she is going to stay in a house with Sidney Crosby, no matter how temporary a visit it might be — but Phil continues, "He's still in Canada, but he said I could stay until I found my own place."
"Did he say you could have guests?"
"He didn't say I couldn't," Phil hedges, "but I'll clear it with him if you want me to."
"Okay, do that," Amanda says. "I'll send you the details once I've booked my flight."
It isn't that Amanda hates Sidney Crosby, but she remembers watching as her mom and his dad yelled at each other from across the rink. There's never been much love lost between the Kessels and the Crosbys, and it's so weird to her that Crosby has offered his home to Phil while he adjusts.
The rational part of Amanda's brain says he's a good player and probably a nice guy, but the part of her that's still ten years old remembers the time he scored a goal in nine seconds and flipped off her mom after. It's the sort of thing that leaves an impression.
Crosby's house is absurd, a modernist monstrosity that is hilariously out of place among the well-kept colonials in Sewickley. It looks nothing like she expected, with its huge windows and boxy wings. She thought Crosby would be more of a traditionalist, or at least would have something a little less ostentatious. Instead, it looks like something out of the textbook from her modern art history elective.
Amanda tells Phil that she won't let him buy anything this ugly.
"I know," he says with a grin. "That's why you're here."
They drop Amanda's bags off in one of the guest rooms, and Phil takes her on a tour of the house. It's weird, being in someone's home without them there. Though they've met before, Crosby is basically a stranger to her and exploring his house without him feels invasive. She doesn't tell Phil this, though, because he's obviously at ease, happily showing off Crosby's library (cozy), and exercise room (massive), and indoor rink (ludicrous).
Although she makes use of both the rink and the exercise room, Amanda finds herself spending more time in the library than anywhere else in the house. It's a nice library, if a little heavy on the historical fiction, and the room itself is pleasantly warm. It's not wall-to-wall books, but there are enough shelves that it could become that. There's a massive couch and a small hearth and windows that let in the late evening sun. It feels lived in, a space designed specifically for leisure and not for the pursuit of whatever unattainable goal it is that motivates Crosby on the ice.
It's almost as unexpected as the modern exterior of the house, a space that doesn't match any of Amanda's assumptions about Crosby. She doesn't quite know what to do with it except avail herself of the exceptionally comfortable couch and the collection of romance novels she found on one of the shelves.
They're at the end of the first week of house-hunting and Amanda has finally relaxed enough in Crosby's house that she no longer feels like an intruder when she steps out of her room in the morning. She slept in today, because Phil had things to do at the rink in the city and because she could. She heads downstairs in her pajamas and a threadbare Gophers hoodie to find some breakfast.
There's noise coming from the kitchen, which must mean that Phil's meeting was shorter than he anticipated.
"I hope you brought waffles, because I'm starv—" Amanda freezes and so does Sidney Crosby.
He's holding a gallon of milk in one hand and the fridge handle in the other. He also looks as much like a deer in headlights as Amanda feels, as if he forgot that she would be here, in his house.
"Um, I could make waffles?" he offers after a too-long period of silence.
"No, thanks, I'm not that hungry," Amanda says quickly. She doesn't flee, exactly, but it's close.
Your landlord is back, she texts Phil when she has locked herself in her room.
She has to wait a little while for his response. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell u. He stayed @ Lemieuxs last nite. Sorry.
I'm going to kill you, she texts back.
All she gets back is a poop emoji.
The growling of her stomach eventually forces Amanda to leave her room in search of food a second time. She's changed clothes (twice) and at least made an attempt to brush her hair in anticipation of having to share space with Sidney Crosby, but her efforts were unnecessary. The only sign that his appearance wasn't a concussion-induced hallucination is a post-it on the fridge that says, "Best waffles in town + they deliver :)" with a phone number.
Amanda ignores it in favor of grabbing a yogurt from the fridge, which she eats as she sneaks around, trying to figure out whether Crosby is still at home. She checks the garage and peeks outside to the driveway; there are no cars in either place, so she figures it's safe.
Amanda heads back to the kitchen to toss her yogurt cup in the trash and put the spoon in the dishwasher. The post-it is still there, mocking her. She means to ignore it, but her stomach gurgles again.
Fuck it, she decides. She calls the number.
Crosby was right, damn him. The waffles are really good.
The return of Crosby means two things: one, Amanda is hyper-aware of every noise in the house, constantly trying to deduce whether the sound she heard was Phil or Crosby or just the air kicking on; and two, Amanda hits her second wind for finding Phil a place.
She doesn't intentionally avoid Crosby, really, but she manages to keep their interactions to a minimum. He gets up early every morning to work out, and Amanda can't be bothered to get out of bed before nine, let alone do her doctor-approved exercises. He and Phil are usually gone before she leaves her room, headed to the new practice facility, often together. She picks Phil up, and they go to lunch and drive around neighborhoods looking at houses. By the time they get home, Crosby is either taking a nap or, sometimes, still not back. Amanda continues to steal books from his library and disappears into her room until supper time, which winds up being delivery nine times out of ten because neither she nor Phil ever got the hang of cooking more than absolutely necessary.
Crosby joins them for dinner sometimes, but he's gone as often as he's around. Amanda asks Phil once if Crosby is dating someone, and Phil smirks.
"You want me to pass him a note in the locker room? Are you dating anyone, check yes or no?" he asks.
Amanda throws her egg roll wrapper at him. "I just wondered where it is he eats, since he's never at home."
Phil shrugs. "Lemieux's, I guess. Or Duper's. I think he babysits their kids sometimes."
"Hm," Amanda says and takes another bite of her lo mein.
"So does that mean you want me to pass him a note or no?" Phil asks, grinning.
This time, Amanda throws her egg roll at him.
Amanda goes to one of the practices at the new rink in Cranberry and watches from the stands. She tucks her security pass in a pocket so she can blend in with the rest of the observers. Thankfully, no one recognizes her as Phil's sister or as an Olympic medalist, or if they do, they leave her alone. It's an unofficial session — camp doesn't start for another three weeks — but about half of the returning players are there along with some of the rookies invited to camp.
When the session is over, she makes her way into the private section of the practice venue. The cafeteria-slash-break room is a familiar cacophony of chirps and counter-chirps. She gets funny looks from a couple of the guys, but most of them don't pay her any mind.
Amanda looks for Phil in the chaos; instead she finds Crosby.
"Hey!" Crosby says. He's freshly showered but still pink from his workout. It's a good look on him, Amanda thinks, and then shoves the thought away. "Wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Phil told me I should check it out. It's not half-bad."
"Have you hit up the smoothie bar yet?"
"Smoothie bar?" Amanda asks incredulously. "Seriously?"
"It's not waffles, but it's pretty good."
Amanda narrows her eyes. "You're not gonna let me live that down, are you?"
Crosby grins. "Not likely, no."
"What's not likely?" Phil asks, coming up behind Amanda. She steps aside to make room for him.
"That we'll ever get a hotdog stand to go with the smoothie bar," Crosby says, smile still bright, with a wink for Amanda.
Phil throws his head back and groans. "Ugh, not you, too, Sid."
"It's good to know that your team has your back once I'm gone," Amanda chirps, delighted.
Phil's response is to attempt to tickle her. "See if I ever invite you here ever again!"
Things get easier after that. Amanda stops feeling like she's making a nuisance of herself at Crosby's — Sidney's — house. She also stops hiding in her room so much, returning to holing up in the library with Sidney's books. She tries not to get too used to it, well aware that she is still just a guest and still at least nominally looking at houses for Phil, though the hunt has become more and more frustrating as time goes on. She loves her brother, but he has weirdly specific wants and nothing they've found yet has fit both his budget and his specifications.
She complains about it to Sidney once when the two of them are up before Phil. Sidney is making breakfast (omelets, though he offered to make waffles with a twinkle in his eye), and Amanda is put in charge of drinks.
"It's like he's looking for his dream place, and if it doesn't exist, I don't know what he's going to do." She juices the oranges Sidney had given her a little more forcefully than necessary, and the juicer growls back at her.
They're starting in on the fourth week of house-hunting when Phil finally says, "Maybe we should look at apartments in the city instead of houses in the 'burbs."
Amanda sets up some appointments to look at apartments downtown, and the next day, they go looking. By evening, Phil makes an offer on a place, and the next day he signs the lease.
Amanda decides to stay in Pittsburgh a little longer so she can help coordinate the move. Phil has a few things in storage in Pittsburgh, but most of his stuff is still in Toronto, boxed up and waiting in the apartment he shared with Bozie.
Once it all arrives safely, Amanda puts herself in charge of unpacking and arranging the apartment. It's mostly a matter of putting small things where they belong, since the movers already brought in the bigger pieces of furniture.
It's easy work, though time-consuming, and Amanda enjoys it. It keeps her busy and her mind off other things, like how the other day she spent most of the morning with the blackout curtains shut and the lights off because of a migraine. She takes it easy the next day, unpacking just one box of books and rearranging Phil's game-day suits. She hates that she has to limit herself like that.
The Penguins hold a team dinner just before the start of the pre-season, which apparently includes everyone invited to camp as well as their spouses, children, and siblings who happen to be in town. Amanda doesn't really want to go — she's worn out from unpacking things and just wants to rest — but Phil tells her it will be weird if she doesn't show up when everyone knows she's in town.
"Besides," he says when she makes a face at him, "we can always sneak out early."
"Fine," Amanda sighs, "but I'm not dressing up."
Phil laughs. "I don't think it's that kind of dinner."
Team dinner apparently involves renting out half a restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh. Phil was wrong about the dress code; nearly everyone is dressed in slacks and skirts and nice shirts. Thankfully, Amanda isn't the only person dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, though she's not sure whether she really wants to be accused of taking fashion cues from Evgeni Malkin. She and Phil are seated across from him and an empty seat that turns out to belong to Sidney, who's been further down the table, playing with Pascal Dupuis' kids. He sits down with a baby in his arms in time to order the surf and turf with a baked potato, just like everyone else at the table.
Amanda watches as Sidney carries on three different conversations — including one with the wiggling kid bouncing on his knee — amid the hum and buzz of the group. She lets the sounds of the restaurant wash over her.
She must really zone out, because the next thing she knows, Phil is nudging her with an elbow.
"Everything all right?" he asks, clearly but subtly checking in with her.
"Yeah, just tired." She gives him a weak smile.
"Is it the concussion?" Amanda snaps her head around to stare at Sidney, who's looking at her earnestly. "Things like this were sometimes more than I could handle."
Amanda can tell he means it to be polite, helpful even, but his statement mostly just irritates her. "No, it's not," she says, voice sharp. "I'm tired, because I've been unpacking boxes all week."
Sidney looks like he wants to say more, ask if she's certain it's not concussion-related, just like Mom had when Amanda told her that unpacking was more exhausting than packing. The thought is infuriating, and she doesn't give him the opportunity.
"I think I'm gonna go," she tells Phil abruptly. She's vaguely aware that the conversations around them have gotten quieter, but she doesn't care. "I'll see you back at the apartment."
"Want me to have them box your food?" Phil asks as she stands.
"Sure. Thanks." She nods at the table, pretending not to notice that Sidney stares down at his plate instead of meeting her eyes as she goes.
Phil comes home armed with a box of chicken and pasta, which he hands off to Amanda with a fork and, "Wanna tell me what that was all about at dinner? Not like you to get pissed like that."
Amanda shrugs and starts stuffing her face so she doesn't have to answer right away. She's spent the last two hours running the conversation with Sidney through her mind and being vaguely embarrassed at herself. Everyone on the Penguins is gonna think she's Phil's crazy sister.
When she's finished chewing, she says, "Mom asked the same thing, you know. About me being tired because of the concussion. It just — got to me, I guess."
Phil nods but doesn't say anything.
"I don't—" Amanda stops short and takes a deep breath, willing herself not to cry. "I don't want it to be the concussion, you know? But what if it is? What if I can't — what if I never get better?"
Phil wraps his arms around her and lets her sniffle into his shirt. "I can't tell you it'll get better," he says after a moment, "but I'll be here for you either way, okay?"
Amanda nods into his shoulder, not trusting herself to speak. They sit like that for a few minutes, Amanda breathing in time with Phil.
"And by the way," Phil says after Amanda's breathing has fallen into line with his, "Sid wants to know if I'm having a housewarming."
Amanda pulls away so she can look at Phil. "What'd you tell him?"
"I told him that it was up to you."
Amanda snorts. "Why'd you tell him that?"
"Because you're the one who'd be in charge of planning it."
Amanda eyeballs Phil, not sure whether he's trying to distract her or he really wants to host a party. Although he's always made friends easily, he's even less of a party person than she is.
"Do you want to have a housewarming?"
Phil shrugs again. "Sure. Why not? It might be fun."
The housewarming sets Amanda off in another flurry of activity, calling restaurants about catering and making sure invitations are sent out on time. It's not quite the same amount of stress as house-hunting, but it's close, and by the time the day rolls around, she's ready to throttle Phil for deciding he wants to be more of a people-person.
The party is a big hit, the perfect bookend for the pre-season, everything falling into place without a hitch.
Phil's apartment is full, controlled chaos, and Amanda quickly finds herself overwhelmed by the people and the noise. She can't sneak off to her room without having to navigate through the throng of people, so she chooses the next-best method of escape: the balcony.
It's quiet outside, if a little chilly, and Amanda closes her eyes and takes a couple deep breaths. She hears the sliding door and a brief resurgence of sound behind her as someone else steps outside.
It's Sidney. Amanda takes another deep breath before she turns around, prepared to snap at him again for being overbearing. The words fall dead on her lips when she sees him.
He has a little frown wrinkling his forehead and he's holding two glasses of water. "I thought you might—" He stops and starts again. "Hosting a party is thirsty work."
Amanda takes the offered glass gratefully. "Thanks." She drinks it all probably faster than she should and turns her back to the party again, looking out at the twinkling lights of the Pittsburgh bridges.
She expects Sidney to take that as a dismissal, and she waits for the sound of the door and the rise in noise level that mean he's gone, but it doesn't come. Instead, he comes to stand next to her, close enough that she can feel warmth radiating from him.
"Amanda," he sighs, and it sounds...reverent.
She turns to look at him. Sidney looks down at her intently, the lights from the party casting his face in sharp relief. Amanda drops her gaze to the notch between his collar bones, visible in the vee of his shirt. She swallows drily and watches his Adams' apple bob as he does the same.
"Yeah?" she asks distantly.
Sidney licks his lips, and Amanda flicks her eyes back up to his. He leans closer. "I—"
Sidney jumps back, and the moment is gone.
"If you want a ride, we're leaving!"
Dupuis is standing at the balcony door, seemingly oblivious to what he interrupted. Sidney quirks a rueful smile.
"I better go. This was fun." He squeezes Amanda's arm and disappears back inside.
The departure of the Dupuis family and Sidney apparently marks the end of the party, because it's not long after that Amanda finds herself bidding farewell to the last of her and Phil's guests. They do a cursory clean-up, gathering abandoned plates and glasses and piling them in the sink, but both she and Phil head to bed not long after.
Amanda expects to be out almost immediately, but the events on the balcony replay in her head ad nauseum. She thinks about the way Sidney's eyes had looked in the lights, shining like gold, about the enticing scent of his cologne, the way heat radiated from him. The way he'd leaned in close just before Dupuis interrupted.
She swears she can still feel the pressure of Sidney's hand on her arm even as she finally drifts to sleep.
Amanda doesn't get another chance to talk to Sidney. The team flies to Dallas for the season opener, and she flies home. She knows she should probably contact him, but every time she opens her phone to ask Phil for Sidney's number, something stops her from hitting "send."
She does this for a week, before she finally decides to fuck it and texts Phil.
I need Crosby's number.
He answers back, Im not passing notes in class 4 u.
Amanda rolls her eyes. Didn't ask you to. Just give me his number.
Phil sends back a poop emoji. It's followed swiftly by Sidney's contact information.
It takes her most of another week to actually text him.
He responds quickly, and it doesn't take long for their texts to become constant, a conversation that starts at hi how are you and never seems to truly end. They carefully don't talk about what their relationship is, focusing instead on the books they're reading and in-depth analysis of the Penguins' scoring woes.
In between texts from Sidney, Amanda visits the doctor and works on her therapy and starts training again.
October bleeds into November, and as Canadian Thanksgiving passes, Sidney texts her to say she should have come back to Pittsburgh to celebrate the real Thanksgiving. Amanda snorts and texts back that there is nothing real about the Canadian Thanksgiving, but secretly thinks she wouldn’t have minded that so much.
A couple days later, Phil calls to see if she wants to come to Pittsburgh for American Thanksgiving.
"Yes," she says, a little too quickly, judging by Phil's chuckle. She backpedals. "Um, is this a 'just us' thing, or are mom and dad invited too?"
"Just us," Phil answers. "Ian and his wife are doing a lunch, and they said we could bring extra people, but I think they just meant plus-ones."
"Okay. I'll see you soon." Amanda buys her ticket as soon as she hangs up.
Amanda arrives in Pittsburgh the day before Thanksgiving. Phil doesn't pick her up, because he's at morning skate, so she catches a taxi to his apartment. She lets herself in and gets settled. As the date has drawn closer, she's gotten more and more nervous, even though there's nothing for her to be nervous about.
She attends the game against the Blues that night, but she only sees Sidney on the ice. She isn't sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Thanksgiving day finds Amanda waking up at the crack of dawn to make the green bean casserole Phil promised they would bring to lunch. She'd like to throttle him for it, but she figures no one in Pittsburgh would be very happy with her if she did that. It turns out to be less work than she anticipates, helped along by both the internet and a panicked call to Mom.
"How is Pittsburgh?" Mom wants to know. "How is Phil?"
"Fine, Mom, everything's fine," Amanda says, trying to cut the conversation short so she doesn't get caught in a never-ending interrogation about Phil and the city. "Look, I gotta go, okay? I'll talk to you later, love you, bye."
She hangs up before Mom can ask any more questions.
"How's Mom?" Phil asks, popping his head around the corner.
Amanda rolls her eyes. "If you wanna know, you can call her back and talk to her yourself," she grumbles fondly.
Stress aside, the casserole turns out fine, and the two of them head off to the Coles' for the dinner.
Amanda doesn't know who else is coming, so she nearly drops the casserole in shock when Sidney answers the door. He looks just as startled to see her, his stupid mustache twitching in surprise.
Amanda recovers well enough to chirp, "Didn't know Canadians celebrated real Thanksgiving."
Sidney laughs and takes the casserole from her, presumably heading for the kitchen. "Who said I was celebrating anything more than a free meal?"
Amanda means to chirp him about all the food going to his ass, but he sets the casserole down on the counter and turns around.
"Hi," he says, as softly as he had said her name at Phil's housewarming.
"Hi," Amanda parrots back, frozen in place.
Sidney steps toward her, and she has to tilt her head up to hold his gaze. "Hi," he says again, his hand coming to rest on her arm.
Amanda licks her lip, watching as Sidney's eyes track the movement. "You should—"
"Yeah," he breathes. He pulls her closer and leans down.
They bump noses before sorting themselves out and lining up properly. It's a soft kiss, tentative, but Amanda presses into it, and Sidney presses back just so, his other hand coming to rest between her shoulder blades. His mustache tickles, and she pulls back to laugh.
"What?" he asks, looking uncharacteristically nervous.
"I hope you're getting rid of the caterpillar on your face soon," Amanda says, still smiling up at him. "Because I don't want to be stuck with it forever."
He looks affronted at first, but then he grins happily. "Forever, eh?"
Amanda goes pink. "Maybe not forever," she hedges. "But for a while, yeah."
Sidney leans in again. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Amanda says, tilting up to kiss him again.