“My parents are dead,” is what Henry says when anybody asks. Mostly people don’t ask. He’s got a full story ready if anybody gets more curious: his parents are dead. They died when he was a teenager. He was lucky, because his neighbor took him in. His neighbor was kind enough to pay his tuition at St. Edwards so he could keep playing hockey, and so he could get that scholarship to U of M, and so he could be drafted. He was lucky. It’s an appropriately feel-good story, weighty enough to be impressive and sad enough to discourage any follow up. Technically, it could also be true. They might be dead now, and how the fuck would Henry know.
People don’t really care about his background, though. He’s not a local boy or a superstar, so the media doesn’t search for any kind of cute narrative. Henry is just a third line winger, Beeman with fifteen points so far this season for the Buffalo Sabres. Reporters would rather talk to LaFontaine and Andreychuk. Or, obviously, Mogilny, with the career season he’s having. No matter where Henry goes there’s no escaping the fucking Russians.
“Beemer, you got a visitor,” Woody shouts into the locker room. “And she’s fuckin’ hot,” he adds with a leer.
This is an unusual situation. Both for Henry to have someone waiting in the hallway after a game, and somewhat for Henry to have any visitor at all. Henry doesn’t really date, because he likes to keep a low profile. A girlfriend would ask questions he doesn’t care to answer.
“The fuck?” Henry yells back. “Who is she?”
“Is she lost? Does she know who Beemer is?” somebody shouts. The room is teeming after a win against the Diques, and it looks like they’re latching onto Henry and this girl tonight.
Across the room, Mogilny grins. Henry looks down at his feet.
“Says her name is Paige Jennings,” says Woody.
“Shit,” says Henry. He wants to stall, but he’s already mostly dressed. Instead, he ties his shoes as slowly as possible. The guys start to jeer when he takes a mostly unnecessary moment to rearrange his hair.
“Shut up, assholes,” Henry says. “It’s just my sister.”
Henry hasn’t seen Paige in two years, seven months, and eleven days. It’s been five years, four months, and twenty two days since he saw his parents. It’s been a long, long time, and a lot has happened.
In the moment between hearing Paige’s name and seeing her again, Henry is seized with a stupid fear that she’s going to look like their mother. But then there she is, standing in the bare concrete hallway, looking mostly like herself. It’s strange to see her, like she’s a ghost in her boots and jeans and Sabres hat.
“Hi Henry,” she says.
“Hi Paige,” he returns. He thinks about hugging her or shaking her hand, but both options seem so strange that in the end he does neither. They just stand there, three feet apart. Henry shoves his hands in the pockets of his suit.
“Sorry to ambush you like this,” Paige says. “I just couldn’t figure out a better way to get in touch.” Henry can think of a thousand better ways right now: calling, writing a letter, putting an ad in the paper, hiring a fucking skywriter.
“We should probably talk, I guess.”
“Probably,” Paige echoes.
“We can go to my apartment. It’s nice and quiet. Private, and all.” Paige nods. “Did you drive?” Henry asks, praying that the answer is yes. Paige nods again, so he nods back and leads her through the back halls of the Aud to the parking lot. They don’t speak until he gives her the address, and then they separate.
The city just got halfway buried by a snowstorm, and the roads are still drowning in dirty slush. Henry drives fast anyway. It’s not as though he bought a Camaro to drive slowly.
For a little while after it all happened, Henry refused to answer any phone calls. He made his roommate take them, or Stan, or Renee when she was still around, because he was sure on some instinctive level that every call was from his parents. Not one of them ever was. For a long time after that, he answered every call with a near-desperation for the exact same reason, with the exact same result.
Sometimes—often—he thought about that last call. It wasn’t important to him at the time he took it, so he didn’t remember it well. He remembered the shape of it more than anything, how strange it was that they were calling, how impatient he was, what shoes he was wearing. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember the actual words that were said. Henry sometimes dreamed about that phone call, talking to his parents on the hallway payphone but they were speaking gibberish and he knew, in the dream, that the gibberish was Russian. Those dreams always struck him as a little too on the nose. He doesn’t care to be a cliche.
Really the only person Henry talks to on the phone anymore is Stan. He calls every now and again to catch up, and Henry gets him tickets for games whenever they play in DC.
Henry waits for Paige in the bare-bones lobby of his building, ushering her past the front desk and up the elevator to the third floor once she arrives. They continue not talking even as he opens his front door.
Henry looks at Paige looking at his apartment. It’s functional. The rent is less than he can afford to pay, which seems sensible to him. He declined the offer to live with a teammate or take in a rookie, but he still has all the essentials: bed, couch, fridge full of shitty beer.
He pulls out a chair for Paige at the kitchen table and then retreats to hover nervously by the oven. “Do you want a drink? I got beer, whiskey, vodka somewhere probably.” He waves an arm at the fridge, topped by the collection of half empty liquor bottles that make up his meager bar. “I got, uh, rum too, looks like.”
Paige smiles her same sheepish smile as always. “Oh, I’m not drinking right now. I—I don’t drink.” She left her hat in the car, so Henry can see that she dyed her hair at some point. It’s no longer the warm reddish-brown Henry remembers, now darker and somehow flatter.
“Okay,” Henry says, a little wrongfooted. He reverses course from the fridge to fill a glass of water at the sink. He doesn’t get himself anything. If Paige is staying sober he isn’t going to mix himself a drink, as much as he really, really, enormously wants to.
“You played well,” Paige says once Henry passes over her water and settles on the other side of his small kitchen table.
“You watched?” he asks. Paige was never the hockey fan in the family. She was always interested in loftier shit, the religion and the social issues and the global politics.
She rolls her eyes. “Henry, I was at the game. I wasn’t going to shell out for tickets and then close my eyes whenever my brother was on the ice.”
“Shit, you bought your own ticket? I could have got one for you. Players can get them free sometimes.”
“It seemed tacky to ask,” she says primly.
Henry hopes Paige is doing alright, money-wise. He has no idea if she is. He has no idea where Paige lives or what she does for work, if she does anything. He doesn’t know if she ever went back to college. There’s a lot Henry doesn’t know, because he hasn’t heard from her in two fucking years. He doesn’t know if it would have been better if the first conversation they had in those two fucking years was about hockey tickets.
Every question Henry could ask seems off-limits for a slightly different reason, so he goes for a softball. “So how have you been?” The second it comes out of his mouth, it feels like the wrong question, but it's too late.
“I’ve been alright,” Paige says. “You?”
“Oh, same,” says Henry, and then they sit in silence for what must be only thirty seconds. Thirty seconds, as it turns out, is an absolutely unbearable length of time to sit in silence.
Paige coughs, rotates her water glass 90 degrees clockwise, and says, “How’s Stan these days?”
“He’s fine. Still in DC, still at the FBI. You haven’t talked to him lately?”
“No, you were always closer to him than I ever was,” she says, strained. “And the rest of the Beemans? Although I guess you’re a Beeman too, now.”
“It’s on the jersey, I guess.” Henry smiles thinly. “They’re all fine too.”
The FBI did their best, afterwards. Stan did his best. Henry really does believe that. They kept it quiet. It could have been a big fucking story, and it wasn’t. Instead, all that happened was that Henry took the last week and a half of the semester off, moved into Stan’s house for school breaks, and never saw his parents again.
Henry retook his finals in the spring, failed them. He didn’t particularly care, because by that time he was the lead scorer on St. Edwards’ varsity hockey team and there had been scouts at a handful of games, so the dean of students didn’t particularly care either. For Henry it was as though all of this was happening in a blur slightly to the side of him. When he was on the ice he could drift back into pure physical instinct, completely separate from everything that had happened to him and everything that continued to happen. The ice was the only place Henry wanted to be, and he did his best to be only there. He wasn’t entirely aware of how well this aspiration was panning out until it basically already had.
So there was the frenzy of his junior year, and his senior year, and a confused year in Michigan and another, equally if not more confused year in Rochester and then he was up with the Sabres and his dreams, such as they were, had all come true.
He signed as Henry Beeman. Stan and any number of other FBI agents had already reassured him that the Jennings case was need-to-know only and thus entirely unlikely to come up at any point in his future. His childhood and most of his adolescence were now heavily classified. But Henry felt it was better to be safe than sorry. His agent, who Henry had at some point acquired and who clearly had bigger fish to fry than the top secret and therefore inexplicable anxieties of Henry Jennings-Beeman, sent him some papers, and it was all handled. They sell Beeman number fourteen jerseys at the arena gift shop.
“I’m learning Russian, you know? From my teammate.” Henry says it to be a dick, to drag kicking and screaming into the conversation the thing they’ve been talking around for the past five minutes and the five years before that. “He’s from Russia, escaped the Soviet regime, the whole nine yards.”
Paige stares down into her water glass. She hasn’t taken a single sip, but she didn’t ask for it anyway. “They tried to teach me,” she says. “I was awful at it. Couldn’t get the accent, couldn’t get the alphabet, nothing. I barely remembered anything then, much less now. But they did try.”
“I don’t know much either, really. Nothing useful.”
“Sometimes I wish I was better at it. So I could feel a little bit of a connection, or whatever,” Paige says, tracing some shape that Henry can’t decipher on the surface of the table. Henry regrets bringing it up. He wants something to do with his hands.
Abruptly, he gets up from the table and opens his junk drawer, pawing through the mess inside until he finds what he’s looking for. He turns back to Paige, brandishing a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
“I know you’re not drinking right now, but how about this? I save ‘em for special occasions.”
Paige nods gratefully, already halfway out of her chair.
Learning Russian is a generous way to put it. He’s picked up a few things from sheer proximity to Alex Mogilny, words like ‘pass’ and ‘skate’ and ‘fuck you.’ Sheer proximity is also probably fudging a little bit. It might be more accurate to say desperate, painful obsession . Henry wouldn’t have picked up nearly as much Russian if he wasn’t so completely focused on Mogilny at all times.
Mogilny, the Soviet defector. Mogilny, who broke laws and contracts and promises and probably more things that Henry, who hasn’t broken any of the above, wouldn’t be able to imagine. Mogilny, who seems so strange and exotic with his accent and his passing game: the first Russian Henry has ever met. Or the first real Russian. Or one of any number of Russians, possibly including Henry himself, so there should really be nothing special about Mogilny. Henry doesn’t want to be obsessed with him. It’s strange and suspicious and he works hard so none of his teammates can tell, so they don’t notice the way he turns towards Mogilny like he’s magnetized.
Mogilny’s brash and weird, ricocheting between offering insane quotes to anybody who will listen and pretending he doesn’t speak English. Sometimes he shows up to practice in cowboy boots, like "Buffalo" is a bit more literal. He’s so unlike Henry, who hardly goes in for attention or extravagance, that it makes Henry itch sometimes. In a lot of ways, Mogilny is Henry’s opposite. In a lot of other ways which Henry prefers not to think about, they’re very, very similar.
Henry doesn’t like to smoke inside the apartment, so he and Paige go stand outside on the balcony. Said balcony looks out on a pile of dirty snow in the parking lot. Henry’s apartment is technically a lake-view, or that’s how it was sold to him, but Henry has never personally viewed the lake except on some very clear days out the bathroom window.
“Chilly out here,” Paige says as she lights her cigarette. She passes him the lighter when she’s done.
“Well, welcome to Buffalo. We’re about a mile and a half from Canada right now.”
She shivers theatrically, wrapping an arm around herself. “Brr.”
“What brings you up this far north anyway?” Henry asks, exhaling a slow cloud of smoke and tucking the lighter in his pocket.
Paige shrugs with one shoulder. “I was in the area. I wanted to see you play. Speaking of, should you really be smoking in your line of work?”
Henry shrugs back, mirroring her posture. It’s an obvious deflection, but he’ll let her get away with it. Paige never was very subtle. Always such a fixer, putting other people first, mothering. “Special occasions, like I said.”
They’re silent for a moment, standing shoulder to shoulder, both staring out at the darkness beyond Henry’s balcony as though there’s anything to see out there besides a line of bare hedges and some slow moving headlights on the other side. “You ever think about all the little stuff?” Henry asks.
“What little stuff?” Paige asks.
“All the little lies,” says Henry. “Like the time I had to do a project on our family history in fifth grade, and they told me we were fucking Scottish-French.” Henry got an A- on that project, with a few points off for spelling.
“Oof, yeah,” Paige says with a noise that’s almost a laugh. “I think about that kind of stuff all the goddamn time.”
“They told me the Jennings came through fucking Ellis Island! How did they even come up with that?”
“One time when you were really little, I asked them why we didn’t have any cousins to play with, like other kids had? And they told me it was because dad had a sister who died.”
“Is that true?”
Paige shrugs again tightly. “There’s no way to know. Maybe we do have some cousins in Smolensk or somewhere.”
“Jesus fuck,” says Henry, shaking his head. “It’s like I can’t trust a single thing I remember. Not even things I know I lived through.”
“Sometimes I wonder if it was all fake,” Paige says quietly.
“Of course it was all fake,” Henry says, looking away from the shadow where Paige’s face would be. “There was nothing real or normal about it.”
Paige drops some ashes into the flowerpot Henry keeps on the balcony for that purpose. His agent sent it to him after he cracked the Sabres roster, and it was at one point filled with fancy daisies that Henry couldn’t keep alive. “Of course it wasn’t normal,” she says softly, “but I really hope at least some of it was real. I hope that they wanted to have kids, and that they loved us like real parents at least some of the time. Otherwise—otherwise it’s just really, really awful.”
Henry and Mogilny don’t speak often, because of what happens when they do.
“What’s Russia like?” Henry had asked once, bolstered by several drinks and the privacy of a crowded bar somewhere in Calgary after a not particularly decisive away victory. It was the tail end of Henry’s rookie season, he had three points in the last five games, and he was feeling confident. He and Mogilny were nominally alone, the only two holding down a table while the rest of the team caroused, so Henry had taken his chance.
Mogilny snorted. “Cold,” he said, with the air of a man who had just been asked a very stupid question for the thousandth time and had long run out of non-stupid answers.
“No,” Henry persisted. “No, really. What’s Russia like ?”
“Is like all the stories you hear. Lotta stuff you can’t buy, lotta stuff you can’t do, lotta stuff you can’t talk about. Also, really, really fucking cold.” Mogilny was drinking a Bud Light. American beer.
Henry was drinking whatever people handed him. He slumped on the table next to Mogilny, twisting his neck at a terrible angle to look Mogilny in the eye. “I knew all of that,” Henry whined.
“You know everything about Russia already,” Mogilny said.
“I don’t,” Henry said. “I really don’t.” To his horror, his voice was getting thick and teary. Henry refused to cry in front of anyone, especially his teammate. Especially his Russian teammate, raised in honest-to-god Siberia. Henry buried his face in his arms. Russia wasn’t supposed to matter to him at all.
He heard a dull clink as Mogilny set his beer down on the table. His hand landed heavily on Henry’s shoulder, and Henry shivered. Henry kept his face on the table and Mogilny kept his hand on Henry’s shoulder and Henry pretended he wasn’t crying. If he was crying, it was because he was a weepy drunk and not in the least because he was both more and less Russian than he wanted to be.
“Why hockey anyway?” Paige asks. Henry forgot to turn on the outside light, and now all he can see of Paige’s face in the light trickling through from the kitchen is the edge of her cheekbone. His eyes aren’t adjusting to the dark very well.
“I’m better at it than I would be at selling insurance, or doing whatever anybody else does with their lives,” Henry says. “Plus, who would turn down the glory? Kids wearing your jersey, people cheering your name, all that.” It’s not as though there’s a ton of that kind of stuff for Henry. The people of Buffalo are passionate, sure, but it isn’t Henry signing tits and getting recognized in grocery stores.
“It’s not really your name they’re cheering, though, is it?” Paige mutters.
Henry is blindsided and then, for a moment, blazingly sad. “Shit, Paige, really? Do you wanna fight about this?” He can’t bring himself to look at her face, so he stares at the glow of her cigarette. It’s drawing closer and closer to her fingers.
“No. I don’t.” She curls in on herself, hunching closer over her arm.
“Fuck, it’s not like any of it matters,” he says, louder. There’s no reason to keep it down, because there’s no one in this god-forsaken parking lot who would care if they heard. “My name honestly could not be less important. It doesn’t matter if any of them are cheering my name, because I don’t even know my name any more than they do. What is it? Henry Beeman? Henry Jennings? Henry fucking Mikhailovich? None of it is real.”
Paige exhales shakily. Henry turns the lighter over and over in his pocket, suddenly exhausted.
“It’s cold out here,” Paige says, so they stub out their cigarettes in the flowerpot and go back inside.
“Do you ever want to go back to Russia?” Henry asked Mogilny. That time it was a shitty sports bar in Minneapolis after a loss, not that it particularly mattered to Henry at that point in the evening.
“I can’t,” Mogilny said.
“But do you want to.”
“I think it matters. I wanna know,” said Henry. He had a distant sense of his own rudeness, but he was mostly past caring.
“When you gonna fuckin’ shut up, Beemer? Why you care so much?” Mogilny leaned away but he couldn’t lean far, because Henry had cornered him in a booth. Henry tilted over into Mogilny’s shoulder to make up the difference.
“Just curious,” said Henry, who on some level knew that he was fooling no one, Mogilny least of all.
Mogilny sighed. “Of course I want to go back, you know? I miss my family, I miss my city.” He dragged a finger down through the condensation on his beer. Henry fidgeted, his hands landing on a coaster and immediately beginning to tear it into shreds. “But I haven’t been home for long time anyway, haven’t seen mama since I'm fifteen. I come here for a reason, yeah? And Russia now is just like America. After I leave they put a McDonalds in fuckin’ Pushkin Square.”
Mogilny laughed, so Henry laughed too. He leaned in closer, bracing himself on the table so he could whisper in Mogilny’s ear. “Wanna know a secret, Alex? A top secret? We’re the same. My parents’re in Russia too, and I’m never gonna see them again either.”
Mogilny pushed him away gently and looked him right in the eyes. “You drunk, Beemer. Really fuckin’ drunk,” and Henry was, but he also wasn’t lying.
“I’m sorry,” says Paige. “Really, I’m as lost as you are. I promise.” She smiles weakly, making eye contact that neither of them can hold, back in the bright and intimate light of Henry’s kitchen.
“Nah, I’m sorry too. This whole situation is completely fucked and completely insane.” Henry drops his head into his palms and runs his ice-cold hands through his hair. He laughs. “I think we must be the only people in the world with these exact problems.”
Paige laughs too, once. “Yeah. We must be.” She takes a deep breath. “I almost went with them when they left. I never told you that. I’m sorry.”
Henry doesn’t look up from the surface of the table. “You know why I play hockey, Paige? Because sometimes the games are on national television. So if they’re out there looking for me, they can find me. God, it would be easier to go get a desk job and pretend I'm not who I am, but I feel like I gotta take these chances where I can get them.”
“Sometimes I think that I should have tried to convince them to stay, so I could testify on their behalf. Or I think I should have gone with them to keep track of them, so I could fix things somehow.” Henry can’t look up. Paige’s voice is so quiet, but it’s the only sound in Henry’s awful silent kitchen, the only thing he can possibly listen to.
Into his hands, Henry says, “Yeah?”
“But really, there was no way to fix it. The whole thing was so completely broken, and it was their fault. It’s still their fault. It’s because of them that we’re like this.” Her voice breaks, and Henry finally looks up. “It’s all their fault." After all those years of lying and hiding, he and Paige can’t help but pry honesty out of each other.
On the day he was drafted, Paige sat with him while he took that phone call from the Sabres in the fourth round. She was finally looking better. The whole process of the deposition and the investigation was harder on her than it was on Henry, and it was a long time before she stopped looking drawn and thin and sad.
But that year, there was a little light back in her eyes, and she sat up a little straighter as Henry said all the necessary yes-sir-thank-you-sirs to the man on the other end of the phone in the Beemans' kitchen, where he was staying that summer. He gave her a thumbs up and mouthed “Sabres.” She gave two thumbs up back and pulled a bottle of champagne out of the fridge.
Paige had been in and out of the Beemans' house as long as Henry had been living there. She came over for the occasional dinner or Sunday lunch during his school breaks, quietly helping with the dishes afterwards. There had been some tension between her and Stan that Henry had noticed but not, at the time, understood. He assumed that was why Paige never stayed long. He didn’t care to pry. The weekend of the draft, though, she slept on the Beemans’ couch. She had taken two days off from the dentist’s office in Maryland where she was working as a receptionist in order to be there in Falls Church, drinking champagne with Henry.
Paige popped the cork out of the champagne with the help of a dishtowel, which she immediately refolded and replaced on the handle of the oven. She had done the same thing with the sheets that Renee gave her for the couch. When Henry came downstairs that morning, jangling with nerves and feeling like he should put on a suit even if nobody was going to see him when he took the phone call that might or might not come, it looked like nobody had slept on the couch at all.
“Congratulations, professional athlete,” she said, passing him a juice glass full of champagne. Neither of them knew where to find real champagne flutes. The Beemans’ house was laid out exactly the same as the Jennings' house had been but things were stored in different cabinets, unfamiliar enough to be confusing.
“I’m not a professional athlete yet,” Henry said.
“You’re much closer than most people get.” Paige nudged him with an elbow, holding her own juice glass.
Henry was happy. Paige was happy too, for Henry and at least a little on her own. So Henry didn’t know what possessed him to ask the question right then. Maybe if he’d known at that moment how often he would think about the answer, lying awake at night like a cliche in the two years seven months and eleven days following, he might not have asked. But it might have been equally likely that he'd be up at night thinking about the unasked question anyway, so it was a moot point.
Henry asked: “Did you know?”
Henry hasn’t had champagne since. If anybody asked, he would say that he’s waiting until he can drink it out of the Cup.
The only way out is through, and the only way through is to pretend that neither of them was crying. Henry offers Paige a paper towel to clean off her face. She accepts. Really, it’s like no confessions were ever made at Henry’s kitchen table.
“Look, Henry, I’ll be in town for a little while,” Paige says, discarding her paper towel and rotating her still-full water glass in a slow circle on the table. “I’d like to spend more time with you. If—if you would want that.”
She’s been saying his name a lot, like she’s missed the way it sounds. Or like she isn’t sure if he’s really there. Or maybe he’s projecting.
He shrugs. “Sure.”
Paige deflates. “Okay. Great. I’ll call you, and we can get lunch or coffee, if that’s alright?”
Henry can’t imagine seeing Paige out in the regular world, sitting across from her at a cafe, talking to her about anything in a place where anybody else can hear. It seems like she should only exist here in his quiet kitchen, just the two of them illuminated by the light over his sink. But he nods anyway.
He walks her to the door even though the door is about ten feet from the table, because it’s the polite thing to do. Henry opens the door but before Paige steps out into the hallway, she turns and tentatively grabs one of his hands in both of hers. Her hand is smooth and cold, a little clammy from gripping her water glass.
“I missed you,” she says.
“I miss them.”
“Yeah. That too.” She offers one more watery smile. Without thinking about it, Henry leans down and hugs her tight. Henry is small for a hockey player, but Paige is just small. She buries her face in his shoulder.
“I’ll see you soon,” she says, muffled.
“I’m sure you will,” he replies, and she goes back out into the night.