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Sugar, Butter, Flour

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Sid’s opening the front awning of the truck when Brian shows up with two paper cups in his hands.

“You bought coffee,” Sid asks and Brian stops five feet away from him. “We make coffee.”

Brian blinks at him and then down at the coffee. “Do you want it or not?”

Sid sighs and lets go of the awning so it floats all the way up then puts his hand out.

Brian smiles happily and holds out a cup.

Sid never regrets quitting the popular chain bakery he worked at for four years in favor of opening up Steel City Sweets or bringing Brian and his newly earned marketing and business degrees with him.

It wasn’t a bad job but Sid was starting to feel stifled by the rules sent down from corporate and while he wouldn’t consider himself old, he certainly wasn’t getting any younger.

Brian was a hard worker. He always came in on time and never had a problem covering someone else’s shift when they called out.

He also had a tendency to complain in the break room about how dumb it was that the store tried to pass off their cookies are freshly baked each morning when the dough actually came in frozen and he always had a problem with them not using real vanilla in their icing.

After Sid dumped most of his savings into buying and renovating a food truck to bring it up to code he and Brian spent most of their free time in Sid’s tiny kitchen compiling and perfecting recipes.

It was on the wrong side of midnight when Sid stopped and looked around the kitchen. Every surface was covered with one of the twelve batches of cookies, four batches of chocolate cupcakes, and the seven versions of the icing. There was still so much work to do.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” he said and Brian had shook his head.

“Nah, man, c’mon. It’s gonna be fine.” He finished off his third beer of the night and leaned against the counter. “Okay, maybe it’s a mistake.”

Sid just dropped his head into his hands and laughed.

 

“I’m just saying,” Brian says as he follows Sid up the steps and into the truck, “we should think about moving up to the university for a few days. We’d make a killing there.”

“It’s midterms isn’t it?”

“Fucking exactly. Everyone gets so stressed and touchy. They need caffeine and sweets. Make like...I don’t know...cookies that look like bottles of beer or joints or something. Chocolate Guinness flavored cupcakes and frosting. I think they’d appreciate that since they’re probably not enjoying the real thing right now.”

“I’m not making a cookie that looks like a joint,” Sid says over his shoulder as he turns on the oven.

“Then at least just go up to the campus. We’ve been in the same spot for months.”

“I like it here,” Sid says and Brian makes some noise about trying new things. “We have regulars.”

“We could have new regulars. Or our old regulars could just follow us. That’s part of the reason why I created all those social media accounts- so people could follow us. Literally. All the other food trucks do it.”

Sid shakes his head and puts a tray of chocolate chip cookies into the oven to warm and starts on the frosting for the cupcakes.

He likes their location now at the entrance to a park downtown.

He likes watching the people pass by on their early morning jogs or walking their dogs or in their suits on their way to work.

Brian is very good at what he does and while he’s sure he could attract a crowd via Twitter posts no matter where they decided to park he doubts he could get eighty year old Mrs. Webb and her eighty two year old husband to make it to the new spot.

Alyssa and Amanda would never change their jogging route to find them in another location because as they say every morning while Sid hands them each a cookie and a cup of coffee, “we’re not even supposed to be eating this.”

He’s a part of their routine just like they’re a part of his.

He’s not willing to change that just for the possibility of better sales.

It makes Brian shake his head and roll his eyes but they’re doing well right here.

There are a lot of reasons to stay where they are and as Sid leans out the front window of the truck to set out the napkins and wooden coffee stirrers he spots reason number one coming into the park.

Sid doesn’t know their names. They’ve never stopped at the truck, never even paused in front of it to consider it, but that doesn’t mean Sid hasn’t noticed them.

The man is tall, around Brian’s height, or maybe just a smidge taller. He’s got mile long legs and lanky arms and when he laughs at something his daughter says to him in a language that Sid cannot understand, he throws his head back and his whole body shakes with it.

His daughter is adorable, all round, flushed cheeks and and long brown hair tied back in a ribbon that matches her outfit or tucked beneath a hat. She jumps in rain puddles collecting in the dips of the pavement on cloudy days or reads from a book that she holds in front of her so her father has to guide her safely through the park with a large hand on the top of her head.

She’s always dressed like she stepped right out of a catalog. Polka dot dresses and brightly colored coats and backpacks with unicorns and lunch boxes with bumblebees.

In the same vein, her father dresses like a model for J. Crew. Expensive and preppy and neatly tailored. Often he’ll match his tie with the ribbon in her hair and Sid’s heart will clench painfully in his chest.

They’re perfect and they’re everything that Sid wants (a love, a partner, a family) that he does not have. He knows it’s wrong, borderline creepy, to spend so much of his time pining over what he doesn’t have and maybe it would be healthier to pack up the truck and move somewhere else but he can’t bring himself to do it.

He doesn’t want to give up on the idea of them yet. Like if he leaves he’ll be finally admitting that he’ll never have that. That he’ll always go home to his empty apartment where he’ll bake for strangers instead of the people that he loves.

Sid sighs and carefully starts writing today’s flavors and designs on the display board while Brian starts the finicky coffee maker.

He hands his hand against the side of it and swears just as the father and daughter walk up the path in front of the truck.

She is wearing red pants with a navy blue floral vest over a striped shirt. She’s talking with her hands as her father nods along. Her hair is gathered back in a neat braid secured by a red ribbon.

He’s wearing a dark suit, black or navy, it’s hard to tell in the changing autumn light but his tie is a thinly striped blue and red pattern, a perfect complement to her outfit.

The man looks up and over at the truck when Brian swears again and Sid ducks his head then snaps “can you not, there are kids around.”

“Sorry,” Brian says again as he slaps the machine again. “But this fu-freakin’ thing never works. Can we invest some money into it, please?”

“We’re already investing money into a new oven and since we’re not even supposed to be selling coffee-.”

Brian rolls his eyes and tips his head back. “I know, I know, but I told you, the coffee brings in money. I’ve already run the numbers.”

“We’ll see how we’re doing at the end of the month,” Sid says and Brian grumbles something under his breath but lets the subject drop.

The man and the girl keep walking hand in hand down the path.

-

Sid watches Brian out of the corner of his eye as he slowly pipes the outline onto the cookie.

His hand shakes just slightly around the top of the maple leaf and Sid wants to micromanage, tell him to lift the bag of icing up and let it fall onto the cookie and not to force it. But he also doesn’t want to put him down. He’s doing a good job and if he keeps trying he’ll be great.

The icing falls off the edge and Brian groans and drops his head to the counter. “Forget it. I suck.”

“You don’t suck,” Sid says as he carefully removes the piping bag from Brian’s hand and slides the tray of cookies over. “It’s a hard skill to learn.”

“But you’re so good at it.”

Sid shrugs. It did come very easy to him when he first started. “You’re good at other things,” Sid concedes and Brian laughs.

“Yeah, okay.”

“I’m serious. You’re better at flavors than I am. I can make things look good but if it tastes like garbage then there’s no point.”

“If you say so,” Brian mumbles but Sid knows he’s secretly pleased.

“Plus you’re really good at frosting the cupcakes,” Sid says.

“And my sprinkle game is on point.”

“Exactly,” Sid laughs as two customers step up to the front of the truck. “Hi,” he says with a friendly smile, “what can I get for you?”

Sidney gets them their coffee and their apple cinnamon muffins with maple glaze. He thanks then when they drop their change into the tip jar that’s set out on the counter. It’s not a lot but every bit counts.

They continue on their way and Sid looks up the path and sees the father daughter duo step into the park, right on time.

She’s dressed fairly casually today. Jeans and fur lined boots with fuzzy pink sweatshirt and a matching hat with little pom poms on the top that looks like ears.

He’s in a dark suit with a tan trench coat. It’s relatively mild out this morning so he has it unfastened and hanging open and Sid can see that he has a baby pink button down beneath his dark blue sweater.

Sid sighs as they walk past. She’s skipping and he’s keeping an easy pace with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets.

She seems to be talking a mile a minute, only pausing to take a deep breath before she starts again. He has an easy smile on his face as he walks silently beside her. When she holds her hand out he slips his out of his pocket and takes it.

Sid’s heart melts.

It’s a reach for both of them and he almost has to stoop down uncomfortably to make it work. He says something to make her laugh and Sid drops his chin into his hand and watches them pass.

“Dude….dude.”

Brian pokes him hard on the side and Sid whips his head around to look at him.

“What are you doing,” Sid asks as he rubs at his side and Brian rolls his eyes.

“What are you doing? You spaced all the way out.” He leans over the counter and looks up the path. “Oh,” he says. “Oh I see now. Is he your type? I never would have thought that he was your type but all right. Good for you.”

“It’s not--that’s not--I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Uh huh, sure,” Brian says sounding completely unconvinced. “I’ve seen him walking by before. Have you been watching him like that the entire time?”

“Don’t you have something to do right now? I think we need more chocolate cupcakes frosted. Add sprinkles. The ones that look like pumpkins.”

“It’s September.”

“That’s pumpkin season. We need to make a pumpkin spice cupcake. I can’t believe we don’t already have one.”

“I can see you’re trying to change the subject and I’m gonna be cool and let it go. For now.”

“Thank you,” Sid says as Brian turns away to start the frosting.

-

“I bet he’s rich.”

Sid looks up from the cookie he’s frosting and scans the empty path in front of the truck.

“Who?”

“The guy you’ve been checking out. I bet he’s rich.”

“Oh, god,” Sid says as he goes back to work. He’s trying to repurpose a snowman cookie cutter into a scarecrow but he can’t quite seem to get it to look right.

“He dresses really nicely,” Brian says, “and so does she. They head that way every morning and the only school over there is that fancy private school that costs like, a hundred grand a year.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

“But it’s expensive. I heard eighty percent of the kids that go there get into Ivy League universities.”

Sid sighs.

“I bet he works in insurance or something. Maybe he’s a lawyer.”

“Maybe,” Sid mumbles. He frowns down at the cookie for a moment before he picks it up and takes a bite. “What does it matter what he does?”

“Well, we have to figure out how much money he makes so we’ll know how much he’ll need to invest in the storefront.”

Sid’s frown deepens.

“Well,” Brian says, drawing the word out, “when you guys get married…”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Sid says and Brian laughs. Sid unties his apron and hangs it on the hook. “I’m going for a walk. You’re on your own for a bit.”

“Aw, c’mon, I’m just kidding. Where are they anyways? You’re going to miss them. They’re running late.”

Sid glances down at his watch. They’re ten minutes late.

“They’re usually here by now, right? I wonder what happened?”

“I don’t know,” Sid says. “But it’s none of my business so—.”

Sid’s cut off by a long wail from further up the path.

The father and daughter are there, he’s holding her unicorn backpack and she has her arms crossed her chest with her back to him. Each time he tries to step around to look at her she twists around so he can’t. When he tries to put her hands on her shoulders to move her she screams her head off and he yanks his hands back.

“Wow,” Brian says and Sid nods.

Strands of her hair as flying loose from her braid and the knot in his tie is sloppily done.

He’s never seen them like this. They’re usually so put together.

The father throws his hands up and starts to continue down the path and she turns around and watches for a moment before she stomps after him. He says something over her shoulder to her and she stops, uncrosses her arms, then suddenly runs ahead of him.

“Nadia,” he yells and starts after her.

She stops in the middle of the path in front of the path and plops down onto the pavement, legs stretched out in front of her.

“Nadia,” he says when he catches up, “ty ne mozhesh' tak sbezhat'.”

Nadia sticks her bottom lip out and refuses to look at him and he rubs his hand over his face.

“What do you want,” he pleads, “what can I do?”

She finally turns her head and stares up at him. Then, she points behind him to the truck and Sid looks away when her father turns around.

“Fine,” Nadia’s father says. “Fine. You have cookie then you get up and go to school.”

She tips her chin up but says nothing and he drops her backpack beside her and walks over to the truck.

Brian gasps and shoves Sid to the center of the counter just as he steps in front.

“Hi,” Nadia’s father says. He looks tired and his eyes are red rimmed. “Having problem. Obviously.”

“She’s got some pipes on her,” Brian says and her father huffs.

“Have no idea. I promise cookie, is probably bad, like bribe.”

“Lots of parents do that,” Sid says.

“You have kids?”

“No, but my parents used to bribe me with jelly beans to get me to brush my teeth.”

“You turn out okay,” he says and Sid nods. “Is just bad day. Have to get her to school. So, cookie.” He smiles down at the frosted cookies in the display and points to the one that’s decorated to look like a happy, grey, tabby cat. “Cat one is cute. How much?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Sid says quickly as he wraps the cookie up in waxed paper. “This seems like its an emergency. You guys are running late anyways, just take it.”

When Sid looks up the guy is looking back with a concerned look on his face and he doesn’t reach out to take the offered cookie.

“You walk by everyday,” Sid says quickly. “I noticed.”

“We notice all the regulars,” Brian says, stepping in quickly to try to help. “We’re parked in the same spot everyday. When the same people walk by everyday it’s hard not to notice.”

“Right, yes,” he says as he takes the cookie from Sid. “Sorry. Bad day,” he adds quietly. “Nadia,” he calls, holding out the cookie and she scrambles to her feet and runs over to snatch it from his hand.

“Cat,” she says and her father pats her on the back.

“What you say,” he says as he tilts his head toward the truck.

Nadia looks up and Sid can see the dried tears on her face.

“Thank you,” she says and Sid smiles down at her.

“You’re welcome. I hope you have a good day.”

She nods and takes a huge bite then smiles up at him. Her father sags in relief.

“Thank you,” he says to Sid. “See you tomorrow?”

“For sure. We’ll be here.”

He gives Sid and Brian a weak smile then holds his hand out for Nadia to take.

She stares at it for a moment then reaches up for it and they continue down the path.

-

The following day Nadia and her father are right on time.

Even though Sid knows there are cracks in their seemingly perfect life, they’ve done an incredible job at hiding them today.

They’re back to being impeccably put together. She’s in a buffalo plaid tunic and he’s in a red and black checkered button down. They’re holding hands and there doesn’t seem to be a tear in sight.

Instead of walking straight past Nadia’s father leads them over to the truck.

“Morning,” he says while Nadia bounces up and down in her brown boots.

“Good morning Mr. Cookie Man!”

It startles a laugh out of Sid and leans over the counter so he can look at her.

“I’m Sid,” he says with a wave.

“Sid,” her father repeats. He puts his hand on Nadia’s head, careful of her ponytail. “This is Nadia. I’m Geno. Think maybe we should introduce ourselves if we see each other every day.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Sid says, “finally. The both of you.” He looks down at Nadia again. “Did you like your cookie,” he asks and she nods her head enthusiastically.

“She ate all of it before she even got to school. Wouldn’t let me have a bite.”

“Would you like to try one today?”

Nadia immediately starts to tug Geno’s coat and Geno huffs.

“We try not to eat so much sugar first thing in the morning,” he says to Nadia. “Makes us have too much energy, yes? Teachers don’t like.”

“She could save it for lunch,” Sid suggests and Nadia tugs even harder at her father’s coat.

“Papa,” she says, “please.”

“No fair,” Geno says, “know I can’t say no to you.” He looks back to Sid. “Can’t say no to you either, I guess. You good salesman and good baker.”

“Oh,” Sid laughs and ducks his head to hide his blush.

Brian, out of sight of Geno and Nadia, puts down the cupcake he’s frosting and gives him a double thumbs up.

“So what’ll it be today,” he asks when he recovers and Geno picks Nadia up so she can clearly see her options.

Today Sid has decorated a cookie to look like a maple leaf in swirling reds and oranges, an acorn with a cute smiling face, and a sunflower with golden petals.

“Flower,” she says then remembers to add “please,” before Geno sets her down.

“Flower it is,” Sid says as he grabs a paper box from under the counter. “Anything for you,” he asks Geno.

“Coffee,” Geno says, “black, small.”

“Is that all?”

“Papa,” Nadia says, “get more.”

“Ah,” Geno says with a shake of his head, “bad idea, you two. Just met and already teaming up against me.” He tugs gently on the end of Nadia’s ponytail then shoots Sid a blinding smile. “What do you suggest?”

Pinned beneath Geno’s bright and open gaze, Sid should be nervous but he’s not. He can do this. He can talk about cakes and cookies and frostings and flavor pairings all day.

“Do you like chocolate,” Sid asks and Geno nods. “Cream cheese frosting?”

Geno nods again.

“Then I’d definitely go for the red velvet. We make it with a really deep, chocolate flavor and the cream cheese frosting isn’t too sweet.”

“Is your favorite?”

“One of them,” Sid says. “I like everything we bake so it’s hard to pick, you know? Brian, my partner, works really hard to get the recipes perfect.”

“Business partner,” Brian clarifies as he leans into Sid’s space and Sid rolls his eyes. “Hey, man,” he says to Geno and then waves at Nadia who looks severely unimpressed.

“There are six Brian’s in my class,” Nadia says to him.

“When I played hockey in college the guys called me Dumo.”

“That’s a funny name,” she laughs and Geno tsks.

“Don’t be rude,” he hisses but Brian waves him off.

“Don’t worry about it. I played hockey, I’ve heard worse.”

Geno says something more to Nadia anyways, too low for Sid to hear before he looks up again.

“You sold me,” Geno tells him. “Cupcake, black coffee, and her cookie.” He pulls out his wallet from his back pocket. “And I pay this time.”

Sid boxes up the cupcake while Brian pours his coffee. Sid puts a napkin beneath the cup before he slides it across the counter to him.

“That’ll be six dollars,” Sid says and Geno hesitates with a twenty in his hand.

Sid doesn’t think their prices are too high. The cookie is hand decorated and the cupcake is jumbo sized. Recently, Brian has been on him about raising the prices but Sid’s been holding his ground. He never wants to overcharge.

Geno gives him the twenty and Sid quickly makes change. As soon as the fourteen dollars are back in Geno’s hand he’s dropping them into the tip jar.

“Thank you,” Sid says, “that’s….thank you.”

“Is no problem. If half as good as Nadia says then is more than worth it.”

“I hope you enjoy it then. The both of you,” Sid says as he waves at Nadia. “I hope you both have a good day.”

“Thank you,” Nadia says but she’s heavily distracted by trying to slide open the tape that’s holding her cookie box together.

“Hey,” Geno says, “for lunch. In backpack now.”

She sighs heavily but turns around so he can unzip her bag. He carefully packs it away so it won’t be crushed then zips it back up again.

“Kids,” Geno says to Sid as he grabs his cupcake and coffee off the counter. “Have to watch every minute. Very sneaky.”

Nadia smiles innocently up at him and Geno sighs.

“But very cute so we keep.” He waves with his coffee cup at Sid and Brian. “Have a nice day, see you tomorrow, yes?”

“We’ll be here,” Sid tells him and Brian has the decency to wait until they’re both out of earshot before shoving at his shoulder and saying “you know, he wasn’t wearing a ring.”

“What?”

“No wedding ring.” Brian holds up his left hand and wiggles his fingers. “He’s not married.”

“He’s--I don’t know, Russian, maybe. Maybe they have different customs with that kind of stuff. I think they might actually wear it on the other hand.”

“Well, he didn’t have a ring on that hand either. I looked.”

“That’s weird.”

“I’m just trying to help you out.”

“There’s nothing to help out. He has a kid. There’s a woman in the picture.”

“You’re jumping to come pretty dangerous conclusions right now. Maybe she’s adopted.”

“She looks exactly like him. She’s not adopted.”

“Maybe he’s bi. Maybe he got a surrogate. Maybe he and Nadia’s mom are separated or divorced.”

“Maybe he’s straight and I’m just a guy that makes cupcakes and cookies.”

“Sid—.”

“I’m not feeling sorry for myself. That’s just the way things are. He’s a customer. Lets just leave it at that, okay?”

“Okay,” Brian says, “all right. He’s just a customer.”

Sid nods and ignores the way Brian is looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

“But he was absolutely, one hundred percent into you, Sid, I swear it.”

Sid groans and drops his head into his hands.

-

Quickly, Nadia and Geno become regular customers.

They don’t always order sweets.

“Monday’s and Friday’s,” Geno had explained to a pouting Nadia, “everyone needs a pick-me-up on Monday’s and a celebration on Friday’s,” but he always orders a black coffee and over tips by a lot each time.

“Do you think he only has big bills on him,” Brian asks Sid when Geno and Nadia continue on their way. “Like maybe twenties are the smallest that he has. Maybe the rest are just fifties and hundreds.”

Sid shrugs.

Geno and Nadia start showing up a bit earlier in the morning so they have time to stop and chat.

Sid learns that Nadia takes dance classes after school and that Geno works in finance for one of the bigger businesses in PPG Place.

Nadia really wants a cat and a dog and Geno is starting to maybe consider adopting a cat from the local shelter.

She’s excited for the ice rink to open up and he’s excited to take her skating.

Weeks pass and the weather gets colder. Nadia wears thick faux fur lined mittens and Geno wraps himself up in wool peacoats and cashmere scarves.

Sid decorates cookies to look like jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and Brian frosts cupcakes with yellow, orange, and white frosting so it looks like a candy corn.

On Halloween, Nadia steps into the park dressed in all black with four fuzzy legs sprouting out of her back on each side and a black, knit hat with giant googly eyes stuck to the front. Her unicorn backpack has been swapped out for a tote with spiderwebs on it.

She turns and says something to Geno who nods and waves her along and she comes sprinting down the path, fuzzy legs wobbling back and forth as she runs.

“Hey, Nadia,” Sid says as she slows to a stop in front of the truck. “I like your costume.”

“I’m a spider,” she yells as she raises her arms. “Papa made it for me.”

“Whoa,” Brian says as Geno steps up beside her. “Geno, you made that?”

“Yes. Can find lots of things on Pinterest. Didn’t even need to sew. She very into bugs lately,” he adds with a shrug.

“A spider isn’t a bug, Papa,” Nadia says like this is the hundredth time she’s had to explain it. “It’s an arachnid.”

“Oh, very sorry, I have to remember.” Geno nods to Brian. “Black coffee, please.”

“Your usual,” Brian says, “coming up.”

“Listen,” Sid says as he leans against the counter, “I know it’s Wednesday but it is a special occasion.”

“Papa,” Nadia says, “can I have a cookie?”

Geno tilts his head back and groans and Sid is met with the long, delicate line of his neck.

He can only hope Brian doesn’t notice him staring.

Geno rolls his head to the side and puts his hand on top of Nadia’s hat, pushing it down over her eyes.

She laughs, pushes it back up, and peeks up at him. “Please, Papa.”

“It is Halloween,” Sid reasons.

“Which means she gets plenty of sweets tonight.”

“But this is now,” Nadia says and Sid points a finger at her.

“She’s right, you know.”

“Awful,” Geno says, “both of you. Already know I am wrapped around her little finger but now you too.” He shakes his head and looks up at Sid through his lashes. “How can I say no?”

Sid swallows around the lump in his throat, unsure if he should answer or what he would even say if he did. Thankfully, Nadia breaks the tension when she asks to be picked up so she can pick out a cookie and Geno laughs.

“Is hard to lift with so many legs,” he says as he gets smacked in the face with two of them.

Nadia, of course, picks out the jet black cat with golden eyes, it’s body curved up like it’s hissing at something.

“Do you want anything,” Sid asks as he boxes up Nadia’s cookie.

Geno sets Nadia down then scans the board that lists out today’s flavors. When he’s done his eyes settle back on Sid. “Think maybe,” Geno says slowly. “Need more time to think.”

“Here’s your coffee,” Brian says, sounding incredibly aware of the moment that he’s breaking as he slides the cup across the counter.

Geno’s eyes flick over to him. “Thank you,” he says as he pulls a ten out of his wallet. Sid doesn’t even bother with making change.

“Here’s your cookie,” Brian says to Nadia as he hands it over to her. “Have a good day at school and have fun trick-or-treating tonight.”

She drops the cookie into her tote bag and smiles up at him. “Thank you, Dumo.” She pulls on Geno’s hand. “Papa, we’re gonna be late.”

“Of course,” Geno says, finally looking away from Sid to smile down at her. “Can’t be late.”

“Don’t forget your coffee,” Sid says, almost darting through the truck window to hold it out to him.

Their fingers brush as Geno reaches back for the cup.

“Thank you,” Geno says softly, “see you tomorrow.”

Sid nods and takes a deep breath when Geno and Nadia continue on.

They’ve been doing this--talking and teasing and borderline flirting for over a month now and Sid still has no idea what Geno’s deal is.

He doesn’t wear a ring.

He never mentions a wife or a girlfriend or partner. He doesn’t bring up Nadia’s mother and Nadia has never said anything either.

“What if he’s a widow,” Sid asks and Brian leans against the back counter beside him. “That would make sense? It could be why he doesn’t mention her at all. It’s too painful to talk about.”

“It’s the saddest option, that’s for sure.”

“I don’t want them to be sad.”

Brian hums. “Nadia seems okay, though. Wouldn’t she be sadder if she lost her mom?”

“Maybe she was too young to remember. Maybe Geno doesn’t bring her up because he doesn’t want to remind her. Okay, hold on, I have to take a step back. What am I doing?”

“You’re justifying your feelings. You like him but you don’t want to like him if there’s no future there. So, if you figure out a way for him to be available you won’t feel bad about having feelings for him.”

“You graduated with a business degree,” Sid says, “where did all that come from?”

“Made it up,” Brian says, “but it sounds like it could be true, doesn’t it? You know you could always just ask him what’s up. He’s a nice guy, I’m sure he wouldn’t be offended.”

Sid laughs humorlessly. “I’m sorry, but, hey Geno, did your wife die is not a sentence that’s going to be coming out of my mouth anytime soon.”

“I’ll do it,” Brian says and Sid shakes his head.

“No, don’t you dare. I don’t want to make things weird. With the amount of money that he leaves us in tips he’s our best customer. I’m not willing to lose that.”

“Okay, I won’t,” Brian assures him. “He does tip really, really well.”

--

It snows in mid-November.

It’s a dusting, the first taste of what winter will bring, but it’s enough to leave footprints on the path and drive up the sales of coffee and hot chocolate, a new item that they’ve been testing out and now, might have to keep.

Both Nadia and Geno are completely bundled up in hats, gloves, and scarves when they stop by. There are flakes clinging to curled ends of Nadia’s hair and Geno’s eyelashes and his lips look very, very red.

“It’s only a little bit of snow,” Sid says and Geno rolls his eyes.

“Cold. Don’t like the cold. Think we maybe we both need hot chocolate.”

“With marshmallows,” Sid asks, “they’re homemade.”

“Of course they are,” Geno says, smiling softly as Nadia hops from foot to foot to keep warm.

“Dumo, we went skating,” Nadia tells him and Brian abandons the hot chocolate in favor of sticking his head out the window to listen to her.

Lately she’s been all about Brian in a way that can only be attributed to a childhood crush.

Sid and Geno share an amused smile as Nadia tells Brian about her new skates and the tree that’s in the middle of the rink and when they’ll be lighting it.

“You ever skate there,” Geno asks Sid as he takes over making their drinks. “Is fun.”

“I haven’t,” Sid says, “but it does look fun.”

It looks like something you’d do on a date or with your family. Sid wouldn’t go alone and that’s all he ever is.

“Should go sometime,” Geno says while Nadia chatters on. “Maybe we see you there.”

It’s not Geno asking him out on a date, Sid knows it’s not, but it’s something. It’s the idea of seeing each other when Sid isn’t hidden inside the truck and they’re not on their way to work and school.

It’s something.

“Maybe sometime,” Sid tells him then adds an extra marshmallow to each their cups.

-

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Geno steps into the park alone with his hands shoved into his pockets and his head down.

“No Nadia today,” Sid says as a hello when Geno stops in front of the truck. “Is she sick?”

Geno shakes his head. “Is school vacation, before Thanksgiving. Have whole week off.”

“It’s nice to have a break,” Sid says as he grabs a cup for Geno’s coffee. “Are you going to take some time off too? Do you have anything planned?”

Geno slides his hand out of his pocket and rubs the back of his neck. “Actually, Nadia is with her mother this week.”

Sid freezes. Beside him Brian holds his breath.

“Oh,” Sid says carefully. “Oh.”

“Part of custody agreement,” Geno continues looking down at the ground as he talks. Brian slaps his hand against Sid’s shoulder then mouths the word divorced as he pumps his fist. “Sveta has her every other weekend and during holidays from school. I have her other time. This is the first holiday so it’s our first time apart for whole week.”

Sid doesn’t know what to say to that. “I’m sorry,” he settles on. “That has to be hard.”

Geno nods. “Sveta is a good mother, I’m know Nadia loves her but she doesn’t like change and is very attached to me. I worry.”

“Of course you do,” Sid says gently and then, because he doesn’t know what else to do adds, “do you want a cupcake?”

“Dude, what the fuck,” Brian urgently whispers to him and Sid rolls his eyes at himself while Geno huffs a laugh.

“Yes, actually. Would love cupcake. What would I like?”

“The banana cream pie is good. Banana cake with banana cream filling in the middle topped with meringue. But the rocky road is really good, too. Chocolate, marshmallows, walnuts…I guess it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.”

Geno sighs then says “both,” and Sid blinks at him.

“Really?”

“Yes,” Geno tells him, “think I need.”

He sounds miserable and Sid is quick to grab two boxes. “Of course, no problem.” Sid’s eaten more than his fair share of cakes and cookies when he’s been feeling low. He doesn’t have room to judge. “Do you want your coffee too?”

“Sure,” Geno says quietly and Brian quickly steps behind Sid to pour the coffee.

Geno hands over a twenty then stands there and Sid’s not sure what to do so he starts making change.

“No,” Geno says, waving him off. “Is okay. You can keep. I’m just…” He sighs and stacks the boxes on top of each other so he can cradle them in one hand and hold the coffee with the other. “See you tomorrow.”

“For sure,” Sid says, feeling helpless as Geno hangs his head and turns away.

“So,” Brian says and Sid takes his focus off the sad hunch of Geno’s shoulders to look at him. “Divorced.”

“Yup.”

“Now you know what his deal is. He’s definitely single.”

“I can’t believe you’re thinking about that right now. You saw how devastated he was.”

“Yeah, about missing Nadia, not about his divorce.”

“You don’t know that that’s not part of it, too. He’s clearly emotional right now. Even if I wanted to--.”

“Oh, you definitely want to.”

“I couldn’t do anything about it. I just have to, I don’t know, be here for him. Be a good friend, if that’s what we even are. At the very least I have to be the guy that sells him coffee and cupcakes. This doesn’t change anything.”

Sid turns his attention to the new customers that have stepped up to the window and ignores Brian when he mumbles “it changes everything,” under his breath.

--

Geno doesn’t look any better the following day.

He walks with his head down and no matter how hard Sid and Brian try to engage him in small talk about the weather or the Pens game last night he gives them simple, monotone answers in return.

Geno always buys a cupcake-whichever one Sid tells him he’ll like--and his usual black coffee before he continues on his way.

It’s sad to watch. Sid misses Nadia himself, and he can’t even begin to imagine what Geno is feeling.

It’s a worry that he takes home with him, chewing at his bottom lip as he tests out a new gingerbread recipe in preparation for the holidays. There’s too much cinnamon and not enough nutmeg and he’ll probably need Brian’s input before they’re perfect but it’s getting close.

He puts a full sheet in the oven and sets the timer before he starts filling piping bags and squeeze bottles with white and red frosting.

Carefully, he outlines the Santa cut-out then he picks up the bottles and floods between the lines and his mind begins to wander.

He thinks about Geno sitting alone in his quiet apartment, missing his daughter.

Then he thinks about the alternative. Geno out on the town with his friends, trying anything to keep his mind off the loneliness. They could all go out to dinner together, or maybe get drinks at a club. He thinks about Geno in the middle of a crowded dance floor with the music thumping through his veins. His hands on someone’s hips, their bodies slotted together as they move.

Sid’s hand slips and the red frosting spills over into the white and Sid curses and sets the squeeze bottle down.

“Shit,” he says to his empty apartment. He sits down heavily at the kitchen table and takes a huge bite out of the ruined cookie.

He’s going to have to do something to fix this.

The following morning, after packaging up Geno’s caramel mocha cupcake, he holds the box just out of Geno’s reach.

“Hey, listen, if you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here.”

Geno’s eyebrows knit together. “Talk?”

“You seem so sad lately,” Sid says and Geno looks down and away. “I don’t know, I just want you to know you’re not alone even if you feel that way. I’m here.”

When Geno looks back up there’s embarrassment written all over his face. “Thank you,” he says quietly as he takes the box from Sid. “Means a lot.”

“Well,” Sid says to Brian as Geno walks away, “that’s the last time we’ll see him. I made it weird.”

Brian sighs. “You were trying to do the right thing.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have just minded my own business.”

“Sometimes,” Brian says as he pats Sid on the back, “you just can’t.”

Brian heads home early that afternoon.

He has to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner and Sid doesn’t expect there to be much of a rush later in the day.

He’s also not expecting to see Geno headed down the path toward him a little after four thirty.

The sun already hanging low in the sky and the lights that line the path have turned on, casting Geno in a golden glow as he steps up to the truck.

“You say talk,” Geno asks, “listen?”

“Yeah, for sure, absolutely.”

“You have time now?” Geno shakes his head. “No, working.”

“I could close up,” Sid says. “We’re pretty much sold out anyways and I already sent Brian home. I just have to be out of the park by five. Maybe we could--.” Sid says “get coffee,” at the same time Geno says “have dinner,” and they both stop and stare at each other.

“Dinner,” Sid says quickly, “dinner would be nice. I have to stop at home and change. Do you want to meet around six, six thirty?”

Geno nods. “Six thirty is good.” He gives Sid the name of a restaurant that’s a little out of Sid’s usual price range but he can swing it for one night.

“I’ll meet you there,” Sid tells him and Geno regards him with a long look.

“Thank you,” he says and Sid shakes his head.

“I haven’t even done anything.”

Geno smiles, just a barely there tug at the corner of his lips. “That’s what you think.”

--

Sid’s palms feel a little clammy as he follows the hostess back through the restaurant.

He rubs them against his jeans and pulls at the hem of his sweater. Maybe he should have worn something dressier, like a button down and slacks. There’s no dress code at this restaurant, it’s not that high end, and as he looks around he sees several people in t-shirts and sweatshirts. Still, he can’t help but feel a little out of place especially when he sees Geno still dressed in the suit that he wore to work.

Geno smiles and stands when Sid gets close to the table and his hands flex at his sides like he’s not sure what to do with them.

He points at Sid. “Legs,” he says and Sid immediately looks down, thinking something has splashed onto his jeans without him noticing. “Always in truck,” Geno continues, “never see.”

“Oh,” Sid says with a laugh. “Yeah. Sorry they’re not, you know…” He gestures to Geno’s mile long legs.

“Look good,” Geno says then gestures to the chair on the other side of the small, two person table. “I order wine, hope is okay.”

“That’s fine,” Sid tells him he reaches for the glass on his side of the table. It’s a miracle it doesn’t slip right out of his hand. “Have you been here before?”

“Few times. Not very kid friendly so don’t go much. Usually for work meetings. You?”

Sid laughs as he picks up the menu, eyes immediately falling to the prices. “No. It’s a little bit fancier than I’m used to.”

When he looks over the top of the menu Geno is looking back at him, eyes wide.

“Can go somewhere else,” he says and Sid puts the menu down and shakes his head no.

“No, this is great. It’s nice to get out every once in a while. Treat myself. It’s great,” he repeats seriously. “I’m glad you picked this place.”

“I’m glad you say yes. Was it so obvious I look pathetic?”

“It wasn’t that,” Sid says. He reaches across the table for Geno’s hand but stop himself halfway. “You’re just always so happy and fun, I didn’t like seeing you looking sad.”

“Didn’t like feeling it. Don’t like feeling it,” he corrects softly but slaps on a smile when the waitress returns with their wine. Geno thanks her then defers to Sid when she asks if they’re like to start with an appetizer.

“Anything you want,” Geno says, “I eat.”

Sid scrambles as he scans the menu. Words run together with prices and at thirteen dollars, the most affordable thing is candied cherrywood bacon that Sid hopes is as good as it sounds.

“Fancy bacon,” Geno says with a grin once the waitress leaves. “Appetizers I get are usually onion rings or french fries. Nadia eats three and I have to eat rest.”

“I just eat all of them myself,” Sid tells him. “Between that and all the cookies and cupcakes I bake I had to join a gym.”

“I know I gain weight since we started stopping at your truck. Too scared to get on scale to see but I know. Can feel it when I put on pants.”

They both laugh and it feels nice to help Geno forget his worries even for a little while. It doesn’t last for long, though, and all too soon the smile drops off Geno’s face and worry and melancholy sink back into his features.

“Most of my friends--coworkers,” Geno amends because apparently there’s a difference, “they divorced too. They think splitting time like this is normal. They used to not seeing their kids. They say I’ll get used to it too but I don’t want to. Always going to miss, you know, that’s my whole world. How am I ever going to be okay being away from her?”

Sid doesn’t have an answer for that. He doesn't think there is one. “Could you maybe renegotiate the terms a little bit?”

Geno shakes his head. “We take forever just to get here. Was long fight. I’m lucky I get to have her so much now. If she not in school maybe she’s with Sveta full time and I only get on weekends and holidays. You know first time we meet, Nadia has huge meltdown? I hear back from lawyer that morning. I tell her she’ll be spending more time with her mother and she gets so upset. She’s better now but I can tell she doesn’t like going back and forth.”

Sid winces. He doesn’t want to say this but it is another option. “Is it possible that you and your ex could get back together?”

“No,” Geno says, loud and definite. “No way. Divorce was finalized way back in spring.”

“People come back from that,” Sid says gently. “People are apart for years and then get back together.”

“She meet someone else,” Geno says and Sid’s stomach drops. “Older, richer. Together before we even break up.”

“Fuck,” Sid swears softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No,” Geno says faintly, “couldn’t have. I think is maybe my fault. Get married so young, have Nadia young. I get job in America, she has to come with. She don’t know anyone here, English is hard, I work a lot, Nadia is at school….” He trails off and shrugs. “She get bored. Don’t blame her. He has a vacation house in Miami. Always somewhere warm to go. I have Pittsburgh. Hard to compete.”

Sid doesn’t think there’s any way that could be true. Geno is sweet and funny and devoted and Sid can’t imagine anyone ever wanting more. But he can’t exactly say all that.

“Pittsburgh is nice,” Sid says instead and that seems to startle a laugh out of Geno.

“Yes, I like too. Football, hockey, baseball, lots of museums. Good food,” he says as the waitress sets their appetizer down in the center of the table. Geno picks up his wine glass and holds it up to Sid. “Best food trucks.”

Sid blushes and reaches for his own glass.

Things aren’t as heavy after that.

They place their orders for dinner and eat their candied bacon and Geno asks him questions about how he got into baking.

“My grandmother,” Sid tells him, momentarily distracted by the way Geno is licking brown sugar off his thumb. “We used to bake together all the time. It was really the only thing I ever wanted to do.”

“You always want truck?”

Sid shakes his head. “I never really even considered it until I was actually doing it, you know? I needed a job, I wanted to bake, storefronts were too expensive and risky so I bought a truck. Still expensive and risky but more manageable, I guess. We’re doing okay.”

“Should raise prices.”

“That’s what Brian says,” Sid tells him and Geno hums. “I don’t want to do that. We have regulars and if we raised the prices--.”

“They would continue to come. You put so much work into your food and you sell it for nothing. This is business, Sid. Have to do what’s best for you even if sometimes it’s hard.”

“I’ll think about it,” Sid tells him and Geno holds up his hands in surrender.

“You make me and Brian very happy if you do.”

By the time their meals arrive Sid has turned the tables and pinning Geno with questions about his past.

Geno tells him about college and his parents and how he thought he was going to play hockey when he was younger.

“Didn’t pan out,” he says simply. He doesn’t seem too haunted by it.

Sid’s careful not to ask any questions that could get him talking about his ex but he does learn about Nadia’s first word and where she took her first steps or how he watched hours and hours of YouTube videos so he could figure out how to braid hair.

“Am best at fishtail,” he says proudly, “take time but I figure out.”

“I used to braid my sister’s hair when we were little. I was terrible at it.”

“Well maybe I teach you sometime,” Geno teases. “You learn from best.”

They linger over dessert and coffee. Sid will probably be up all night from the sugar and the caffeine but he imagines he’d be up anyways thinking about the way Geno’s knee has been pressed against his own beneath the table.

When the check comes Geno grabs it before Sid even has a chance to move.

“You can’t pay for the whole bill,” Sid tells him but Geno ignores him and slides his card into the pocket.

“I ask you to dinner. You pay next time, okay?”

Sid nods dumbly then picks a fight with him about letting him leave the tip. Sid loses and Geno looks incredibly smug.

Sid parked in the garage the next block over and Geno insists on walking with him.

They both have their hands jammed into their pockets but their elbows and shoulders brush as they walk side by side.

“This was fun,” Sid says as they approach the entrance of the garage. “I had fun.”

Geno hums. “Me too. Was what I needed. It really helped.” He steps in front of Sid and looks down at him. “You helped a lot. Good friend,” he says, “good person.”

He puts one hand on Sid’s shoulder and leans down and presses his lips to Sid’s cheek.

“Have a good night,” he says when he pulls back. “Drive safe.”

Then his hand is gone from Sid’s shoulder and it’s shoved back in his pocket. He slips past Sid and heads back down the sidewalk.

Sid watches him go until he’s out of sight, his cheek warm where Geno’s lips were and his heart full.

--

“And then he kissed you.”

“On the cheek. It was very European. Friendly. I don’t know.”

“But you went out to dinner first? And he paid?”

“Yes.” Sid’s on what feels like his hundredth lap around his small kitchen, phone pressed to his ear, feet bare. He lasted only five minutes once he got back to his place before he caved and called Brian for advice. “He said I could pay next time.”

“That’s a date move. That’s saying they’ll be another date.”

“It could just be friends.”

“Friends split the bill. Friends get separate checks. This was a date.”

“But—.”

“Sid. He kissed you.”

“My cheek. Why wouldn’t he actually kiss me?”

“Maybe he doesn’t kiss on the first date. Maybe he’s traditional.”

“He didn’t ask for my number. Wouldn’t he have asked for my number?”

“No, not necessarily. It’s not like he doesn’t know where to find you.”

Sid stops pacing and leans heavily on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. “My stomach hurts.”

“Was it the food because I’ve always wanted to try that place.”

“I think I’m just freaking out.”

“Over what? This is a good thing.”

Sid takes a deep breath. “I don’t think he’s ever been with a guy before.”

“What?”

“He said he got married young and I don’t think he’d have time to date while he was getting divorced and raising Nadia. We talked a lot but he never mentioned anything about liking guys.”

“So do you think he’s having some kind of identity crisis?”

“I don’t know.” Sid pulls the chair out from the table and sits down heavily. “I guess I just have to play it by ear. If he has to go slow then we’ll go slow. If that’s even what this is.”

“Well, that was definitely a date. I don’t care if he’s been with guys before or not. A date is a date. Did you have fun?”

Sid sighs dreamily and props his chin in his hand. “Yes. I really like him. A lot.”

“Aww,” Brian says and Sid rolls his eyes. “I’m happy you’re happy, man. Listen, I have to go, I’m right in the middle of brining the turkey. You’re still coming tomorrow, right?”

“I’ll be there.”

“With the caramel bourbon cupcakes?”

“I’m going to start working on them now. I took the butter out of the freezer to soften before I left.”

“Awesome. Wanna show up around noon? We’re pregaming with that weird alcohol Olli brought back from Finland. It’ll either do nothing or it’ll get us all so drunk we won’t even eat dinner. Either way it’ll be a good time.”

“Noon is fine. See you then.”

“See ya,” Brian says before he hangs up.

Sid pushes himself up and walks over to his stand mixer. His head still spinning for the nights events and the possibility of where they could lead but as soon as he starts to measure out the flour, baking powder, and salt everything goes quiet.

-

Sid’s been going to Brian’s place for Friendsgiving for a few years now.

It’s too expensive for Brian to fly home and American Thanksgiving doesn’t warrant a trip home to Cole Harbour for Sid. It all works out. He likes hanging out with Brian and his college buddies. Sid doesn’t have much in common with them but he gets along with Olli, the quiet guy from Finland, well enough and he can’t find a bad thing to say about the rest of the guys.

It’s a good group and when Sid opens the door to Brian’s apartment with two dozen cupcakes he’s met with semi drunken cheers.

“Cupcakes,” Justin shouts from the couch. “Hey, Sid.” He doesn’t look up from the screen as he hits the buttons on the game controller in his hand. Beside him Chad knocks their shoulders together, trying to send Justin’s cart off the track. “Knock it off,” Justin says, then, “can I have a cupcake?”

Sid sets the containers down on the coffee table in front of them and Justin holds his hand out, still pressing buttons with the other.

“How’s your leg,” Sid asks him as he hands over a cupcake.

“It’s good,” Justin says as he takes a big bite. Sid’s pretty sure he’s got some of the wrapper in there. “Got the cast off last month. These are amazing. Can I have another?” He still has more than half to go but Sid nods anyways.

“Knock yourself out,” Sid tells him as Chad leans forward to grab one.

Sid leaves them to it and goes to find Brian.

He’s in the kitchen snapping off the end of green beans as he frowns down at the cookbook in front of him.

Olli is sitting at the table talking in Finnish with the guy beside him. There are carrots and peelers on cutting boards in front of them but neither of them look like they’re going to be doing any work anytime soon.

“Hey,” Brian says, eyes flicking off the page to look at Sid before they slide back down.

Olli stops talking and waves. “Hey, Sid. This is Juuso,” he says, nodding to the guy beside him. “He just moved here.”

“Now you don’t have to speak English all the time,” Sid says with a smile as he reaches over the table to shake Juuso’s hand.

Olli smiles back. “It’s nice.”

“There are cupcakes out in the living—.”

Sid doesn’t get the rest of the sentence out before Olli and Juuso are up and out of the kitchen, Olli patting Sid’s shoulder as he goes.

“Hey!” Brian yells after them, “what about the carrots?”

“Do you need help,” Sid asks, already taking Olli’s spot at the table.

“Peel and then chop into two inch pieces, please.”

Sid nods and gets to work.

He’s three carrots in when he hears a knock on the front door.

“Who are you expecting,” he asks Brian. “Who knocks?”

Brian stares down at the cookbook like it’s the most interesting thing in the world and Sid hears footsteps from the living room and then the front door opening and then—“looking for Brian,” in a thick Russian accent then “nice, you brought beer.”

Sid whips around to stare at Brian.

“Brian,” he hisses and Brian hums and picks up the salt shaker. “Brian. What the fuck?”

“What?”

Sid throws his hands up. “You invited Geno? How’d you even get in contact with him? How do you have his number and I don’t?”

“I don’t have his number. He followed the truck’s Instagram account about a month ago so I messaged him and asked if he had plans today. He didn’t so now he’s here with beer apparently.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to stress you out about it. You probably would have changed your outfit a million times and tried to do something with too much gel with your hair. That’s not what Friendsgiving is about. It’s about shoving your face with food. You know the first thing he asked me was if you were going to be here, too,”

“Brian, this is not—wait, really?”

Brian nods. “Can you go greet him?” He sticks his hands into the bowl to mix the green beans. “My hands are a little full.”

Sid wipes his hands on the dish towel and stands up.

“Go get him,” Brian says giving him a double thumbs up with both hands.

Sid rolls his eyes then takes a deep breath and heads into the living room.

Geno is in dark wash jeans and a charcoal grey peacoat. He has a case of beer tucked under his arm and he looks a little unsure in the face of strangers.

“Geno,” Sid says and Geno looks over to him, a smile spreading across his face. “Hi.”

“Hi, Sid,” Geno says. “Not know what to bring, cooking not so great, knew you would have dessert so I bring beer.”

“We could always use more of that. Did you meet the guys?”

Geno nods to the guys. Chad and Justin have gone back to their video game and Juuso and Olli are betting on who is going to win.

“I can take your coat,” Sid tells Geno and Geno sets beer down on the edge of the coffee table and slides the coat off his shoulders.

“You look nice,” Sid tells him. Geno looks comfortable and casual and warm and all Sid wants to do is step into the circle of his arms and bury his face in the soft skin of his neck.

“Look nice, too,” Geno tells him and Sid actually laughs as he hangs Geno’s coat on the hook by the door.

He really doesn’t. He’s in his oldest and most broken in pair of jeans that he knows will give and stretch if he eats too much and a hoodie that’s been washed so many times it’s a miracle he hasn’t poked his finger through the thin fabric yet.

“I don’t, but thank you. Brian is in the kitchen if you want to say hi. Hopefully there’ll be room in the fridge for the beer.”

He waves Geno back through the apartment toward the kitchen where Brian is sliding the sheet tray of green beans into the oven alongside the turkey.

“Geno,” he says when he straightens up. “Glad you could make it.”

“Thank you for inviting me. Brought beer.”

“You’re invited to everything from now on. I think you’ll be able to fit it in the fridge. You might have to take it out of the box and wedge the cans in there. After you can peel some potatoes and Sid still has to finish peeling the carrots. Then I have to work on the stuffing and hope that my cranberry sauce has set.”

“I don’t know why you go through all this,” Sid says as he opens up the fridge. It’s packed but he thinks he can see a few spots to stick a few cans. “Just buy a box of instant mashed potatoes and stuffing and canned cranberry sauce and call it a day.”

Brian scoffs. “I would never. I mean, it’s fine if you’re in a hurry or it’s just a regular day but for a holiday? No shortcuts.”

“I like cranberry sauce from can,” Geno says as he crouches down across from Sid in front of the open fridge. He opens the case of beer and hands a can to Sid. His eyes are bright and his tongue is pushed against his cheek. “With little ridges from can on it. Is good.”

“I like how it all slides out in one piece,” Sid says and Geno ducks his head and laughs.

Brian heaves a sigh. “You know what,” he says as he yanks a bowl down from the cabinet, “you two are perfect for each other.”

Geno stops laughing but when he picks his head up his cheeks are dotted pink and he’s still smiling.

Sid smiles back and he takes another offered can.

They get about half of them in the fridge, most of them going in the vegetable crisper after Brian makes room by taking out a bag of onions and a box of button mushrooms.

“Next year I’m buying one of those big, styrofoam coolers to put the beer in. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that until right now.”

“You’ve got a lot going on,” Sid points out. There are pots bubbling on the stove and the cutting board in front of Brian is filled with vegetable scraps. “If I was a better cook I’d be able to help you out more.”

“You not a good cook,” Geno asks as he takes the bag of potatoes from Brian. He sits down next to Sid at the table. “So good at baking.”

“It’s different,” Sid tells him. “I can cook, I mean, I can take care of myself but it’s not my favorite thing to do. There are rules when you bake. Steps you have to follow. If you don’t put in the exact amount of sugar or baking soda or cocoa powder it’s not going to come out right. If I can get a recipe perfect one time it’ll be perfect every single time after that as long as I follow the instructions exactly. I like that.”

“Sid thinks cooking is too chaotic,” Brian says.

“It’s not that it’s too chaotic. There are just too many variables, I guess. I mean, sure, there’s more wiggle room and you can substitute ingredients more freely depending on what you have or what you can find or what your tastes are but I feel like that’s more room for things to go wrong.”

“It’s more room for things to go right,” Brian argues. “Cooking is way more forgiving. If I add too much salt to something I can balance it out with cream or brown sugar or something.”

“I like knowing not to add too much salt because the perfect amount is already written down for me in the recipe. If I do something exactly the same way each and every time I know it’s going to come out perfect.” Sid glances over at Geno sheepishly. “Maybe I’m a little boring--.”

“No,” Geno says quickly and puts his hand on Sid’s arm. “Not boring. You like knowing things will turn out good. It’s smart and nice, not boring.” He squeezes Sid’s arm and then is slow to take his hand away.

When he does Sid looks up at Brian who is looking very pointendly at Sid’s arm with his eyebrow raised.

When they get done with their tasks Brian kicks them both out of the kitchen.

“You’ll just be in my way,” he says, looking slightly frazzled with gravy splattered on his apron. “I’ll call you all when it’s ready.”

They let themselves be pushed out into the livingroom and join the rest of the guys who are arguing over watching the National Dog Show or the Saints-Falcons game.

It’s split down the middle. Olli and Justin want dogs and Juuso and Chad want to watch the game.

“Sid. Geno,” Justin says, “what’s your vote?”

Geno looks to Sid. “Dogs,” Sid says and Geno immediately nods.

“Four against two,” Justin says as he plucks the remote from Chad’s hand. “We’re watching the dog show. Move over.”

Chad and Justin slide down to one end of the couch to make room. There’s really not enough of it for Sid and Geno to both fit comfortably but that doesn’t stop Geno from squeezing in beside him.

They jostle for space, knocking their shoulders into each other, until Geno finally lifts his arm and lays it against the back of the couch to make more room.

“Okay,” Geno asks as Sid settles into his side. “Comfortable?”

“Mmmhmm,” Sid hums. “I’m good.”

On the screen the herding group takes their turn around the ring as Sid presses their knees together on the couch.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sid can see Geno try to hide his smile.

Brian calls them in for dinner right before Best In Show is awarded.

He’s ignored until the whippet is announced as the winner and the guys all get up and file into the kitchen.

“I think the corgi should have won,” Justin says. “He was robbed.”

Brian has everything set up buffet style in the kitchen and the guys grab their plates and form a line, grabbing a now cold beer out of the fridge as they go.

Geno takes a conservative amount of everything until he looks around at everyone else's plates piled high with turkey and mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables and takes a little more.

“Should have worn stretchier pants,” he whispers to Sid.

“I almost wore sweatpants,” Sid tells him and Geno laughs.

They eat in the living room in front of the TV. Olli and Juuso sit on the couch, balancing their plates on the arms and the rest of them sit on the floor around the coffee table.

Geno seems to relax as the meal progresses, happy to eat and listen to the guys bullshit with each other.

He tenses, just a bit, when the focus turns to him but he eases into it, answering their questions about what he does for a living and where he went to school.

The guys seem impressed and Geno puffs up with pride, and shoots Sid a pleased, little smile that Sid returns in kind.

The conversation ebbs and flows from there. Some of the guys wander back into the kitchen for seconds and then thirds and by the time they’re officially done with dinner Geno is stretched out beside Sid, back against the couch and long legs tucked under the coffee table.

They make dessert out of the remaining cupcakes, complaining about how full they are between bites.

There’s a lull in the conversation when Geno’s phone buzzes in his pocket but he apologizes like he just interrupted a deep discussion.

He frowns at the screen then taps out a response and Sid knocks their shoulders together.

“Is everything okay,” he asks and Geno nods but doesn’t look up.

“It’s Sveta. It’s okay.”

“Is that your girlfriend,” Chad asks and Geno shakes his head.

“Ex wife,” he says, “she has our daughter for the week.”

“You have a kid?”

Geno grins and holds out his phone. Nadia is his lockscreen. She’s smiling in front of a fish tank at the aquarium clutching a stuffed polar bear in her arms. She’s missing one of her front teeth.

“She’ll be six next month,” Geno says as the guys lean into look and tell him how cute she is. He nods and his smile gets impossibly wider. “Perfect,” he tells them then adds, “don’t have a girlfriend.”

“You could though,” Justin says, “you’ve got a great job and a cute kid. Girls love that.”

Geno shrugs as Brian shoots a confused Justin a dirty look.

“Is it hard to date when you have a kid,” Olli asks and Geno nods.

“Yes,” he says. “Have to be very picky. Have to pick someone that likes Nadia and Nadia likes back. Have to understand that she’s most important and always will be. Have to understand that sometimes dates might get cancelled or she comes too. Is not just meeting someone, is making a family,” he says quietly. “When I first get divorced I think maybe that’s it, just me and Nadia and that’s fine. Now…” He trails off and shakes his head. “Think maybe I meet the right person…” Beneath the coffee table Geno gently presses his ankle to Sid’s. “Maybe dating would be nice.”

“To dating,” Olli slurs as he picks up his nearly empty beer.

“To meeting the right person,” Brian says evenly and Geno picks up his beer, turns to Sid, taps their cans together, then takes a sip.

--

“So, you’re definitely dating.”

“Yeah.”

“Like, one hundred perfect.”

“Yup.”

“When he was talking about finding the right person to date he never used pronouns. He kept saying person.” Brian punches Sid’s shoulder, fist wet and soapy from the dishwater. “That person is you, man.”

Sid cracks a smile as he hands Brian another plate. “Yeah.”

“Yes!” Brian crows and Sid shushes him. It’s late and the guys are in the other room, dozing. Hungover from too much beer and turkey.

Sid’s a little surprised Geno is still out there as well but it’s either this or going home to an empty apartment.

“Sorry,” Brian says as he picks up the sponge and cleans off the plate. “I’m just happy for you.” He sobers. “Are you going to be okay with taking is slow? Geno sounds like he wants to take it really slow.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you know, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to be jumping his bones anytime soon.”

Sid barks a laugh. “What are you talking about?”

Brian shoves him and laughs back. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. I see how you look at him, all heart eyes and dopey smile but I know what you’re really thinking about. You want to climb that.”

“You’re drunk,” Sid tells him, blushing and warm all over. He’s a little bit drunk himself but not nearly enough to be talking about this.

“I know keeping it in your pants for a bit will be hard, literally--.”

“Okay,” Sid says, cutting him off as Brian dissolves into helpless giggles. “You know what, you can finish the dishes on your own.”

“Oh, c’mon, Sid,” Brian says between fits and Sid drops the dish towel to the counter and backs away.

“Sorry, but you blew it.”

“Unlike you,” Brian says in front of a burst of laughter so severe he has to hold himself up against the counter.

“Ha, ha,” Sid says dryly and turns toward the door just as Geno is coming through it.

“Oh, sorry Sid,” Geno says, holding Sid by the elbows to keep him steady. “Didn’t see.”

“It’s okay,” Sid says. His face is flushed from the conversation with Brian and the heat of Geno’s hands seeping through his sweatshirt. “I wasn’t looking where I was going. What’s up?”

“Think I’m gonna go,” Geno says as he lets go of Sid. “Little bit late.”

“Oh, okay, sure. You’re okay to drive?”

“Yes,” Geno says with a laugh. “Russian. Take more than a few beers.”

“I don’t think your nationality has anything to do with not getting drunk.”

“Big then,” Geno says and Brian blows out an exasperated breath behind them. “Tall,” Geno re-words and Brian hangs his head. “Am fine. Don’t worry.” He smiles at Sid then looks behind him to Brian. “Thank you for inviting me. Means a lot. Had fun.”

“Yeah, no problem, bud. Thanks for coming. Thanks for the beer.”

Geno smiles then looks back to Sid.

“I’ll walk you to the door,” Sid says and Geno holds his arm out to let Sid go through the door first. He puts his hand on the small of Sid’s back as soon as Sid steps in front of him and he keeps it there until they get to the front door.

Geno says goodbye to the guys as he pulls on his coat.

“You should text me,” Sid says. He rubs his hand on the back of his neck and looks down at his feet. “When you get home. So I know for sure you’re okay.”

“I text you if you text me,” Geno says. He pulls out his phone and Sid rattled of his number. When he’s done Geno bites his bottom lip and taps the screen. A moment later Sid feels his phone vibrate in his back pocket. “There. Now you have mine. Can text me too.”

“I will,” Sid promises.

Geno glances over to the rest of the guys then back at Sid. Sid can tell he wants to do something, but not with an audience.

He keeps his hands in his pockets and distance between them but his eyes are warm and fond as he softly wishes Sid a goodnight before leaving.

Sid closes the door behind him then pulls out his phone so he can add Geno’s number to his contacts.

Dinner tomorrow? is the text Geno had sent to him and Sid presses his phone briefly to his heart before he texts back.

 

The following evening Geno meets Sid at a taco place on the South Side.

They had set up a time and place when Geno sent a follow up text letting Sid know that he made it home safely. Geno was insistent that Sid chose the place this time and it’s honestly a bit of a dive but Sid’s never had a bad meal there and Sid’s feeling confident in his decision until they grab a table and sit down.

He had forgotten how small this place was and how close they’ll have to sit, squeezed together at a tiny table by the window with very little elbow room.

“Sorry,” Sid says with the tenth time when he jams his elbow into Geno’s arm as he looks over the menu.

“Don’t worry,” Geno tells him then seems to lean into the situation, hooking his foot around the rung on Sid’s chair and pulling him a little closer until Sid’s basically tucked up under his arm. “I like.”

“You like me elbowing you every two minutes?”

“Like you close,” Geno says, “now tell me what to order. Never been here before.”

They order margaritas and nachos and Sid’s a little surprised when Geno orders the spiciest tacos on the menu.

“Can handle it,” he tells Sid as he goes in for another chip covered in cheese and sour cream.

“Okay,” Sid says, “but I don’t want to see any tears.”

Geno doesn’t cry when he takes his first bite of dinner but it’s a near thing. His eyes start to water and Sid pats him on the back and tries not to laugh as Geno downs the rest of his margarita then licks the salt off the rim like it’s going to help.

“Not funny,” Geno says, “should have warned me.”

“The little S next on the menu means spicy. You knew.”

“This is more than spicy. This is fire.”

Sid laughs and rubs his back then offers up his own margarita for Geno to drink.

Geno’s taste buds either go numb from the heat or they grow accustomed to it because he easily cleans his plate then orders them another round of drinks.

“Have question,” Geno asks as he leans back in his chair and watches Sid tuck filling that’s spilled out of his taco back into the tortilla. “Can say no if you want, no big deal.”

Sid nods cooly but his mind races with the possibility of what Geno could say next.

“Nadia’s birthday is in a few weeks,” Geno continues and Sid nods.

“You mentioned that last night. She’ll be six, right?”

Geno smiles. “Yes. So big so fast. Can’t believe.” He looks away, a little wistful at how much she’s grown then sighs. “Anyways, birthday party is on my weekend so I have to plan party for all her classmates. Was wondering if you ever do parties?”

“Do you mean like catering,” Sid asks and Geno nods.

“Yes, catering. You ever do that?”

“We haven’t. It’s just been us selling out of the truck. You want us to cater Nadia’s party?”

“Yes. Already know you are amazing baker so I know rest of kids will love what you make. I know is a lot to ask but I’ll pay you. What you deserve,” he adds quickly. “You charge too little.”

“I’ll have to ask Brian,” Sid says and Geno nods.

“Of course. Decision for both of you. I mean it,” he says as he covers Sid’s hand with his own. “No pressure. Okay if you say no. Just wanted to ask. Now,” he says as he plucks the dessert menu from where it’s wedged between the salt and pepper shakers, “you want dessert?”

--

“Oh, we’re for sure doing that.”

“That’s what I figured you’d say.”

Sid has kept the majority of the details about the date (including the way it ended- with yet another cheek kiss) to himself but he had to tell Brian about Geno’s offer.

“What’s the downside,” Brian asks.

“We’re not caterers.”

“Who says? I mean, we weren’t exactly bakers until we bought this truck. We can be whatever we want to be as soon as we decide to be it. I don’t see the problem with a little extra business. How many kids are going to be there, fifteen, twenty? That means twenty parents-rich parents- are going to be super impressed with what we bake and they’ll want to hire us for their own kids party. It’s easy money, Sid. We could get a coffee maker that actually works.” He grabs Sid’s arm in excitement. “We could start investing in a storefront. We could hire more employees, we could ship out product across the country, we could have the truck and a catering business and--.”

“You need to calm down,” Sid says. “It’s a birthday party for a six year old. You’re getting ahead of yourself.”

“Today it’s a party for a six year old, tomorrow...who knows? What’s with the hesitation?”

“We’ll have to go to Geno’s place.”

Brian blinks at him. “Yeah, so? Play your cards right and eventually it’ll be your place too. We can scope it out.”

“Now you’re really getting ahead of yourself. It’s just…” He trails off with a sigh. “I have to go to his really nice apartment and meet all those rich parents and I’m not--.”

“You’re not rich,” Brian interrupts, “yeah, no shit. You think Geno cares about that?”

“I don’t know. The contrast will be staggering.”

“Well I know. He doesn’t care. We can’t take this job because you’re not rich,” Brian mutters. “If you don’t take this job neither of us will ever be rich. We’re doing it. Text him and tell him we’re doing it.” He pokes at Sid. “Do it now.”

“He’s probably busy.”

“Five bucks says he texts you back right away.”

Sid huffs and pulls out his phone.

I talked to Brian, he texts, we’d love to do Nadia’s party.

He starts to put his phone down but before he even makes it to the counter it buzzes.

“Ha!” Brian yells. “He loves you.”

Geno’s answering text is a string of exclamation points followed by Nadia will be so happy. Thank you, Sid. Tell Brian thank you.

“Geno says thank you.”

“Tell him no problem. Ask him if any of the kids have allergies. I have a gluten free recipe I want to try out and then there’s this vegan one…”

Sid tunes Brian out. Brian wants to know if any of the kids are vegan.

The next three texts come in one right after the other.

???????

Will find out.

Want to have lunch tomorrow?

Sid smiles down at the phone while Brian starts in on dairy free recipes.

Absolutely, Sid texts. Your turn to pick.

-

“So, I send text to other parents asking about allergies,” Geno tells Sid the following afternoon. He looks down at his phone and shakes his head. “Phone tree at school is no joke. Five minutes later I know every kid’s medical history.”

Sid laughs around his sandwich and Geno shoots him an amused smile. Geno picked a cozy, little cafe for them to meet at. It’s warm and laid back and Sid gets the sense that they could sit here all day and not bother anyone.

“Have three kids that can’t have gluten, four that can’t have peanuts, one that can’t have peanuts or gluten two that can’t have strawberries and one that can’t have fish...but I don’t think that matters to you. Don’t know why they tell me that. I say it’s about cake.”

“Probably just covering their bases,” Sid says as he puts his sandwich down and takes a sip of his iced tea. “But I guess that means my shrimp and salmon cupcakes are out,” he jokes and Geno tips his head back and laughs.

“Too bad,” Geno jokes back then adds seriously, “can you make this work?”

Sid nods and chews at his straw, thinking. “Yeah. Brian will figure something out, for sure. He’s great at this kind of thing. He probably already has a bunch of recipes ready to go. He loves this kind of stuff.”

“I talk to him about pricing,” Geno says, “you are too nice.”

Sid rolls his eyes and waves his hand. “I’ll surrender financial oversight to Brian. He’s got a better head for business anyways. I just want to bake.”

“You make a good team,” Geno says. “Important in business.”

“It seems to be working so far,” Sid says with a shrug and Geno eyes him critically. “What?”

“No,” Geno says with a quick shake of his head. “Is nothing. Thank you for doing this.”

“Thanks for trusting us. If we mess this up you might have a mutiny. Kids can be brutal.”

Geno just laughs like he knows exactly what Sid is talking about.

By Monday, Brian has a full on sampler of gluten free--peanut free--strawberry free--seafood free--cupcakes.

“I feel like this one is a little too crumbly,” Brian says as he force feeds Sid his third cupcake in twenty minutes. Thankfully there’s no frosting on them, at least not yet. “But I feel like if I add more butter or oil it’ll knock everything outta whack, you know?”

“It is a little dry,” Sid says and Brian looks at him like he just insulted his mother. “I mean, it’s good but--.”

“Okay, all right,” Brian says as he plucks the cupcake from Sid’s hand. “It’s a work in progress. You don’t have to drag it like that.”

“I wasn’t, I didn’t,” Sid defends but then he catches the smirk on Brian’s face and he rolls his eyes. “Not funny. I was thinking we could do chocolate and vanilla,” he says and Brian nods. “Then maybe a mix of gluten free and regular for the parents too.”

“We have to make stuff for the parents,” Sid asks and Brian gives him a no duh look just as Dumo!!! echoes through the park.

Nadia is tearing up the path, backpack bouncing behind her as she clutches two pieces of paper in her hands.

Geno’s following behind her, a deep red scarf wrapped around his neck and a huge smile on his face.

Nadia’s face is flushed from the cold and her hair is straying from the fishtail braid that’s hanging down her back when she stops in front of the truck.

“There she is,” Brian says as she catches her breath. “My favorite customer.”

“Did you miss me,” she asks as Geno strolls up beside her. He mouths hello to Sid then sets about trying to restore order to Nadia’s braid.

“Of course I missed you,” Brian says and Nadia beams at him. “Did you have a fun week?”

Nadia nods her head and her hair slips out of Geno’s hands. Geno huffs with equal parts fondness and exasperation and looks skywards.

“I made you something,” Nadia says holding out the papers. Then she looks to Sid and Sid’s surprised she remembered him standing there. “Sid too.”

She holds them up but before Geno can lift her Brian is ducking back into the truck then reappearing around the side of it.

Nadia’s eyes go wide as saucers when she sees him and he crouches down to get at her level and she thrusts the papers at him.

“Is little crush,” Geno says as he leans against the truck near Sid. “Is cute.”

“No one else gives Brian that much attention,” Sid says as Nadia talks with her hands, just like Geno does, and tells Brian about her week away. “How are you?” Sid asks Geno. “You look happy.”

“Got my girl back,” Geno says. “Get to see you. Is good day.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Sid tells him as Nadia holds up six fingers in front of Brian’s face and says “I’m going to be six years old and I’m going to have a huge party and all my friends are going to be there.”

“That sounds like fun,” Brian tells her. “What would you think about me and Sid making your cake?”

She looks past him for confirmation from her father and when Geno nods Nadia jumps up and down in excitement.

“What do you want it to look like,” Sid asks and and Nadia stops jumping and pulls a serious face as she thinks.

After a moment her face lights up with her decision. “A unicorn!” She yells and while Brian is nodding along to the story she’s telling him about a unicorn book she read recently Geno turns to Sid.

“Can make unicorn cake?” Sid takes a deep breath, head already swimming with ideas.“We’ll figure it out,” he tells Geno. “We can’t disappoint our favorite customer.”

Geno makes a small noise. “Thought I was your favorite customer.”

“You’re not nearly as cute,” Sid tells him and Geno nods.

“Can’t argue. Nobody cuter than her.” He sneaks a sidelong look at Sid. “Still think I’m a little bit cute though?” “Just a little,” Sid teases and Geno smiles at him. “Let me get you your coffee,” he says, “you decide what cupcake you want. Happy Monday.”

“Sid,” Nadia calls, “do you like my drawing?”

Brian passes Geno the paper who then passes it to Sid.

It’s a beach scene with bright yellow sand and dark blue water and light blue sky. There’s a huge yellow-orange sun drawn in the corner and four stick figures hovering over the sand. Three of the figures are tall, although one noticeably shorter than the other two, and the fourth figure is nearly half the size of the others.

“I love it,” Sid tells her then points to the figures, “did you draw us?”

She nods. “That’s you and Papa and then me and Dumo,” she says as she points to each figure and Sid can’t help but notice how close his and Geno’s figures are standing.

“It’s beautiful. I’m going to stick it on the fridge in here so I can always see it, okay?”

“I’m going to take my home with me,” Brian tells her as he stands up. “Now why don’t you tell me what kind of cookie you want so we can get you off to school.”

“First fridge art,” Geno says to Sid after Sid affixes it to the front of the refrigerator with a magnet shaped like a cupcake. “Very big deal. Going to keep forever?”

“Of course,” Sid answers immediately. He’s almost offended that Geno would think he’d ever get rid of it. Clearly, that’s the correct reaction because Geno smiles at him in a way that makes Sid’s heart beat double time.

Geno and Sid start to text regularly.

Sid sends him photos of dogs that pass by him in the park and Geno sends Sid stacks of paperwork that’s been piled up on his desk.

Switch places??

I don’t think so Sid texts back and then, after Brian encourages him, he adds but I wish you were here.

Me too, Geno sends back.

They talk in the evenings after Nadia has gone to sleep.

Geno talks softly into the phone, going through his nightly routine while Sid stirs cake batter in a bowl. The knows the recipe like the back of his hand, right down to the number of turns he needs to make with his spoon before it’s all combined so it’s easy to drift off and get lost in the slow timber of Geno’s voice.

“I’m sorry,” Geno says suddenly and Sid’s phone almost slips from there it’s propped between his ear and his shoulder. “I know is not easy.”

“I’m sorry,” Sid says as he puts down the bowl and gets a good grip on his phone. “Why are you apologizing?”

“Hard to date me,” Geno says. “Haven’t told Nadia yet and I know I should but--.”

“Hey,” Sid says, gently interrupting him. “You don’t ever have to apologize about anything when it comes to her. It’s okay. I understand.”

“Feel like I’m keeping you secret and you’re not. Sometimes I think maybe she knows, she’s young but she’s so smart and who wouldn't know I like you. So obvious,” Geno says. “But then, I just don’t have words. Didn’t think I’d have to have talk about dating with her...didn’t think I’d find you so quickly but now...is just hard.”

Sid leans back against his kitchen counter and clears his throat. “You know, if it’s too hard we don’t have to…” He trails off, not wanting to say what he’s about to but needing to. “We can just be friends if you want, that way you don’t have to explain it to her.”

“No,” Geno snaps, “no, no, not what I meant.”

“I don’t mind waiting,” Sid says quickly. “There’s no rush. I’m happy just to be your friend if that’s what you want right now.”

“No, not friend. Not only friend,” Geno amends. “Want more but….you really okay with going slow?” “Of course I am,” Sid says.

“Still dating,” Geno stresses, “still like you as more than friend, still want to take you out at night but--.”

“You have to put Nadia to bed,” Sid finishes for him. “I understand.”

“Have to be careful,” Geno says quietly. Sid imagines him sitting at the kitchen table or maybe on the edge of his bed, Nadia asleep down the hall and the apartment silent around him. “Is big deal to introduce daughter to boyfriend. Right now she knows you as Sid and as cupcake guy. I introduce you as more and something happens.” He stops and sighs. “Don’t want to hurt her. Have to be very sure.”

“I understand completely,” Sid tells him. This is the smart thing to do. The bigger part he plays in Nadia’s life the bigger hole will be left if anything should go wrong. “I don’t want to hurt her. Or you.”

“Don’t think you will,” Geno says. “Feel good about this. About you.”

“Me too. I know we’ve only been on a few dates but they were good.”

“Very good,” Geno says, “very, very good. Can’t wait to take you out again.”

“Maybe we could bring Nadia too,” Sid suggests.

“Really?” “Yeah, we could do something fun. Skating, maybe. You said she likes to skate. Whenever you feel like you’re ready, so am I.”

“You are too good, Sid,” Geno says, his voice a little rough and sleepy. Sid looks at the clock over the stove. It’s getting to be late.

“I should let you get some rest, you sound tired.”

“Nadia is five going on six going on sixteen recently. She thinks she is old enough to stay up all night and argue about eating vegetables and brushing teeth. Won’t listen for nothing. You sure you want to take her skating?”

“She’s never argued with me,” Sid says and Geno laughs.

“Just wait,” Geno says. “Someday she will feel comfortable enough with you to be bratty.”

Sid knows Geno doesn’t mean that as a good thing, but honestly, Sid can’t wait.

--

“You look awful.”

“Please shut up.”

“What? I’m just saying. I thought you were going to barf in the elevator on the ride up.”

Sid rolls his eyes and carefully shifts the boxes in his arms as they walk down the hall looking for apartment number 71.

“Do you mean the elevator that was bigger than my apartment? There was a doorman downstairs. I didn’t even know there were places this fancy in Pittsburgh.”

“I can’t believe you’re nervous. These cupcakes are basically the best thing we’ve ever made. We got this.”

“I know,” Sid says, “you’re right.”

It feels like the weeks leading up to Nadia’s party have flown by in a flurry of stress, frantic Googling about what is and isn’t gluten free and switching back and forth on ideas and flavors and color schemes. They’ve made batch after batch of cupcakes, feeding their friends and neighbors enough baked goods to fill a small bakery.

“I am right,” Brian says as they stop in front of Geno and Nadia’s apartment. They can hear music and people talking inside and Sid takes a shaky breath then knocks his foot against the bottom of the door, both their hands too full to knock with their hands.

Geno answers a moment later looking slightly frazzled.

“Are we late,” Sid asks. It seems like the party is in full swing behind Geno but they’re over a half an hour early.

“No,” Geno says, “people just very early. Come in, come in. Nadia will be happy to see you.”

On cue, Nadia runs up to them wearing a Birthday Girl t-shirt and a light pink tutu. She bounces off Geno’s legs and careens into Sid jostling the boxes of cupcakes he’s holding and Sid winces.

“Nadia, careful. He has cake.”

“Can I see it!”

“It’s not finished yet,” Sid tells her gently. “You want it to be a surprise, don’t you?”

“No,” she says and Geno laughs and pats the top of her head.

“Have to let them work, kotik. Should go play with friends. Is rude to ignore them.”

“Dumo, can you come and make bracelets with me?” She holds up her arm and beaded bracelets shake on her wrists.

“He has to work on your cake,” Geno tells her and she looks so heartbroken Sid has to step in.

“It’s okay,” he says, “I can handle it. Go on and make bracelets.”

Nadia looks thrilled and Geno looks wary.

“It’s her birthday,” Sid reasons and Geno takes the supplies out of Brian’s arms. “I’ve practiced a lot for this. I know what I’m doing.”

“Come on, Dumo,” Nadia says as she reaches for his hand and Brian lets himself be pulled away, patting Sid’s shoulder as he goes.

“I’ll make a bracelet for you,” Brian says and Sid thanks him before Nadia pulls him away.

“Come on,” Geno says as he tips his head toward the back of the apartment. “Kitchen is this way.”

The apartment is beautiful and despite the handful of children running around and the party decorations, very clean and organized. It’s modern, with neutral colored walls and leather furniture that create sharp, sleek lines. At the same time it’s warm and lived in with kids books stacked in the shelves in the entertainment center and board games and puzzles beneath the coffee table.

They have to stop to let a couple of kids scurry past then backs through a set of swing doors and into the kitchen where Sid immediately freezes.

If the apartment if beautiful, the kitchen is gorgeous with marble counter tops and stainless steel appliances.

“What’s wrong,” Geno asks as he sets the boxes he’s been carrying down on the huge island in the middle of the room.

“If Brian comes in here he’s never going to want to leave. This is amazing. Seriously, your whole apartment is beautiful.”

“Thanks,” Geno says, “wish it was more.”

“More? This kitchen is twice the size of my apartment.”

“Not bigger,” Geno explains with a frown. “More like house. You know, want big yard for her to play in and driveway where she can learn to ride a bike. Want it to feel more like home.” He sighs. “But this is good too, for now. Close to work, close to Nadia’s school.” He winks at Sid. “Get to take nice walk through park each morning. It works.” He drums his fingers on the box in front of him. “What is plan for all this?”

Sid takes a breath. “Okay, so, after a lot of deliberation and debate we decided to go for a pull apart cake. Basically you take a whole bunch of cupcakes and you arrange them into a shape and you frost it like you’d frost a regular cake then the kids pull it apart. We thought about doing a regular nine inch round cake but we thought this would be more fun for the kids. Also we thought taking a knife to a unicorn at a kids party would be a bad look.” He shrugs and Geno stares at him. “We also decided to make everything gluten free. We didn’t know how sensitive these kids were to it and we didn’t want any mix ups and we also didn’t want the kids to feel like they were being excluded if we made them their own separate cupcakes. So, everything is gluten free, double and triple checked. We baked everything in my kitchen but only after I deep cleaned everything and then we went out and bought all new bowls and spatulas and pans.”

“Sid,” Geno says softly.

“I just didn’t trust it. Brian said I was being paranoid but I think this is a totally reasonable thing to be paranoid about.”

“Sidney.”

“But it all works out because those will be our gluten free supplies if we ever want to make more stuff in the future which we probably will because there’s a huge market for it. At least that’s what Brian says--hey, what’s the matter?” Geno has stepped in close and instead of answering he puts his hands on Sid’s face and tilts Sid’s chin up as he leans down for a kiss.

The kiss is soft and sweet beneath Geno’s winter chapped lips and when Geno pulls away a few moments later Sid blinks up at him.

“What was that for,” he asks and Geno smiles at him and rubs his thumb against Sid’s cheek.

“So sweet,” Geno says. “Go through so much to make special cupcakes for kids you don’t even know.”

“You’re paying us,” Sid says weakly, still a little dizzy from the kiss. “We have to do it right.”

“Sweet.”

“I don’t want kids to get sick. I don’t think that’s an unusual thing.”

“Shh,” Geno says as he presses both his thumbs over Sid’s lips to quiet him. “Let me call you sweet and kind and let me kiss you more, okay?”

“Oh, okay,” Sid says, “for sure.”

Geno huffs a laugh then leans back in.

The next kiss is deeper, more thorough, with Geno cupping Sid’s jaw and angling his head right where he wants it. Sid hooks his fingers into the belt loop of Geno’s jeans and tugs and Sid feels Geno smile against his lips. Geno backs Sid up against the island and threads his fingers through the hair on the back of Sid’s head.

Sid sighs into the kiss and Geno nips at his bottom lip before he pulls back and presses their foreheads together.

“Should have done this sooner,” he whispers and Sid hums.

“Yeah, I’ve been waiting.”

“Okay.” Geno pulls back enough to look Sid in the eye. “I not make you wait anymore,” he says before leaning down again.

They’ve only been kissing for a few seconds when the kitchen door swings open behind them.

“Zhenya,” a voice says and Geno immediately pulls away.

The woman is tall and slim with long blonde hair and she looks back and forth between Sid and Geno before her face sets with an icy stare.

She says something quick and sharp in Russian and Geno fires right back. Sid feels Geno’s hand hover around his elbow, like he wants to reach out for him but just can’t before he drops it to his side.

The two exchange in rapid fire conversation that Sid would have a hard time keeping up with even if it was in English before she gestures with her hand to Sid, spits something to Geno, and turns on her heels and leaves.

Sid glances up at Geno and finds his jaw clenched and so much tension in his shoulders that is almost hurts to look at him.

“Ex,” Geno says. “Svetlana.”

Sid nods. That makes sense.

“She’s pretty,” Sid says back and Geno heaves a sigh and cups Sid’s jaw with his hand.

“Nothing on you,” he says softly and Sid drops a kiss to the center of Geno’s palm. “She say more guests are coming and I should go greet them.”

And some other things, Sid thinks. Just because he couldn’t understand the words doesn’t mean he misinterpreted the tone. She left very little room for that to happen.

“Can you send Brian in if you can pry him away from the craft table,” Sid asks and Geno laughs.

“Yes, of course. Can’t wait to see when it’s done. Know Nadia is going to love.”

“I hope so.”

“She will,” Geno says as he drops his hand to Sid’s shoulder and gives him a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll go get Brian and finish setting up.”

Sid nods and Geno hesitates for a moment before he kisses the corner of Sid’s mouth then steps away.

“I’ll check on you later.”

“You know where to find me,” Sid says and Geno smiles over his shoulder before he pushes the kitchen door open and disappears.

Sid watches the door swing shut then turns around and starts unpacking the cupcakes.

He lines them up in the shape of a unicorn’s head on the large cutting board that they’ve covered with sparkly, pastel pink craft paper. He fiddles with the placement of the cupcakes for a bit even though he’s done this a half dozen times in practice. Once he gets everything in the correct position he pulls out the piping bag filled with white buttercream and pipes a dollop onto each cake. Then he grabs the offset spatula and starts spreading it around until it’s smooth and flat and looks like one solid slab of cake.

The kitchen door opens just as Sid’s gotten the frosting perfect.

“Hey,” Brian says.There are bracelets going halfway up his arm and the beads jingle when he walks.

“You made a lot of friends,” Sid says as he nods at the bracelets and Brian holds up his wrist and shakes it.

“Kids love me.” He pulls off a bracelet made with alternating black and gold beads and holds it out to side, shaking it when Sid doesn’t immediately take it. Brian sighs and grabs his right arm and slips it over his hand. “I made that for you, man, look a little happy about it.”

“Thank you,” Sid says dryly, “it’s very pretty.”

“Thank you,” Brian says with a grin then busies himself with pulling out the rest of the supplies.

They’ll make the mane by piping on blue, purple, yellow, orange, and green frosting in swirling rosettes then finish the whole thing off with an ear they made out of fondant and a horn that they airbrushed with gold food coloring.

“Do you think it’s too much frosting,” Sid asks as he starts the first rosette. “It’s a lot of sugar.”

“No. No way. That’s the whole point of a kids party anyways. You hop them up on sugar then send them home to their parents.”

Sid nods. It’s too late to do anything about it now anyways. He pipes one more rosette in yellow before he stops and picks up the purple frosting.

“Geno’s ex wife walked in on us while we were kissing,” he says evenly and Brian gasps. “She wasn’t happy about it.”

“Oh shit,” Brian says then immediately adds, “sucks to be her.”

“Brian.”

“What? She’ll have to get over it and even if she doesn’t, what does it matter? She’s not a part of his life anymore.”

“She’s the mother of his child, of course she’s a part of his life.”

“Not his romantic life. If she wanted to have opinions on that she should have thought about that before she cheated on him and asked for a divorce.”

“How do you know about that?” Sid never said anything about it. It seemed to personal to gossip about.

“Geno and I talk,” Brian says with a shrug. “I might have given him the whole if you hurt Sid I’ll kill you speech.”

“What did Geno do?”

“He laughed. I don’t think he finds me very intimidating. Listen, you don’t need her approval. You’re a great guy and there’s no good reason to dislike you and if Geno is going to take what she thinks about this into consideration anyways, then maybe he’s not as over her as he thought and you shouldn’t be getting involved with him right now.”

Sid’s not worried about that. “What if he’s not out? What if that’s how she found out? I doubt that’s how he wanted it to happen.”

Brian winces. “Man, I don’t know. How did he act afterwards?” “Fine. He looked tired.”

“He did just plan a birthday party for a six year old on his own. I think you just have to talk to him. Figure out where you guys are right now. That’s the only way you’ll know for sure.”

“I know,” Sid says. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“No, I’m serious. You always find a way to calm me down when I’m getting crazy and overthinking. I need that. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Brian tells him. “What are partners for?”

Together they finish the cake and Brian stays behind in the kitchen to tidy up while Sid ventures out into the living room to find Geno.

There’s twice as many kids as there was before and the whole party has an air of controlled chaos to it.

Geno’s done his best to keep the kids entertained. There’s a table set up pizza, snacks, and drinks and a movie playing on the TV. Geno also hires a guy to make balloon animals and a woman that’s doing face painting.

The kids are scattered around doing different activities while the parents have set themselves up in a group over by the food.

Sid scans the room looking for Geno and finds him talking to his ex by the door. They’re both frowning and talking with their hands. She stops suddenly and juts her chin in Sid’s direction and Geno whips his head around to look.

He says one more thing to her then make a beeline across the room.

“Sid,” Geno catches him by the shoulders. He has a heart painted on one side of his face and a cat on the other. “Why I do this at my place? Should have had it in park or something.”

“It’s the middle of December. Your outdoor options are kind of limited. All the kids look like they’re having fun.”

“Apartment will never be clean again,” Geno says dramatically but it’s hard to take him seriously with his face painted like that.

“I’m sure it’ll come together at some point. Brian and I finished the cake. We’re just going to clean up then we’ll go.”

“What? Go? No, don’t leave. Have to stay. Have lots of food and you have to see Nadia’s face when she sees cake. No, you stay.” He slides his hands off Sid’s shoulders and down to his elbows and then, after a brief pause he drops them even lower so he’s holding Sid’s hands between his own. “Please,” he says, “I want you to stay.”

He sounds so sincere and Sid’s on the verge of saying yes when he looks over Geno’s shoulder and catches Svetlana staring daggers at him.

He pulls his hands away from Geno.

“I should go.”

“Why?”

Sid looks back at Svetlana and Geno looks over his own shoulder with a sigh. “Sid.”

“It’s pretty obvious that she doesn’t want me here. This is your daughter’s birthday party. There shouldn’t be tension. I’m just gonna go. I’ll ask Brian to record Nadia’s reaction to the cake and I’ll watch it later.”

“Sid--.”

“It’s okay, really. We can talk about it later. This really isn’t the time, okay?” He turns for the kitchen and hears Geno make a frustrated sound behind him.

“Can talk now.”

“Geno, please.” He pushes open the door to the kitchen with Geno on his heels.

Brian stops wiping down the counter and looks up at them.

“Brian, can have minute with Sid, please?”

Brian looks to Sid and when Sid nods Brian tosses the dish towel he was using onto the back counter.

“All right. I’m gonna go network. I got a brand new stack of business cards to give out.”

“Since when do we have business cards,” Sid asks.

“Since I ordered them and they came in three days ago. Check it out.” He pulls a card out of his pocket and hands it to Sid.

The card is in the shape of a food truck with Steel City Sweets printed in gold ink along with the handles for their twitter and Instagram pages.

“It’s pretty nice, huh? Official. We’re moving up, Sid.”

“Can you please go,” Geno asks and Brian shuffles the cards in his hands.

“Okay. Nice face paint, man.”

Geno frowns then touches his fingers to his cheek, smudging the heart. He pulls his hand away and curses when he sees the red paint and Brian laughs as he spins out the door.

“Sid--.”

“Did she know that you liked guys,” Sid asks. “Does anyone know? Not that it matters, it’s no ones business but I just…”

He trails off as Geno steps into his space.

“Sid, before you, I don’t even know. Only boy I ever kiss was when I was fifteen. He was a teammate and we were drunk...after I think maybe just kid stuff, you know? Not serious. Couldn’t be serious. Not how things were over there. I fall in love with a woman, get married, have kid, I don’t think about it. But then I come here and marriage falls apart and I meet you and--.” He pauses and gathers Sid’s hands in his own. “All I think about it is you and me and Nadia and how happy we could all make each other. Sveta, she is…” He shakes his head and looks away. “She’s worried, you know. She thinks maybe someday I take Nadia back to Russia, someone find out….” He shakes his head again. Sid can see the concern and fear in his eyes so he squeezes Geno’s hand and waits for him to continue. “But I’m happy here. Why do I need to leave? Have everything I could want right here. Am ready for this. So stay. Stay for party. Stay while I tell Nadia about us. Just stay.”

Sid doesn’t break eye contact as he raises their joined hands up to his lips. “I would love to.”

--

“I want to go fast like Sid!”

Sid throws his head back and laughs while Geno sets his hands on his own hips.

“You say I’m slow?”

“No,” Sid says, “I’m sure that’s not--.”

“Yes, Papa,” Nadia interrupts as she wobbles forward on her skates and reaches out with her gloved hands toward Sid. “Sid is a lot faster than you.”

She curls her little fingers around Sid’s hands and pulls herself toward him, overbalancing when she goes too fast but Sid is quick to steady her. He lets her find her balance on her own then she looks up at him, helmet sliding back just a bit.

“Fast,” she says again and Sid looks over his shoulder at the mostly empty rink.

They’ve been out here for nearly an hour now and the cold has driven most of the skaters off the ice to warm up with hot chocolate or to grab a hot meal at one of the restaurants around Market Square.

To be completely honest, Sid’s legs are starting to feel like jelly but Nadia looks as bright and alert as the moment they stepped onto the ice and as she stares up at him with her deep, brown eyes, Sid finds a second wind.

“Okay,” he says as readjusts his grip on Nadia’s hands. “Are you ready?”

She nods, helmet bobbing and Geno skates over to tighten it. Then, he leans over her and presses a quick kiss to Sid’s lips.

“Go,” Geno says as he taps the tops of Nadia’s shoulders, “have fun. I stay here being slow.”

“Bye, Papa,” Nadia yells as Sid starts to skate backwards.

This is the first time they’ve all been out together and Sid thinks it’s going pretty well.

After the party, Sid had stayed behind to help clean up. He packed up leftover pizza and carrot and celery sticks into Tupperware while Geno walked around with a garbage bag picking up paper plates and cups and deflating balloons.

By the time they were finished the sun had set outside the floor to ceiling windows and Nadia was fast asleep on the couch, clutching the stuffed penguin she had gotten as a gift.

“Too much fun,” Geno had said as he smoothed out her hair. “Going to put her to bed.”

Sid nodded. “I’m gonna head home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

“Or,” Geno had said, “could stay. Eat cold pizza. Watch movie.” He lifted Nadia easily into his arms and she nuzzled into his chest and Sid never wanted to leave.

So, Sid stayed. They curled up on the couch together and ate cold pizza and watched movies until Sid was listing into Geno’s side and yawning.

“I should go,” Sid said, “it’s getting late.”

“Stay.” Geno had pressed a kiss to the top of Sid’s head and Sid had reeled back to look at him because he was fairly certain they weren’t ready for that step.

Geno just chuckled, stood up, and extended his hand. “Have guest bedroom, Sid. Is very nice and all set up. We can have breakfast together in the morning, but only if you want.”

Sid had wanted.

Geno found him a pair a sweatpants and a t-shirt that just barely fit him along with a spare toothbrush. They brushed their teeth side by side in the master bathroom, Geno grinning at him in the mirror the whole time.

Then he walked him down the hall to the guest room and kissed him goodnight.

In the morning, Sid dug the waffle iron that Geno got as a wedding gift but never even used out of the box and set about making batter.

“Can you cut up some strawberries,” Sid had asked as he ladeled in another scoop of batter into the hot iron. “I saw them in the fridge yesterday.”

Geno had hummed and pressed a kiss to the back of Sid’s neck as he stepped behind him. “Yes, Chef,” Geno said, hands squeezing at Sid’s hips before he moved away to the fridge.

Geno was two waffles in and working on his third when Nadia finally stumbled down the hall and into the kitchen. She rubbed sleepily at her eyes then blinked up at Sid, clearly confused as to why he was standing barefoot in her kitchen so early in the morning.

Geno quickly swallowed the bite of waffle in his mouth then took a huge sip of too hot tea to wash it down before he reached for her and pulled her onto his lap.

“Have to talk,” he told her as he smoothed out her wild bedhead.

Geno told her that they’d all be spending more time together and Sid would be around more but that absolutely nothing was changing between the two of them and that she was still the most important thing in his life.

“If you don’t like something or ever feel like maybe I’m not spending enough time with you, just have to say. I will fix.”

Nadia nodded slowly then fixed her gaze on Geno’s half eaten waffle, smothered in butter and syrup and said, “can have cookies and cupcakes whenever I want?” Sid’s whole body sagged in relief while Geno hugged her close to his chest.

“No, not whenever you want.”

She huffed and rolled her eyes and asked “can I have a waffle?”

“Yes, of course,” Sid assured “next one is for you, okay?” Nadia nodded happily and Geno kissed the top of her head while Sid’s heart felt warm and impossibly full, a new feeling that has now become the norm.

On the ice, Nadia giggles as Sid takes her around the loop for a third time with Geno trailing slowly behind them. He has his phone out, recording and taking photos to post on Instagram.

He winks at Sid before he pockets it and lengthens his strides to catch up with them.

“Hogging Sid,” Geno says as he scoops her up. She shrieks with joy and laughs so hard her body shakes with it, the light from the Christmas tree reflecting off her face. “Have to share.” When he sets her down she has to lean against his legs to catch her breath and her balance but when she does she reaches up for Geno’s hand.

Then she reaches for Sid’s.

“One more loop,” Geno says and Nadia tips her head back and pouts.

“But Papa…”

“It’s late. You have school tomorrow.”

“Sid,” she says, “can we stay longer.”

Sid laughs. “I’m not going over your father’s head like that. Nice try, though.” She makes a low, annoyed sound but by the time they’re halfway around the loop her skating has slowed and her eyes are drooping.

When Geno makes to pick her up she turns to Sid instead and lifts her arms.

“Oh,” Sid says and looks up at Geno who nods and slowly takes out his phone.

Nadia melts into him as soon as he lifts her into his arms. She rests her cheek on shoulder and Sid rubs his hand across her back as Geno fires off a few pictures then skates in close.

He covers Sid’s hand with his own on her back then leans in a presses a sweet kiss to Sid’s lips.

“Knew she wouldn’t last much longer,” Geno whispers and Nadia turns her head and mumbles something close to ‘mmm not sleeping’ into Sid’s neck.

“Not yet,” Geno tells her and she mumbles something else before she goes quiet. “Asleep,” he whispers. “You ready to go back home?”

When Sid nods Geno wraps an arm around his waist and together they skate off the ice.