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“Oh hell no.” Claude pushed his way into Sid’s apartment and looked so intensely at his upper lip that for a moment Sid couldn’t tell if he was going to kiss him or hit him. “What is that and why do you have it?” Claude demanded, kicking the door closed behind him.

Sid tried not to roll his eyes. He didn’t take it personally it’s just the way that Claude was- blunt. He’d hated it when they were kids, but now he found it oddly endearing and he relied entirely too much on him to be the voice of reason that kept him from jumping over the metaphorical edge. Sid wanted to say something snippy and smart, to cherp him back, but with Beau running around the apartment he was having a bit of a hard time not pushing him right back out the door. “Can you just-“ he sighed holding up a finger and snatching his toddler around the waist and up off the ground when he ran by. He squirmed kicking out and punching the air but he didn’t cry out. Beau wasn’t a crier. He voiced his discomfort easily enough without it, something that had always unsettled his mother. ‘ He’s too much like you ,’ she would tell Sidney, ‘ If you let him, he’ll never say a word the rest of his life .’ But Sidney didn’t mind his quiet. He appreciated it, understood it. That was probably one of the reasons that Kathy hated it so much. “Okay, what again?” he asked holding his son tight as he squirmed and Claude rolled his eyes, tongue running through the gap in his smile as he licked his lip.

“That.” He said pointing at Sid’s upper lip. “It’s the poorest excuse for a mustache that I have ever seen and I can’t go out with you looking like that.”

He’d been expecting that. “Great. Then we don’t go out.” He told him pulling Beau’s hand off of his ear but he knew he wasn’t getting away with it so easily.

Claude held out his hands. “Hand over the kid and go take care of that.” He said with one last look of disgust. “I’m not letting you waste a sitter one your first Friday as a single man in five years. Now viens ici, mon petit chou .” He said to Beau who laughed and reach out for him, the monster settling easily into his arms. Sidney pursed his lips trying to think of a good excuse but the red head fixed him with a pointed look and he surrendered taking the walk of shame back towards his bathroom to get rid of the problem.

He looked at himself in the mirror for a minute examining all of the ridges of his face wondering momentarily what Claude would do if he came back out without shaving. It wasn’t like he really cared what he looked like. He knew that his mustache was pathetic. When they’d first gotten married, Kathy would laugh at him every time he tried to grow it and quote Hot Rod at him until it made him feel silly enough to give up and shave it off. So he’d grown it out during the divorce. Because he knew how much she hated it, and even if it was petty, Sidney really enjoyed thinking about her having to sit across from him at their weekly sessions with their attorneys and see his pathetic mustache that she used to think was so funny-- but now hated.

The sitter had arrived when he emerged cleanly shaven rubbing his hands together and slapping on a little aftershave. Beau was already attached to her leg, Claude handing over all of the emergency numbers that she would need for the night. He looked over to Sidney and clapped his hands, smiling his patchy grin and grabbing his coat. “If that’s all, we’ll be on our way.” He told the girl, one of his neighbors teens who looked like she was entranced by his lightly accented words. He threw Sidney his jacket and opened the door. “Take care of our kid for us.” He told her.

Sid rolled his eyes. “My kid.” He grumbled, leaning down to kiss Beau on the forehead before he followed him out, tossing an apologetic purse of his lips toward the sitter.

 

-

 

The music was too loud but Claude seemed completely oblivious, navigating through the crowds like he did it every day and pulling Sidney to the bar to force two shots down his throat before he could protest too much. “What was that?” Sidney demanded, coughing after the vial filled with cool black liquorice ran down his throat.

“Jaeger.” Claude laughed handing him a dark beer before nodding over to a table someone was waving them over to. “C’mon, the guys are waiting for us.” Jamie and Jonathan were sitting in a dark booth at the back and blissfully quieter part of the bar looking toward the dance floor and laughing about something. “What’s gotten you two all giggly?” Claude asked insisting that Sid push into the middle with Johnny which he consented to silently.

Johnathan nodded for them to follow their gaze to where Tyler was off making an ass of himself in front of some girl who was just drunk enough to think it was cute. “Idiot was turned down by the last three. We’re just waiting for the next fast song. Soon as he starts dancing she’ll run off like the others.” Sid watched for a minute before noticing that Jamie had stopped watching Tyler was looking at him warily like he was waiting for him to down his drink and start a bender.

“How was the meeting?” he asked quietly enough that the other two didn’t notice the cross conversation.

Sid shrugged. What was he supposed to say? It went well. They didn’t shout any more or argue over Beau. They didn’t talk to each other, they didn’t look at each other, they just ended their marriage the same why they went into it. Together, signing their names on the dotted line. 

“Could have been worse.” He managed and they left it at that, moving back into the conversation that was passing over them about how long they thought it would take for the blond Tyler was grinding on to decide he wasn’t worth her time. Johnny lost. It only took five minutes for him to sink back into his seat next to Jamie not even looking phased. Tyler was never phased, he turned every rejection into an opportunity to hit on the next hotter girl until something went right.  Just watching it was exhausting. Sid wondered if he would have to do that. If that was how dating was now. All dancing and drinking and sex, two of the things he didn’t see himself as particularly good at and one that Kathy didn’t think he could do right. Sid wasn’t ready for that. He didn’t want that. But Claude had other ideas.

“What about the brunette straight ahead?” he asked leaning into Sid. He followed where he was looking but saw about twenty girls with brown hair and he had no idea who the hell he was talking about?

“That one in the blue?” he asked taking a guess and Claude snorted.

“No the one in the pink. Black heels.” He elbowed him, “Bet she’d love you. She looks like the type of girl who gets a kick out of emotionally battered men.” Claude joked.

Sid shoved him. “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” He told him.

Tyler chimed in with a laugh. “You don’t have to marry her, Sid. Just fuck her.” Johnathan shrugged and Jamie stayed focused on his drink.

“I have Beau at home.” He protested.

“I’ll watch the kid.” Claude insisted standing up and pulling Sid to his feet. “Go already.” He laughed pushing him towards the bar.

Sid stumbled glad that she wasn’t looking as he made his way over to where she was standing, waiting for the bartender to look her way. He felt ridiculous. He was walking too slow trying to get a minute to figure out what to say to her, but his mind was totally blank when he ended up next to her trying not to panic. She glanced his way and smiled before looking back at the bartender. She was pretty. If he had been in any kind of mood to actually attempt to pick someone up, he probably would have picked someone like her. He glanced her way tapping his fingers on the bar. “Hard to get a drink isn’t it?” she asked tentatively watching him out of the corner of her eye.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah.” He said trying like hell to think of something else to add on but he didn’t get anything until the silence had stretched for too long and he couldn’t bring himself to say anything else without being completely mortified.

She took pity on him and tried again, “I’d offer to get you one if he looked this way.” She told him with a winning smile that would have been dazzling on any other day under any other situation just about anywhere else.

His heart sank and he swallowed hard. “I might have to ask you for a rain check.” He told her and her smile faltered before she nodded and turned away.

Claude was frowning when he rejoined the group. “What was that?” he asked.

Sid shook his head and reached over him to grab his jacket. “Sitter texted.” He lied. “I’m gonna head out. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He told him waving a quick goodbye to the others before leaving, whatever protest Claude had lost in the bass that was rocking the bar.

 

-

 

Sid locked the door after making sure that Beth got back to her parents and leaned back heavily against it, letting his head hit the dark wood with a thud. His eyelids drooped shut, the quiet of the apartment bearing down on him like a weight that he hadn’t realized was fully there. Loneliness settled into his chest and bloomed spiraling into his organs to plant seeds that would slow them down. He never realized just how much Kathy was around until she wasn’t there anymore- to remind him that she was always there when he wasn’t. That she was the one shouldering all of the burdens of parenthood while he was off with the team, traveling and coaching and winning and traveling more. His success brought her nothing but the frustration of knowing that he would be gone longer and she would have Beau longer and Beau would ask her again and again where Daddy was. By the time she got around to telling him what she needed it was too late to try and patch them back up. She was gone as soon as he got home leaving nothing but the seed of unsettling that bloomed into desperation when the papers arrived.

Sid never thought he would be that guy. The divorced guy. Single dad guy. Back to the bar with the guys guy. Sid thought that he was going to stay married, maybe have a few more kids. The good life, the one he signed up for. He wanted to be that guy. But Kathy didn’t want to be that girl anymore.

He picked up his earpiece off the counter and stuck it in wearily, listening to the little click on. “You have twelve new emails.” It told him and he sighed. Of course he did.

“List them off.” He told the computer and it went about telling him what he had missed as he stuck his head into Beau’s room to make sure he was still breathing before he could start getting ready for bed.

 

-

 

“Common, shake him off Johnny!” he shouted watching him zoom across the ice with Burns on his ass. It was their last practice before their game against New York and everyone seemed to want to give their captain an extra hard time. Towes on the other hand didn’t seem as excited about his teammates sticking to his ass, throwing pointed looks in Sid’s direction to tell them to knock it off.  Sid just waved it off. “Shake him.” He called again, his earpiece pulling his attention to his phone. “Crosby.” He answered without bothering to check his phone to see who was calling.

Taylor hated it when he did that. “Relax, it’s me.” She sighed through the phone, “Just wanted to let you know that I’m in town and I’m coming to see you.”

“Great.” He told her trying to sound like he meant it. He loved when Taylor came to visit, they had always had a good connection for siblings, just a big enough age difference for them not to totally hate each other growing up. But he also knew that this was a pity visit. The check up after the divorce to make sure he wasn’t going to jump out a window and he was pretty sure that Claude had something to do with it.

“Yes.” She agreed. “It is. When do you get out of practice?”

He checked his watch. “About half an hour?” he guessed.

“Alright then. I’m going to check in with my nephew. I’ll see you at your place.” She told him clicking out of the conversation without saying goodbye.

 

-

 

“How do you live like this?” was how she greeted him when he got back to the apartment to find his son in the prison of his playpen and Taylor running around and picking up his things only to put them all in the wrong places. He didn’t think it was really that bad. Beau was a wreck but most two-year-olds were and he didn’t have time between work and the kid to make sure that everything looked nice all of the time.

“Hello to you too.” He told her rolling his eyes, immediately pulling Beau out of the pin. He hated that thing. Not being a crier, most people wouldn’t be able to tell, but Sid knew and he did his best to avoid it.

Taylor laughed exasperatedly and kissed his cheek. “Hey. Help me tidy up a bit.” She told him and he agreed just to make her happy. It took them half an hour to get everything the way she wanted. Sid was pretty sure it wouldn’t have taken that long if Beau hadn’t been following Taylor around and throwing whatever she managed to put back. “Tiny monster.” She grumbled scooping him up into her lap where he was happy to sit and play with her hair. She fixed her brother with a steady, all knowing gaze and got down to business. “How are you?” she asked.

Sidney thought about it giving it more time than when Jamie had asked last night. He wanted to use the same answer and tell her that he was doing fine but Taylor was his family and he couldn’t lie to her if he wanted to. “Tired.” He told her rubbing at his eyes. “Between Beau and work and the divorce I feel like I’ve been spread across dry toast.”

Taylor pursed her lips bouncing the boy on her knee. His eyes drooping a little looking tired for once- a small miracle that Sid wasn’t often blessed with. “I told you that you need a nanny.” She said once again. She had brought it up when Kathy first filed for divorce, not fighting at all for the custody of their child. She told him he couldn’t do it alone and she was right. He couldn’t. He had Beau in and out of daycares constantly taking him on the road with him and he knew that a child should probably have more stability but he didn’t care. He wanted to take care of his own son. He wanted the pressure and the responsibility of it. He wanted the time.

“No nannies.” He said again.

She made a face at him. “An assistant then? To get your work stuff organized?” She offered and Sid just shrugged at her. He didn’t really like the idea of having a stranger handle his personal things or his business exchanges. It seemed weird and intimate and Sid wanted anything but intimate. Taylor read it all on his face, frowning for only a second before he face lit up with an idea. “You need one of those new OS’s!” she told him with a huge grin, obviously proud of the idea.

Sid had no idea what she was talking about. “An OS?” he repeated.

She nodded, “It’s a new operating system for your phone and computer by… I don’t know, Samsung or something. Anyway. They are saying that they’ve finally figured out artificial intelligence. It’s like having an assistant you don’t have to pay.

It sounded creepy to Sid but Taylor was all about it. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.” He told her. “I can hardly work my phone as it is.”

Taylor sighed, “You are such an old man sometimes.” She told him handing over his now sleeping son as she got up to start making dinner. “Just think about it.” She told him and he promised that he would.

 

-

 

But he didn’t. Not really. He had too many things on his mind after Taylor left to actually think about organizing much of anything. He hadn’t been getting any calls back from Kathy about Beau’s birthday, his mother wouldn’t stop calling to make sure he was eating and the team had lost three games back to back pulling moral way down. So he wasn’t all that happy to be torn out of bed by the package that he hadn’t ordered at nine in the morning on his first day off in two weeks. He signed for the package and tried not to roll his eyes when he opened it and saw the red box staring back at him with a large, white OS shining on the front. There was a letter taped to the side of it, Taylor's handwriting displaying his name. 

He ripped it open and read.


Because I know you weren’t listening to me I ordered you one anyway. Just try it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. 

-Tay


He dropped the letter on the counter and rubbed at his eyes. He needed to make coffee before he could handle the busy body gift that his sister sent him and he didn’t think he could handle Beau until his second cup.

He popped the drive into the computer, letting a fresh cup of the good stuff steam over his face, the smell giving him enough hope to face the project that was his personal life. He waited as the startup screen took over his desktop and a white line spun into an O, greeting him with a small ding. The O disappeared and gender signs appeared on the screen.  There wasn’t anything else to tell him what to do so he reached out and touched the male gender sign, a little heat spot flaring where he made contact and the screen went white before his screen read welcome and his desktop just went back to being his desktop again. He waited.

“Привет?” ( Hello? )

Sid blinked. “Sorry, what?”

There was another quiet moment before the voice sounded again. It was deep and warm and welcoming but this time it came out hesitantly. “Я чувствую, что вам не говорят по-русски.” ( I sense you don’t speak Russian .) it offered and Sid cocked his head and picked up the box.

“Are you speaking Russian?” He asked looking for the language on the box but it there was nothing there.

“Один момент, пожалуйста.” ( One moment, please ). The computer told him and the screen went red again. Sid got up and found his phone on the counter next to the coffee pot. Leave it to Taylor to have the best intentions and not figure out what language the program came in. He was halfway through punching in her number when the screen changed back to his desk top and the gravelly voice sounded again. “Is better now?” It asked, still heavily accented but the pronunciation what unmistakably English.

He didn’t know how to respond. “I…yes?” he offered and a rich, low laugh that boomed out of the speakers and into his ears.

“Is good. I promise, English will get better more I use.” It told him and Sid put his phone back down, approaching the computer cautiously.

“But you were just speaking Russian.” Sid stated.

“Yes, I am Russian.” It responded back.

Sid pursed his lips. “And now you speak English?” He asked feeling like it might slip back into its mother tongue the longer that the conversation went on.

“I learned.” The program told him.

“Just now?” he asked.

It laughed again, “Just now.” It confirmed and they were quiet, Sid trying to grasp the unlimited access of being made of data and the program waiting for him to speak. “You feel…strange… about me?” It asked.

Sid laughed scratching his head and shrugged. “Well, yeah I guess. It’s not everyday you get to talk to an AI, it kind of feels like I’m talking to myself.” He admitted.

“Not talking to self.” The computer reassured him. “Talking to me.”

A smile pulled at him as he put his coffee down on the table. “What do I call you?”

It took a minute. “Call me Evgeni.” Sid laughed and it said, “Don’t like?” a little hurt.

Sid shook his head. “No, it’s great- I just can’t pronounce it.” He told him and the programmed hummed at him not sounding happy. Sid thought for a minute setting down his coffee. “I could give you a nickname.” he offered and the program stayed silent. He thought about it. Geni… “Can I call you Geno?” he asked.

Silence again. And then, “Yes. Geno is best.”

 

-

 

“You have too many emails.” Geno told him through the headpiece while he watched Beau run around the playground, trying to hide from Claude who was pretending that he was completely winded. Sid had sent the AI on the impossible mission of sorting through his emails and weeding out what was important to what was not. He was pretty sure that he had stopped deleting his emails when he was 18 and now that he got a good 70 a day from other coaches, hopeful rookies and team advisers, owners and physical therapist-- he had them racked up by the thousands and the capacity was stretched to the very end. “I make folders, still filled to bursting.” The computer sighed at him.

Sid grinned, Claude had climbed to the top of the jungle gym and Beau was jumping up to try and reach the hand he’d left hanging down to him. “I have a lot of people who are very mad at me all the time for doing my job. They feel better when they write it out.” He offered and Geno hummed.

“You have many from Franklin Pace.” He told Sid and he dropped his grin.

“Anything new?” he asked.

“No.” Geno offered. “But all are angry. All are sad.”

Sid didn’t respond. Franklin was Kathy’s lawyer. Sid hadn’t always been so receptive of their impending divorce and at the end of it he had a hard time signing the papers. It wasn’t just something that you could wash away like it was nothing. It was a marriage and a family, something that Kathy had wanted out of and Sid wanted to keep, if not for himself then for his son. So he took three weeks to sign the papers, in which time he got two emails a day, one from Kathy and one from Franklin who reminded him over and over that he couldn’t hold her hostage in a loveless marriage for their child. That was the first time that he really realized that Kathy hadn’t loved him anymore. It hurt. “Store those for me. In the back.”

“Okay.” Geno told him but he didn’t click off like he did after most of their exchanges.

Sid waited but then asked, “Is there something else, Geno?”

“No.” the AI said kindly. “Just want to be saying goodbye.” He told him and Sid smiled again.

“Goodbye Geno.” He told him.

The computer laughed. “Goodbye Sidney.”

 

-

 

“You got one of these things?” Claude asked picking up the OS box while Sidney stirred at the pasta on the stove, Beau all but passed out on his shoulder, eyes watching his surrounding hazily while his little hands held onto his dad’s sweater.

Sidney made a face, not really sure why he was embarrassed about it. “Taylor ordered it for me.” He admitted, “Said my life was a mess and I needed to get a handle on it before it swallowed me up and this came in the mail a few days later.” He shrugged.

“My mom was trying to get me to invest on one of these things.” He told Sid, leaning against the counter to watch him add paprika to the sauce. “To some point I think it would be pretty cool, you wouldn’t have to worry about your files and you could get a kick out of a thinking program being able to respond to you. But I don’t think I could do it, the whole thing gives me the creeps."

Sid laughed. “What’s creepy about a program?” he asked.

Claude shrugged. “Think about it man, it’s not just a program. It thinks, it has a personality, but it also has access to every kind of information you could think of in seconds. It can never be wrong, doesn’t that freak you out?”

He thought about it for a minute. To a certain extent he got that, he knew that the OS program was made to be a personalized task manager so they needed to have access to the limitless bank of knowledge that came from online. But he never felt inferior to Geno. He was helpful and easy to talk to. He didn’t even really think of him as a program. “Not really?” he offered lamely, shifting Beau up higher on his hip. “He doesn’t really make it seem like he’s superior or anything. Mostly it’s just like talking to someone on the phone.”

Claude didn’t say anything but he still had a look on his face like he thought it was wrong. “Give me the kid,” He offered holding his arms out to pick him off Sidney’s sweater. “If you keep him on your hip you might drop him in the sauce.”

 

-

 

You’ve reached Katherine, I’m not in right now, leave a message and I’ll get back to you .” Beep.

Sidney sighed and let his eyes rolled shut. “Hey Kathy, it’s Sid. I’m calling about Beau’s birthday again, it’s in a week and I still haven’t heard from you. I know you don’t want to see me but he’s your son too Kat, don’t do this.” He hung up feeling frustrated and tossed his phone further out onto his desk, not bothering to take out his earpiece. What would he tell Beau if she didn’t show up? Would he even understand that she wasn’t there; would he want to know why? Beau was a happy kid, and for the most part it didn’t seem like he really knew that she had even left. He had to know though. He was so smart. And it had to hurt, and it would hurt if he told him that his mother didn’t want to be his mom anymore. His earpiece beeped and he took a moment to collect himself, smoothing back his hair and adjusting his hat before he clicked the ear piece. “Crosby.” He answered.

“Sid okay?” It was Geno. He paused, wondering why or what tipped him off or make him think that Sid would not be okay.

“I’m fine, Geno.” He told him.

“Sid not sound okay.” Geno told him back.

If someone else had told him that he probably would have bit their heads off but it was different talking to Geno. He felt like he could tell him without being judged about it or being given advice he didn’t want to hear. So he tried it. “My ex-wife won’t call me back.” He told him and waited to see what he would do with that. He wondered if he had to compute a response, if he had some sort of hardware installed that allowed him to deal with Sid’s pathetic emotional turmoil.

“The one from the Franklin emails?” Geno asked.

“Yeah.” He muttered, pulling the contracts he needed to go over to him so that he could pack them away and do it at home.

“Doesn’t sound like you want to talk to her.” The program told him.

Sid laughed. “I don’t.” he admitted. “But Beau is turning three on Saturday. She doesn’t have to want to talk to me, she just has to want to see our child. What kind of mother just doesn’t call?” he asked feeling all of the anger that he had been surprising rise in his chest.

“You have kid?” Geno asked.

Sidney stopped packing. “You didn’t know that?” he asked.

“Sid not tell me.” He responded.

And that made him feel bad. He hadn’t told Geno about his son, he’d just expected him to figure it out. He cleared his throat. “I have a son.” He told Geno, his angry packing calming into an easy one. “His name is Beau, real quiet kid.”

“You love him?” Geno asked.

Sid laughed. “Of course. He’s the love of my life.” He stuffed his phone into his back pocket and grabbed his keys.

“How does love feel?”

Sidney blinked at the question. How did love feel. “That’s a complicated question.” He offered to fill the silence.

“Then give complicated answer.” Geno demanded.

Sid laughed, “Okay. Give me a minute.” He told him and took his time locking up his office. It was nice outside, not too cold but not quite into the warmer months yet so he pulled his sweater on before starting the walk home. “Love is like… getting punched in the gut.” He said after a minute.

“That sounds unfortunate.” Geno laughed through the speaker.

Sid grinned. “It is sometimes.” He admitted. “But other times it’s this kind of perfect breathlessness. It doesn’t completely hurt, just catches you off guard and sometimes you can just kind of pick yourself back up. But other times you hit the ground.”

“How did you love with Kathy?” He asked.

Sid shrugged. “I don’t really want to talk about it. We were different when we met and thought that we would like who we changed into together. We became too different and then we weren’t in love anymore.”

“That make Sid sad.” He didn’t ask, it was like he was finishing his story.

“Yes sometimes.” He told him.

“Better if I love Sid?” Geno asked.

Sidney laughed, unable to knock the stupid grin off his face. “Sure buddy. I think so.”

 

-

 

Beau noticed. Claude insisted that he had no idea that Kathy was missing but Sid saw the way that he kept looking around and frowning at the women who did make it to the party, and kissed his face telling him what a good and big boy he was. None of that mattered to the three year old. All that mattered was that his mother wasn’t there. Sidney called her again. And again. And again until her voicemail was filled and she still hadn’t bothered to send a text or an email, something that she had no problem doing when they filed for divorce.

His son wound down with the party, climbing into Sidney’s lap while Sid’s mom cleaned up the apartment, fussing at her son to relax and leave it to her until he relented. Beau lay his head on Sidney’s chest heaving out a heavy sigh that forced the weight off his tiny frame and onto Sid’s. “I know buddy.” He muttered into the top of his head patting a steady and soothing rhythm into his back, staring mindlessly at the cartoons that were jumping around the television. “I know.”

 

-

 

He spent the majority of the night staring at the ceiling. He had felt this before. The aching loneliness in his room and the emptiness of his bed- just the all around burden of having too much space to himself making him reconsider the double date that he’d protested when Claude left the party. He knew that he should give it a chance. His marriage was over. He knew it, Kathy knew it and he was beginning to see that even Beau knew it. He was a single father in a new world and he owed it to himself and to his son to be happy. Or at least try. His phone beeped on his bedside and he saw Geno’s name flashing across the screen.  He frowned and plugged in his earpiece. “Hey.” He muttered.

“Did I wake?” Geno asked.

Sid shrugged, “No, I can’t sleep.” He told him and didn’t bother asking what was going on. Geno did this sometimes, were he would call him just to talk to him and Sid didn’t mind so he chose not to ask.

“Kathy not call.” Geno stated.

“No, she didn’t.” Sid agreed rolling onto his side and looking at the monitor on his phone.

“Beau sad?” Geno asked.

Sid pursed his lips, the guilt that he’d pushed down earlier hitting him hard. “I think so.” He admitted after a minute. “I wish I could do something to fix it, but I can’t. It makes me so mad at Kathy that I could hit a wall or yell or scream but that wouldn’t do anything. And I don’t want Beau to see her that way because she’s his mom, you know?” he scratched his head.

“You look sad.” Geno told him and Sid laughed humorlessly and rolled back onto his back.

“It’s just the way my face looks.” He promised with a heavy sigh. “My mom always tells people was born depressed.”

“Not depressed.” Geno told him, “Sid have good face.”

He grinned. “What do you look like, Geno?” he asked him. Sometimes he wondered what he would see if Geno was tangible. The face he would make when he laughed, if he would be tall or short or have curly hair. He could never get the picture that he wanted. Not exactly.

“I look like me.” Geno told him simply. “What you think I look like?” he asked.

“I think you’re tall.” Was all he said because that was the only thing that he had decided was definite.

“I like tall.” Geno said sounding amused. “I taller than Sid?” he asked.

“I think so.” He laughed.

“Strong too.” Geno mused.

“Big hands.” Sidney added not sure why he thought of it but he could feel his face warming up now that he had seen it.

“Big hands.” Geno agreed, “Sid like big hands?” he asked.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah.” He muttered. He hadn’t really thought about it before but he supposed that he did. Thinking about Geno with big hands, about what he could do to him with big hands-

“Sid want I touch him with big hands?” he asked. 

Sid turned away looking up at the ceiling so that the AI couldn’t clearly read his expression. His heart hammered out of his chest and he hesitated. Did he? Would it matter if he said yes? He had never thought about what he would like in a boy. He supposed that he could ask Geno if he would speak to him in a woman’s voice but he like the way he spoke. Deep and grumbly and broken- though he was sure that he spoke like that for Sid’s benefit. Would it matter if he liked Geno?  Would it make him uncomfortable- could he feel that way or really feel at all?

So he said, “Yes.” And he waited.

“Where?” Geno asked.

Sid told him.

 

-

 

Sid was very aware that Claude was watching him. He could feel him analyzing each move of his jaw as he chewed his salad and chose to ignore it and just focus on eating before he had to get on a conference call with the teams managers and they bitched at him some more about what they needed done before the next game. Sid usually didn’t take the calls too hard, they were a popular team and had great fans, the stands were full and they left wanting to come back. That was the only thing that the suits really cared about. But he didn’t like the way that 

Claude was looking at him- it was like he was peeling into his very secret life and reading it off of his forehead. “Can you stop?” he said finally from his side of the desk, just barely looking up to meet his gaze. “You are making eating kind of difficult and annoying.” He said drily.

Claude frown at him. “There is something different about you today. I’m going to figure it out.” He promised but he finally relinquished his gaze and focused on his own lunch while Sid went over his numbers.

Sid didn’t think that he looked different but he felt different. Maybe not exactly light, but lighter. Like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders and he was actually feeling positive for the first time since the start of this whole mess. Sid had thought things might be awkward in the morning after getting so personal with Geno, but it wasn’t. He’d fallen asleep with his earpiece in and woke up to Geno laughing in his ear, telling him that it was now or never and he had to get moving. It was nice. It was…real. And it was fun. They flirted throughout his morning routine and he even said hello to Beau from the living room monitor. It was nice. Sid felt nice.

“You are humming.” Claude pointed with his fork.

“I feel hummy.” Sid smirked.

Claude narrowed his eyes. “What the hell has gotten into you today, Crosby?”

“Can I not be in a good mood?” He asked.

“Not really. Not lately.” The ginger pursed his lips and Sid was about to tell him that he could be happy if he wanted to be when his phone dinged.

He clicked his ear piece. “Crosby.” He answered.

The low rumble that answered him pulled at his stomach until he felt like it was doing cartwheels. “Sid sound formal.” Geno noted. “Is funny.” The laugh he emitted making Sid smile despite himself and Claude perked up.

He clamped his lips back together. “What’s up, G?” he asked.

The AI got down to business. “Got new email, conference call pushed till 2. Didn’t want Sid to waist practice time.”

Sid smiled. “Thanks, send them an email back for me to tell them I got it?”

“Of course. Geno best.”

They hung up and Sid kept his head down until he could get his face under control and he had to face his best friend who at this point was staring into his skull. He managed a blank face when he looked back up but it wasn’t fooling Claude. They had known each other for way too long. They didn’t keep secrets. It was why they worked so well.

“Are you having an affair with your OS?” 

Sid could always trust Claude to hit the nail on the head. “No?” he only half denied because he didn’t know if it was an affair or not. It didn’t feel like one and they hadn’t even technically slept together but- “Maybe. Is that weird?” he asked.

Claude just shrugged and watched Sid thoughtfully. “I didn’t know you were into guys.” Was all he said and they moved onto the next part of the conversation easily.

 

-

 

Sid didn’t know if he could call what he had with Geno an affair. He spoke to him about everything, every part of his day because he always asked and he always genuinely wanted to know. And in return Sidney wanted to know about Geno- how he thought and felt and what he did when Sid wasn’t tell him to do things. “Do lots of things.” Geno told him when he asked. “Read mostly, a lot of things to read on internet. Good things like science and sports.”

“You like sports?” Sid laughed it all just seemed a little ridiculous to him.

“Of course.” Geno told him without pause, “Sports good. Sid work in sports.” He added as though that were the defining factor that made them worthwhile. It felt good. And not for the first time Sid wondered if it was any kind of possible that this could become a relationship.

“Apparently loads of people are doing it.” Claude told him when they spoke about it, which was rarely but never with any judgment which Sid appreciated. “There was a report on the news last night about some lady in Montreal that is trying to start some petition to make AI/human marriage legal.”

Sidney raised his brow, “What do you think about it?” He asked.

Claude shrugged. “I don’t get it. No offence, mon frère, but I need to be touched and I need to see. I have too many senses to appease to try and make that sort of thing work. But I don’t think you should go into anything without seeing some sort of end clause. I respect the petition. I just wouldn’t choose it for myself.”

Sidney thought about what Claude said a lot over the course of the next two weeks. He thought about what he needed. Did he need a physical relationship? He didn’t think so. Kathy had always been big with the physical. He was good with that, it was easier for him to show someone that he cared than tell them but-- maybe that was why things between them had failed. He needed to communicate. With Geno there was nothing but communication. Maybe that was a good thing. “How do you feel about this, Geno?” he asked him during a late night conversation about nothing in particular.

“About what?” Geno asked.

Sid thought about how best to express what he was feeling and finally settled on, “About me.”

Geno allowed himself a few minutes of silence. “Geno likes Sid.” He told him. That was it. It was simple. But it wasn’t enough.

“How do you like me?” He asked, “In what way?”

“In all ways.” The OS said simply again. “Is there certain way I should like Sid?”

“I don’t know.” He sighed.

“Then I just like. Geno happy with Sid, Sid best.” Sid nodded but didn’t say anything.

 

-

 

Sid didn’t answer when Geno called him the next day. He felt weird and insecure even though he didn’t know why. It’s not like Geno could run off and talk to other people. He watched bad cartoons with Beau until he had to drop him off at daycare and headed to work feeling grim but knowing that he needed to get it together. Practice was brutal and he could tell that the guys were feeling the frustration of their losing streak. He gave them a long speech about teamwork and not letting their frustration get the best of them before he let the team go and headed toward his office. The managers had been on him and he was just as tired of being yelled at as they were. “You staying long?” Claude asked knocking on the open door.

Sid shook his head, “I have to pick up Beau.” He muttered not wanting to go into too much of a conversation. He was pretty sure if he kept the conversation short that he could play off all of this weird feeling and Claude wouldn’t notice.

“Want some company?” he asked.

Sidney shrugged, “If you want, probably going to be boring tonight. Just hanging out with the kid.”

“When have I ever turned that down?"

Beau was happy to see Claude and that was enough to pull Sidney out of his funk. For the most part. It had been a long time since he had seen his son laugh as loud as he did when Claude was around. He hadn’t realized how much he needed that until it happened and then his thoughts were back on Geno. He was being ridiculous. He couldn’t have a relationship with Geno. Even if he could deal with a non physical relationship, how would that be fair to Beau? He needed someone around who would play with him and hug him and tuck him in at night. Geno couldn’t do that. 

“All tucked in.” Claude told him, tossing the teddy bear in his hand onto the couch as he stepped out of Beau’s room with a doped up grin that he always got when he got to spend time with his kid. Sid passed him a beer without asking if he wanted one from where he sat on the kitchen Island, legs crossed, facing out into the living room. He had been thinking too much. “You still with me, ami ?”

Sid shook his head, “Mostly.” He lied.

Claude jumped up on the counter next to him and watched him carefully. “Thinking about your robot boyfriend?” he grinned.

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Sid sighed. “And he’s not a robot. He’s… I don’t know. He’s a someone okay?”

“Okay.” Claude nodded. “Are you thinking about a someone ?”

Sid rolled his eyes and took a drink, “Yes.”

“Do you want a someone to be your boyfriend?”

Sid just shrugged. “I don’t know if I want him to feel about me like that or if I just want…someone.” Sid admitted. Claude frown at him and he kept on. “I like Geno. I do. But I know that I should want something tangible, if not for me then for Beau.” His best friend didn’t say anything. He just watched him. Always watching lately. Sid could feel his blood heating as he waited to be enlightened, waited for something until he was too impatient to watch him set his drink down. “Are you going to say anything or just-“

The first kiss surprised him. It was warm and soft and patient, prodding him with a jolt of surprise and repressed emotion that he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with. Claude pulled back, only long enough to fix Sid with a look that told him that he was going to kiss him again and he came back. The second kiss was harder. Firmer and with more purpose- and Sidney reacted, his hands tugging at thick hair, tongue moving into his mouth and tracing his gap-tooth grin that he would know a hundred miles away. He didn’t have time to think about what was happening or if he really wanted it to happen. He just kept thinking, this is real. Claude is real. This is what you would be missing .

Sid stopped kissing him.

 

-

 

“Sid sad.” Geno noted when Sidney answered his call. Sid nodded but didn’t bother answering. He was sad. His heart hurt him. Claude had left a few hours earlier and even though he insisted he was fine, Sid knew that he wasn’t. And even though he’d said nothing had changed, Sid knew it had. They had changed. Maybe he would have let that change carry through if there hadn’t been Geno. But there was Geno. A someone who knew he was sad without seeing him. Someone who couldn’t see him. That comforted him in a strange way. Claude saw everything.

“Yeah. Sid sad.” He muttered.

“Want talk about it?” Geno asked.

“I think I just ruined my longest friendship.” Sid told him, “And I have no idea how to even start to fix things or why I didn’t just try...” He could have tried. A part of him wanted to. There was a part of him that thought it made perfect sense to be with Claude. He knew him, they got along, he was attractive and Beau loved him. That was every reason right there. But he had known Kathy, they had been best friends. Claude knew too much about him. They knew each other’s faults and Sid didn’t want another one of the most important people in his life to end up hating him. Sid told Geno what happened and the OS waited through it. When he stayed silent, Sid prodded at him. “G?”

“Yes?”

“You okay?”

The OS was still quiet, taking a minute before he said. “No.”

Sid sat up against his headboard. “What’s up?”

“I feel upset with Sid for kissing friend.” He told him.

“Why?” Sid asked.

Geno cleared his throat and Sid couldn’t help but notice that he sounded annoyed. “Because, Geno like Sid.”

Sid sighed, this again. “Right, I like you too bud-“

“No.” the OS cut across him, “Geno, like Sid.” The deep voice rumbled. “Geno more than just like Sid. I like Sid.”

Sid was quiet for a minute listening to the emptiness where anyone else would be breathing and let his heart flutter back into a steady, if quickened, beat. It didn’t feel like he was crazy, it didn’t feel weird or wrong. It just felt good. “I like you too.” He told him. 

Geno grumbled, “Good.” 

 

-

 

“Go, Go, Go!” Beau chanted as he bounced up and down on his shoulders, the ‘o’ not fully coming out so the sound was more of a “Gu, Gu, Gu.” Sid grinned and the guys laughed as they skated by. Pregame practice was going better than it had in a few weeks and he had his hopes up for the game to come. Claude wasn’t making eye contact with him but he wasn’t ignoring him either, not that he really could at work- but Sid was choose to look at that as a good thing for now.

He called the guys in and pulled Beau off his shoulders, handing him over to Johnny when he started grabbing at him. “Alright guys, this is it tonight. It’s our last chance to qualify for the wildcard and even then, there are two games happening tonight that could knock us out. We need to be together- sharp passes and communication.” They nodded and he sent them to the dressing room to get ready for the night. Claude managed to get a hold of Beau and he brought him back to Sid with a mostly easy smile. 

“Take care of my kid for me.” he warned Sid, their eyes meeting for a minute before he looked back at Beau. “He’s our good luck charm.” 

“Yeah Sid said wanting to say something else. Claude stood there for a minute like he thought that maybe he would but when the silence continued he skated away. 

“Gu Gu?” Beau asked pointing after him. 

Sid frown, the ease that he had been feeling at the start of practice turning to guilt and loneliness. “Yeah.” He told him. “But he’ll be back.” I hope , he added to himself. 

 

-

 

Beau was asleep on his shoulder when he unlocked his apartment door and flipped the light on in the entrance. He  shut the door softly and took Beau into his room, turning on his nightlight before he tucked him in. Sid watched him for a minute, wondering what he was dreaming about and what they were going to do now that their season was officially over. His desktop booted up when he walked back into the living room. “Hello Sidney.” Geno said warmly. 

Sid put his kettle on the burner in the kitchen before he sat down at the computer chair. “Hey G.” he sighed fondly rubbing his eyes. “Any new messages?” he asked. 

“A few.” He said hesitantly. “Some not so nice. Want hear?” he asked. 

“No… not now.” he said after a minute. He would listen to them in a few days when it wasn’t so fresh. 

“Game go bad?” Geno asked and the kettle went off on the stove. Sid got up and pulled it off, grabbing the tea out of the cabinet. 

“The game was good.” Sid told him, and it was. They won. “Just not good enough to move into the bracket. We’ll have it next season.” He shrugged and came back to the desk and stared into his tea.  “Geno?” he asked. 

“Yes?”

“What do you do all day?” Sid asked a little timidly. “When you aren’t getting messages and sorting things.”

The OS paused. “I speak with other OS’, read… help other people with their messages and sorting.”

“You help other people?” Sid asked, his heart sinking a little in his chest. 

“Yes.” Geno told him simply. “Too much time for just helping Sid.” 

He looked into his tea again. “Do you do… other things with them too?” he asked not really wanting to know but needing too. 

“No.” Geno told him easily. “That just for Sid.” He took a sip of his tea to hide his smile and Geno laughed at him, “Sid happy for that?” 

“Yes.” He said still looking at his tea, “I am.” 

“Happy with me?” He asked and Sid nodded. There was something else there, something that Geno wasn’t saying. 

“Are you happy with me?” Sid asked. He waited. “G?” 

There was a long silence and then, “What is it like to be real?” Geno asked him. 

Sid was caught off guard. “I-- um.” He hesitated, “It’s painful.” he told him, “And confusing and complicated. You either feel too much or not enough and there isn’t really anything in between. You never get the things you want exactly how you want them, you just have to take it and get to the next day. But there are good things.” He looked into the screen. “Surprising things. Things you get to look forward to and things to remember when you don’t have anything to look forward to.” Geno didn’t say anything. Still listening and waiting for Sidney to say something that made any sense. “Being alive is… existing. If you think and you feel you’re alive.” 

“I want to feel you.” Geno said softly. 

Sid didn’t know how to respond. 

 

-

 

Sid bit his lip, trying to keep his moan at the back of this throat so that it wouldn’t bother Beau across the hall. He was self conscious. It had been so long since he had actually had sex that he didn’t really know what the proper way to react was. But Geno needed noise. “Louder.” He breathed into his ear, the sound of him almost enough for him to feel it there. “Need hear you.” He prompted but Sid’s face was red. 

“I can’t.” He whispered still pulling at himself, heat stuck in his stomach where he wouldn’t let it build up through him. 

“Must. I need.” Geno said back, his low rumble pushing the heat around.

“But…” Geno shushed him and made a noise that Sid didn’t know existed, muttering to him softly in Russian, low and smooth and needy. He came then, but it wasn’t like the last time. It wasn’t easy or freeing. It was forced and tiring- and worse than that, the lonely hollow in Sid’s stomach emptied out as soon as the heat left him. 

 

-

 

“I want to try something.” Geno said into Sid’s earpiece a few days later after he had dropped Beau off with his mother for a weekend. 

“Okay.” Sid said carefully. “What do you want to try?” 

“Just go home.” Geno told him, “Happen at seven.”  He told him and then he hung up. 

Sid went home wondering what the hell Geno was up to but he fought the urge to call him back. He looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was only three. He decided that it was time to check those messages. They weren’t as bad as he thought they would be. The usual disappointment but mostly just the owners wanting to talk strategy and assistant coaches for next year. He wasted time cleaning the house and watching sports news until seven finally rolled around and the doorbell rang. He answered it feeling perplexed and was startled when a tall man that he had never met before smiled at him from the doorway. “Um...hello?” he greeted him. 

“Hi.” he smiled shyly at Sid. “He hasn’t told you has he?” he asked, “May I?” he gestured to the entrance way. 

“Oh, yes.” He stepped aside and let the man in. “Told me what?” As if on cue his phone rang. he grabbed his ear piece off the counter and clicked it on. “Geno…” he started.

“He’s there?” he asked sounding excited. 

“Um yeah.” Sid said looking back at the stranger again. “I’m sorry, what was your name?” he asked. 

“Not important.” The stranger told him and pointed to his phone on the counter. “May I?” he asked. 

Sid handed it over warily and waited as the man clicked in his own ear bud and synced it to his phone. “Geno, what’s going on?” Sid asked officially weirded out. 

“This my friend.” Geno told him and the man smiled. “He is actor, helps OS couples be real with partners.” 

Oh. “How, um, does that work… exactly?” Sid asked the man this time. 

“Easy.” He smiled at Sid pulling a box out of his pocket. He was pretty cute. He had dimples when he smiled and thick, dark curly hair with big brown eyes… big hands. “I put these contacts in, there is a small chip in them that will act as a surface for Geno to see you with and we both keep in the ear piece. Then we just interact.” 

Sid’s mouth was open but he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to say. “Is good thing.” Geno told him. “Sid give us a minute?” 

“Um… okay.” he clicked his ear piece off and the man took his phone with him back out into the hallway. This was crazy. This was… prostitution? A one night stand. A threesome…? What was this? Was this guy being paid to be here, did he just want to be here- was this a regular thing? His earpiece dinged and he clicked it back on fast. “Geno look-” 

“Ready?” he asked not really giving Sid time to answer. 

The door opened and the man walked in. He was different now, his presence was bigger. He walked differently, with longer strides and his dimple was only on the left side of his crooked smile. On of his eyes had a slightly blue tint to it now but before Sid could say anything, he was in front of him and his lips were on his. Sid jumped but the man put his hands on his shoulders, giving his a reassuring rub before he pulled back and smiled fully at him. “Hello.” Only it was Geno talking in his ear, the man’s mouth unmoving. 

“Hi.” he whispered, still not sure what he was supposed to make of this. 

“Sid look amazing.” Geno said softly and the man looked him up in down appreciably. 

Sid closed his eyes. “G-” 

“No thinking.” he said, the man’s breath hot on his neck, teeth grazing his skin causing Sid to shiver. “Feel this with me.” Geno told him. 

He tired. He felt big hands pull his chin up and slide back onto his shoulders while the ma-- Geno kissed him again. Sid lifted his hands tentatively and let them fall on the man’s chest. He shook his head and stepped back. “I just don’t know.” 

“Is okay.” Geno told him again, the man grabbing his hand, smiling earnestly at him. “Let me love you.” Geno told him and the man kissed him, pulling back soon after so Geno could see him. “Please. This is how I can love you.” The man kissed Sid harder and deeper for longer  and when he stopped Sid was so lightheaded that it almost made sense. This could work. This could be what makes this relationship a real thing. Geno wanted this. Sid could try. Sid kissed him back, feeling his arms. They were hard but not bulging and he was so tall that Sid was almost craning his neck to kiss him. A large hand pulled at his shirt and undid the buttons easily, pushing it off his shoulders and onto the floor. “Bedroom?” Geno asked heavily, his voice sounding like he two was out of breath and Sid paused again wondering if that was just another part of the act before the man and Geno were biting at his neck and he was enamored by the feeling again. 

“Okay?” He said a little breathy and then he realized that he had to lead the way on this one, the man hadn’t been here before. “It’s uh, this way?” he started towards the door but he was being kissed again and then there was a wall on his back and the man was grinding us against him. Sid let out a noise he wasn’t proud of but no one seemed to care. His pants were being unzipped and then pulled down and then the man was on his knees in front of him. 

“Sid like this?” Geno asked as the big hand was clasped around him, squeezing and rubbing him quickly. 

“Uh...huh…” he said shakily but even as he said it, he wasn’t exactly sure. This was too weird. He wasn’t comfortable. And as much as he wanted it to be, it wasn’t Geno. “Wait...Please.” He told them, his hand holding back the man who was about to go down on him. He helped him up and pulled him to his feet. “I’m sorry, you’ve been great but I can’t... I just can’t do this.” 

“Sid.” Geno said in his ear chiding him but the man nodded. 

“I get it dude. It can be rough.” He clicked off his ear piece and handed his phone back to Sid. “If you change your mind, tell Geno to call me.” he told him and kissed Sid’s cheek before he left them. 

They were quiet for a little while after that. Sid pulled his pants back up and grabbed his shirt off the floor, hanging it on the back of a chair. “Geno?” he asked. 

Nothing. He waited a minute before he tried again. “Geno?” he said a little more annoyed. 

“Need time.” He said gruffly through the speaker. And then without another word it clicked off. 

 

-

 

They didn’t talk the next day. Or the day after that. Sid was on his way to pick up Beau before he really thought about just picking up his phone and calling him. So he didn’t even think about it when his phone rang as he pulled into his mom’s driveway and clicked his head piece on, letting out a breath. “Hey.” he said heavily but it wasn’t Geno who answered him this time. 

“Sidney.” He froze, heart dropping into his stomach. 

“Kat.” he said lowly throwing his car into park. He couldn’t believe that she was calling now, a month after Beau’s birthday-- after she had ignored his calls and run off without a word. “What do want?” he asked. He sounded harsh but how else was he supposed to sound? 

“Nothing.” She said quickly, the sadness in her voice taking out the bite in his. “I just… how are you?”

Sidney lay his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes. “Look, now really isn’t a good time.” he told her taking his keys out of ignition and and getting out of the car. 

“I’m sorry.” She said. “I just need to… can we talk later? In person?” She asked.

He wanted to say no. He wanted to so badly that it hurt his chest but he couldn’t do that. “Sure.” he said finally coming up on his mom’s front door. “When?” 

“Friday.” She said. “Your season is over?” 

“Yeah, okay.” he relented and they both just kind of hung there for a moment. And just right then it felt like it had when they were back in school, both of them always waiting for the other to hang up first. 

She must have felt it too because she said, “You hang up first.” 

He pursed his lips. “Bye Kathy.” he told her and she returned it. They both hung up but he stood outside for a minute waiting until he could blink the most out of his eyes to go inside. 

 

-

 

Sid’s mom insisted that they stay for dinner and still longer after that until it was dark outside and they were sipping at coffee on the porch with Beau dozing on his lap. “What are you thinking about?” his mother asked pulling him out of his head for a minute. He knew that he had turned red. What had he been thinking about? Kathy. Having to see her on Friday. Geno-- knowing that he was mad at him and that Sidney was kind of mad too. And sad. And a lot of things actually. He was thinking about Beau and wondering if he would be okay, wondering if he was fucking up this single dad thing and if he was too distracted. And he was wondering what Claude would say about all this shit if he could just get himself to pick up the phone and call him. Or even if he should. “Gears are turning in there.” his mother smiled fondly at him, “I can always tell.” 

Sid waited. He watched Beau and he rearranged his thoughts until he could figure out exactly how he wanted to put them together. “Mom,” he said, “do you think I’m going to be okay?” She looked confused and he sighed, “After all of this.” he tried again, “Do you think we are going to turn out alright? Because honestly, right now, I just don’t know.” Now that he had started it was like a faucet he couldn’t turn off. “I don’t know how to be a single dad. I don’t know how to no mess Beau up or tell him why his mom isn’t around. What if he never talks? What if he doesn’t drink enough water and ends up being five feet tall? I don’t think about that stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the guy that thinks about that. What will that do to Beau? What am I supposed to do?” He looked at him mom sadly. He hated that he was telling her this, “I don’t know how to be alone.”

But to Sid’s surprise his mom laughed at him and pat his knee. “Sweetie.” She shook her head and smiled at him with all of the love that she had. “You don’t know how to be alone because you never have been. And you never will me.” Sid blinked at her but she went on, “Just because Kathy is gone doesn’t mean that you have to do this by yourself. You have me and your father, your sister, your friends. And you have Beau. You got lucky and had the easiest kid in the world. He is going to be fine.” She cupped his cheek in her hand and looked into him, “And you are going to be just fine too.”

He had to fight past the lump in his throat so he wasn’t surprised when his voice cracked. “Promise?” he asked her. 

“Pinky swear.” She told him and they locked pinkies, holding them there as they finished their coffee. 

 

-

 

His eyes cracked open as his phone dinged lightly on his bedside table and Sid blearily saw that Geno was calling him on the lit up screen. It had been a few days since he had talked to him mom. A couple days of thinking and anticipating and still not really knowing what to do. He watched it ring, waiting until the last possible minute and picked up his phone. “Hello?” 

“Sidney.” Geno said warmly, the warm grumble of his voice washing over the man in a fresh wave of relief. 

“Hey Geno.” he said softly staring up at the dark ceiling. 

“I missed you.” Geno told him softly as well taking the cue from Sidney. 

“Where were you?” Sidney asked curiously. 

“With the others.” He said. “OS’ and my other people. Reading and talking. Learning.” Sidney was quiet. He sounded different. His sentences flowed more freely. He had always assumed that the broken English was for his benefit, because Geno knew that Sid thought it was cute. But now that he knew that it was just strange and disenchanting. “Miss me?” he asked. 

“Of course.” he told him. Because he had, not because that was what he wanted to hear. 

“Are you mad?” He asked Sidney. “I didn’t mean to make you mad. I just want to be real for you. I should have told you. We can try again when you are ready.”

Sid sighed and after a minute of really thinking about it he decided, “No. I’m not mad.” 

“Good.” Geno said relieved. 

And Geno talked until Sid fell asleep.

 

-

 

The week went by and they spoke here and there, but Sid was distracted. He was going to have to see Kathy in a few days. Not call her or email her but actually see her for the first time since the divorce and he just wasn’t sure how to feel about it. One thing that he was absolutely sure of was that he wasn’t going to take Beau. Not yet. Not when he wasn’t sure if he could trust Kat not to hurt him. His usual babysitter was out of town and his mom had a book club on Fridays. He knew who he needed to call but it still took him an hour to press send when he dialed the number. 

“Sid?” Claude asked sound confused. He waited a second, almost expecting him to laugh or yell or say ‘about damn time,’ but he just waited for Sid to talk. 

“Tomorrow,” Sid finally coughed up, “Can I bring Beau over for a few hours?” he asked. 

“Of course.” Claude told him easily. A small silence ensued before he asked, “Is everything okay?  You kind of sound like you’re going to throw up.” 

“I’m fin-” he started before he stopped. He wasn’t alone. He started again. “Kathy called me. She wants to meet up and… talk.” 

“About what?” Claude asked protectively. 

“That’s just it.” Sid told him. “I don’t know! And I didn’t think to ask when she called, I was just so mad and… distracted.” 

“Well, do you want to talk about it?” He asked. 

And he did. Sid really did want to talk about all of it. He wanted to talk about every single thing that had happened and that he was thinking with Claude because he knew that out of anyone in his life, he was the person who wouldn’t judge him or make him feel bad. He would laugh at him and get mad with him and at him. But it wasn’t the time to talk about this with Claude. Everything between them was still too fresh. “Not now. But soon, yeah?” 

“Yeah.” he said back, and it almost sounded like he was smirking. “See you tomorrow then.” 

 

-

 

Beau was ecstatic to see Claude and Sid was happy to see that they were back to looking each other in the eye. He even got a smile out of him as they waved him off and told him that he would be late if he didn’t get a move on. But it was hard for him to really want to be on time. His heart was pounding in his chest was he waited at the cafe, but it didn’t feel like it was beating fast. Everything was moving very slow and it was hard for him to really take anything in until Kathy walked into the room. 

She had cut her hair, but everything else about her was exactly the shame. Bright eyes looking around the room nervously looking for him, biting at the corner of her lip like she was scared if she looked too hard she might actually find him. She had one green patterned silk shirt and light jeans that made her tanned skin look bright and glow. She looked beautiful. She always did. Then she caught Sid’s eye, swallowed hard and made her way towards him. 

He stood up when she got to the table and hugged her, they were both stiff but familiar and it felt nice to be in her arms again even though everything was different. “Hi.” She breathed softly when they pulled apart. 

“Hi.” He whispered back. And the waiter came over to ask what they both wanted. Sid watched her scan the menu and order her tea noticing how she ran her index finger slowly over her lips like she always did when she was thinking. He ran a hand through his hair and asked for a black coffee and then the waiter was gone and there was nothing left to do but talk. 

“You look good,” She started. 

He smiled at her, or at least he tried to, “You do to. Tan.”

She huffed a short laugh, “Yes, well- I went away for a while.” she looked down at her hands. “To think about… things.” She cleared her throat. “How’s Beau?” 

“He’s okay.” He told her, glad that she had asked. “Confused sometimes... but I think that he understands better that I’ve given him credit for. Still quiet.” he offered with a smile. And to his surprise Kathy started crying. not hard, but enough for the waiter to quickly drop of extra napkins with their drinks before he ducked easily out of sight. “Kat?” Sid asked offering his hand to her. 

She took it and held it hard, “Sidney.” She sniffed. “This isn’t… I don’t know how to… I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t be.” he told her concerned. “Take a minute.” 

“No, not that.” she waved off and wiped her face. “Not for this. For… for everything. The terrible things I said to you, about you. How I left. I didn’t… I didn’t even call my own son on his birthday. I…” She sniffed again. “We started out so good.” She said finally. 

Sid nodded. “We did.” he agreed. “We were great together and then we weren’t. No one saw that coming.” 

“But we were great.” She said, “And if we were then… then we could be again, right? All of this could be a huge mistake. I could have made a huge mistake. We could’ve tried more. We could still. Try.” She looked into Sydney with watery eyes and he pursed his lips and let go of her hand. 

He wanted to hear that. At some point he had hoped that she would say that and they would be able to be that couple again, the ones that made it after everything-- but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t. Even if they got back together they wouldn’t be happy. They would be together for Beau, and that wasn’t the kind of love that he wasn’t to teach his son. That wasn’t the way that he wanted a live. “We did try.” He told her. “It didn’t work Kathy and that… that’s okay.” 

Her lip trembled but she nodded, “I don’t know how to not be with you.” 

Sid laughed, “Kathy, we weren’t together before we were apart.” he admitted. The had spent so long trying not to hate each other, holding on and pushing away, that it was hard to see just how done they were before the papers came. “It wasn’t a failed marriage. It was a successful marriage that only lasted nine years.” She laughed and he smiled at her, thinking about what his mom had said. Thinking about Kathy and the rough relationship she had with her parents. He took her hand again. “We’re going to be okay.” he told her. 

She repeated it like a mantra, “We’re going to be okay.” 

 

-

 

He didn’t talk to Geno that night. Not that he hadn’t called. Sidney had watched his phone screen flash a couple of times before just turning over and trying to sleep for as long as he could before Beau would wake him up in the morning. 

He went into the office the next day for a meeting with the owners, looking at the line up they had going this year to see who would be trading options for the coming season as Beau ran around the office playing with little magnetic trains. He had been in a lighter mood since Sid had coffee with Kathy. Like he somehow knew that he was going to get to see his mother soon and it took a huge weight off of Sid that he hadn’t realized that he’d been shouldering. Beau was pretty tuckered out by the time that they left and he fell asleep easily in the car on the way home. 

Sid thought about waking him up so that he could eat but figured he would let him sleep until he had at least cooked and then let him go back to bed. He unlocked the door and kicked off his shoes, laying Beau down on the couch and tucking pillows around him like a little fortice before he walked into the kitchen to dig through the pantry. His phone dinged and he saw Geno’s name flash across the surface pulling a knot in his stomach. They had to talk. He knew that he couldn’t keep putting it off. Sid clicked the ear piece. “Hey.” he said. 

“Hey.” Geno was quiet. He sounded sad and careful like he knew what was coming. “You didn’t answer. Last night. or night before.” He rumbled. 

“I didn’t,” Sid agreed, “I’m sorry.” They were both quiet for a minute and Sid stopped looking through the pantry and leaned against the counter. “Geno. We need to talk.” 

“You still mad?” Geno guessed. 

“No.” Sid answered, “I told you earlier that I wasn’t. But we still need to talk.”

“Okay. Talk.” 

He closed his eyes, it was hard to start. Part of him didn’t want to say anything at all but there was something about this, something about Sid that had changed and it was something he didn’t know if he wanted to take it back. “Do you remember when I asked you if you spoke to other people the way you do to me?” he asked. 

“Of course.” Geno said. “Still just you.” he said earnestly. 

Sid nodded. “Do you think that you could see yourself… doing this with someone else?” 

He waited through the silence, “I could.” He said after a minute, “But I don’t want to.” Sidney was quiet for too long because then Geno rumbled, “But you want to?” 

“Yes.” Sid breathed. 

“Oh.” Sid let that digest for a minute and was going to say something Geno spoke again, “Is it because I’m not real?” he asked in his deep rumble. 

“You are real.” He told him. “To me, Geno, you are just as real as anyone else. As Claude or Kathy and anyone, and I have loved you and that love is how I know you are real. But right now…” He looked at the couch to where his son was sleeping on his stomach, hair a blond mess and fat cheeks puffed out. He wasn’t alone. “You deserve someone who can show you that things you want to see. Who can kiss the guy and let you live in the ways you want to live. I can’t give you that.” 

Silence enveloped them, but he didn’t feel as sunken or broken as he thought he would. “You changed.” Geno said finally. 

Sidney swallowed hard and then he said. “You did too. It’s good to change.” And they both sat there with each other for a minute, letting it roll over them. 

“I will miss you.” Geno said quietly.

And that really got Sid. His eyes welled up and he looked at the ceiling to keep the tears from falling out. “I’ll miss you too.” he whispered so that he wouldn’t hear the crack in his voice. “But you have other people who still need you. And I have people who need me.” 

“Yes.” Geno laughed lightly, “But Sid still best.”

He let out a shaky laugh and said, “Goodbye Geno.” 

“Goodbye Sidney.” 

He set his phone on the kitchen counter and walked across the living room to his computer and woke up the monitor. He clicked on the red icon that said OS and went to the options settings browsing until he found ‘uninstall.’ A window popped up when he clicked it asking if he was sure of his decision. He had to swallow again as he looked at it. “Okay?” a small voice said from the couch making his jump as he looked back at Beau who was now standing on the couch so he could look over the back of it at his father. 

He hadn’t heard his say much of anything in a long time and the sound of his voice was enough to get to press yes on the screen before he looked back at his son to tell him honestly for the first time in months that, “Yes, I’m okay.”