So, it happened like this.
Geno was a simple man. All he ever wanted was to have a chance to watch his favourite team play live. When his friend Gonch came to him with tickets to the Rangers’ game that Wednesday, he was just short of offering his first child to the devil before he convinced his manager to let him have the day off.
The thing was, as much as he loves the Rangers, he shares the same amount but of dislikes to the team that they’re playing against. Which was why he came prepared, lodging all his chirping materials in the brain while waiting for an opportune time to unleash them. But of course, his main target was none other than the captain who everyone loves to hate, nicknamed The Creature, The Crybaby, The Cindy Crosby. Well, you get the idea. Let’s just say that the captain was not someone who is very popular in the MSG.
In truth, he had nothing personal against the team. But there was just something about the thirty-something captain which awakens his irrational side. One thing he couldn’t comprehend was how well-built the said captain is. Some may argue that the captain is far from perfect but being bottom-heavy and the super strong upper body, it was as though the Hockey God above had paid a little extra attention while creating this creature, pun intended. And his face? For fuck’s sake, no one who is as good as he is in hockey should be allowed to be so easy on the eyes. Irrational, but that was how he felt majority of the time.
Well, he kept telling himself that the reason of his irrational behaviour was due to the fact that the captain had robbed his home country of not only the World Cup but also the Olympics. Multiple times.
So, when the whistle was blown not even three minutes in, his heart started to race, and he conveniently blamed it on the latter.
Fuck yeah. That’s a fucking penalty.
The next sequence of events unfold pretty quickly—the linesman put up his hand, the game came to a halt and a player skated across the rink towards the penalty box like a sulking child. But through his eyes, it felt like everything has slowed down quite a bit—like a scene out of a James Bond movie but with mouth guard and chunky hockey gears instead of tux and stirred vodka martini.
Wait. He—he’s coming to the box. Holy fu—
He sat up straight the same time Sidney Crosby waddled into the box. The game resumed with the first power play of the night but he no longer pays any attention to it. It took him a while to snap out of it, ignoring his thumping heart and scrambled to think of something clever to say.
No reaction. From where he was seated, he was certain that whatever insult he throws can be heard loud and clear from the penalty box, and with the materials he has, he wanted to make sure Sidney Crosby hears him.
Maybe I’m saying it too softly?
“Hey, Crosby!” He spotted the slightest turn of Sidney Crosby’s head towards him, then he grinned. “Where your Calder Trophy? I’m ask for friend!”
Once he has started, he was on a roll. It was as though he had opened up the floodgates of chirps, all custom-designed for the one and only Sidney Crosby.
“Hey, Crosby! Gatorade want tough guy for ads but Justin Bieber say ‘no’, so they settled for you!”
“Hey, Crosby! Your team have more cups if have better support cast, you know?”
“Hey, Crosby! You number three tough guy in Canada, behind Celine Dion and Avril Lavigne!”
The longer he went on, the more creative his chirps got, and louder. He was so loud that even the officials in the box with Sidney Crosby laughed. The chirps were mostly just trash talk, but he won’t say anything that would cross the line. His aim was to be witty and funny, and judging from roaring laughter in his section, he would say that his aims got the bullseye every single time.
Towards the end of the two minutes, he was pretty drunk on the satisfaction from being able to chirp so well, in English no less. He couldn’t wait to tell Gonch and his friends that he has done their favourite team justice, and that their most ‘hated’ player had fallen prey to his mighty chirps. That was until the most ‘hated’ player turned around and squirted his water bottle through the crack in the glass before skating back out into the ice.
His heart began to pump harder. His brain was working overtime to make sense of what just happened. He simply refused to think that Sidney Crosby had just done the one most significant tradition in hockey world at him. The same one when a player wants to express their affection or respect. And everybody knows how superstitious Sidney Crosby is when it comes to the damn game.
This time, it took him a little longer to recover. And when he finally did, he had to keep his blushing at bay. He forced himself to get his head back in the game but his eyes kept going back to the number ‘87’ on the back of white, yellow and black jersey, tearing through the ice the entire night.
When the last buzzer went off, he was quite upset for his team for losing 7-2. But more importantly, he was upset that Sidney Crosby never got into the box again for the rest of the game. Come to think of it, having Sidney Crosby as his personal chirping target was far more entertaining than the game itself. An acquired taste but it was definitely addictive.
However, his brooding was cut short when he got distracted by a man in the Pens’ track suit making his way from the bench across the ice, over to him, and with a stick in his hand. Curiosity filled him as he waited to see which lucky fan will be getting a souvenir tonight. A small group of the Pens fans quickly gathered at the rink side. All of them are waving enthusiastically at the man, trying to grab the stick over the glass. One young boy, not more than ten years old by the looks of it was front and center from it all.
He’s going to remember this forever, lucky bugger.
Then he heard something. “No, this is for you.”
It didn’t take long to realize the man was pointing at his direction. Like a walking and talking cliche, he looked behind him to see if the man was actually pointing at him. But the man made eye contact with him stubbornly until he gave in and stumbled down clumsily to the front. The crowd which has congregated at the front slowly dispersed as he reached out and grabbed the stick. If not for the adrenaline coursing through his veins right then, he would have seen all the dirty looks from the fans who just had their dream snatched away by a dude donning a Rangers jersey.
As he stood there inspecting the stick, he contemplated about a couple of thinks. Do I really want this? What did they do to this stick before giving it to me? Then he saw the scribbles on the blade—a message from the gifter. His first reaction was to bring it closer to his chest, a quick reflex to shield it away from any prying eyes. Why? He’s not so sure himself. There wasn’t a lot of people left in his section anyway.
A silvery ‘GOOD CHIRPS. TAKE IT EASY ON ME NEXT TIME!’ spreaded across the blade followed by an autograph. It doesn’t take a genius to know who wrote it. He hoped his face wasn’t betraying too much of what he was actually feeling. He wouldn’t have been able to live it down if his friend caught wind of just how giddy he felt on the inside. Truth be told, he didn’t have many cool things happened in his life and this would be right at the top by a long shot.
Now that just complicated things for him. It was making it harder to hate the guy. Someone of his stature who does something like this would earn Geno’s respect any day of the week. It was a classy act.
Without a hint of hesitation, he sped his way to the back of the arena where the loading dock was, and sure enough, a small crowd had already gathered outside of the barricaded area. Like them, he was hoping to catch a glimpse of the away team before they board their bus. He didn’t know how long he’s stood there before the door opened and the players came out single file, all changed into their formal suits and ties. When he finally spotted him, rather than pushing himself to the front, he went with something that he thought would grab attention more effectively.
“Hey, Crosby!” And it worked. Who would have thought it was so easy?
Sidney Crosby looked up and scanned the crowd, and finally landed on him.
“Hey, Crosby! Just want say, thank you!”
Sidney Crosby held his stare for a bit before a couple of his teammates—Kessel and Letang nudged their elbows at him and grinned as they walked passed. Sidney Crosby shoved his teammates away playfully as Geno watched, quite puzzled at the exchange. But that was before Sidney Crosby gestured for him to come over. He was over to the other side of the barricade in shorter than ten seconds—pushing and shoving and apologizing along the way. Once there, he followed Sidney Crosby to the other side of the bus where it was much quieter and had more privacy. For a few seconds it was just the two of them staring at each other, not saying a word. The atmosphere was getting a little uncomfortable and awkward when Sidney Crosby broke the tension by chuckling lightly to himself.
“Uhm, so. Nice chirps. They had me laughing a bit.”
Without wanting to sound like a total loser, he replied, “Oh, glad you think so. I’m try very hard.”
“Yeah. They were pretty good. I mean—I don’t think I’ve heard them before. So, uhm—yeah.”
You’re welcome was what he had wanted to say. But instead, he was distracted—this time by the way Sidney Crosby was looking at him, like he was checking him out.
“Uhm, so. Rangers, huh?”
Oh, okay. So, Sidney Crosby wants to make small talk. “Yes, yes. Favourite team. Way better than the Pens for sure.”
That earned him a small laugh from Sidney Crosby. Not something he’s heard often but it was as good as it get.
“But hey, despite all your chirping, we still won tonight, eh? Do you need a recap of the final score?”
At this point, all Geno could think about was where the conversation was headed. “Maybe my chirps too funny. Rangers distracted because laughing too hard.”
“Yeah, maybe. Or maybe you’re my lucky charm.” Sidney Crosby quipped with a tight smile on the corner of his lips.
Geno hadn’t noticed it until now, but Sidney Crosby has really beautiful lips. And eyes. He can’t stop looking at them. Then, he felt the atmosphere changed again, like a switch being flicked on. That’s when his brain connected the dots. Is he—is Sidney Crosby flirting with me?
“Hey, uhm—I was wondering. Our flight tomorrow doesn’t leave until noon. Do you wanna—I don’t know—grab a coffee or something?”
The question was fairly simple and straight forward but for some reason, it proved to be quite confusing for Geno. Ironically, he had lost for words and the prolonged silence had sparked the blush on Sidney Crosby’s cheeks. Again, he hadn’t noticed it until now that Sidney Crosby had such high cheek bones.
“Oh. Oh my gosh. I’m—I’m so sorry. I must have read this all wrong. Your girlfriend is probably waiting for you at home, and I’m just—”
“No, no, no. I’m no girlfriend.” Geno quickly clarified. And to make sure his message got across loud and clear he added, “I’m uh—no boyfriend too?”
That last part came out more like a question but that seemed to be enough to snuff some of the doubts.
“Give me phone.” He demanded.
Sidney Crosby was a little skeptical as first, but reached for his phone in his pocket after a short deliberation. Geno quickly punched his number and then saved it before returning the phone back into Sidney Crosby’s warm hand.
“Call tomorrow. I bring you to best coffee shop.”
The moment was interrupted when some noise coming from the inside of the bus startled them. They looked up and saw a some of the baby Pens watching them like a hawk through the window, giggling like a bunch of adolescent young boys watching something inappropriate on TV.
“Hey, Kessel! Is late. Hot dogs all sold out!” Geno quipped at Phil Kessel when he spotted him at the back.
Phil snickered and retreated before he quipped back. “Heard that one before. Try again, chirpy boy.”
He chuckled as Sidney hit the side of the bus as a warning for his teammates to behave. Just like magic, all of them settled back down to their seat and left them alone.
Sidney looked down at his phone, then said, “Geno, huh?”
He mocked a shrugged. “Yeah. Is nickname. Better for you because you bad at Russian names.”
“Hey! I’m actua—”
“Calm down. I’m just joke.”
Sidney look at his phone again and then back at him, with a smile that he had never seen anywhere before. He can’t help but reciprocate.
“So, I’ll call you tomorrow?”
“Yes, for coffee.”
“Thank you for the chirps.”