It was late when Sid got in from Paris.
He hadn’t planned on returning to Pittsburgh until late in August and it was only June, which meant the house, darkened and echoing inside, was devoid of anything he wanted to cook. He checked the pantry, coming up with an unopened box of yogurt granola bars, and then the fridge, which yielded an unopened bottle of Gatorade.
He ate in the kitchen, leaning back against the sink, idly flicking through his emails with his free hand. There was nothing so pressing it needed an immediate reply, so he pulled Safari up instead. All he had to type was e and Geno’s Instagram account was the first suggestion.
Sid liked to keep up with teammates over the summer. Most of them texted. Geno, on the other hand, fell off the grid after getting on his plane to Moscow, at least insofar as his Pittsburgh teammates were concerned. Sid remembered when Geno won the Calder, how Therrien had to chase down his Russian number to ask if he would show up to the NHL awards. Geno hadn’t replied and Therrien, in a bout of desperation, had appealed to Sid, thinking that might do it. But Geno hadn’t responded to Sid either. He was better about it now, messaged back if Sid messaged him first, but Sid always felt like he was intruding on Geno’s overfull, itinerant summers when he reached out. It was simpler to keep track of him — and his overfull, itinerant summers — through his Instagram.
He clicked on the link.
There was a newly-uploaded picture, one that hadn’t been there yesterday. Sid tapped it open. The only lights he’d bothered turning on were the down-lights above the kitchen island. He moved closer until he was standing directly beneath them, the better to see this latest picture.
It was of a newborn. Or at least, a newborn’s hand, tiny and curling around Geno’s index finger, the Love for Lokomotiv wristband he never took off distinctive and visible at the edge of the frame. There was no caption.
The comments, when Sid scrolled down, seemed to overwhelmingly comprise of emojis, Cyrillic poorly Google-Translated to English, and people wanting to know whose baby this was.
Sid frowned. He wondered if Geno’s friend Max had had a second kid, another godchild for Geno to dote on. Or maybe it was his brother's.
Above the picture, the time ticked over to 2 AM exactly, pulling Sid out of his thoughts. He rubbed at his eyes, pocketed his phone, and headed upstairs to shower and crawl into his own bed for the first time in weeks. He’d ask Geno about the picture in September, he decided.
Sid woke up to dozens of unread messages. Groaning, he unlocked his phone. And oh — they were about Geno’s picture, current and former teammates wanting to know if congratulations were in order. A solid third of the messages appeared to be from Max, who had entered himself into Sid’s contacts as “Talbo” followed by an airplane emoji, long outdated now.
who just posts a picture like that with no explanation? was the most recent.
Why are you asking me? Sid sent back, still half-asleep.
i don’t have gonch’s number.
Then just ask Geno?
It wasn’t Geno’s kid. It couldn’t be. If it was, Sid would know. Geno might go into near radio silence in the off-season, but he would’ve mentioned that.
He got up to take a piss and when he came back, Max had sent: can’t you ask him??
Sighing, Sid brought up his contacts and found Geno’s Russian number, calling to ask a question he already knew the answer to. It took three rings for Geno to pick up.
“What’s wrong? Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine. My phone’s just blowing up about you.”
“Yeah. Max wants to know if —“
He was cut off by the sounds of a crying baby, followed immediately by soothing, softly-spoken Russian in a woman’s voice.
There was an unpleasant lurching sensation in the pit of Sid’s stomach.
“Sorry,” Geno said. “Too much noise. Let me go outside.” There was the sound of door clicking softly shut and then it was quieter.
“Was that …” Sid trailed off lamely.
Thankfully, Geno knew him well enough to parse what he was — or wasn’t — asking. “Yes,” he said, sounding nervous and elated and proud in equal measure.
“Two weeks ago.”
Shock dispelled some of the tightness in Sid’s throat. “Two weeks?” That was during Worlds. “Why didn’t you say anything in Prague?”
“Not even meet him yet. Get message in Prague, before our game, but didn’t see him until after.”
Sid hadn’t even known Geno was seriously seeing someone. “So — was that his mom I heard?”
“No, that was my parents. They staying with me right now. Helping out, you know. So I don’t have to be alone.”
“Be alone?” Sid repeated, confused. “Where’s his mom?”
Geno was silent for a moment. “There’s no —“ He broke off, in that particular way he did when he wasn’t quite sure how to explain something in English. “There’s no one else. Doing this by myself.”
“You mean you adopted?”
“I mean I ask my friend if she do this with me. For me.”
Oh, Sid thought. “A surrogate? You used a surrogate?”
Geno made a sound in the affirmative. “Yes. That.”
Sid bit his lip. He counted back nine months in his head and came up with the dog days of last summer. “Is this about your breakup?” It had been roughly a year ago, the first time Geno had ever dated a guy and the first time he’d ever dated someone American, as far as Sid could tell. Geno had been pretty messed up when it ended. Messed up enough to decide he wanted to juggle being a single parent with playing professional hockey, apparently.
Geno scoffed. “Not about him. That.” An exhale, slightly unsteady over the line. “Fine. Maybe little bit. Just — never works out with people I date. If it’s someone I meet in Moscow, they don’t like Pittsburgh. They don’t like being alone in house when we travel.” He was talking faster, the way he tended to when getting worked up about something. “So I think, okay. Let’s see if it work better with someone who lives in Pittsburgh. But we fight about summer apart, fight about not telling people, fight about travel again.” He sighed. “Don’t know if I’m ever find someone who — fits. But know I’m ready to have kids, start family.” He sounded imploring, like he was willing Sid to understand.
“Yeah,” Sid said. His voice sounded rough to his own ears. “Yeah, I get it.”
“Knew you would,” Geno said, and it sounded warm. “Lazy think I lose mind.”
“Well, sure,” Sid said lightly. “That’s because Nealer couldn’t look after a house plant.”
“What are you telling people?”
“Not sure yet. I call Barry and Jen last week, they ask what I want to say to media. Nothing, I think. Better if just close friends, family know how it happen.” Then, as though talking about Jen had reminded him, he asked about the ownership situation.
“That’s why I’m in Pittsburgh.” Sid didn’t like to deviate from his summer schedule, always meticulously preplanned, but he hadn’t been left with much choice. “Mario and Nathalie wanted to talk. See what I think about them selling.” They had agreed to have lunch at noon, which was still hours away, but Sid used the meeting as an excuse to cut the call short anyway. Geno was clearly busy.
“Okay. Bye, Sid.”
"Yeah. Bye, G.”
Sid let his phone drop to his chest and exhaled hard, staring at the ceiling. It buzzed again less than a minute later.
well????????? Max had sent.
Sid hesitated. He was sure that Max fell into the “close friends” category. It just wasn’t Sid’s place. Seriously. Ask him yourself.
useless!! came the annoyed response.
“Did Geno have a baby?”
“What?” Sid looked up from where he was dicing vegetables for his mom.
Taylor angled her Macbook towards him. “He put up all these pictures.”
Sid had already seen them. He turned back to the leeks, slicing carefully. “Uh. Yeah. About a month ago.”
“Huh,” said Taylor. “He came over to say hi when he saw me and dad in Prague. I wish I’d told him congratulations.”
Sid shrugged. “You can tell him when you visit in December.” His shoulders were aching from not sleeping well last night and then the early flight into Halifax Airport this morning. He was starving too and he'd been looking forward to his mom’s cooking all week. It was the main reason he’d gone straight to his parents’ house instead of his own. He gestured to the cutting board hopefully. “Do you think this is enough?”
“How should I know? Ask mom,” Taylor advised, refusing to take the hint and returning to her scrolling.
It turned out Taylor wouldn’t be the last person in Cole Harbour to ask him about Geno.
Sid came off the ice early, leaving Nate and Matt to Andy’s drills. It was their first day renting out the smaller rink at Cole Habour Place, but there were still some people who had come out to watch. He smiled at the younger kids as he skated past.
This was Sid’s childhood arena and he didn’t like to give too many interviews here, but Pat prearranged one or two every summer. Hoping he didn’t smell too bad, he introduced himself to the reporter and cameraperson waiting for him at the mouth of the hallway leading to the locker room, helmet off and tucked under his left arm.
As always, he was asked about the underwhelming finish to the Penguins’ previous season; as always, he kept his face blank and rattled off the familiar cliches about the disappointment of playoff eliminations and the importance of looking ahead to next season. He was prepared for the questions that immediately followed too: How did it feel to join the Triple Gold Club? What did he think about McDavid? How did he, personally, account for Chicago’s third Cup in five years?
He stumbled though, when asked to comment on the rumor that Geno wanted to leave Pittsburgh. For one thing, he hadn’t even heard about it. For another, the last time this question came up, Kovalchuk might well have just fucked off to the KHL but Geno had just inked an eight-year extension. The question hadn’t made any sense then.
This time, it was prefaced with, “He recently welcomed his first child. Do you think that will have any bearing on the decision he’ll make?” and Sid forgot his rote answer, because yeah, it definitely would.
He came up with something on the spot, hoping he sounded appropriately non-committal, and was grateful when the interview was over.
That didn’t stop him from thinking about it later, as he was getting into bed with the house completely still and silent around him. He usually welcomed the quiet. It was, after all, the reason he’d bought a house in the woods. Tonight though, it was letting him get lost inside his own head.
Because it wasn’t so far-fetched that Geno would be unhappy with the team. They had qualified for the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. Geno had been working with a rotating skeleton crew of linemates last season. Nealer was gone, and Sid knew that Geno wasn’t pissed about that, exactly, didn’t blame Horny and Spaler or anything like that, but he definitely missed Nealer’s presence in the locker room and Nealer’s hockey on the ice.
He grabbed his phone off the nightstand.
You don’t want to be traded, right? he fumbled out and hit send before he could second-guess himself.
Two minutes later, he was getting an incoming call.
“Hi,” Geno murmured.
Belatedly, Sid remembered their time difference. He did the mental math. 6 AM, if Geno was still in Moscow. “Shit, did I wake you? I didn’t mean for you to call.”
“It’s okay. Was up anyway.” Geno’s voice was slow and sleep-rough though. Sid wasn’t so sure he believed him. “And no, I’m not ask for trade. Bullshit story. Don’t know where it come from.”
Sid exhaled. “I knew that. I was just — checking.”
“Just checking.” Geno sounded amused. “In middle of the night?”
“Some of us don’t like change,” Sid said, as loftily as he could manage.
He smiled reflexively into the phone when Geno laughed and said, “Understatement.”
“How come you’re up so early? No training today?”
“No. Just put baby back to sleep. Kadar give me Mondays and Tuesdays off. Think he feel sorry for me. Getting no sleep and no vacation this summer.”
“Where would you have gone?” Sid asked, propping all his pillows against his headboard and leaning back against them, knees tucked up to his chest.
“Don’t know. Maybe England? Never been before.” He sounded wistful. “What about you? This second year in a row you go on vacation.”
Sid hummed. “Just a short one," he said. "I met these guys on the flight home. They were coming back from their honeymoon. They got married at CEC. I thought that was pretty cool. I didn’t even know they did weddings there.”
“The rest of it was good too,” he added. And then, in case Geno felt like chirping him for picking Cannes and Paris, both places he’d already been, he said, “I’m sorry you couldn’t travel this year.”
“Not mind that much.”
“No,” Geno confirmed. “Sometimes it’s hard, but. Really glad I do this.” He sounded it, too, voice going soft at the edges.
Sid swallowed. “Well, I’m really happy for you, G.” Something occurred to him, several weeks too late. “Hey. I can’t believe I still don’t know his name.”
“You not ask,” Geno said. Sid felt his face burn hot, but he didn’t think Geno meant anything by it. Sid could hear him moving around in the background — making tea, maybe, if the clinking of spoons was anything to go by. “It’s Stanislav.”
Sid thought about the baby pictures on Geno’s Instagram, more than half a dozen of them now. “Stanislav? That’s a pretty big name for such a small baby.”
“My parents pick it out. Stas for short.”
“Stas,” Sid repeated, testing it out. “I like it,” he decided.
He could hear the smile in Geno’s voice when he said, “Thanks. I tell parents you say so.”
“Are they still staying with you?”
“Yes. Had to buy new car because of baby, so now my dad is using convertible. Takes it out everyday.”
Sid laughed. “The yellow Lamborghini? Really?”
“Yes,” Geno grumbled. “He's very happy about it. But thinks I should sell before I go back to Pittsburgh.”
That sounded practical. The car spent most of the year sitting in the parking garage of Geno’s building in Moscow anyway. “What about in Pittsburgh? Are you thinking about selling the Ferrari too?”
“No,” Geno said, with so much shock and vehemence, Sid had to bite back a grin. “Use Range Rover for baby, keep Ferrari for special occasions,” he added firmly.
They talked for another ten minutes, at which point Geno’s parents woke up and he had to go. Sid felt a hundred pounds lighter when they hung up, even if it was two in the morning again and he knew he would hate himself for it when he had to drag himself out of bed in about three hours, before the sun was even up.
He did, in fact, regret the late night, a mild headache forming at his temples by the time Andy let them go. Ordinarily he might have dinner with Nate and Matt, but their girlfriends had flown in from Denver for the week and though they had all invited Sid along, he’d turned them down, not wanting to intrude.
Driving back to the house, he couldn’t help thinking about that: Nate and Matt being so much younger than him but holding down long-term relationships with ease. Nate was nineteen and he had been with his girlfriend for two years. They were adorable, according to Max, who felt the need to regularly furnish Sid with updates last season.
Sid liked being in relationships, but he ended them often, his adamance about keeping his private life private almost always the reason, and he moved on easily and quickly; sometimes he wondered if that meant there was something wrong with him.
His phone going off was a relief. He killed the radio and took Taylor’s call. Mom wanted to know if he was free for dinner. With more gratitude than he wanted to examine just now, Sid turned back the way he’d come at the next set of lights.
The first thing Sid did after getting in was Skype Pat, who wanted to confirm last-minute details about the hockey school next month and had left Sid five messages about it in between the plane taking off in Halifax and landing at LAX. He unpacked while Pat talked, which meant he didn’t feel guilty about face-planting into bed the second the call was over.
When he woke from his nap, it was still light outside, but with a faintish pink-on-orange tinge that told him it was late in the afternoon. He’d told the others he’d meet them outside their hotel for a late dinner. He squinted at the time on his laptop, still open on the spare pillow, and groaned when he realized there was still an hour left to kill.
A more careful glance at the screen revealed he still had his Skype contacts open. The symbol status next to Евгений Малкин was green. Sid remembered the previous week, when Geno said he had Mondays off. On impulse, he clicked the videocall button, not knowing if Geno was even there. Maybe he’d just left his laptop running.
“Third time you call me this month,” was the first thing Geno said upon answering. “You never call this much during summer.” His video blinked into focus. There was minimal light coming in through his windows, but enough for Sid to tell he’d caught Geno in the morning again, that he was up uncharacteristically early again, and that he looked pleasantly surprised to see Sid.
Sid felt himself frown. He usually didn’t call because Geno usually wouldn’t pick up. Instead of pointing that out, he just said, “Technically you called me last time.”
Geno was in bed too, lying flat on his stomach. He propped himself up on one elbow and peered at the screen, tilting his head to one side. “Where are you?”
“LA. Got in today.”
“Oh good,” Geno said, tongue poking out the corner of his mouth. “Worried maybe you not have any furniture in your pink house.”
Sid glanced around. He supposed the condo he rented out in Santa Monica was kind of spartan, but he didn't mind it.
They ended up talking about Worlds, Geno telling him more about the mess over Team Russia walking off the ice early. “No one say anything to me and Sasha, but everyone angry at Kovy. Feel bad for him. Coaches tell him to do it. And think he wants to come back to NHL but team won’t let him.”
Sid had been asked about it a lot at the Gold Gives Back event in Toronto three weeks ago. He told Geno about spending half that night next to McDavid so people could get pictures with them.
“He kept calling me ‘Mr. Crosby,’” Sid said, feeling his nose wrinkle involuntarily.
Geno muffled a laugh into his arms. He looked just about ready to fall dead asleep — with Sid still there, even — so Sid let him go.
“Thanks for keeping me company, G,” he said as he signed out.
They ended up Skyping the following Monday too, and the Monday after that.
Gonch’s family was helping Geno out now that his parents were back in Magnitogorsk, but he was by himself on off-days and he said he liked the company while he went about his mornings, especially since he wasn’t getting out much except to train. He texted Sid in-between calls too, mostly pictures of Stas. Jen had told him he needed to stop putting so many of them online, if he wanted the beat reporters to back off about it when they got back to Pittsburgh, and it seemed like Sid was his newest audience for them.
Sid saved the cutest ones to his phone, just like he'd done when Estelle was born — the ones of Gonch’s kids smiling huge and wide while they held him, the one of him looking grumpy and on the verge of tears in his christening gown. The one of him sleeping on Geno's shoulder. He liked it when Stas was awake during their calls too, Geno holding him while they talked, liked his surprised little faces when Sid's voice came through the speakers.
Geno's birthday fell on a Friday. Sid sent him a happy birthday text the morning of and headed out to meet Andy at the gym. He was surprised to find Geno online when he got back to the condo that night.
"Is Saturday morning here, Sid. Birthday was yesterday." He was sitting up in bed, looking rumpled and half-asleep, and he wasn't wearing a shirt, the bedcovers pooled around his hips.
"Good birthday?" Sid asked.
"Just small dinner with friends," Geno shrugged. "Very different to last year's party."
Sid had gone out after training, just a low-key bar, just one or two drinks, but it had been hot enough inside that he felt completely sweaty and gross now. "Well, I still wanna hear about it. Just give me five to shower?" he called, stepping into the closet to peel off his t-shirt. "That okay?" he checked, stepping back in front of the camera.
"Sure," Geno said after a moment. He cleared his throat. "Don't mind waiting."
"You going somewhere?" he asked when Sid came back into the room, toweling off his wet hair.
"Your bag packed." He gestured to the corner of the room.
"Oh yeah. I'm headed back home tomorrow."
So Sid explained about the Hockey School, an idea that Geno predictably thought was great, though he couldn't believe Sid was giving up his birthday for it.
"Well, we're not all birthday brats," Sid said mildly, stifling a smile at the indignant expression on Geno's face.
It was late in August when Sid got online at their usual time and Geno didn't pick up. Sid was back in Pittsburgh early, the way he'd taken to doing the last couple years since his house had been finished, and all the traveling was definitely wearing on him, but he'd calculated times correctly, he was sure of it.
He frowned to himself. Skype? he texted Geno.
or you could come over
You're back? Sid replied even as he grabbed his keys and headed for the Tesla. He didn't get a reply in the ten minutes it took him to pull into Geno's drive, which was worrying until he realized that Geno was waiting for him on his porch, holding Stas in his arms.
"Hi," he said, when Sid got out of the car.
"Hi,' Sid called back, feeling like his helpless smile was too big for his face. He meant to hug Geno first, but Stas reached for him the second he was close enough, kicking his feet a little. "Hi," he said again, softly, when Geno carefully handed him to Sid.
When he looked up again, Geno's smile was soft too. He leaned in to wrap an arm around Sid's free side. "Come inside. So much to talk about."
"G, we talked kind of a lot this summer," Sid said, even as he followed Geno up to the house, still all wrapped up in meeting Stas in person for the first time.
Geno shook his head as he held the door open for Sid. "Not enough."