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Sid was six when his mother left. It was a Tuesday night, in the middle of February. She didn’t leave a note or, if she did, it’s long gone. When Sid was eight, he spent a few months systematically searching his dad’s bedroom every time he worked late. The only thing Sid ever found was an envelope of paperwork with the words ‘divorce’ and ‘abandonment’ written on it.

All Sid has is a dog-eared photo. In the picture, his mom is sitting next to his dad on an aluminum lawn chair wearing a yellow sweater vest and green pants. Sid is squatting on the grass next to her knee. He has a truck clutched in one hand. Behind them, there is a patch of wild raspberry bushes. Sid thinks he remembers eating berries straight from the bush, but there’s no one who can say for sure. The only time his dad will ever talk about her is after a few late night bottles of beer.

He used to fall asleep trying to remember the sound of her voice. If she ever tucked him in at night, if she ever read him books, or smoothed back his hair when he was sick, Sid can’t remember. Occasionally he still misses her but for the most part, the disappointment has hardened over like a scab.

Sid’s dad spends his days working at the Irving garage. He changes oil, flat tires, and the occasional spark plug. At night he comes home, hands stained black with grease. Sid sits at the kitchen table and watches him wash up at the sink. He uses the gritty orange soap that’s kept next to the tap and it leaves behind shiny grey bubbles. Sid likes the smell of it.

Like most men in Cabot, Sid’s dad works two jobs. At night he works for cash under the table in the garage behind their house. When he’s finish, he clomps inside and falls asleep in front of the TV watching sports highlights with a beer in one hand.

*

Sid is at school the day of the accident. After French, he gets called to the office. When he gets there, the secretary refuses to look at him for more than a few seconds. When she smiles it looks brittle and fake. Sid sits on the green chair outside the principal’s office and wonders what he’s done while she knocks on the door.

“Sidney’s here, sir.”

He still thinks about that moment sometimes. One minute he’s sitting on the green chair outside the office where everything is okay. And in the next, he’s on the other side of the door where everything is not.

When Sid walks into the office his principal sighs and stands up. Sid watches him as he walks around to the front of the desk. “Have a seat, Sidney.”

Sid sits down on another green chair. On the wall there are framed certificates and a photo of the Queen when she was young. There’s a weird sudsy feeling bubbling in his stomach, so Sid focuses on the phone next to the principal’s thigh. It’s black, with a row of four white buttons and one red one. The red button is flashing. Someone Sid’s never met before squats beside his chair and says gently, “Honey, there’s been an accident.”

Later, at the funeral, Sid thinks about the two green chairs while everyone else stands in little clusters, whispering over finger sandwiches.

*

With his mother gone, his grandmother is the only surviving family member, and she lives two towns over in a long term care facility. Sid overhears the words ‘assisted living’ and ‘dementia’ a few times. He’s not sure what they mean, but either way, it lands him in emergency foster care. He spends the first week after his dad dies living with a family he’s never met before.

He’s assigned an intake worker who drives him to his old house so Sid can pick through the things in his bedroom. “You can pack a few of your favourite things for now,” she tells him from the doorway.

Sid looks at her over his shoulder. “What happens to the rest of it?”

She smiles at him before crossing the room to open one of his dresser drawers. “We’ll sort that out later, don’t worry. This is a nice shirt. Do you want to pack it up too?”

“I hate that shirt,” Sid says, looking away.

“Well okay,” she replies, unruffled. “Which ones do you like?”

When they’re finished packing, Sid takes a minute to run into his dad’s room. The bed is still unmade. There is a coating of dust over the top of the dresser near the closet. Sid jerks open the top drawer and roots through his dad’s socks. The envelope with the divorce papers is at the back but Sid ignores it, patting around for the photograph instead. He has a flutter of panic when he can’t find it.

“Sid?” This is the second time Jill’s called after him, and she’s starting to sound impatient. “We need to go.”

“Just a minute,” Sid yells back. He pushes through the socks faster now, throwing a few of them to the side. “C’mon,” he mutters to himself. “C’mon, c’mon.” Sid flips the envelope over this time, and the photo is there, underneath. “Yes.” He grabs it quickly and stuffs it into his back pocket.

In the car, Jill tells him that the placement is just temporary. “Sort of like me.” She looks over and smiles at Sid. “Next week we’ll assign you a case worker. They’ll be someone you can talk to about stuff, and they’ll make sure everything else gets sorted out for you.”

Sid raises one eyebrow before looking back out the window again. “And I can have my bike?”

“Yes.” Jill smiles again. “You can have your bike. We just have to get you settled someplace permanently first.”

When Jill turns onto the county road and starts heading out of town, Sid looks over in confusion. “It’s a little farm,” she tells Sid. There is an edge of forced cheer in her voice. “They have dogs.”

Sid pushes his knees together to stop them from bouncing and stares out the window. After a few minutes, Jill turns the car down a twisty lane. It ends at a small house with faded green shutters. There’s an old tractor parked beside a saggy shed. The grass out front is overgrown and spotted with weeds. Sid looks at her again.

“I don’t think so,” Sid says, once she’s parked the car.

“It’s just temporary, remember?” Jill opens the car door and gets out. “C’mon Sid.”

They do have dogs. There are three smelly beagles that live inside the house. At night they sleep on a mat by the backdoor, right outside Sid’s room. Sid lies in his bed listening to the scrape of their nails against the floor. One of them whimpers in its sleep. Sid tries hard not to cry. When he does, he turns his face into his pillow so the sound gets swallowed up by the lumpy polyester.

There are two more placements after that. Each time, Sid comes away with fewer things packed into his bag. By the time he lands in his third home, he still doesn’t have his bike and all of his hockey cards are gone. Sid can’t prove it, but he’s pretty sure the hockey cards were stolen by the scratchy kid who shared his room for a week last month.

It seems like he goes through social workers just as fast. Kate was assigned after his intake. She was okay, but after a month, she left for Halifax. Next was Marylyn, a dour old woman with spiky grey hair and the loamy smell of onion breath. Marylyn retires without telling Sid. The next week, he’s got some guy named Ted picking him up for his monthly meeting.

Ted gets right to the point. He looks at the shiner Sid has and says, “First things first. I don’t put up with bullshit, so you better be straight with me. How’d you get the black eye?”

They’re splitting a plate of fries in the diner across from Ted’s office. Sid gives him a wary look and dips one of his fries into the glob of ketchup between them. He swishes it around for a few seconds before answering. “I walked into the bathroom door.”

It’s Ted’s turn to swipe a fry through the ketchup. “Bullshit.” He’s looking at Sid like he’s got all the time in the world. Like Sid is some sort of puzzle that needs piecing together. Sid squirms under the attention.

“Believe what you want.” Sid tips his chin up a little further, trying to look more confident than he feels. Ted doesn’t look like he’s buying it.

“Look, kid,” Ted says, softly. He leans forward, and Sid braces himself for whatever might be coming. “I’m not gonna lie to you here, because you look like the kinda kid who can handle the truth. Some placements are better than others. But I can’t get you transferred out of there unless you give me a reason.”

Sid chews on his French fry until it feels soggy in his mouth.

Ted stares right at him. “So why don’t you tell me again, eh? How’d you get the black eye?”

Sid only manages to hold his gaze for a few seconds before cracking and looking out the window instead. His eyes well up and he grits his teeth together, hard. It takes a few seconds before he feels like he’s okay to talk again. “I told you,” Sid says, fighting to keep his voice level. “I walked into the bathroom door.”

Ted sighs. He balls his napkin up before tossing it on the table between them. “All right,” he says. “Have it your way. But if you walk into another door, I’m yanking you. You hear me?”

Sid nods. He tries to ignore the sick mixture of relief and panic that washes over him.

A month later he’s sporting a split lip. Ted glances at it when he flips open the file folder with Sid’s name written on it. “Lemme guess,” he says casually, “another door? Or did you walk into something else this time?”

Sid sits on the chair across from Ted’s desk and doesn’t answer. He’s been in foster care for over a year. That’s long enough to know that complaining always makes it worse.

“Didn’t peg you for such a clumsy kid,” Ted says. He scribbles some notes on the paper in front of him. When he’s finished, he crosses his arms and looks across at Sid again.

“A friend of mine and his wife want to adopt,” Ted says, suddenly switching tracks. “They’re a little older so they’re not looking for a baby. And they’re good people too. Stuff like this,” Ted points in the direction of Sid’s lip, waving his pen in a small circle, “wouldn’t happen.” He shifts and leans forward in his chair, pushing some of the paperwork aside. “Look kid, I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”

Ted sits back in his chair again and watches while Sid pokes the inside of his lip with his tongue. The cut has healed over, but it still stings a little when he stretches the skin. After a few long minutes, Ted clears his throat. “Jim coaches hockey. You play hockey?”

Sid shakes his head. “Not since, dad…”

“Well that’s okay,” Ted says. “Doubt it would make a difference to Jim anyway. Janet works at the pharmacy. Not much of a cook, but she’s got a nice goofy little laugh.” Ted lets the information sit there for a while. “Nice house too,” he adds. “Good neighbourhood for kids.”

Ted lifts one hand and scratches at the back of his ear, still watching Sid. Sid watches him back, poking at the cut again with his tongue. It burns, and he can taste a tinge of copper. Ted doesn’t seem like he’s in any hurry to change the topic, and for a while they just sit there listening to the clock on the wall behind Ted’s head.

Finally Sid wets his lip to talk. “Do they have a dog?”

“Nope,” Ted answers. “Do you like dogs?”

Sid shrugs. “Some of them, I guess.”

*

The cut on Sid’s lip has mostly healed by the time Ted’s able to arrange an introduction with the Fenders.

Everyone meets for the first time in Ted’s office. Jim is an older guy with thinning grey hair. It’s clipped so short that Sid can see the pink of his scalp underneath. “You’re taller than I thought you’d be,” Janet tells Sid. She’s got a plain face but a warm, steady gaze. Sid likes the softness in her voice.

For a long minute everyone stands in an awkward circle. Finally, Ted suggests moving into the conference room next door. The conference room is shabby, too, but there are padded chairs and a small chest of toys under the window. Sid takes the seat next to Ted.

“I was telling Sid you liked hockey too,” Ted says to Jim.

“You like hockey, eh?” Jim clears his throat. He looks pleased. “I’m a bit of a Canadiens fan, myself. Who’s your favourite player?”

Sid looks down at the table and picks at the spot where the laminate is chipped. He shrugs. “Yzerman’s okay.” He doesn’t mention that his Yzerman rookie card was stolen.

“Do you have a favourite food?” Janet asks.

Jim leans forward and winks at Sid. “I don’t know why she’s asking, she can’t cook anyway. She could burn water, if you know what I mean?”

Sid cracks a small smile. “I like Chinese.”

Janet shoots Jim a triumphant look and cocks an eyebrow at Sid. “Well you’re in luck. I’m really good at ordering Chinese.”

When the meeting is over, Ted walks the Fenders to the front of the agency again while Sid waits in his office. He comes back a few minutes later looking relaxed. “So, what did you think?”

Sid shrugs and focuses on the rubber toe of his running shoe. The tread is peeling away from the canvas. “What does it matter what I think? You’re just going to shove me some place anyway.”

Ted drops into his chair across from Sid. “Yes,” he says dryly. “That’s exactly what I do. I just shove kids where they don’t want to be.”

Sid looks up then.

“So what did you think?” Ted asks again.

The problem with wanting things, Sid’s come to realize, is that it just gives them something to take away. For a minute he clings stubbornly to his silence.

“Well they liked you,” Ted says finally. “Probably because you’re so friendly and chatty.”

*

A week later, Sid transfers homes again.

“Hopefully this is the last time, eh buddy?” Ted slams the car door shut and slots the key into the ignition.

Sid can’t help but snort. “Yeah, buddy,” he mimics. Sid looks away when he spots Ted trying to suppress his smile.

“Sarcasm is still a form of communication,” Ted says lightly.

“Is that in your handbook too?” Sid asks. He doesn’t put much heat into it.

“Oh yeah,” Ted jokes. “You can check it out for yourself sometime. It’s in Chapter Five: Dealing with Pissy Little Preteen Boys.”

Ted glances over in time to see Sid pressing his middle finger to the window as they pull away. “Fuck them, huh?” Ted says, quietly.

“Yeah,” Sid says softly. “Fuck them.”

The rest of their drive is quiet except for the radio. It’s late September now, and most of the trees have changed colour. Some are already dropping their leaves. “Are you nervous?” Ted asks. He's still looking ahead at the road when he turns the radio down. Sid only shrugs, so Ted clucks his tongue. “Tough cookie, huh?”

A minute later Ted pulls his Buick into a short driveway.

The emergency brake squeaks when Ted puts the car into park. Sid takes a deep breath and holds it, to steady himself. He doesn’t exhale again until he pushes the car door open; the door squeaks too. Sid looks around. The front lawn is small but tidy. He’s learned that’s a good sign. There’s a small cluster of browning shrubs and a few tired-looking potted mums lining the walk up to the front door. Sid’s about to head towards the path when Ted says, “C’mon. This way,” and directs him around to the side door instead. Sid grips his bag a little tighter and follows behind.

Jim meets them at the door. He holds it open and tells Ted it’s good to see them again. Inside, Sid gets a tour of the house. Finally, they walk him to the bedroom near the back. Jim swings the door open so Sid can step in. “And this is your room, big guy.”

Sid looks around. There is a medium-sized wooden desk and dresser pushed up against one wall. The bed is centered under the window and there is a blue comforter pulled over it. “You can move things around however you like,” Janet says from the hall. “Put up some posters, maybe?”

She sounds anxious. She wipes her palms on her jeans, when she looks at Jim for confirmation. “The walls look a little bare,” she apologizes, “but I didn’t know what you’d like.”

Sid puts his bag on the bed. He doesn’t have any posters anyway.

They leave him alone to unpack his things, but before Ted leaves he knocks on the door. “You can call me anytime,” he says, walking into the room. His hands are stuffed into the pockets of his khakis. “And I’ll be by to see you again next week, okay?”

“Okay,” Sid says. He’s not going to call, no matter what.

“Do you still have my card?”

Sid says that he does. Ted leaves him another one anyway.

*

Sid wakes up the next morning a little after seven. For a few minutes he lies in bed trying to get his bearings. The room looks different in the morning sun. The nightlight that was casting shadows over the floor has gone out. The grey walls are actually foggy shade of blue. Perched on the corner of the desk are two white towels that weren’t there when he went to bed. Sid sits up. He tries to ignore the pang in his bladder, but after a few minutes he gives in, grabbing a towel and opening the bedroom door.

The bathroom is at the end of the hall. It’s a small room. The tiles around the tub are a faded green. Sid locks the door before running the water. Even with the door locked, he keeps an eye on the doorknob while he showers.

In the kitchen, Jim is already sitting at the table, drinking his coffee and reading the sports section. He dunks the crust of his toast into his mug. Janet is sitting next to him; she stands up when she spots Sid hovering in the doorway. “You’re up,” she says. “Are you hungry?”

Sid glances around the room before nodding.

“Do you want some cereal? I think we have some Rice Krispies. Or oatmeal?” Janet offers. “I can make you eggs?” She’s tugging the hem of her t-shirt down over her hips. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember what you said you like.”

Sid gnaws on the inside of his cheek. He’s not sure where he should put his hands. “I dunno. Whatever, I guess.”

Janet looks disappointed.

“I like oatmeal,” Sid adds.

Janet smiles then. “Okay. Have a seat. Do you want some orange juice too?”

Sid steps further into the kitchen. He hesitates, and then sits down at the chair closest to the door. “Sure?”

Jim slathers the last bit of his toast with jam before popping it into his mouth. He gives Sid a quick wink when Janet puts the oatmeal down in front of Sid.

“You skate, right?” Jim asks. He’s folded the corner of his paper down so he can stare at Sid over the edge.

Sid’s in the middle of swallowing, so he pushes a glob of oatmeal around with his spoon before answering. “Yeah, some.”

“We should get you some new skates, then.”

“Oh here we go,” Janet laughs.

Sid looks over at her, confused.

“The church of hockey,” Janet tells him, pointing at Jim, “right there. First it’ll be skates, and then god only knows what.”

Sid looks between then and then ducks his head when he smiles. “Amen.”

*

It turns out that Jim used to be a goaltender in the minors. Now he’s one of the assistant coaches for the local team. He spends two mornings a week at the rink running the select team through drills and then coaches a few goalie clinics through the regular season.

That day after school they drive to Canadian Tire to fit Sid for a pair of new skates. Jim watches while Sid sits on the bench in the middle the sporting goods section and laces them up. “You wear socks or skate barefoot?” Jim asks.

“Socks?” Sid answers, feeling uncertain.

Jim nods. “Bobby Orr used to play barefoot.”

“For real?” Sid glances up at him and then back down at his foot. He rocks the skate side to side on heel of its blade, inspecting it. The Bauer logo is crisp and white against the black boot. It feels good.

Later, when they get to the rec centre, Sid puts on his new skates and makes a few laps around the ice to loosen up. He leans into his turns, liking the bumpy feel of the ice under the blades. They make a sharp cutting sound when he carves through the corners. Jim watches him for a few minutes and then points his stick toward the orange pylons sitting on the home bench. “Grab those will you? Help me set ‘em up like this.”

Jim skates the length of the ice, dropping a pylon every few feet. Sid grabs a stack of pylons and does the same. While he helps, Jim explains the drills. When practice starts, Sid sits on the bench watching. On the drive home, Jim says Sid might as well play too, since Jim will be at the rink coaching anyways. “How’s that sound?” Jim asks. “You wanna play hockey?”

Sid cuts him a sideways glance before looking back out the window at the road. Its dark out, and the roads are lined with snow banks. His feet are throbbing in his winter boots, and his calves feel stretched out and warm. He feels good for the first time in a long time.

“Sure.” There is an excited flutter in his chest, but Sid keeps his face neutral when he answers.

*

Over the next month, Sid pours himself into every practice. He’s obsessed with perfecting everything, and when he comes off the ice, his body is exhausted. Still, when he comes home he works on his slap shot against the side of the garage until Janet calls him inside for the last time. At night, he falls asleep still visualizing the perfect pass combination.

Ted makes a point of coming to the rink. Sid will spot him leaning against the boards with his coffee in hand while they practice. When he skates past, Sid briefly acknowledges Ted with a nod. Then he slaps his stick on the ice, looking for the pass again.

“Let’s go boys. Let’s go,” Jim barks. “Sid! Keep your head up!”

At home, he’s still quiet, lurking around the edges trying mostly to be invisible. One afternoon, he overhears Janet complaining to Jim. “I’m just worried about him,” she says. “He never talks about things. Does he talk to you?”

Sid stops in the hallway and watches them while they talk.

“All boys are a little weird,” Jim says as he tries to fix the broken radio. The sound of his voice is muffled and Sid has to strain to hear. “He’ll talk when he’s good and ready. Hand me that Phillips?”

Janet doesn’t look convinced. She looks down at the mess on the counter. “Is that the flat one or the little star-thingy?”

“The star.” Jim holds his hand out. “You should see him on the ice, though,” he adds. “He just lights up. It’s like he was born for it.”

The next night, Janet asks Sid to help with dinner. Sid sets the table with three places and then leans against the fridge, watching her batter the cod Jim bought on their way home from the rink. “Do you want to help?” Janet asks, keeping her back to him. Her fingers are coated in Panko crumbs. She’s still wearing her scrubs from work and most of her pony tail has fallen out.

“Sure.” Sid shuffles forward and stands next to Janet at the counter.

“Like this,” she says quietly. Sid watches her dip the filet into a dish of egg whites first. Next she lays it on the plate of Panko and waits for Sid to coat it. Sid scoops the bread crumbs with his fingers and sprinkles them over the fish. His heart feels sluggish in his rib cage and it hurts to swallow. He feels like he’s supposed to say something, he’s just not sure what.

“Is this okay?” He tilts the plate in Janet’s direction. They both look down at the fish.

Janet nods. “That’s perfect.” She dunks another filet into the egg whites and flips it around before lifting it back out. When she puts it on the plate, their knuckles brush.

“I left some clothes on your bed,” Janet says, carefully. Sid’s already seen the packages of underwear in three different sizes. “I didn’t know your size so whatever you think won’t fit, just leave in the bag and I’ll return it.”

Sid lifts the fish out of the batter and eases it into the frying pan of hot oil. It hisses and spits loudly. “Okay, thanks.”

“How was school today?” Janet asks.

“Okay,” Sid says. “We have a field trip for science next week.”

“Do you have a permission slip I need to sign?”

“Yeah.” Sid drags the last filet through the breading and glances over at the crowded frying pan. “I don’t think it’s going to fit.”

“Sure it will,” Janet says, quietly. She picks up the spatula and pushes the fish around in the pan. “See? We just needed to make a little extra room.”

*

At the end of the season there is an awards banquet in the community room at the arena. Sid sits with the other boys while their head coach makes a few jokes about how far they’ve come as a team. On the table next to him are a stack of plaques. Next to the plaques is a box of trophies.

Sid pulls on his tie. Beside him, Luke shifts in his seat impatiently.

“You’re gonna get Most Improved,” Luke whispers, elbowing Sid.

“How do you know?” Sid asks.

Luke’s dad is the head coach of the team. “Because I saw,” Luke says. “Duh.”

“Who’s getting MVP?” Sid asks. He’s got his eye on the tallest trophy in the box.

“I dunno,” Luke says, squirming again. “I didn’t see that one. My dad kicked me out when he caught me snooping.”

Sid laughs.

When it’s Sid’s turn to go up, Janet scoots up front with her camera. Sid shakes the coach’s hand and they pose, smiling for a picture. When Janet nods, Sid turns to go back to his seat.

“Not so fast, son.” Luke’s dad grabs him by the shoulder while Jim pulls a trophy out of the box. Sid smiles when Jim winks at him.

Luke’s dad clears his throat and looks down at his notes. “Sid came to us a little late in the season but he showed everyone right away what a hard worker he was going to be. Every team has a work horse and Sid’s been our most dedicated player all year. Congratulations, Sid.” Luke’s father hands him the trophy and they pose for another picture.

When Sid sits back down in his seat, Luke leans over to see the trophy. “Told you.”

After the rest of awards are handed out everyone gets up to leave. Sid is carrying his plaque and trophy against his chest. “Can I see?” Janet asks. Sid hands her the trophy. “Most Dedicated,” she reads. Sid watches the way her eyebrows shoot up. She sounds impressed. “I’m not surprised. Great job! You must feel proud,” she says, handing it back.

In the car on the way home Jim says Sid should keep Monday’s and Wednesday’s free. Sid glances up to see Jim looking at him through the rearview mirror.

“Okay?”

“I signed you up for power skating,” Jim adds. “It starts next month.”

Sid nods and looks out the window trying to contain the quiver of excitement.

*

The first skating practice starts on a Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. Jim takes an early lunch from the car dealership and drives Sid to the rink. When he walks into the dressing room a few minutes later, his usual seat near the door is already taken by a kid he hasn’t seen before. For a second he stands there, torn. “Hey,” Sid says. He drops his skates onto the floor and tries for a casual smile. “That’s usually my spot.” Sid smiles again and points.

The kid shakes his head and goes back to lacing his skates. Sid gets annoyed. “I usually sit there, I said.”

Luke laughs. “That’s Geno. He doesn’t speak English.”

Geno yanks on his laces and loops them for the last time. When he looks up, he smiles. Sid’s annoyance falters. “Oh.”

“C’mon Croz. Just sit someplace else for a change. There’s like, a million other spots in here.”

Sid shakes his head. He points at his chest and then back at the spot where Geno is sitting. “I’lllllllllll waaaaaaaait,” he says loudly.

Luke bursts out laughing. “He’s Russian, not deaf.”

Sid turns and gives Luke a withering look. “Shut up.”

When he turns back, Geno is standing. Geno points at the empty spot on the bench. Sid quickly drops into the empty space before Geno changes his mind and kicks his running shoes off. “Thanks,” Sid says. He can feel his face heating up while Geno watches him. “I know it’s stupid, but I just like to sit here.”

Russian,” Luke reminds him.

“I know,” Sid says. His annoyance flares up again. “But aren’t we supposed to talk normal so he’ll learn?” Sid looks back at Geno and rolls his eyes. “Just ignore him. He’s stupid sometimes.”

Geno hasn’t stopped smiling and Sid wonders if his cheeks are hurting yet. When he’s finished lacing his skates he stands up. Geno is the same height as Sid but he has hooded eyes that make him look like he just woke up. Sid points to his chest again. “Sid.”

Impossibly, Geno’s smile grows even wider. “Evgeni. Some English, OK.”

“Well that’s my spot,” Sid says stubbornly.

“I here first,” Geno argues.

Sid scowls. “But I’ve played here all year so technically I was here first.”

The boys leave the dressing room together and head onto the ice. “I sit five year Russia.”

Sid relents. “Okay. But only because I haven’t played five years yet.”

After the warm up the boys get divided into groups of six and they cycle through the different drills. They finish with a set of sprints and when Sid finally makes the last run down the ice, he’s panting. Sid kicks up a spray of snow against the boards when he stops. Geno does the same a second later. “You’re really fast,” Sid says, impressed. He’s leaning against his stick and his legs are throbbing.

Geno smiles. “Sid fast.”

Sid smiles back.

After practice the boys go back to the dressing room. Sid takes the spot second to the door and Geno sits down next to him. “Do you want to go swimming this afternoon?” Sid asks. He drops his gloves into his bag and tries to ignore the nervous flutter in his chest. He hasn’t made any friends that he hangs out with away from the ice. Sid figures Luke doesn’t really count because he’s pretty annoying sometimes.

Geno is bent over unlacing his skate. He looks at Sid and frowns.

“Swimming,” Sid repeats. He holds his breath and paddles his arms side to side. “At the pool.”

Geno’s face lights up and Sid grins back. Initially Geno answers in Russian and then its Sid’s turn to frown. “Yes,” Geno corrects, quickly. “Swimming good.”

*

The boys spend the rest of the summer splitting their time between the rink and the public pool. Geno lives two blocks over so in the evenings, when the sun is still hanging low, they play street hockey in front of Sid’s house. With the right amount of begging, Jim will put on an old pair of pads and let them take shots against him while Janet watches from the front step of the house. On rainy days they camp out in Sid’s basement eating potato chips straight from the bag while they watch Jim’s old Rock’em Sock’em tapes on VHS.

In July, Sid is invited to Geno’s house for his birthday. Geno’s mom makes cabbage rolls for dinner and afterwards they have almond cake. When Sid’s thirteenth birthday rolls around a month later, Janet asks what he wants to do to celebrate. Sid doesn’t hesitate.

“Can Geno sleep over?” he asks. As soon as he’s blurted it out though, he wants to claw it back.

Janet only smiles though. “I think we can arrange that. Anyone else you want to ask over?”

Sid shakes his head. He hasn’t had a party or even a sleepover since he was nine. “No.”

The next Saturday, Geno shows up with his sleeping bag and a change of clothes. After Jim makes coffee everyone gets into the van and they head into Halifax. It’s not a long drive and they get into the city in time to make it to the top of the citadel before the canons are fired. Jim parks in the overflow lot and they find a place to sit on the lawn. From the top of the hill, they can see the roof of the Metro Centre. Past that is the harbour. Jim points out the barges that are drifting into the Dartmouth port.

Later, they have pizza at Salvatore's and then spend the rest of the afternoon walking through the Sports Hall of Fame. They’re walking back to the van when Janet spots an ice cream bar. “Let’s go get a treat,” she says, pulling open the door.

The Freak Lunchbox is a novelty candy shop. There’s an ice cream counter inside the door on the left and the rest of the walls are covered in whoopee cushions and other novelty gifts. Jim finds a set of bacon-shaped magnets. “Put those down,” Janet says, looking away. Sid doesn’t have to be looking to know that she’s rolling her eyes.

Jim sidles up to Sid and tries to hand him the magnets on the sly. He drops his voice to a stage whisper and talks out of the corner of his mouth. “C’mon, buddy. You ask her. She won’t say no if you ask.”

“Jim,” Janet warns. Jim laughs as he puts the magnets back on their hook on the wall. “I could buy them if I wanted to.” He smiles at Sid. Sid turns to Geno and smirks.

“No he couldn’t,” Sid says, shaking his head.

“You’re worse than the kids,” Janet says, lightly. She’s at the ice cream counter now, ordering everyone waffle cones.

Geno snickers. “You parents funny.”

The comment catches Sid off guard. For a second he feels winded and his insides squirm. Sid glances over at Jim and then jerks his eyes away just as quickly. Jim’s heard it too, but neither of them corrects Geno. Instead, Sid grabs a stuffed squirrel wearing a pair of doll-sized men’s briefs. “Geno, check it out.” He holds the package up for Geno to see. Geno laughs and puts on a pair of plastic x-ray vision glasses. He tips his head back towards the ceiling to look at the lights.

They eat their ice cream on the walk back to the van. It’s not late by the time they get back home, but they still drag all Sid’s bedding down to the basement anyway. They have a stack of DVDs to watch, and a pile of junk food sitting between them. Jim pulls a bucket of water out of the dehumidifier in the corner before going up to bed. He dumps it in the bathroom. Sid hooks his chin over the arm of the couch and watches Jim fit the bucket back into place. “Can we stay up past midnight?” Sid asks.

“You can stay up all night as long as you keep it down,” Jim says, heading upstairs. “You want the light off?”

Sid says yeah and turns on the table lamp on instead.

Once they get settled, Geno digs around in the bottom of his backpack. He pulls out a small package and slides it over the sleeping bag toward Sid. “For Sid birthday,” he says, suddenly looking shy.

Sid picks up the package. The wrapping is rough and there is tape wadded at the seam. “You didn’t have to do that. It’s not a real party or anything.”

“It Sid birthday,” Geno repeats. “Open.”

Sid tears the paper away. It’s a package of Russian candy taped to a set of nesting dolls. Geno looks embarrassed. Sid turns the doll over in his hand and looks at the painted face. He’s seen a matching set sitting on top of the TV at Geno’s house. “This is cool. Thanks.”

Geno shakes his head, disagreeing. He grabs the package of candy. Sid can’t read any of the writing on the plastic bag. “Like Christmas,” Geno says. He hooks his index finger, frowning while he fumbles for the right word.

“Peppermint? Like candy canes?” Sid asks. He takes the bag back from Geno and opens it. After he takes one he offers the bag to Geno. “Yeah,” Sid says, around the candy. “Definitely like candy canes.”

Sid sucks on the candy for a minute and pulls the head off the first doll. Inside there is another smaller doll. He spins it around before pulling the head off that one too. Sid clicks the candy against the back of his teeth before tucking it against the inside of his cheek. “You wanna watch the next movie?”

Sid doesn’t wait for Geno to answer. Instead, he sets the doll aside and crawls across the floor to change the DVD. He pauses long enough to watch the sports highlights. On TV Bob McKenize is talking about the trade deadline. Sid scoots back to the couch and stretches out on the floor. “Probert is a hack,” he declares, pointing with the remote.

He’s propped himself up with the pillow he yanked out from under Geno’s head. Geno presses his face into the couch and laughs. Hack is Sid’s new favourite word.

“Chump,” Sid snickers. He lifts one leg up to kick at Geno’s thigh.

“Fart bag,” Geno says, kicking back.

Sid rolls away onto his side, giggling. “Fart bag? No, it’s douche bag.” He lifts his head up to look at Geno again. “Fart bag!”

“Douche bag,” Geno corrects. He doesn’t look concerned.

Sid is too far gone to care. He buries his face into his elbow and his whole body shakes while he laughs. The carpet smells musty against his cheek. “Fart bag!” he wheezes.

“What is douche bag?” Geno asks.

Sid shakes his head and wipes his tears away. “I don’t know. I don’t even care.” He takes another deep breath trying to get his laughing under control. “Fart bag,” he whispers, setting himself off again. When he finally stops laughing he rolls onto his back and laces his fingers together over the middle of this stomach, feeling flushed and worn out.

Geno has shifted his attention back to the movie. Sid does the same, but before long he’s dozing. When he wakes up, the movie is over and the TV has been shut off. For a moment he’s disoriented and then he stretches, glancing up at the couch. Geno’s sleeping bag is empty. Sid turns his head in the direction of the bathroom. There is a line of yellow light visible from underneath the door. A minute later the toilet flushes and the door opens. Sid can hear Geno bumping his way back to the couch in the dark.

“Don’t step on me,” Sid says, when Geno is closer. A second later Geno’s foot connects with Sid’s head. Sid rolls away, cupping his ear while he laughs. “I said don’t step on me.”

“Sorry,” Geno says, landing on the couch.

Sid swats at his foot and connects with the wooden doll instead. It rattles over the blanket before Sid snatches it up. The wood feels smooth and polished in his hand. His fingers easily fit around it. “Do you miss Russia?” Sid asks, rolling the doll in his hands. It clacks quietly.

Geno is silent and Sid starts to wonder if he’s fallen asleep. “It different,” Geno says finally.

“Yeah,” Sid sighs. His eyes have adjusted to the dark and he can see the shape of Geno’s shoulder above his head. He thinks about telling Geno that Jim and Janet aren’t his real parents, but there’s a sharp pang in the back of his throat and it’s hard to breathe around it. “Lots of things are different now,” Sid says instead.

“Yeah,” Geno whispers. It sounds like a question but Sid ignores it. He cups the doll and rolls onto his side instead.

*

In September they go back to school. Before long, hockey’s in full swing again. Playing triple A means a lot more travelling and twice as many practices. For the out of town games Geno carpools with Sid. Geno has already thrown his bag into the back of the van next to Sid’s gear. He’s in the middle of crawling over Sid when Janet opens the passenger door and climbs in too.

“I feel like we live at the arena,” Janet complains. It’s Saturday morning and they got five centimeters of snow the night before. Jim is scraping the ice off the windshield. Sid looks up to gauge her face through the mirror. She doesn’t look bitter and when she spots Sid watching at her, she smiles.

Sid buckles up and stuffs his hands between his legs. By the time they finally leave a few minutes later, the van has almost finished heating up. They’re heading west to Desbrough for a rematch against the Hornets. Sid spends most of the drive listening to music while Geno practices his English by studying the back of his hockey cards. When Geno gets stuck on a word he tilts the card for Sid to read.

“What this word?” Geno asks.

Sid leans over for a better look. “Toughness.” Sid balls his fists up in front his face and jabs the air a few times like a boxer. “Tough guy.”

Geno nods, understanding. He mouths the rest of the sentence quietly. “Well respected for his toughness he has also shown…” Geno frowns, hesitating again. Sid leans over without being asked. His chin bumps against Geno’s shoulder. They’re close enough that Sid can see the tiny freckles on Geno’s cheek and the dark fan of his eyelashes. He can smell the mint from Geno’s toothpaste. There’s a warm spike of interest that makes Sid’s skin prickle. Sid pulls back a few inches, surprised by it.

“…the ability to contribute to offense.” Sid looks at Geno to see if he’s still following. “Ability. Like skill, or talent. Contribute means help.”

Geno nods again. He shuffles the card to the bottom of the stack and starts with a new one.

About forty minutes into the drive, Janet says that she needs a bathroom break. When Jim pulls the van off the road, Janet runs into Tim Horton’s. “I’m gonna grab a coffee while we’re here. You want anything, big guy?” Jim asks. He’s looking at them in the rearview mirror with the driver’s door already propped open.

Geno shakes his head.

Sid glances up. “No thanks, coach,” Sid says.

When Jim gets out of the van, Geno looks at Sid. “Why you call papa ‘coach’?”

“He’s not my dad,” Sid says. He feels uncomfortable, now that Geno’s looking at him curiously.

Geno’s eyebrows furrow. “Why you live with coach?”

Sid fidgets in his seat. He squints down at the stats on the Mario Lemieux card in his hand. For a sharp second, the words look blurry. Forward. Born October 5, 1965. “Because he’s my guardian, dummy.” Geno just looks confused. Sid can feel his face heating up. “He’s my foster dad, or whatever. He’s not real.”

“Oh.” Geno looks satisfied for a few seconds, and then his face clouds over again. He shakes his head. “Where you real dad?”

Sid sighs, annoyed now. “Dead, okay? Can we not talk about it? Jeez Louise.”

Geno shrugs, and goes back to flipping though his cards again. Sid turns to stare out of the window of the van. Janet and Jim are walking across the parking lot together. The hockey button with Sid’s face in the centre is pinned to Janet’s corduroy team jacket. When they get back into the van, a cold draft of winter air follows them. Janet turns to look back at them. She’s smiling, and her cheeks are red with cold. “Ready Freddy?” she asks them.

Geno’s smile is broad and automatic. “Ready, Freddy,” he repeats.

Sid scowls. “Don’t say that,” he says to Geno. “You sound stupid.”

“Sidney!” Janet snaps.

“Sorry,” Sid mumbles. He puts his fingernail against the window and draws a line through the condensation. Jim pulls the van back onto the highway. The radio is playing, and he’s humming under his breath to a Rolling Stones song. Janet has gone back to her knitting. Geno is bent over his hockey cards again. Sid keeps looking out the window, feeling miserable. After a few minutes Geno nudges his elbow with the back of his hand.

“You can have this one,” Geno says, offering Sid his Lemieux card. His smile is soft and it flirts at the corners of his eyes. If Geno feels sorry for him, he can’t tell. “Sid keep.”

Sid takes the card and looks at it. He feels like a jackass. “I have this one already,” he lies, handing it back.

*

In February, they go to the Valentine’s dance. On the drive there, Jim listens while they talk in the back seat.

“At the last dance? In the bathroom? Gus put a Mentos in his mouth and then drank pop!” Sid puffs his cheeks out and then makes a loud fizzing-noise out his nose while Geno rocks in his seat laughing. “It went everywhere! Everywhere!”

“Julie give me spicy hearts,” Geno says.

“Cinnamon hearts are okay,” Sid says. He looks away from the eager smile on Geno’s face, feeling sullen. “They’re kind of cheesy.”

“Sometimes they okay. Sometimes they gross,” Geno muses.

“Yeah. It depends on your mood,” Sid allows. He looks down at his hands, folding and re-folding the ten dollar bill that Jim gave him. It’s an old bill and the paper is starting to feel silky and thin. “Are you going to dance with her?”

“Who?” Geno asks.

“Julie.” Sid sighs, rolling his eyes.

“Oh,” Geno says. “Maybe.”

Jim pulls the van up to the front doors of the arena. There’s already a line of other grade eights waiting to go inside. A few of them are pushing each other into the snow bank at the corner of the building. Jim puts one arm over the passenger’s seat and twists around to look at them. They’ve already started climbing out of the van. “Vladimir will be here to pick you up at ten,” Jim calls after them. “Make sure you’re out front.”

Inside, they hand over their five dollars for admission and pocket the change for pizza. One of the girls from the swim team stamps the back of their hands with a red heart. After that, they put their name and phone number down on the sign-in sheet. Someone has signed Chuck U. Farley on the sheet above Sid’s name. Sid snickers and elbows Geno, pointing to it.

Most of the kids are dancing in small circles. Some of the older boys are sitting on the stack of folded tables. They’re trying to be discreet about sharing a bottle of coke. Sid isn’t the only one to notice, though; one of the parent volunteers walks over to them, and the boys have to split up quickly.

Near the end of the night there are a few slow songs. Most of the kids scatter off the dance floor like pigeons. When Sid looks around for Geno, though, he’s in the shadows, dancing with Julie. His hands are on her hips and they’re pressed close together.

Gus skids across the floor and thumps into Sid’s back. “Geno’s hooking up!”

Sid rolls his eyes. “They’re dancing, stupid.”

Gus just cocks an eyebrow and looks in Geno’s direction. Sid follows his gaze in time to see Geno’s mouth brushing over Julie’s. Gus bumps against him again, laughing. Sid elbows him back, annoyed. “He looks stupid,” Sid says. He knows he sounds angry but he doesn’t care.

Gus doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, he grabs Sid by the back of the neck and thrusts his mouth against Sid’s ear. “Come to the bathroom. Jonesy has vodka.”

This time its Sid’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Gus grins at him and then bolts for the bathroom. Sid follows after him, catching up in a few quick strides.

When the dance is finally over, he and Geno grab their jackets and head back downstairs. Geno’s face is red and there are tiny bruises blooming at the base of his throat. They’re hidden when Geno flips his hood up at the door. Sid’s lips are still buzzing from the vodka. It had burned going down, but when the bottle made its way past during the second round, he drank more.

Sid grabs the back of Geno’s jacket to steady himself, giggling. “Can I stay at your place tonight?”

Geno’s dad is parked out front. When Geno opens the door, Sid falls into the backseat of the car, laughing. Geno gives his feet a shove before slamming the door closed after him. On the ride back to Geno’s, Sid listens to Geno slipping in and out of Russian while he talks to his dad.

“So can I stay?” Sid asks.

“Oh,” Geno says. He sounds surprised, like he forgot Sid was clinging to the seat behind him. “Yeah. He say yeah.”

At Geno’s house, Sid phones home before they go to bed. Geno shares a room with his little brother, so they’re whispering in the dark while Sid shakes out the sleeping bag. “You drink?” Geno asks. He’s already crawled into the empty twin bed on the wall opposite Denis. His voice sounds far away from Sid’s spot on the floor.

“Were you kissing Julie?” Sid counters.

Geno muffles his laugh in his pillow. “Yeah. She tasted like spicy candy.”

Sid starts to laugh too. “Cinnamon hearts.”

“Yeah,” Geno whispers. “Cinnamon hearts.”

Sid can hear the bed creak while Geno gets comfortable. “What were you drinking?”

“Vodka,” Sid whispers. Sid reaches down and puts his palm over his dick. “I can’t believe you were kissing Julie.”

Geno yawns. “It nice.”

Sid closes his eyes, trying not to picture how Geno looked with his tongue darting into Julie’s mouth. His dick twitches under his palm so Sid gives it a consoling squeeze. “It looked gross.”

Geno snickers. When he speaks next, he sounds smug and sure of himself. “It really not.”

*

At 16, Sid is already taller than Janet. He eats more than Jim, too. “Geno wants to go camping again,” Sid says, opening the fridge. He picks out a container of leftovers and pulls back the lid, sniffing. “Is this still good?”

Janet glances over at him from the sink. She’s peeling potatoes to boil for salad. Ted and his new girlfriend are coming over for a barbecue later. There is already a plate of homemade burger patties sitting in the fridge. “That’s from last night, so yes.”

Sid finds a fork and digs in. “Training camp doesn’t start ‘till next week, so can we?”

“Can you what?” Jim asks, coming in from outside.

“Go camping with Geno,” Sid says.

A month earlier they went camping at The Islands with Jim, Vladimir, and Geno’s little brother. “You boys are joined at the hip, I swear,” Janet says. Sid darts a quick look in her direction, smiling.

“What about Mira River?” Jim offers. “That might be fun. We’d be able to get a little fishing in too.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Sid says. He hesitates for a minute, fiddling with his fork. “We thought we could go on our own this time. Us and maybe some of the guys.”

Jim and Janet exchange a quick glance.

“Who else would be going?” Janet asks. Her tone is artificially light but Sid isn’t fooled.

“I dunno,” Sid shrugs. “Just Geno and Gussy. Maybe Ian, too.”

Janet snorts. “Okay, but who’s going to make sure Gus doesn’t light himself on fire?”

“He’s not that bad!” Sid says.

Janet turns to face him again. “How many times has Gus been to the ER in the last month?”

Sid ducks his head, trying to hide his smile. “Not that many. You can’t count hockey stuff.”

“Oh, I wasn’t,” Janet grunts. She’s turned back to the sink again. Sid watches her rinse the potatoes before she dumps them into a pot of water.

“What if it’s just us and Ian? Ian’s brother could come too. He’s nineteen.”

Jim and Janet exchange another look. Janet gives her head a tiny shake, and Sid’s heart sinks. “We’ll think about it,” Jim says finally. Sid doesn’t feel optimistic, at least until Jim winks at him.

A week later, they’ve got Geno’s car loaded down with camping supplies. The hatch won’t completely shut, and they have to use a pair of bungee cords to keep it from springing back up. The red corner of Sid’s cooler is poking out the back. Janet shakes her head. “You look like hillbillies.” Sid flashes them a big smile as he squishes into the front seat. Ian and his older brother, Mike, are already sitting in the back.

Ian leans forward and slaps the back of Sid’s head. “Push your seat ahead, you homo. I can’t feel my feet.”

Sid ratchets it backwards on purpose, grinding Ian’s knees. Ian shouts and thrashes against the back of the seat while Sid laughs. “Move, move, move,” Ian chants, punching the back of the headrest.

Janet bends to look through the window. She ignores the squabbling, talking over them instead. “Call when you get there. And drive carefully.”

Geno leans past Sid and looks at Janet. “It be a good trip. I promise.”

When they pull away from the curb, Sid finally slides the seat forward again, giving Ian more leg room.

The Mira River cuts through one of the provincial parks a few hours north of Cabot. When the boys put enough miles between them and home, they stop at the Beer Store. Mike runs inside while the boys sweat it out in the car. He comes out a few minutes later with a case of 24 and Heineken mini keg. It takes them a few minutes to repack the car, hiding the beer in their sleeping bags.

At the camp site, they put up the tents. When they’re finished, Sid stands back to look at their work. “You said you had two two-mans,” Sid complains to Ian. The tent he’s supposed to share with Geno is barely big enough for one person.

“I thought I did,” Ian says. The tent he’ll be sharing with Mike isn’t much bigger. “Fuck it.” Ian drops the mallet they’ve been using to hammer in the pegs. His t-shirt is damp with sweat and there is dirt clinging to his hands. “Let’s go swimming.”

Geno and Mike are already twenty feet down the trail. Geno’s left his t-shirt behind. His towel is slung over his bare shoulder. There is a dark bruise under one arm where he took a rough hit against the boards during tryouts a few days earlier.

Sid and Ian both jog to catch up, but it turns into a foot race to the water. Sid elbows his way past Ian and then starts running flat out. His sneakers make a steady crunch against the gravel path. Geno makes the edge of the water first and manages to kick off his shoes, but Sid doesn’t let up. He crashes into Geno from behind and drags him down into the water. They come up a few seconds later, gasping and laughing.

For the rest of the afternoon, they sit on the beach talking about hockey and girls. By the time they finally head back to their campsite, Geno’s skin is a bright pink. Ian slaps his back hard enough to leave a white outline of his hand. Everyone but Geno laughs.

“You’re so burnt,” Sid says, looking closer. He pokes one of Geno’s shoulder blades. The skin blanches and then blushes around the tip of his finger.

When they finally get back to the campsite, Geno looks through their bags for sunscreen. He hands the tube to Sid.

“It’s a little late for this now,” Sid says, taking the sunscreen from him.

“We don’t have lotion,” Geno complains.

Sid shakes the sunscreen onto the palm of one hand and then rubs it over the back of Geno’s shoulders. Geno’s skin is hot against the pads of his fingers. Sid smoothes the lotion in broad strokes while Geno hisses. “Hurts,” he laughs, pulling away.

“I’m barely touching you,” Sid argues. He grabs Geno by one elbow. It exposes the bruise on his side again and Sid wants to reach out and slide his hand over it, just to hear Geno hiss. “Now hold still.”

“I’m try!” Geno says. His back is tense and every time Sid’s fingers skim over his skin, he flinches and shivers. “Fuck.”

“It’s gonna be worse tomorrow,” Sid says. He wipes the last of sunscreen off on his shorts. “There.”

By the time the fire finally dies out, most of the beer has been drunk. Sid has pulled on track pants and his Canadiens sweatshirt. Geno is still sitting in his shorts, hunched over his own knees so that his back doesn’t rub against the lawn chair. It’s cold now that the sun has gone down and the late night damp is setting in. Mike is buzzed and Ian is on the verge of passing out. Mike kicks him awake for the fourth time.

Sometime after 2 a.m. they crawl into their tents. Sid can hear Mike cursing Ian from a few feet away. “If you puke in here I will kick your ass.”

Sid snorts. “I bet he does puke.”

Geno’s teeth are chattering.

“It’s not that cold,” Sid says quietly. He’s sitting crossed-legged on his sleeping bag, watching Geno. His head is bumping against the nylon roof. His shins are pressed against Geno’s hip. “You probably have sun stroke or something.”

Geno hands him the sunscreen again. Sid takes it and squirts a cold glob onto Geno’s back. Geno flinches but doesn’t say anything. Sid rubs the lotion in silently. The muscles in Geno’s back are smooth and solid under his hand. Sid gets distracted by the feeling of his palms slipping over the bump of Geno’s shoulder blades. After a minute his strokes begin to linger. When his hand skims over Geno’s ribs, Geno sucks in a startled breath.

“Feels good,” Geno whispers, turning his head to the side. Sid glances down and sees Geno watching at him. Geno’s eyes are dark and serious. His mouth has parted and he’s breathing softly. Sid wonders what it would be like to kiss him.

Sid feels the flare of excitement in his belly and the way his fingertips tremble. His dick has started to harden against the inside of his boxers. Sid tries to tamp down the nervous flutter in his stomach. He pokes Geno’s skin with two fingers, testing the burn. “It’s still pretty red,” he says. There’s a definite husk in his voice that wasn’t there a minute ago. Sid’s thumb twitches against Geno’s back. “Do you want more?”

The question hangs there until Geno finally shakes his head. “It’s okay, it good,” he says, reaching over to snap off the lantern. It takes Sid’s eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark, even though the light is still on in Ian’s tent. Sid fumbles with his sleeping bag in the dark, feeling jacked up and stupid.

It’s impossible to get comfortable after that. No matter what way Sid turns, part of him ends pressed up against Geno. “You’re hogging all the space,” Sid says, irritable.

Geno only laughs softly, refusing to budge. “Too bad, so sad.”

After a few minutes Geno’s breathing levels out. Shortly after that, Sid drifts off too.

It’s still dark when Sid wakes up, his bladder nagging at him. At first he tries to ignore it, but eventually he gives in. He takes a leak against a tree a few feet away from the tent. When he comes back, Geno has rolled over into Sid’s space. Sid nudges him aside. Geno’s skin still feels hot against his palm. “Move it,” Sid whispers roughly. He pushes at Geno’s shoulder, digging in where he knows the burn will flare. Geno jerks aside, groaning while Sid climbs back into his sleeping bag.

“Holy shit, it’s cold,” Sid complains.

“Shhh,” Geno says. He slings one arm over Sid’s shoulders and drags him close enough that their heads bump. Sid can feel the soft exhale of Geno’s breath tickle against his hair as Geno’s pats him sleepily with one heavy hand. “Shut up.”

Sid shifts so that his nose is pressed against the hollow of Geno’s throat and inhales. When he turns his head a second later, his lips skid over Geno’s collarbone. Sid breathes in and forces himself to lie still while Geno’s fingers idly scratch the back of his scalp. When Geno presses his mouth against Sid’s eyebrow, Sid shifts again. He presses his open mouth against Geno’s throat, carefully tasting the skin there with the flattened tip of his tongue. Sid’s dick hardens and he wriggles enough that he’s able to cup himself with one hand. He squeezes hard, inhaling again. Geno smells like sweat and sunscreen and Sid’s suddenly so hard that he aches.

Geno’s mouth is moving over Sid’s forehead leaving behind a trail of small, chaste kisses. He mouths the corner of Sid’s eye and Sid lets himself rut mindlessly against the bunched up sleeping bag.

“Are you awake?” Geno whispers, startling him. There’s a strange edge in his voice that Sid hasn’t heard before. He shifts in his sleeping bag and Sid thinks he feels Geno’s hand cupping his dick through the fabric.

Sid’s face heat up. He pulls his hips back, pressing the heel of his hand over his erection, forcing it flat. Sid rolls onto his side, keeping his back to Geno and ignores the throb in his crotch.

“Sid?” Geno whispers again. Sid squeezes his eyes shut and refuses to answer.

*

Sid has never had much game when it comes to girls. He’s always been the guy who laughs too loud, a few seconds too late. Mostly Sid hasn’t cared, but lately the guys have been razzing him. After the team gets off the ice, the guys pick up their discussion again. Gus suggests setting Sid up with Rhonda Bailey. She’s already dated most of the defensive line anyway and everyone agrees she’s a sure thing.

“I don’t want your sloppy seconds,” Sid says unlacing his skates.

No one takes his protesting seriously. At the next party Geno throws, Sid gets ditched next to her on the couch. When the guys bail, Sid looks at them helplessly from across the room. Geno gives him a thumbs up before disappearing into the back yard.

Sid looks over at Rhonda and smiles. His palms are suddenly sweaty and he tries to dry them on his jeans without being obvious. “Hey.”

Rhonda smiles back. “Hey.” She’s pretty, in a small-town way.

Sid forces another smile. His mouth stretches like an elastic band. “Do you want a beer?” Sid asks, getting up. Rhonda says sure and follows him out of the living room.

The kitchen is crowded with people, but Sid still manages to snag two beers without getting cornered into doing shots. “It’s loud in here,” Rhonda says, taking the beer. She smiles at Sid, her lips glossy with balm. “You wanna go upstairs?”

Sid follows her into Geno’s empty bedroom. Rhonda shuts the door. Even with the door closed, Sid can hear the music thumping through the walls. Rhonda drinks some of her beer and looks around the room before sitting on one of the twin beds.

“That’s Denis’ bed,” Sid says. He holds his beer against his chest with one hand and pushes the other fist into his pocket.

Rhonda looks down at the comforter covering the bed. It’s blue and there are comets covering it. Sid sits down on the mattress next to her. When he finishes his beer, he puts the empty bottle on the floor next to his foot before kissing her. She lies back on the bed and Sid follows. After a few minutes of kissing he palms her breast through her t-shirt. “You can see them,” Rhonda says. She pushes up her t-shirt so that her bra is exposed. Sid looks down at the swell of her breasts against the fabric. Her bra is white with tiny cherries on them. His dick throbs against her hand.

Sid puts his hand over one tit and squeezes. He kisses the side of her throat and listens to the breathy sounds she makes as she humps his thigh. “I don’t have a condom,” Sid says. He glances at drawer of Geno’s nightstand knowing there are at least a dozen there, but he doesn’t reach for it.

“That’s okay,” Rhonda says. She pulls the zipper down on Sid’s jeans and wraps her hand around his dick. Sid lifts his hips to give her more access. It doesn’t take long for him to find the edge of his orgasm.

Sid sucks her earlobe into his mouth. “I’m gonna make a mess,” he says pulling his hips back.

“That’s okay,” Rhonda says. She shimmies lower on the bed so that Sid’s dick is trapped against her belly. “You can come on my boobs.”

Sid ruts against her while she grips his ass. When he comes a few seconds later, he laughs, self-conscious. There is a wet mark damping the fabric of her bra. “Told you,” he says.

Later, when Sid’s hanging out with Geno again, he admits to chickening out. He tells Geno that he ended up finger banging her instead. Geno doubles over laughing. At first Sid is pissed off about it, but it’s hard to be angry at Geno when he’s making that stupid snuffling noise when he laughs.

“You’re an asshole,” Sid says, affectionately.

“And you’re still a virgin,” Geno laughs.

Geno is sitting on Sid’s single bed, toying with the controller to the Playstation that Sid got for Christmas.

Sid watches Geno’s thumb flicking the joystick. When Sid had opened the present, he shook his head, already protesting before the box was fully unwrapped. Before he could say anything, Janet cut him off. “Don’t say it’s too much.” Sid felt the back of his throat thicken. “Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

He blinks now, flipping the game cartridge against his leg for a few seconds before finally popping it into the machine. He turns back to Geno. “So what?” he says. “You probably are too.”

Geno smirks. “Probably not.”

Sid stares at him for a few seconds, trying to gauge whether or not Geno’s full of shit. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Geno ignores him, already picking out his roster. He’s taken all the best players by the time Sid sits down on the floor in front of the bed. Geno’s knee is butting comfortably into the back of his neck.

“You can stack your team all you want,” Sid chirps. “I’m still going to kick your ass.”

Geno answers in Russian, but Sid’s not stupid. He knows he’s probably been told to go fuck a donkey or something.

They play for a few minutes before Sid’s curiosity finally gets the best of him. “For real? You’ve had sex?”

Geno grunts and ducks his player around Sid’s defense before scoring. He whoops, but Sid is ignoring the game now. Sid shifts on the floor so he can look over his shoulder at Geno. Geno doesn’t look like he’s bullshitting. “So how was it?” Sid can feel his face heating up. “I mean. Like, what was it like?”

Geno shrugs this time. His face is winter-pale, and there are shadows under his eyes. There is a smudge of a hickey visible against his collarbone where his t-shirt has twisted. Sid watches the way he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth to wet it.

“Good.”

Geno lets Sid stare at him for a few seconds before shifting on the bed. Once he’s comfortable again, he kicks the back of Sid’s shoulder with one socked foot. “C’mon, play.”

Sid turns back to the TV and takes the game off pause. He feels like his skin has an electric charge. Sid has seen Geno kiss girls before. He looks stupid with his eyes closed and his tongue poking out to meet theirs. Still, Sid’s dick jerks at the thought.

*

On off-days they usually cruise around town in Geno’s hatchback. Half the time the heat doesn’t work. There’s no door on the glove box, either, so everything falls out whenever Geno corners too hard. Geno always corners too hard.

They’re on their way to Geno’s place for dinner. Sid is sitting in the passenger’s seat with his hands ready to block shit from falling onto the floor. “I could be a goalie,” Sid says, catching the owner’s manual when they turn onto Geno’s street.

Geno thinks this is funny, and he snuffles again when he laughs.

Sid has his license now, but he doesn’t have a car. Janet always tells him it’s okay to borrow the van, but he still feels weird about it. He feels weird about a lot of things. Like for one, they avoid the adoption-talk, even though he goes to the cottage with them every summer and his photos are hanging on the living room wall.

Technically he knows he’s considered a foster-to-adopt kid, but Sid balked early on. Now he just doesn’t know. Whenever Sid thinks about it, it makes him feel funny. The only word he can think of to describe it is ‘disloyal,’ and that comes with a whole ball of messed up feelings he can’t even begin to pick apart.

When they get to Geno’s, they park on the street. Inside the house, Denis is wrestling with a friend in the living room. Geno drops his jacket on the back of the chair before leading the way into the kitchen. He kisses his mother and she pats his face with one hand. “Sit, sit,” she tells Sid.

The table is already set and Vladimir is sitting in his usual spot. Sid takes the empty chair next to Geno. When he looks up, Geno’s mom puts a plate of ground beef and noodles in front of him. “Thanks,” Sid says reaching for a slice of bread.

There is another loud thump in the living room. Sid can hear Geno’s brother laughing. Vladimir shouts in the direction of the sound. A minute later the boys come into the kitchen and take their seats at the table. Denis is sweating. His cheeks are red and his hair is mussed. He kicks his friend under the table. Geno kicks Sid under the table too.

“Stop!” Geno’s mother orders Denis. She smacks the back of his head to get his attention. “Eat!”

Sid ducks his head and laughs down at his plate. He’s always liked the chaos of Geno’s house but sometimes the familiarity of it pangs, too. In the end, even though Jim’s great, he’s still not Sid’s dad. And Sid misses his dad more than anything.

He’d give up anything, even hockey, if it meant having his dad back. He doesn’t talk to anyone about it though; not with Ted, not even Geno. He’s only cracked once, when he was 12. Janet had walked into his room to put away a pile of clean shirts and caught him crying. It was his dad’s birthday. At least, it would have been. Sid had jerked his head away to look out the window and tried to wipe his eyes, but Janet still saw. She’d sighed and said, “Oh baby, c’mere,” in soft voice that made Sid’s insides cringe.

He said he was fine, but she sat down beside him on the edge of the bed anyway, and put one arm over his shoulders. At first he just sat there, stiff and unable to relax, until Janet had finally quietly said, “I know what today is. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything or not. But I know.”

That basically finished him, and Sid ended up crying like a baby until the back of his throat hurt. When he finally pulled it together, Janet just handed him one of the clean t-shirts to wipe the snot off his face. They laughed a little because it was kind of ridiculous that Sid was wiping his snot right onto the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo. “This is actually Jim’s shirt.”

Janet had chuckled a little. She ruffled the back of his hair when she finally stood up. “I won’t tell him, if you don’t.”

So—whatever, they’re cool, as far as foster parents go. Intellectually Sid knows he’s not going anywhere, even if it did take him almost a year before he finally put up a poster in his bedroom. But no matter what Janet says about borrowing “the family van,” it just isn’t going to happen.

*

After practice in February, Geno comes over to Sid’s place. They split a family-size frozen lasagna between the two of them while they watch TSN. Even after they’re finished eating, Sid’s still famished. When the highlights switch to basketball, Sid gets up and comes back with two bologna sandwiches. He gives one of them to Geno and sits back down on the floor.

Geno bites into the sandwich and says he wants to double date Friday night. It’s the first Friday in over a month where they don’t have a game scheduled. “Sure,” Sid says. There’s a greasy feeling that swirls in Sid’s stomach.

“Maybe Sid get lucky this time,” Geno says. He licks a daub of mustard off his knuckle, looking at Sid.

Sid snorts. “Yeah, whatever.”

Eventually, Janet gets home from her job at the pharmacy. She’s still wearing her scrubs, and her hair is pulled back in a loose knot. Geno shouts hello when she walks into the house. His head is tipped back against the couch, and the white of his throat is exposed. For a few seconds Sid gets distracted by how vulnerable his Adam’s apple looks when he swallows. Janet has stopped in the doorway of the living room. She’s staring at the twisted foil pan between them. The corners are still caked with hardened cheese. “You guys ate the whole lasagna?” she says. “That was supposed to be dinner tonight!”

Geno snuffles a laugh. Sid apologizes.

Janet shakes her head and leaves the room. Sid can still hear her grumbling though. He feels like a shit but he can hear Jim saying it’s no big deal; they’ll just order pizza instead.

Geno obviously overhears Jim too because he pipes up then, hopeful. “With olives and extra cheese?”

Jim shouts from the other room. “No olives!”

*

On Friday they pick the girls up for their date. Sid ends up squashed into the backseat of Geno’s car, even though his legs are a million times longer than Geno’s date. Rhonda is sitting in the back next to him, wearing a fuzzy white sweater that makes her look like a kitten. Sid gives her a quick smile and then braces himself against the window when Geno signals to turn. The shit in the glove box skids and everything lands on the floor.

“You supposed catch!” Geno teases. “You not good goalie!”

Cindy looks at him. “I didn’t know I was supposed to catch it!”

Sid presses his face against the window and laughs.

They end up going to see the early show, which doesn’t even sell out; it’s some stupid comedy that the girls pick out. After the opening credits are finished Rhonda complains that she’s cold. Sid gives her his jacket, even though he thinks she’s nuts -- it’s probably a million degrees in the theater. He’s busy worrying about whether or not his hands are going to get sweaty when Rhonda takes one of them and presses it against her crotch of her jeans. He can feel the heat of her through the denim. He only freaks out a little bit before figuring out how to unzip her pants and jerk her off under his jacket.

If Geno notices, he doesn’t say anything about it later.

*

Later that spring they win the divisional championship, and then provincials too. After provincials, Sid finally gets laid for the first time.

The hotel room is a mess, and there’s an open hockey bag lying in the middle of the floor. The girl is pretty and it’s not as awkward as he figured it would be. It’s not as great, either.

Eventually Jim catches on that Sid’s lost his virginity, and finally gives him “The Sex Talk.” At first Jim coughs and tries to act casual about it. “I know I probably left it too late, but ah, better late than never.” Sid’s blushing but he manages (he hopes) to nod in the right places. “So, ah. No means no. And ah, you should always treat ‘em like they’re a lady. And you know the obvious one, I guess. No glove, no love.”

Sid swallows and stares down at the carpet when he nods. He fixates on a tiny bit of white lint and then nudges at it with the toe of his sock. “Right. Got it.”

As far as sex talks go, Sid figures it could have been worse. Still, it’s awkward when Jim leaves a package of condoms and lube on the corner of Sid’s desk. It’s worse when Geno finds them three days later. He holds the lube up and examines it against the light.

“Put that down,” Sid says.

“Do you use this?” Geno makes a jerking off motion with one hand. “Is better, no?”

Sid gives him a withering look over the edge of his math book. “It’s never been opened,” Sid says.

Geno smirks and laughs through his nose. “Trust me, Sid. Is better. Much better.”

Sid goes back to his homework. In math they’re doing a unit on household budgets. Sid has to balance his shitty little salary against his monthly expenses. Because he doesn’t like surprises, he’s already flipped ahead. “Next week I’m going to have a baby,” Sid says. “There’s no way I can afford diapers on my budget.”

“Budget for condoms instead,” Geno says.

Sid looks up from his text book long enough to glare. “That’s not how this works.”

Geno flops down onto the bed next to him. His hair is still damp from his after-practice shower. Sid can smell the faint scent of his shampoo when he leans in to look at Sid’s numbers. There isn’t much wiggle room. “So get second job,” Geno says.

“I don’t know if we’re allowed two jobs,” Sid sighs. He re-reads the assignment. It doesn’t say anything about getting second jobs. Suddenly he thinks about his dad, and his eyes prick with tears. He blinks a few times, rapidly. “It’s stupid anyway,” Sid says, closing the book suddenly.

“What is stupid?” Over the years Geno’s accent has smoothed over, but there’s still a soft zee riding underneath. He reaches out and catches Sid’s wrist in one hand. Sid can feel Geno’s fingertips pressing against his pulse. Geno idly strokes Sid’s wrist bone with the pad of his thumb. The gesture is supposed to be soothing but Sid feels a jumble of jacked up confusion. He stares down at Geno’s scraped up knuckles but doesn’t pulls his hand back.

“Everything is stupid,” Sid says. It comes out quieter than he intends.

Geno watches him for a few long seconds. Finally he presses his mouth against Sid’s shoulder and holds it there. Sid barely has time to register the kiss through the thin fabric of his t-shirt before Geno sits up again. He lets go of Sid’s wrist and Sid immediately misses the heat of his hand.

“It okay, Sid.” Geno’s smile is lopsided and his eyes are soft. “We finish tomorrow. We find out if Sid can have second job. Is good.”

Later that night Sid cracks the seal on the tube of lubricant. It feels cool on his fingertips, at least at first. He glances at the bedroom door to make sure it’s closed all the way, and slips his hand under the covers. He gives himself a few soft pumps. It feels amazing without the usual dry friction of his palm.

Sid closes his eyes and relaxes. He palms himself softly and focuses on his breathing. At first he thinks about the girl from the hotel room and how she felt rocking under him. But then he lands on the image of Geno’s throat, exposed and white. His dick jumps and his stomach does an excited swoop. Sid stills his hand. His dick is fully hard now, and he can feel himself leaking at the tip. His heartbeat picks up when he lets himself think about how Geno looked when he talked about the lube, grinning as he jerked off the air in front of his dick.

Sid licks his lower lip and bites down on it. He thinks about the familiar heat of Geno pressed up against his side. The soft curve of Geno’s lips against his shoulder, and what it felt like to wake up pressed against Geno on their camping trip. He imagines what it might be like to kiss him, what he might sound like mumbling Sid’s name. He’s seen Geno naked a least a million times, so it’s not hard to picture how he’d look hard. Sid slides his hand lower, playing with his balls before stretching his fingers over the pucker of his asshole. He refuses to think after that, just fingers himself open and strokes his dick until he’s fighting not to come.

After he’s done, he feels a guilty twist in his gut as he wipes the jizz off his fingers and belly with the hem of his t-shirt. His heart is still thumping in his chest. When he’s finished cleaning up, he jams the lube between the mattress and the box spring of his bed and tries to convince himself that it’s no big deal.

*

Now that he’s older, Sid only has formal meetings with Ted once every few months. Mostly they just check in with a few texts here and there, or Ted will swing by the rink to watch Sid’s early morning practice. Afterward, he’ll give Sid a ride to school and then ask him how things are going at home. It’s not like he doesn’t know anyway. Ted’s always invited over for BBQs, and he goes on fishing with Jim at least a couple of times a year.

Sid asked about it once. Ted had only shrugged and said the meetings were mostly a formality.

“Isn’t that like, a conflict of interest or something?”

That had made Ted laugh. “This whole town’d be a conflict then, wouldn’t it?”

Sid had smirked. “Pretty much.”

Ted’s office used to be off the main street in a shabby grey government building. Now it’s in a small industrial park in the older part of town. There’s a yellow smile painted on the front window and a few fading blue clouds. When Sid was smaller they’d sit in a mustard-yellow room with a toy box full of battered dolls and some beat up board games. Ted used to play Connect Four with Sid while he tried to coax Sid into talking.

For this month’s session, Janet has taken the afternoon off work. On the way to the appointment, they talk about their hotel plans for Sid’s next hockey tournament. It’s another weekender in York. When he asks if he can room with Geno, Janet says she can’t see why not. Most of the parents end up hanging out in the banquet room of the hotel anyway.

Once they get to Children’s Services, Janet signs them in on the clipboard at the front desk. She waits in the foyer while Sid goes back to Ted’s tiny wood-paneled office. Technically these meetings are supposed to be counseling sessions, but Sid’s grades are good and he’s never been in trouble. Usually they just spend the time talking about hockey and how Sid feels about the Canadiens chances to make the playoffs. Once Sid even helped Ted draft his fantasy pool.

This time, though, Ted says he wants to talk about Sid’s plans for when he ages out of foster care. There’s a small insurance trust he’ll inherit in a few years, plus they need to talk about how his status might impact playing Junior A.

“Can I be billeted next year?” Sid wants to know. There is a nervous, bird-like flutter in his chest that he tries to tamp down.

“We can cross that bridge when they get to it,” Ted says. Sid looks at him and feels himself blanch.

Ted’s broached the idea of adoption a few times, but Sid’s always refused to talk about it. Now, he feels like he’s lost his anchor. “It’s okay,” Ted tells him, easily. He taps the papers of Sid’s file into a neat pile before tucking them back into their blue folder. “We’ll schedule a family session for next time and figure out our options. I’m just saying give it some thought until then.”

When the session is finished Sid’s stomach is a ball of knots.

Janet stands up to meet them when they walk out of Ted’s office. She’s digging through her purse, looking for her keys, when Ted says he’ll be in touch with her in a few days.

“How’d it go?” Janet asks as they’re walking towards the van.

Sid shrugs and says, “Fine. You know, the usual.”

He spends the drive home staring out the window feeling like he’s going to crawl out of his skin.

When Janet finally pulls into the driveway fifteen minutes later, Geno is already out front, drilling pucks against the garage door.

Geno watches them as Janet parks. He’s already dumped another silver bucket of pucks onto the ground. Once they get out of the van, Geno hands him a stick.

“Dinner’s in a half an hour,” Janet says on her way inside. “Geno, are you staying?”

“What are you having?” Geno asks. He grins over at Sid.

“Spaghetti and meatballs.” Janet stops with one hand on the door.

Geno flips a puck onto the blade of his stick and balances it there. “Can you call my mom?”

Janet nods before going inside.

Sid fires a slap shot at the garage. He can barely remember a time when they haven’t done this, arguing about who has the fastest shot in the NHL, or which goalies go down too soon.

Geno falls into rhythm beside him, matching him shot for shot until they can’t see clearly anymore. For a few minutes they stand in the dark, leaning on their sticks and panting. It’s started to snow. Sid sniffs in the cold. His breath fogs in the air in front of him. He shivers when he feels a trickle of sweat sliding down between his shoulder blades. The muscles in his back and core are throbbing, but he still feels like breaking his stick in half.

When he looks over, Geno is watching him closely. “What’s your problem?” Sid asks. He’s been itching for a fight since they left Ted’s over an hour ago. Geno looks like he might take the bait.

“I could say same thing,” Geno answers. He spins his stick so that it twirls around on its blade like an auger. “What your problem?

Sid makes a face. Geno smirks in response. “You so bitchy sometimes,” Geno teases.

He’s heard worse on the ice a million times. Normally it’s a comment that Sid would let slide, but today it chafes. “Fuck off.”

There is a hard edge in Sid’s voice that isn’t usually there with Geno. Geno shrugs and uses the blade of his stick to start piling up the pucks so they can be put back in the bucket. Inside the house the kitchen light is on. It’s casting a yellow patch of light onto the snow near their feet when Janet opens the window enough to call outside. “Dinner in five!”

Once the window slams shut again, Sid swats a few of the pucks out of Geno’s reach. “I said fuck off.”

“I said fuck off,” Geno parrots in falsetto.

Sid drops his stick and runs at Geno. He doesn’t entirely catch him off guard, but he uses enough force that Geno goes down hard into the snow bank along the side of the driveway. Geno swears under his breath in Russian and pushes back against Sid. He grabs a fistful of Sid’s shirt with one hand and shoves him back, hard. Sid can feel the snow leaking through his clothes. It gets up his shirt and down the back of his jeans. He thrashes for a few seconds, and then swings one fist around to clip Geno in the stomach. “Fucker,” Geno grunts. He’s still gripping Sid’s shirt with one fist, and he gives him another rough shake. “Stupid fucker. You stop. Stop.”

Sid stops struggling. Geno doesn’t let him up, though, so he lies in the snow, panting for breath. They’re under the kitchen window now, and when Sid looks up he can see the peak of the house looming over them. He shifts his head in the snow and looks at the pine tree instead. The branches look like bony fingers. Sid’s right arm is still pinned under Geno; he lifts the left one and wipes his face.

“I’m sorry,” Sid says. It hurts to talk. Even if it didn’t, he wouldn’t know what to say anyway. He’s cold now and the snow is making his skin sting. He’s trying hard not to cry. “I don’t know,” he croaks. “Everything is so fucked up.”

Geno doesn’t say anything when he uses Sid’s shirt for leverage, rolling onto his side. There’s only a few inches between them when Geno leans in the rest of the way, closing the gap. His lips are cold against the side of Sid’s face but the tickle of his breath feels warm. The kiss is soft and long. It’s familial, like when Geno’s mom grabs Sid’s head to crush her lips against his temple.

Sid tilts his face into it and relaxes. When Geno finally lets his shirt go, he pats the other side of Sid’s face affectionately. “It okay, Sid. Everything okay.”

Once he’s up, he offers one hand to Sid. “Come on. Let’s eat.”

Sid sighs. He still doesn’t feel any better, but he pushes himself to his feet.

*

The next day, after school, they head to Sid’s house again. Jim has set up a makeshift gym in the basement. They take turns spotting each other while they work out. After Sid finishes his second set of chest presses, he loads another twenty-five pounds onto the bar. Geno raises his eyebrows and looks at him skeptically.

“I can do it,” Sid says stubbornly. He shakes his arms out and then checks his watch. He still has one minute left in his recovery. He reclines on the bench and exhales, focusing on the bar over his head. When it’s time to start the next set, Geno steps into place. His fingertips follow the bar down. Sid pushes it up, and manages five more repetitions before his arms start visibly shaking. He hesitates at the midpoint, the bar tilting to one side.

“C’mon,” Geno orders. “Push up! Up!” His hand slips under Sid’s dipping elbow, bracing him slightly.

Sid strains but the bar doesn’t move.

“C’mon,” Geno demands again, but he’s already moving to help guide the bar back up. He takes most of the weight, and he doesn’t let go of the bar until it’s sitting back on the rack.

“I had it,” Sid snaps. He gives the bar a final shove and then sits up. The muscles in his chest are buzzing.

Geno snorts, ignoring him. “No you didn’t.”

Sid checks his watch. He sits and watches Geno do a set of weighted lunges. There’s a dark sweat stain on the grey fabric between his shoulder blades. When he’s finished, he motions for Sid to lie back down. Geno gets back into place and spots the bar again. Sid only manages four reps before he can’t lift anymore. Geno guides the bar back onto its rack again. This time, Sid doesn’t complain.

“Why you mad all time?” Geno asks. He’s gone back to his lunges.

“I’m not mad,” Sid argues. He watches Geno’s form. His back is straight and his dips are clean.

Geno gives him a quick sideways glance. “English not always good,” he says. Geno lunges again and then pushes back up with a sharp exhale. “Not stupid though.”

Sid’s smile barely touches the corners of his mouth. “I never said you were stupid.”

“No,” Geno agrees. He drops the weights, letting them bounce off of the floor, and reaches for his water. Sid watches his throat move while he drinks. Geno sets the bottle aside and wipes his mouth with his forearm. “You don’t say I stupid. But you act like it. I know when Sid mad.”

Sid doesn’t say anything but when he lies back down on the bench, Geno takes his place at the bar. Sid focuses on the reps, staring at the healing hangnail on Geno’s thumb. “Two more,” Geno murmurs.

The bar has stalled again, but Geno doesn’t take the weight away. “C’mon,” he urges. “Two more. Go.”

Sid forces his arms straight. He drops the weight back down again, and manages to push it up one more time, but the last rep is sloppy. When Sid sits up, his chest is screaming. Geno has already gone back to his last set of lunges.

“You’re not stupid,” Sid says awkwardly. “I don’t think you’re stupid.”

Geno looks at him, eyebrows notched up. He shrugs and starts his last set of lunges. Sid looks down at his hands and strips off his gloves. For a moment he plays with the Velcro, zipping it open and closed a few times. The black leather is wrinkled with sweat. He tugs on a loose bit of stitching. When he looks up, Geno’s finished his lunges and is drinking more water again.

“It’s just family stuff,” Sid finally admits. He looks back down at his gloves. “I’ll be 18 in two years and, I don’t know.” He flexes his fingers when his voice cracks. “I don’t know what that means for hockey and stuff. Like do I still live here? And what about the QMJHL? Am I allowed to play there? I mean- What are we working for if I can’t?”

When he finally looks up, Geno is smirking at him. “Probably Sid not good enough for Quebec league. Geno, definitely yes. Sid?” Geno holds one hand out in the air and waggles it back and forth, looking skeptical. “Sid only so-so.”

Sid shakes his head, laughing. The tension between them dissolves, and Sid feels relaxed again. “You wish.”

Geno peels the label off his water bottle. “What Ted say?”

Sid shrugs. “He says we’ll deal with it.”

Geno nods. “So you deal.”

*

The team is registered for a three day tournament in York, 90 minutes north of Cabot. They take the first two games easily. The third game, against the Bonneville Warhawks, is chippy. Geno gets hit with a cheap shot near the end of the second period. They’re down one goal, but when Sid gets an opportunity to retaliate he takes it, boarding their winger. He pins him against the glass long enough to grind his elbow into the meat of the winger’s back. Sid makes sure he’ll feel the weight of his elbow in every slap shot. “Asshole,” Sid grunts, before shoving off.

Sid gets a two minute minor. He figures it’s worth it when Geno skates past the box and taps the glass with one glove. The mark under his eye is already darkening to a deep purple. Sid grabs the water bottle on the bench and empties most of it into his mouth. He spits half of it out against the boards and bounces his stick against the floor.

On the ice Gus intercepts the puck from the Warhawks’ forward. Jonesy is shouting, “Wheels! Wheels!” after him.

Sid leans forward in the box and watches them carry the rush forward. They lose momentum before centre ice and the play rebounds back into the defensive zone. Sid glances at the clock, impatiently muttering under his breath. He’s on his feet for the last few seconds of the penalty, crowding the door. The box attendant has his hand on the latch, waiting for the last few seconds to run out. Sid shifts his weight from foot to foot. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

When the door finally opens Sid explodes onto the ice with fresh legs, but it’s still not enough to change the momentum. The Warhawks manage to bury another goal before the buzzer. They score two more in the third, putting the final nail in the coffin with only three minutes left.

Afterward, the locker room is subdued. Sid unlaces his skates and rests his bare feet on the black rubber. They look fish-belly white. Beside him, Geno has his head bowed. The Velcro zips loudly as he jerks his pads off. When Geno sniffs Sid keeps his head down and pretends not to hear.

“Tough game, boys. Tough game.” Their coach stands in the middle of the room. Most of the team looks up when he starts talking. “But we’ve got a shot tomorrow. If we work hard…if we play our game, our way. Lot of strong D. Lots of strong offense. We can still take third.” He claps his hands together and scans the room. Some of the guys are nodding. Their cheeks are stained red and their hair is plastered wetly against their scalps. Sid raises one hand and scrubs his own hair back from his forehead.

Beside him, Geno sniffs again. “Fuck third,” he mutters. He’s still got his head down, and he swipes at his face with the back of one hand. Sid watches the coach take a step in Geno’s direction. He puts his hand on Geno’s shoulder for a brief second. “Shake it off, Malkin,” he says, walking past.

Geno nods his head. When he grinds the heel of his hand into one eye socket, Sid bumps his knee lightly. “Hey,” Sid says quietly. It’s not meant to dissuade him from his bad mood, because Sid’s feeling surly too. “Fucking sucks, man.”

“Shoulda had it,” Geno says. He chucks his throat guard into the bag at his feet.

“Yeah. That last breakaway was bullshit.”

“Nah,” Geno argues. “You were fast.”

“Should have been faster,” Sid counters. “We’re gonna be so much faster next time. They have no idea.”

“Yeah.” Geno snorts. His smile is back, but when he turns his head to look at Sid, his eyes are rimmed with red.

After they shower, the team goes out for lunch at a local restaurant. They spend the rest of the afternoon in their suits at the rink watching the other teams play. The mood is lighter now, and half the boys are eager to get back to the hotel. Later that night, Sid and Geno are in their room watching Dumb and Dumber on Pay per View when Gus bangs on the door. The latch has been flipped to hold the door open and Gus sticks his head in the room. His cheeks are still red from the beer he managed to smuggle out of his dad’s room. His eyes are bright and he gives them a manic smile. “We’re going swimming. C’mon.”

“It’s almost midnight,” Sid says, obviously. The team has a 10 pm curfew. Sid’s never broken it before.

Gus rolls his eyes. “Duh. C’mon, bud. Geno’s in. You’re in, right Geno?”

Geno is grinning as Sid watches him throw the blankets back. He’s wearing a loose pair of track shorts and their team t-shirt. Gus is already out the door to round up the rest of the guys.

“Seriously?” Sid throws his blankets back too, though, and follows Geno to the stairwell at the end of the hall. When they open the door, Sid can hear a few of the guys laughing from two floors down. The sound echoes up, and someone shushes loudly. Sid shakes his head. “We’re going to get busted,” he whispers to Geno. His mouth is nearly pressed against Geno’s shoulder; Sid can smell the fabric softener on his t-shirt. “Gussy always get busted.” Geno just shrugs.

Gus pushes past them then, heading through the door. He jogs down the stairs in his bare feet, hopping over the rail and landing with a soft thud. Once they get downstairs, a few of the boys poke their heads out, checking to be sure the coast is clear. “Go! Go!” Jonesy pushes at his back. Geno pokes his head through the door, and then dashes out. Sid follows behind him. The hallway is empty.

“This is stupid. The doors are going to be locked,” Sid complains. It doesn’t stop him from padding behind Geno in his bare feet.

Gus turns and flashes him a wicked grin. “Not if someone came down earlier and taped the lock open.” He puts one hand on the handle of the door and jerks it open. There’s a black strip of hockey tape holding the latch back. Gus sweeps one arm back like Vanna White revealing a string of vowels. “Ta daaaa!”

They all streak past him.

Geno yanks his t-shirt and shorts off, and drops his clothes onto one of white plastic stacking chairs. For a second, Sid’s gaze is drawn to his naked ass. Geno runs across the deck and does a forward flip into the pool. Jonesy yodels a Tarzan call and springboards off the diving board; he’s still in his clothes. Geno’s head breaks the surface, finally, and he shakes the water out of his hair. He’s already looking for Sid. Sid shakes his head and hooks his thumbs into the waist of his shorts, jerking them down his hips. He’s in the water a few seconds after that and then comes up swearing. “Shit! It’s cold.”

Geno reaches for his head and pushes him under the water. When Sid pops up for air again he’s laughing. “Oh it’s like that, is it?” Geno splashes him and Sid smirks back. “You better watch it; I’ll give you another shiner to match the one you got.” He duck dives under the water and reaches for Geno’s legs. Geno wrestles with him, and Sid’s shoulder bumps against Geno’s midsection. Sid’s grip slips down the length of Geno’s leg. He lets go and then grabs for Geno’s ankle again. This time he manages to get a hold of him behind the knee. He stands up and flips Geno backward. They both go down in a hard splash.

Sid stands up first and wipes his eyes. A few feet away, Gus is doing a handstand. His dick has flopped softly against his belly. Sid jerks his gaze away. Geno catches him looking, but he just splashes another wave of water toward his face.

“Fucker,” Sid says. He lunges at Geno again, and they grapple with each other some more. Geno gets him by the arm, pulling Sid close. His fingers wrap easily around the bones in Sid’s wrist. Sid gives his arm a jerk, trying to wrench away again. It’s only by accident that Sid feels Geno’s dick hardening against his leg. His laugh dies in the back of his throat. Sid goes still. Geno stills, too, and stares back at him, unblinking.

After a moment, Sid shifts his thigh between Geno’s legs, nudging his balls gently. He watches Geno’s face for a reaction. Geno’s mouth goes slack and his breath comes out in a soft “oh” that nearly gets lost in all the noise. He drops Sid’s wrist and takes a surprised step back.

Outside the pool someone has flicked the lights on in the lounge down the hall. “Shit-shit-shit,” Mike chants. “Someone’s coming.”

Everyone scrambles out of the pool, grabbing their clothes and pushing for the door. In the hallway Sid’s yanks his t-shirt down over his head while he runs. The shirt gets twisted and sticks to his skin. Behind him, Gus is laughing hysterically and pushing at his back with one hand. Sid laughs and looks over his shoulder. Gus has his shorts clutched in front of his crotch as he runs. “Aw, shit,” Gus pants, “We’re so busted.”

The maintenance person rounds the corner and shouts after them. “You’re not allowed to be down here! The pool’s closed!”

Jonesy skids to a stop in front of the door to the stairwell and jerks it open. He’s wearing his t-shirt over his shoulders like a cape when he waves them past. “Book it, dude. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

Sid ducks past him, and Geno follows right after. They take the stairs in sets of two.

When they get to their room, Sid slaps the lock shut and then sags against the wall, breathing hard. Geno slumps beside him.

Geno’s shirt is damp and stuck to his skin. Sid thinks about the look Geno gave him in the pool, and the feel of his dick pressing against Sid’s thigh. It’s hard for him to swallow.

On the other side of the door, someone runs thumping down the hallway. Sid can hear Jonesy’s muffled laugh just before another door slams shut.

For a minute they stand there in the dark room, panting. The television is still on. The movie is over and now it’s playing the hotel advertisement in a continuous loop. A woman’s excited voice narrates the breakfast special. “For a delicious and easy start to your morning! Scrambled eggs and sausage! Fresh fruit! With bacon and pancakes, all for 15.99! Add a carafe of fresh orange juice! To order your room service dial nine and speak to your concierge!” On screen there is a steaming plate of scrambled eggs and pancakes.

Sid turns back to look at Geno.

Geno licks the pad of his bottom lip, then leans in. Sid doesn’t pull away. They’re standing chest to chest and Sid flexes his shoulder blades against the wall, trying to pull himself up taller. Geno still has a few inches on him; the way they’re standing, Sid’s chin is only level with Geno’s collarbone.

Geno lifts one hand and touches the inside of Sid’s elbow, where the skin is softest. The touch is tentative. Geno’s fingertips feel blunt on Sid’s skin. The contact sends a surge of interest straight to his dick, and Sid pushes his hips up off of the wall. Geno slides his hand down Sid’s arm until he’s able to curl his fingers around Sid’s wrist again. He presses his hips forward, too, until their dicks are lined up, with only the fabric of their shorts separating them. Sid drops his head against Geno’s shoulder. It’s impossible to see anything, but he still stares down at where their hips are thrusting against each other. The friction is making him feel dizzy. When he lifts up onto his toes, looking for more, Geno pushes back against him.

It doesn’t take long for Sid to lose the rhythm. He can feel himself leaking against the inside of his shorts; there’s a desperate itch under his skin. Sid bites down on his lip, trying to stifle the urge to whimper. He steadies himself with one hand on Geno’s hip. Geno is still gripping his wrist, and he’s making urgent, breathy sounds in the back of his throat. Geno’s breath tickles against the side of Sid’s face when he wriggles his wrist free.

“I wanna touch you,” Sid says, stupidly. His cheeks flush with embarrassment.

“Yeah, yeah,” Geno mutters quickly. “Okay.” He pushes his shorts down with one hand, and then tugs on Sid’s. Geno shoves Sid’s t-shirt up to his armpits, too. He rubs his hand over Sid’s belly and tweaks one of Sid’s nipples between his fingers. Sid laughs, surprised at the way the heat spikes in his belly.

Sid tries to get his hand on Geno's dick. The angle is all wrong, so he slides his hand lower and cups Geno’s balls instead. Geno is grinding against him, impatient and demanding now. He’s managed to wriggle one hand between Sid and the wall. He palms Sid’s ass, separating his cheeks as he pulls him in tighter.

“Oh shit. Yeah,” Geno chants quietly. One of his fingers has slid into the crack of Sid’s ass as he holds him there. Sid drops his head against Geno’s shoulder, feeling exposed and turned on. He arches his ass back against it, looking for more. The pad of Geno’s finger is nudging against his hole. “C’mon,” Sid asks, roughly. His face reddens, knowing what he’s asking for but too embarrassed to say it. “Please.”

Geno bites down on his groan but some of it still hisses out, like a tire losing air. “Oh, oh fuck. Fuck.”

Sid can actually feel Geno’s balls tighten. He strokes them with the palm of his hand, pressing his fingers between Geno’s legs. Geno presses Sid even harder against the wall when he comes. He buries his face against Sid’s neck. His whole body trembles, and Sid holds one hand against Geno’s back, feeling him shake as he comes. “Shit,” Geno whispers. He sounds winded and weak. His breath is fanning against Sid’s skin in uneven huffs.

Geno takes another ragged breath. Sid shifts. There’s something sharp digging into his back. He can smell the chlorine from the pool, already dried on Geno’s skin. Geno’s jizz is dripping on his belly. Geno pumps his hips, softer now, riding through the aftershocks. He pets the side of Sid’s head, clumsily, with the hand that isn’t on Sid’s ass. Sid pulls his hand away from Geno’s balls and starts jerking himself off instead. It only takes a few strokes before he’s coming too.

When he’s finished, they break apart. Sid feels stunned and clumsy. Geno’s laugh sounds nervous and weird, breaking in all the wrong places. He’s already stripped his t-shirt off. Sid does the same, watching Geno wipe his belly out of the corner of his eye. Afterward, Geno throws the t-shirt onto the floor and crawls into his bed. Sid hangs back, hovering near the corner of his own bed, unsure of what he’s supposed to do.

Geno holds up the remote for the TV for Sid to see. “Can I shut off?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Sid says. Geno shuts off the TV. Sid finishes stripping out of his clothes in the dark and climbs into bed.

*

In the morning Sid is the first one awake. For a few minutes he lies in bed, listening to Geno breathing from across the room. Eventually, though, he gets out of bed and heads for a shower. When he comes out a few minutes later, Geno is watching cartoons. Sid glances over at him and then picks one of the crusty t-shirts off the floor. Sid drops it onto his dirty pile of laundry before sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Shower’s free,” he says, rooting through his bag. “Water pressure sucks, though.”

Geno gets up and grabs a clean pair of sweats. He stops at the end of the Sid’s bed.

Sid looks up, keeping his face carefully blank. “What?”

“That’s my t-shirt,” Geno says stiffly.

Sid looks down at where he’s stuffed one of the shirts they cleaned up with. “Oh. Sorry.” Sid’s face heats up and it’s hard to keep his fingers from shaking when he hands it over. “It’s gross anyway.”

“Well, yeah.” Geno’s trying to smile now, and it’s obvious he’s nervous too. Sid looks away, grabbing his toothbrush before ducking into the bathroom. He’s running the brush under the tap when Geno tries to ease past him. There isn’t much space to maneuver so Geno puts one hand lightly on Sid’s hip. Sid jerks his gaze up to meet Geno’s in the mirror. Geno’s blushing and his hand lingers. When his grip tightens slightly Sid blushes too and smiles down at the toothpaste.

“You better hurry up,” Sid says gruffly. “We’re going to miss breakfast if you don’t.” He sticks the brush into this mouth and leaves the bathroom. In the hall people have started moving around and every few seconds another door slams shut. Sid stands in front of the TV and stares at the Tom and Jerry cartoon while he brushes his teeth.

Geno’s shower is quick, but when he comes out of the bathroom, Sid’s already dressed and ready to go. Once they walk downstairs they find a table with Gus and Jonesy. The boys are hogging most of the table. Jonesy is already on his second helping of eggs. “You’re going to puke,” Sid warns. Beside him, Geno is cutting his waffle into pieces. His hair is still wet from his shower and he looks up just as Jonesy opens his mouth in Sid’s direction. The eggs are a yellow chunky paste. Jonesy sticks his tongue out for the full effect. “Awww.”

Under the table Geno knocks Sid’s foot with his own and then smiles down at his plate.

“Gross,” Sid laughs, pressing back against Geno’s calf. He likes the solid, secret heat of him. “Shut your yawp, Jonesy. Some of us haven’t started eating yet.”

Later that afternoon, their team wins the bronze medal game. When they’re finished showering, they drag their bags out to the bus for the ride back to Cabot. The buzz around the lobby is that the roads aren’t the best and a storm seems to be coming in from the east. A few of the guys are loitering around the pop machine when the coach walks past. “Get a hustle on boys.”

Sid grabs his sticks and hoists his bag over his shoulder. When he climbs onto the bus a minute later, he smiles at the driver. “Don’t put ‘er in the cabbage patch, okay?”

Eddie nods and fusses with the radio. He’s listening to the Leaf game on CBC.

“Hey, hey. Fast Eddie,” Jonesy says. “What’s the score?”

“Four nothing, Montreal,” Eddie says.

“Fucking punks,” Jonesy says.

Once Sid’s in his seat, he loosens his tie and slouches down so he can brace his knees against the seat in front of him. When Jonesy flops down in the empty spot next to him, Sid opens his mouth to protest.

“Relax, Crozilla. I’ll move when your boyfriend gets on.” Jonesy turns his attention back to Gus while Sid does his best not to stammer when he tells Jonesy to fuck off.

When Geno gets on the bus, Jonesy stands up and moves a few seats back. It’s dark by the time the bus pulls out of the lot and the snow is coming down hard. Most of the guys are already napping by the time they cross the county line twenty minutes later. Geno shifts in his seat and when Sid glances over at him, he smiles. Geno’s fingers press at the high point against Sid’s thigh. “Yeah?” he whispers. He strokes his thumb against the fabric of Sid’s dress pants.

Sid glances across the aisle. Gus is sleeping. His head is tipped forward and he’s snoring into the lapel of his jacket. Sid nods, reaching up to shut off the overhead light. Next to him, Geno slouches down and drags a suit jacket over Sid’s lap. Sid lets his legs splay open.

When he glances over at Geno, Geno’s head is lolled to the side and he’s feigning sleep. Sid glances down at his lap where the jacket is covering them. In the dark it’s nearly impossible to see the small bump of Geno’s fist moving under the fabric. Sid scoots further down in the seat anyway.

Sid’s dick is hard and Geno pushes his thumb through the smear of precome. He squeezes the head before dropping his hand around the shaft again. Sid bites the inside of his mouth and tries to breathe normally. He fights with the urge to thrust into Geno’s fist. Geno jerks him a little faster, tightening the pressure while he reaches for Sid’s balls. Sid exhales through his nose. His belly is tight and the heat in his balls makes him feel like whining.

“Shhh,” Geno says. He shifts in his seat and for a second it feels like the jacket is going to slip. Sid slaps one hand down over the sleeve, holding it in place. His pulse is hammering and he glances past Geno to be sure that no one is watching. Gus is still sleeping. A few seats ahead, someone finally shuts off the last overhead light.

Sid reaches down and holds Geno’s arm in hand. He jerks his hips up off the seat, thrusting as much as he can. He comes a few seconds later and Geno wipes his fingers clean on the leg of Sid’s boxers. Sid zips up feeling sticky and gross. His pulse is still skipping when he glances over at Geno, dazed.

Geno rubs his nose with his fingers, and sniffs. He grins at Sid, looking pleased.

“Jesus,” Sid breathes, staring. His dick jerks weakly in his boxers.

*

“Ted called about that family meeting,” Janet says. It’s Wednesday morning and she’s been whipping back and forth between the fridge and the cutting board ever since Sid walked into the kitchen. Sid looks up from his cereal. Janet has pulled out a sandwich bag for her carrots. He watches her dump them in to the baggie before zipping it closed. “He has an opening this afternoon. I told him we’d take it.”

“I have to work out,” Sid says.

“I think you can reschedule one workout,” Janet says. “Don’t you?”

“It’s important,” Sid argues.

Janet stops packing her lunch long enough to turn and face Sid. “And so is this.”

Sid tries again. “It’s mandatory.”

“And so is this,” Janet repeats. She stares at him for a few hard seconds, resolved. Sid’s seen that look before. “I think you’re under the impression that I’m asking you. I’m not asking, Sid. I’m telling. We have a family meeting this afternoon. You will be there.”

Sid rolls his eyes and then looks back down at his cereal. “Whatever.”

“Whatever?” Janet echoes. “You ‘whatever.’” When she’s finished packing her lunch she grabs the keys off the counter and heads for the door. “Geno still picking you up for school?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” She touches the back of Sid’s head with the tips of her fingers on her way past. “We’ll see you at three. Have a good day.”

After she’s gone Sid takes his cereal bowl to the sink. He runs the tap, swirling the dish around until the water runs clear. When he’s finished, he drops his spoon into the basin. By the time Geno shows up twenty minutes later, Sid is showered and almost ready to go. Outside, Geno honks the horn from the driveway. Sid runs out of the house still shoving one arm into his jacket. He throws his backpack into the back seat before slamming the door shut. “Hey,” he says. “Sorry I’m late.”

“It OK,” Geno says. His smile flickers briefly before he darts his head across the gear shift, planting a quick kiss on Sid’s cheek. The press of his mouth is soft and gone before Sid fully has a chance to process it.

Geno puts on arm over the back of Sid’s seat while he backs out the driveway. He twists his head so he can look over his shoulder. Geno’s cheeks are flushed with colour and despite the nervous flutter in his stomach, Sid doesn’t hide his smile.

*

Ted meets them in the lobby and then leads the way back to the conference room. On the wall there is motivational poster about climbing the mountain one step at a time. The bottom corner is peeling away from the tape. Sid sits down on one of the high back chairs furthest from the door. They’re mismatched and the blue fabric is stained.

Ted closes the door behind Jim, and then takes a seat across from Sid. He smiles down the table at Janet and Jim. “This feels pretty formal, eh?”

Jim chuckles. “A little.”

“Anyone want coffee or water before we start?”

Janet shakes her head. She pushes a strand of hair off her face and smiles. The smile doesn’t stick.

Ted clears his throat. “Okay. Let’s just dive in, shall we?”

Sid fidgets in his seat, and watches Ted flip open the file. Ted clicks his pen a few times while he scans the pages. When he looks up at Sid, he smiles. “Sixteen now, eh? How was the camping trip? Fish biting?”

“Some,” Sid says. He grinds his thumb into the arm of the chair and watches the nail bed blanch.

“You got a girlfriend?” Ted asks. “I bet you’re beating them off with a stick.”

“No.” Sid thinks of Geno’s mouth on his neck and then pushes the thought roughly away. He narrows his eyes and stares at Ted. “Why are you asking? You know all this stuff.”

Ted puts his pen down and pushes the file aside. “Because you look like you’re pretty wound up right now.”

“I’m fine,” Sid says. He looks back at the poster again.

Ted nods. “Hockey’s going well?”

“Hockey’s going great,” Jim says. “He’s ready to make the jump to the juniors. Everyone says so.”

“That’s exciting,” Ted says. He’s leaning back in his chair now, watching Sid.

“Can I play?” Sid asks. His voice feels thinner than usual.

Ted’s silent for moment. “It’s not a straight forward process,” he admits.

Sid’s heart sinks. “I knew it.”

“There are jurisdiction issues,” Ted says, “so it depends on where you end up. And technically you’re still a ward of the province, so your billet family would likely need a home study. It’s not impossible, it’s just…” Ted fumbles for the right word. “It’s just tricky.”

“What if he wasn’t a ward anymore?” Janet asks. Sid cuts her a quick look. Janet has leaned forward in her chair. She’s laid her palms flat against the conference table. “What if we adopted him?”

“Adopt me?” Sid asks. His heart squeezes painfully. “Why would you want to adopt me?”

Janet looks at him, confused. “Why wouldn’t we? We’ve always wanted to adopt you, you know that.”

“You never said,” Sid argues. “You never said that.”

“What?” Janet looks stunned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She turns to Jim for help. “Jim? I don’t know what he’s talking about. We’ve always said …” She turns back to Sid again. “Sidney, we’ve always, said…”

“No, they didn’t.” Sid looks at Ted. “They never said that.”

“This is ridiculous,” Janet says. She throws her back against the chair, flabbergasted. “I’m arguing semantics with a sixteen year old.”

Ted lifts both hands like a traffic cop. “Okay, hold it. Let’s back up. Sid, I told you from the beginning they wanted to adopt. I don’t know why you’re so angry, but we’ve talked about this before. This isn’t new.”

Sid interrupts. “We never said adopt me.”

“Who else?” Janet says quietly. “Who else is there?”

“There are lots of other kids,” Sid says. His voice cracks embarrassingly and he bites down on his lip, angry.

Janet shakes her head. “Not that live with us.”

“You’ll change your mind,” Sid says, standing up to leave. “You don’t even know me.”

“What?” Janet turns in her chair while Sid strides towards the door. “What are you talking about? Of course we know you.”

Sid shakes his head. “No you don’t,” he says walking out.

*

After Sid leaves, he walks to the mall. Once he’s there, he waits by the doors until Geno’s car pulls up out front. It’s dark when Sid climbs in and slams the door harder than necessary.

“Where we go?” Geno asks.

“I don’t care,” Sid says. He’s looking out the passenger window at the bus stop. “I don’t fucking care.”

“Okay,” Geno says. He puts the car in gear and pulls away from the curb.

“Actually-- let’s go to the pier,” Sid says suddenly.

Neither of them talks, but they both know why they’re going there. Geno finds a spot on the far side of the fish hatchery, deep in the shadows. When Geno puts the car in park, Sid gets out and moves into the back seat. Geno does the same. He hesitates, watching Sid struggle out of his jacket. “Sid?”

“Shut up,” Sid says. He unzips his jeans next and pulls his dick out before straddling Geno’s lap. “I don’t wanna talk anymore.”

“Okay,” Geno says. He puts his hands on Sid’s ass as Sid grinds against him, and tilts his mouth up. The kiss is sloppy and bossy. After a few minutes of jerking Sid’s dick, Geno reaches up with one hand and pulls Sid’s head down. He puts his mouth on Sid’s ear and squeezes the crown of Sid’s dick with his fingers. “Can I suck it?”

Sid doesn’t say no. Instead, he gets out of the car and stands in the open doorway with his jeans hanging open. Geno pulls him forward until he’s bracketed between Geno’s legs. Sid braces one arm on the roof of the car and uses his other hand to steady himself against Geno’s shoulder.

Geno pushes his nose against Sid’s belly and kisses the skin there. It’s soft and hesitant and all the fight goes out of Sid. “You don’t have to,” Sid whispers touching his hair.

“I want to,” Geno says. He looks up at Sid and scratches his thumb through the thatch of pubes.

Sid lets his head drop forward and closes his eyes. It’s a mild, but the night air still makes the skin of his ass pimple with cold. Geno’s mouth is wet and hot. Sid squeezes Geno’s shoulder and then reaches for the back of Geno’s head. He guides Geno down and then feels for the corner of his mouth. There is a bead of spit pooled on his lip where Geno’s mouth is stretched around his dick. “Oh shit,” Sid breathes. He slides his thumb along the seam. “Shit, don’t stop.”

The blowjob is over quick, because Sid’s had never had anyone’s mouth on him like that before. He’s still catching his breath when Geno rests his face against Sid’s hip, working himself with one fist. It doesn’t take long for him to come on the gravel between Sid’s feet. Sid looks down and can see it glinting wetly on the rocks. Once they clean up, they move to the front seat of the car again.

“Home?” Geno asks. He reaches for the ignition while Sid watches the light blinking at the end of the dock. Sid shakes his head. “Not yet.”

“Okay,” Geno says. He turns the ignition enough that the dashboard lights up and the radio comes back on. It’s almost seven o’clock.

Sid picks at the fabric of his jeans. “They want to adopt me.”

Geno turns his head. “That good, no?”

Sid shrugs. “What is this?”

Geno looks baffled. “Us?” he asks.

Sid doesn’t answer and neither does Geno.

*

When Geno drops Sid off, the light in the kitchen is still on. Sid leaves his shoes in the hallway and heads for his room. “Not so fast, big guy,” Jim says. “Come in here.”

Jim turns down the volume on the TV when Sid walks into the living room. Janet closes her book and balances it on the arm of her chair. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

Sid crosses the room and sits down on the edge of the couch.

“Do you want to tell us what happened in there today?”

Sid looks down at the carpet between his feet. “I dunno.”

“Me neither,” Jim says. He reaches over, puts one hand around the back of Sid’s neck, and squeezes.

“You’re a part of our family,” Janet says, leaning forward. “You’ve been a part of our family for a long time. We just want to make it official, if that’s what you want too.”

Sid nods his head and wipes his eye with the heel of his palm. Jim lets go of the back of his neck and the skin there chills. Janet sits back in her chair again, watching. Sid can feel the weight of her gaze. The living room feels tiny. On TV, Alex Trebek is smiling.

Sid takes a shaky breath. “Can I go?”

“We’re not going to talk about this?” Janet asks.

Sid shakes his head. He can’t. Instead, he stares ahead of the TV and tries to ignore the metal taste in the back of his mouth. Alex is smiling again. “What is Frank Cormack?”” asks the woman in the purple sweater. Her lips are a greasy red. Sid doesn’t wait to hear if she’s right. When he stands up to leave the room, Janet protests.

“Jim, we can’t keep avoiding this.”

Sid keeps going. He hears Jim sigh but by the time Jim responds, Sid’s already closing his bedroom door.

*

The last game of their regulation season is an easy win. Afterward, the locker room is crowded and noisy. Eventually, Sid meets Jim and Janet in the lobby. Geno drops his hockey bag next to Sid’s. Some of the team is still filing past. Gus pats Sid’s lower back on his way toward the lobby door. “Nice game tonight, man.” Sid tips his chin in response. “You too, Gussy.”

Gus grins. His knuckles are still red from his third period fight, and there is a bruise blooming on his cheekbone. He holds his fists up for Sid to see. “I always got your back.”

Geno shifts his weight next to Sid. His tie is knotted loosely at the base of this throat. They’re both freshly showered and their hair is starting to fuzz. Sid takes a breath. “I’m going to spend the night at Geno’s, okay?”

Janet thins her lips into an impatient line. Sid’s been avoiding them for the last few days. He’s not answering Ted’s text messages either. Geno gives Janet a hopeful look. She doesn’t look won over.

“Tomorrow night you’re coming home,” Jim says. There is a pointed edge in his voice that doesn’t normally get directed at Sid. “Do we have a deal?”

Sid’s quick to agree.

Later, at Geno’s, they eat the last of the cabbage rolls while Geno’s mom watches TV in the living room. Denis is spending the night with friends and Vladimir has gone ice fishing. Geno licks his fork clean before leaving it in the sink. “Still hungry?” Geno asks.

Sid shakes his head.

They go upstairs after that and shut the bedroom door behind them. Neither of them talks while they change out of their suits in the dark. Outside, the streetlight is casting grey shadows up the bedroom wall. Sid blinks and watches as Geno lies back on his bed. He’s left his t-shirt off and his dick is already tenting out the front of his black boxers. Sid jerks his own t-shirt over his head and drops it on the foot Denis’ empty twin bed. Geno stares at his chest; Sid rubs one palm over his nipple nervously.

“Come here,” Geno says, still watching. There is an unfamiliar layer of grit in his voice. Sid likes the sound of it.

When Sid crawls onto Geno’s bed, the mattress dips and the frame squawks. Sid freezes, convinced that Geno’s mom is going to hear them. Geno doesn’t seem worried. He catches the back of Sid’s head with one hand and pulls Sid forward until their foreheads bump. Sid can feel Geno’s breath against his cheek. He rubs his nose against Geno’s cheekbone and then relaxes when Geno brushes their lips together again. His mouth opens and Geno licks his tongue against Sid’s.

Geno lifts his hips to shift onto his side. When he does, their dicks brush together. Sid groans in the back of his throat. Geno is breathing harder now, too. His tongue moves against Sid’s in short, pushy strokes. Sid puts his hand on Geno’s hip and pulls him forward so they’re rubbing together again. The friction makes his pulse jump, and Sid exhales hard. They buck together in uncoordinated thrusts. Sid feels like he’s going to fall off the bed, but he’s too turned on to care.

“I want--” Geno sucks on Sid’s lip, interrupting himself. His hand slides in between them and Sid can feel him pushing at the elastic of his underwear. He stalls, teasing the crest of Sid’s pubic bone with his fingertips.

“Yeah,” Sid pants. He reaches down and shoves his underwear off. “Yeah, yeah. Me too.”

Geno stifles a sound against Sid’s mouth before rolling on top of him. He braces his hands on either side of Sid’s head and thrusts against him, testing the angle. Sid draws his legs up, digging his heels into the mattress. Geno thrusts again. His dick slides over Sid’s balls and their crowns crest together in Sid’s fist. “OK?” Geno asks.

Sid watches Geno, scanning his face. He nods. “Oh yeah. Yeah-yeah. C’mon.”

Geno’s smile is broad when he thrusts again. Sid lifts his hips in counter sync. Geno sucks his lip against his teeth, biting down to choke back the sounds he’s making. Sid grins at the way they hiss out anyway. It doesn’t take long for Geno’s arms to start trembling. His hair flops against Sid’s forehead when they kiss again. It’s messy and mostly just rough breathing.

“Are you close?” Sid pants. His balls are throbbing and every time Geno’s dick strokes over them, he shudders.

Geno nods, mute. His eyes are squeezed closed. He tilts his head and presses his mouth against Sid’s cheek. “Wanna feel you come,” he says. The words are gruff and breathless. They sound like they’ve been ripped out of the middle of his chest. Geno drops down onto one elbow, bracing most of his weight against Sid while he fumbles with one hand for their dicks.

Sid lets Geno push his hand away. Geno’s grip is tighter and more insistent. He only has to jerk Sid a few times before Sid comes. Sid’s body goes rigid and he flexes, bucking up against Geno. Geno strips him, his thumb working through the mess of jizz, until Sid’s dick is too sensitive to touch anymore. “Stop, stop,” Sid says, pushing his hand away.

Geno lets go of Sid’s dick and strokes himself hard. He comes a second later, whining softly in Sid’s ear. When he’s spent, he lays there for a few seconds, catching his breath. Sid strokes the blade of one shoulder tiredly. The come on Sid’s belly is cooling and Sid winces when it leaks over his side. “Gross,” he complains.

“Wait here.” Geno presses his lips over Sid’s and pushes himself off the bed. He comes back a minute later with a cold wash cloth. Sid takes it and wipes the mess off his stomach.

“Where do you want this?” Sid asks when he’s finished. The cloth is balled up in his hand and he’s holding it gingerly.

“The floor,” Geno says. The bed creaks again when he climbs back in. Sid’s thighs and belly are still chilled from the wipe down so he pulls the cover up over his shoulder. When Geno gets settled, he puts one hand on Sid’s stomach and strokes the skin there.

“I’ll get hard again if you keep doing that,” Sid warns.

Geno snorts. “Yeah?” He sounds amused, like he’s accepting some sort of challenge. Sid doesn’t bothering fighting his smile.

Geno doesn’t pull his hand back. Instead, he lengthens out the territory. His palm rubs a broad circle over Sid’s belly and then he dips his hand between Sid’s thighs again, teasing his balls. Sid’s dick twitches in response. Geno slides his hand further down, brushing over the pucker of Sid’s ass.

Sid turns his head, watching Geno carefully. Geno’s mouth twitches. His eyes look soft and interested. Sid shifts on the mattress. He lifts his hips, resettling himself before letting his legs fall open. Geno is still watching him carefully when he presses the tip of his finger against Sid’s ass. There’s pressure there, but not enough to break the barrier.

Sid can see the hesitation on Geno’s face. “Yeah,” Sid breathes. He’s leaking again, so Geno swipes his fingers through the mess and brings it back as lube. He teases the skin there until Sid is breathing hard and whining. Sid’s dropped one hand and he’s jerking himself restlessly. “Do it,” Sid finally whispers.

Geno presses his finger into Sid’s ass. Sid lets his eyes close and he jerks himself roughly. It takes him a while to come again, but when he does, it hits him hard. It’s mostly a dry orgasm, but his body arches up and his legs flex stiffly. Geno slaps his free hand over Sid’s mouth. “Shhh. Shhh, Shhh,” he says, shushing him.

He pulls his finger out of Sid’s ass and then drives back in with two, knitted together tightly. Sid shudders, hard. Geno pulls his fingers out again and then struggles to fit himself between Sid’s thighs. He grabs Sid by the back of his legs, hauling him up so that his ass is nestled against Geno’s knees as he bows on the bed.

Geno grips his dick and rubs the head of it against Sid. He doesn’t grab a condom and he doesn’t press in without it. “I’m gonna come,” Geno says hoarsely. He rubs the crown of his dick against Sid’s ass. His back arches and he comes, wetly. Sid can feel it leaking down between his ass cheeks. Geno looks wrecked. His mouth is hanging open and his arm is shaking. “Sid,” he whispers. It sounds sandpaper-rough. “Sid. Sid.”

Geno finally pitches forward, exhausted. His head rests in the middle of Sid’s chest. Sid reaches up and pushes his fingers through Geno’s hair. Geno laughs weakly. “So tired,” he says.

Sid laughs. “Yeah, me too.”

“I can’t move,” Geno says.

“You have to,” Sid says. “This is gross.”

Geno finally rolls off and lands between Sid and the wall. Sid leans over the edge of the bed and reaches for the cloth again. “This is disgusting,” Sid says, wiping himself anyway.

Geno chuckles and reaches for him when he finally lies back down. Sid’s body feels boneless and he likes the warm weight of Geno pressed against him. “Gus called that kid a faggot tonight,” Sid says quietly. He’s still lying on his back. Most of one hip is hanging over the lip of the mattress.

“Who?” Geno asks. His arm is still resting against Sid’s chest.

“The kid from Ayr. The big one who almost made me squeeze shit in the third.”

“He check you,” Geno says, matter of fact. Sid can feel the small movement of Geno’s body as he shrugs. He’s gone back to idly stroking Sid’s arm. “Bad check.”

Sid lifts one hand and bites at the skin around his thumb. It stings when he peels it away with his teeth. “Doesn’t it bug you?”

“Yes,” Geno says. “I told you, bad check.”

“Don’t be funny,” Sid snaps. He pushes Geno’s arm away and sits up, swinging both feet to the floor. “You just jerked me off. I’m pretty sure that makes you a faggot too.”

Geno’s hand snaps out and he catches Sid by the forearm. Sid doesn’t resist much when Geno puts enough pressure on it to pull him back. Sid lies back down on the bed. He doesn’t flinch when Geno snuggles against him, pressing his nose against the muscle of Sid’s shoulder. “It bug me, OK?” Geno says quietly. Sid can feel Geno’s lips moving over his skin when he talks. When he inhales against the crease of Sid’s armpit, Sid squirms, uncomfortable. “This different,” Geno mumbles. The weight of his arm over Sid’s chest takes on a dead weight. His breathing is starting to level out, deepen, and his voice sounds sluggish and slow.

Sid worries the inside of his cheek with his teeth. “How is it different? Because you fuck girls too?” Sid’s chest contracts painfully.

It takes Geno a long time to respond. Finally, he shakes his head. “No. Because you my best friend.”

Sid nods. He turns his head in the dark to face Geno. Geno’s nose is mashed into the pillow. His mouth is already slack with sleep. Sid watches him for a few seconds. When Geno speaks again, he lowers his voice another notch. “But I don’t want to fuck girls.”

*

In the morning, Sid checks his phone. There are another three messages from Ted. “I’ve cut you enough slack,” he writes. “Call me back. Today.”

Sid hits reply. “I’m at Geno’s. Going home now.”

Ted replies back almost immediately. “That’s a start,” he messages. “You still need to call me.”

“OK.” Sid hits send and then decides against taking the short cut through the park.

By the time he gets home a few minutes later, his eyes are stinging from the cold. Jim’s car is parked next to the van in the driveway. Not much about the house has changed since Sid moved in four years ago. In the fall, Janet still lines the walkway with mums and the back of Jim’s boat still pokes out past the corner of the garage.

Sid opens the door and hangs his jacket on the hook. The mat on the floor is crowded with shoes. Most of them are Sid’s.

In the kitchen, Jim and Janet are already sitting at the table. Janet is spinning the cell phone in a slow circle. When Sid walks in, Jim looks up. He looks tired but relieved. “Hey,” Sid says. He slides into his usual spot near the door.

For a minute they’re all quiet. Jim clears his throat. “That was a good game last night.”

“Yeah. I kinda got clocked near the end,” Sid says.

Jim nods. “You need to keep your head up.”

Sid’s laugh is a muted huff. “Yeah, that’s what you always say.”

Janet is still fidgeting with the phone. Sid looks at it. “Did Ted text you?”

“Yes,” Janet says. Her eyes are rimmed with red. There is a brittle edge to her voice that Sid’s not used to hearing. “He said you were on your way home.”

Sid nods. The silence feels uncomfortable and thick.

“Do you even want this to be your home?” Janet blurts out.

Sid jerks his head up and answers immediately. “Yeah, of course. There’s just. It’s.” Sid’s throat thickens and his eyes well up. “There’s just so much to figure out.”

“Like what?” Janet says, leaning forward. She’s still clutching the phone and Sid stares at the way her knuckles have whitened.

Sid thinks about the night before and shakes his head. “I can’t talk about it.”

*

There’s only one practice before the start of the post season. It’s an early, Saturday morning skate. Most of the guys are still yawning in the locker room when Ian pulls his t-shirt over his head. He has a trio of bruises at the base of his throat. Gus points at them and laughs. “You and your boyfriend get a little frisky last night?” He grabs Ian by the hips and dry humps him roughly.

Ian shoves him away. “Now who’s the faggot?” he says, laughing. “Fuckin’ homo.”

Sid keeps his head down and picks away the used tape from his stick. When he finally looks up, Geno gives him a small smile. Sid looks back down at his tape job and exhales slowly. The banter doesn’t let up until Geno says he’s going to sign with Truro. Sid jerks his head around, surprised. A bunch of the guys are quick to congratulate him. Gus lifts him off his feet with a bear hug.

When the buzz dies down, Sid’s still staring at him. “Truro,” he repeats. The bottom has dropped out of his stomach and he’s fighting to keep his voice level. “You’re seriously going to Truro next year?”

Sid’s sitting in his usual spot next to Geno. Geno has already finished lacing up. He leans back against the wall and waits for Sid. When they stand up, Geno steps aside to let Sid out the door first.

“Yeah,” Geno says.

Sid’s still processing the news. It shouldn’t be a shock. The bird dogs have been coming to most of their games all season. Sid’s even talked to a few of the scouts himself. Still, it’s happening faster than he expected. “Have you already signed your card?”

Geno shakes his head. “Not yet. We’re still thinking.”

Ian has been listening to most of the exchange. When he bumps past them, he says, “Not much to think about, Milkman. You gotta get to the show somehow.” Of course it’s easy for him to say, he’s already signed with Dartmouth. Sid watches him step out onto the ice before he follows. Geno is the last one out, like usual.

On the ice, nothing clicks for Sid. He shanks a puck off the crossbar and misses a few easy passes. At the end of practice, he comes back to the locker room still swearing under his breath. “Fuck me,” he growls. Sid throws his gloves onto the bench. After that, he strips out of his gear and grabs a quick shower without talking. When he’s almost dressed again, Geno catches his elbow, dropping his voice. “You want ride home, no?”

“Yeah,” Sid says. His pulse quickens and he feels a wave of heat sparking under his skin. “I mean, you’re still coming over, right?”

The worry lines creasing Geno’s forehead melt away. He looks relieved. “Yeah.”

In the car, they’re silent for a few minutes. The fan is mostly blowing cold air so Sid crosses his arms, and buries his fists into his armpits. “You should sign. Truro’s a good team.”

Geno stares ahead at the road when he nods. “They better next year. I’m score.”

Sid’s laugh is loud and it breaks the residual tension. “Yeah, you’re gonna kick some serious ass.”

When they get back to the house there’s a note on the table from Janet. Jim’s picked up an extra shift at the dealership, and she’s out shopping with her sister. She’s signed the note with two neat little xo’s and a loopy J. Sid drops the note and heads for the fridge. “You hungry?” he asks.

After they’ve finished eating, they go back to Sid’s room on the pretense of playing video games. Sid sits down on the bed and then pushes the controller aside. Geno is `he bed. It’s a tight fit, even lying on their sides. They both snicker when their knees knock together.

Geno reaches down and strokes Sid through the fabric of his track pants. They’re nose to nose, and Sid can feel the heat of Geno against his face. When Geno smiles at him, Sid can feel the curve of his lips move. Sid nudges forward, brushing his mouth over Geno’s. His heart is hammering in his chest, which is stupid, because it’s just Geno and they’ve definitely done this much before.

Sid opens his mouth and then closes his lips over Geno’s. Geno’s mouth is soft, and when he kisses back it’s tentative and slow. Sid drops one hand down onto Geno’s hip, tugging him forward until they’re pressed together from chest to knee. Geno works his hand free and slides it up the back of Sid’s shirt. His palm moves restlessly over Sid’s back while they make out. Sid’s lips are buzzing and there is a damp spot leaking through the fabric of his underwear.

“You parents come home?” Geno asks. His mouth is swollen and his lips are glossy with spit. His hand has drifted back to the waistband on Sid’s track pants again, but he hesitates to pull them down.

Sid lifts his head off the pillow. He looks past Geno’s shoulder to the clock on his desk. “No, we got lots of time.” He lifts his hips off the bed long enough for Geno to jerk his pants down. Sid kicks his feet free and then sits up enough to tug his t-shirt off too. Geno strips out of his boxers. Wen he lies next to Sid again, they’re both naked. He skims one hand up Sid’s side, stopping to pinch his nipple, and then licks a patch of bare skin at the base of Sid’s throat. Sid grips his head and groans.

“I wanna blow you,” Sid breathes. “Is that okay?”

“Yes, OK. Yeah.” Geno’s laugh comes out as a huff against Sid’s chest. “Duh.”

Sid rolls his eyes and then tries to jockey himself around into position. It takes a minute before Sid’s comfortably nestled between Geno’s thighs.

“I might not be any good,” Sid warns. He takes Geno’s dick in one hand and pulls it back from Geno’s belly. “Tell me if this is okay,” Sid says. He presses his lips to Geno’s dick, licking his way to the top. The crown feels weird and spongy in his mouth and it takes a second for him to figure out the mechanics. His jaw starts to ache almost right away.

“Yeah,” Geno says softly. He absently pets the side of Sid’s head. “It’s good, you’re good. It’s great.”

Sid pulls his mouth off with a wet pop. “Don’t humor me.” He’s scowling.

Geno lifts his head up and stares down at Sid. He’s scowling too. “Don’t stop! Why you stop!”

Sid gives him a pissy look. “Don’t fucking babble at me. I’m trying to figure this out.”

Geno squeezes his eyes shut, annoyed. “What to figure out? Just suck my dick! It not hard!”

“It looks pretty hard.” Sid drops his head, resting it against Geno’s hip, and laughs until he’s wheezing. Geno laughs too. His hand is resting heavily over the back of Sid’s skull. When they’re finally quiet, Geno nudges him gently. “Suck my dick,” he says, softly. There’s a neediness in his voice that makes Sid look up.

Geno’s eyes are dark and his face is serious. His mouth curls up the barest fraction. He’s not hiding the vulnerable want there. Sid pushes himself back up on his elbows and closes his mouth around Geno’s dick again. Sid can hear Geno exhale sharply. His hips lift up and Sid lets him push softly into his mouth.

Sid fists the shaft of Geno’s dick. When he pulls off enough to run his tongue through the bead of precome, Geno tugs on his hair. “Please,” he breathes. He’s moving restlessly against the sheets. Sid nips the inside of his thigh and then licks one of Geno’s balls. Geno whines in response. He pulls his legs up, digging his heels into the mattress. Sid dips his head. He lifts Geno’s balls with the backs of his knuckles, sucking one of them into the heat of his mouth.

“Oh,” Geno hisses. “Fuck, yeah.”

When Sid pulls his head back, the skin he’s been sucking on is slick with spit. Sid shifts and licks the other side too, sucking Geno into his mouth. Geno’s thighs close against Sid’s shoulders. He’s lifting his hips, restless.

Sid’s heart is beating sluggishly. His face is flushed and warm. He bites the inside of Geno’s thigh again, before brushing against his asshole with two fingers. Geno reaches down to scrabble against the top of Sid’s head. He’s pleading with Sid, and Sid likes the rush he gets from Geno stuttering on his name.

Janet is already mid-sentence when she pushes the bedroom door open. “--told you at least a million times not to leave your hockey bag in the hallw--” She’s already a few steps into the room before she stops in her tracks. “Oh.”

Sid bolts off of Geno, taking most of the sheets with him. There’s no mistaking what she’s seen. No way to pretend it’s anything except what it was. Geno and Sid both stumble out of bed, grabbing for clothes while Janet backtracks, surprised. Finally, she closes the door behind her.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Sid mutters. His pulse is thudding painfully while he throws on the first pair of jeans he finds. Geno searches for a sweatshirt. The red marks that Sid left on his chest stand out sharply on his pale skin. “Shit.”

Once they’re dressed Geno stands staring at the door. “Just go,” Sid says miserably.

“You get in trouble?” Geno asked.

“No, I’m sure they’re going to be totally fine that we’re fucking,” Sid snapped. “Of course I’m going to get in fucking trouble. Fuck.”

“I stay?” Geno looks like he wants to leave but he steps away from the door anyway. Sid shakes his head.

“No, go. Just --” Sid waves him away with one hand, “Go.”

When Geno still hesitates, Sid gets angry. “I said go!”

Outside, Geno’s car complains a few times before finally turning over. Sid can hear Janet moving around in the kitchen. For a while he stays in his room until he can’t take it anymore. Finally he grabs his wallet and phone and stuffs them both into his pocket.

He’s out the side door before Janet even has a chance to call after him.

*

Sid flips up the hood of his sweatshirt while he walks. It only manages to break the wind a little bit. The cold is already seeping through his jacket, and his sneakers are wet from the slush. His socks feel soggy and cold against his toes. At first he just walks to put distance between him and the house, but eventually he turns in the direction of the pier. Most of the boats there have been dry-docked for the winter. Sid wanders through them, looking at the names that have been stenciled onto the tarps.

Goin' Overboard, Imagine That, Knot Home

The boats at the pier are fancier than Jim’s little outboard. Last summer for their boys’ weekend they went to New Brunswick and fished with Jim’s brother and his kids. Sid had taught the little ones to cast the same way Jim had taught him; their backs pressed against his belly while he guided their pole in an arc through the air.

Jim had let him have his first beer out on the boat, winking at him while he said, “Don’t tell Janet.”

Jim is probably never going to want to see him again. Sid is sure of it.

Sid sucks in a breath. He tries to tamp down the thick feeling in the back of his throat. When his eyes spike with tears anyway, he lashes out, punching the side of the boathouse with his fist. The flare of heat in his fist is only a small relief, so he punches the building a few more times. By the time he decides to head back to the house, his fingers are bruising and frozen stiff. He walks with his head down, trying to keep his face out of the wind. His cheeks feel stiff with cold and his nose is dripping. Sid tries wiping it dry with the hem of his sleeve, but it’s wet too.

The street is mostly dark now, but Janet and Jim have left the porch light on. Sid hesitates for a few seconds, watching the house from across the street. There’s no sign of movement, even though both vehicles are parked in the driveway. Sid crosses the road and lets himself in the side door, like usual. He leaves his wet shoes on the mat inside the door and strips off his wet socks. His toes immediately start stinging. Sid bends over and wraps his fingers over them, crushing them together to dull the pain.

In the kitchen, the light over the stove is on. There is a note on the counter. Dinner is in the fridge. xoxo When Sid’s finished reading the note he runs the tap and holds his hands under the warm stream of water. When he’s finished, he towels them off and opens the fridge.

Sid’s still standing in front of the open fridge when Janet clears her throat. She’s hovering in the doorway, wearing a white robe over her pajamas. It’s the same robe that Sid picked out for her birthday a few years ago. He’d agonized over signing the card, finally settling on a small heart above his name. Janet had traced her finger over the heart and smiled at him from across the room. “The robe is perfect,” she’d said. Sid had known, even then that she was talking about the card.

“I heard you come in,” Janet says. Sid turns around to face her but he doesn’t answer. “I was worried about you,” she adds, uncrossing her arms. She’s fidgeting now, knotting and re-knotting the belt of her robe nervously. “You were gone for so long.”

Sid looks away, staring down at the roast beef sandwich in his hand instead. The panicked feeling in his belly is back. “I’m fine.”

“Okay,” Janet says. For a long moment they stand there, silent. Finally, Janet takes a breath. “Look, I owe you an apology,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t knock. I should have knocked.” She shakes her head chastising herself. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I don’t want to do this,” Sid says suddenly. He puts the sandwich back in the fridge and then slides past her, pressing his back tightly against the wall. “I’m really tired.”

*

In the morning, Geno picks him up on the way to the school like usual. Sid shoots him a quick glance when he slides into the passenger seat. He honestly wasn’t sure that Geno would even show up. Part of him feels relieved. The other part wishes Geno had just stayed away.

The car still hasn’t warmed up so Sid spends the ride with his knees hunched up, both fists stuffed into the pockets of his jacket. Geno looks like he wants to talk, but Sid shakes him off, staring out the window instead. When they get to school, Geno silently parks his car beside Gus’s black pickup.

Last fall, most of the team had crammed into the bed of the truck. They drove the back roads up the coast drinking beer and throwing the empties at mailboxes. The sun was still warm then, and the air was sweet with apples. That was before Sid knew the sound of Geno pushing through his orgasm. Before Sid knew what it felt like to be pinned under him, before everything went to shit.

“Thanks for the ride.” Sid pushes the door open and grabs his backpack before walking away.

For the rest of the day he goes through the motions. Finally, too jittery to stand it anymore, he skips his last class. He skips his dry land training too. Instead of meeting up with Geno, he walks home alone. By the time he gets there, Janet has already left for her afternoon shift at the pharmacy. Sid heads back to his room. Inside, there’s a clean stack of his jeans sitting on the end of his bed. Sid sits down heavily at his desk. He’s still sitting there when Jim finally knocks on the door a few hours later.

“The school called,” Jim says. “They said you missed geography this afternoon.”

Sid mutely nods. His eyes spike with tears and his throat feels thick. He doesn’t trust himself to talk so he watches silently as Jim sits down on the edge of the bed. The pile of jeans wobbles and slopes to the side. Jim sighs and rubs his thighs with the palms of his hands. Sid puts his pencil down and then picks up again a second later. He’s so tense that when Jim clears his throat, he startles in his seat.

“Are you kicking me out?” Sid blurts.

“What?” Jim frowns. His confusion looks genuine. “Christ, no,” he says, shaking his head. “Nobody is getting kicked anywhere.”

Sid shifts in his seat. It’s easier to breathe, but his chest still feels too small for his heart. Sid can almost feel it squirm against his ribcage. He’s pretty sure he’s going to barf while he waits for Jim to say something else.

“Look,” Jim falters. He leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees so he can lace his fingers together loosely. For a second Sid is distracted, watching the way Jim picks at the cracked skin on his palms. Sid sets the pencil down for a second time and then crosses his arms to stop himself from fidgeting. On the wall over the bed there is a poster of Mario Lemieux. Sid fixes his gaze on the blade of Lemieux’s skate and waits for the boom to drop.

“Can you look at me, please?” Jim asks softly.

It takes a second for Sid to finally jerk his eyes over to meet Jim’s. They’re the same old dull, unflappable blue. In fact, Sid can’t remember Jim ever losing his cool. Not when Sid was first learning how to drive. Or when he was caught getting drunk on vodka and Fresca under the bleachers at school. Not even when Janet dented his boat with the van and then tried blaming it on the neighbour’s dog.

“Now, I know you don’t think of me as your dad,” Jim starts. His shoulders are slumped. Sid opens his mouth to protest, but Jim holds him off by raising one hand.

Jim snorts at himself. “Shit, this is hard,” he says thickly. He nods to himself before starting again. “Your dad was a good man, and I know you loved him. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we love you too.” Jim pauses and looks at him hard before continuing. “So I might not be your dad, but as far as I’m concerned, you are my son. And I’m gonna be proud of you no matter what.”

Sid is watching Jim carefully now. The laugh lines around Jim’s mouth are deep. His skin is ruddy and tanned. He’s stopped picking at his callus. “Sid, this thing--“ Jim leans forward an inch. “This thing with Geno.”

Sid holds his breath and his stomach swoops sickly.

“It’s okay with us if you’re happy.” Jim stops talking and he looks at Sid, waiting. When Sid finally nods, he relaxes a fraction. “So are you happy?” Jim asks softly.

Sid nods again. The inside of his mouth has gone cottony. He unglues his tongue from the roof of his mouth and tries to swallow. Jim waits for a few seconds longer before nodding himself. He pushes himself to his feet and pats Sid’s shoulder twice before walking toward the door.

“Hey coach?” Jim hasn’t coached Sid in years, but the name has stuck.

Jim stops and turns to look at him. He has one hand on the door knob.

“I do,” Sid says, faltering. “I’m sorry.” The elephant steps on Sid’s chest again and for a dizzy second, it’s hard to breathe. His voice breaks and he drags in a ragged breath. “I do think of you as my dad.”

*

Sid is lying in bed when he gets a text message from Geno. “I signed.”

He messages back a few seconds later. “Congrats. That’s great.” He puts the phone on his chest and stares up at the ceiling waiting for Geno’s response. When it vibrates a few seconds later, Sid feels the tickle deep in his solar plexus.

“You missed training.”

Sid glances at the message and sets the phone down. A second later, it buzzes again.

“Can we talk?”

Sid keys a message back. “Meet at the park?”

When Geno replies with a dollar sign, Sid snickers. He gets out of bed and throws a sweatshirt on over his t-shirt. A few minutes later, he’s halfway across the park. Sid can see Geno walking towards him. Jeffrey is padding beside him. When the mastiff stalls to sniff the ground, Geno checks the leash with a tiny jerk.

“Hey,” Sid says when Geno’s within earshot. Jeffrey perks up, pulling towards Sid’s outstretched hand. Sid lets him root his muzzle against Sid’s open palm before sliding around the scratch behind his ears. “Hey Jeffrey. Hey, boy. How’s it going, huh?” Jeffrey licks at Sid’s fingers.

Geno sniffs. His hands are balled into his pockets and his shoulders are hunched up under his ears. He still hasn’t said anything so Sid looks for the middle ground. “That’s really great about Truro,” he says eventually. “You deserve it.” He grinds the toe of his shoe into the ground, working a rock loose. Jeffrey stoops to sniff at it. Geno glances down and checks the leash again.

“Thanks,” Geno says.

“You wanna walk?” Sid says. He cocks his head in the direction of Geno’s house. Geno nods so Sid falls into step beside him. “So, ah. When do you go?”

Geno sniffs again. The cold his making his nose run. “Training camp is end of summer.”

“Cool.” Sid says.

There’s another long awkward silence. “I didn’t get in trouble,” Sid finally says. Geno glances over. He looks relieved. “And they still want to adopt me. So there’s that.” Sid sighs heavily. “There was a lot of crying and hugging too…stupid, huh?”

Geno shakes his head. “It not stupid.” The neutral gaze is back in place again.

Sid side eyes him. “You look mad.”

Geno buries his chin deeper into the collar of his jacket and refuses to answer. He’s walking faster now and Jeffrey is huffing at his side. They’re almost out of the park. Before they can turn onto the sidewalk, Sid grabs the shoulder of Geno’s jacket and jerks him to a stop.

“You are mad,” Sid says.

Geno reaches out and shoves him. Sid staggers but he regains his balance back quickly. He’s still got Geno’s jacket fisted with one hand. They’ve sparred like this on the ice at least a thousand times, but Geno’s never looked like he wanted to rip Sid’s head off before. “What the hell, man?” Sid says, confused. “Why are you mad at me?”

Geno wraps his fingers around Sid’s wrist and pushes his hand away. “I text you last night. Nothing. You don’t talk to me! You don’t talk at school. Just leave, no talk.” Geno looks exasperated. “Sid, Sid, Sid. Always, Sid.”

“What? No way.”

“Yes,” Geno argues. “Always Sid. Always.”

“I don’t even know what I’m doing!”

“Me neither!” Geno shakes his head and looks away. Most of the fight has gone out of his face and he bows his head slightly. “But I not do this.” Geno pats his thigh to get Jeffrey’s attention. Jeffery perks his head up and falls in step as Geno starts walks away.

For a second Sid just watches him, then he jogs forward. “So now you’re not talking to me? That’s rich.”

Geno turns onto the sidewalk and heads in the direction of his house. Now that they’re on the street again, Sid drops his voice. “Do you like guys or just me?”

Sid ignores the nervous roll in his stomach as he watches Geno. Geno’s mouth twitches and his shrug is barely visible. “Because I don’t think I like girls.” Sid licks his lip and keeps going. “It sucks to be that guy in the locker room that everyone is making jokes about.”

“No one making jokes about Sid,” Geno says quietly.

“You know what I mean,” Sid says. “Nobody wants to play with a homo. You’ve heard all the shit everyone says.” They walk a few feet in silence before Sid takes a deep breath. “It scares the shit out of me. When Janet…” Sid laughs, nervous and embarrassed at the same time. “Well it freaked me out. I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d be freaking out too.” Sid reaches for Geno’s elbow. “I’m sorry, okay?”

Geno pulls his hand out of his jacket pocket and lets it drop to his side. They’re walking close enough for their knuckles to brush in counter step. The back of Geno’s hand feels warm and Sid has to resist the urge to reach out and snag it with his fingers.

“Were you freaking out?” Sid asks.

Geno looks at him and snorts. “Yeah. Of course.”

When they get to the front of Geno’s house, Sid waits on the sidewalk while Geno runs the dog inside. He comes out a few seconds later carrying his car keys. Sid looks at them and smiles. Geno’s already unlocked the door and climbed inside by the time Sid gets around to his side. He slams the door shut and reaches for his seatbelt.

Geno drives them out of their subdivision and heads in the direction of the pier. Once they’re on the highway, Geno reaches over and threads his fingers through Sid’s. Sid suppresses his smile and runs his thumb over Geno’s knuckle.

At the waterfront, Geno puts the car into park. For a minute they listen to the engine tick and pop as it cools. “I get a lock for my bedroom door now,” Sid says. He surprises himself by laughing. Geno laughs too. This time his smile stretches up to meet the corners of his eyes. Something in Sid’s chest let’s go and for the first time, he feels like things might be okay.

*

They sweep the first round of playoffs. The second round isn’t as easy, and they end up pushing it uphill all the way to game seven.

After the last game in the second round, Sid puts on his suit and files out into the lobby with everyone else. Jim and Janet are standing with Ted. Ted is nursing the last of his coffee. Sid drops his bag at Ted’s feet. “I’m so hungry,” he says. He looks over at the concession stand, but it’s already closed up for the night.

Janet fishes in her purse and pulls out a squashed protein bar. Sid inhales it while they talk about the game. After a few minutes, Geno makes his way over to where they’re standing. When he looks over at Sid, his face is carefully blank. Janet takes a breath and smiles. “That was a great game, Geno.”

“Thanks.” Geno looks uncomfortable, but he doesn’t break eye contact.

Sid licks his lips. “Um. Can I spend the night over at Geno’s?” He darts a look between Janet and Jim and wills himself not to start blushing. “A few of the guys too, so…”

“Sure,” Jim interrupts. Next to him, Geno is shifting in place. “Congratulations on Truro,” Jim adds. He holds a hand out for Geno to shake. “Good man.”

“Thanks. It’s a good opportunity,” Geno says. “Excited to be a part of the team.”

Jim laughs. “Practicing your media already?”

Geno grins back, visibly relaxing. He holds one hand out and waggles it in the air. “Some. Is good, no?”

Once they get finally get outside, Sid exhales. Geno opens the hatch of his car and throws in his hockey bag. Sid’s already sitting up front when Gus finally comes out the arena doors. He squashes his bag into the back seat and then squeezes in beside it. On the way to Geno’s, they talk about the game.

There’s only a two day break before their semi-finals against Burnside. Burnside cleared both first rounds easily. Their goalie is on a hot streak and they have one of the biggest defenders in the league. “I hate that boarding asshole,” Gus says. He’s resting his head against the back of the seat, staring up at the broken dome light. “What a cocksucker.”

Sid snorts, turning forward again. Gus is icing some bruised knuckles. Sid can hear the pack shift when Geno pulls into the driveway. After Geno parks, they go inside. Gus gets a fresh bag of ice for his hand; Geno brings in a 12 pack of beer from the garage. In the basement, they put on TSN and crack into the beer. “Your parents aren’t coming home, right?” Gus looks up the stairs, still holding his beer.

Geno and Sid shoot each other a quick look.

Geno shakes his head. “No. They at Denis’ tournament in New Brunswick”

“Nice,” Gus grins. He swallows most of his beer back in one go.

By the time they’re finished the case, Gus is out cold and snoring on the couch. Geno puts his last beer on the coffee table and stares over at Sid. Sid steals a quick glance in Gus’s direction. The ice pack has melted, and there’s a wet spot drying on the thigh of his pants. Geno stands, and picks up the icepack. He drops it onto the floor beside the couch, and then reaches for a blanket. Sid watches as he throws it over Gus. Gus doesn’t budge. When Geno shuts off the TV, he heads for the stairs. Sid follows behind.

Once they get up to Geno’s room, Geno locks the door and reaches for him. The warm, loose beer buzz has faded into the background and they strip silently in the dark. Sid doesn’t make a sound when Geno pushes him back onto the bed. Geno kneels between Sid’s legs, bends down, and sucks Sid’s dick into his mouth. It doesn’t take long for Sid to get close, and when he does, he pushes Geno’s head aside before it’s too late. “I’m gonna come,” Sid says. His skin feels stretched too thin and overheated.

Geno nuzzles Sid’s hipbone while Sid catches his breath.

“C’mere,” Sid says, tugging at Geno’s shoulder. Geno crawls forward, stopping to suck Sid’s nipple against his teeth. His hand has dropped between Sid’s legs again, and he’s teasing the sensitive patch of skin behind Sid’s balls. Geno nips at Sid's nipple with his teeth and then soothes the bite with his tongue. Before he licks a path to the other nipple, he lifts his head and stares at Sid. The colour on his cheeks is high and Geno looks bashful and shy.

“What?” Sid whispers.

Geno’s tongue darts out to wet the corner of his mouth. Sid watches him swallow.

“What?” Sid asks again.

“Can I fuck you?”

When Sid nods, a few long seconds later, it’s barely perceptible.

“Sure?” Geno asks. He doesn’t look convinced.

“Yeah,” Sid says softly. He shifts on the mattress under Geno so that his dick brushes the back of Geno’s hand.

Geno’s face breaks into a huge, dopey smile. Sid immediately smiles back. “Do you have …” Sid fumbles for the right word, feeling stupid and not sexy at all. “Stuff, or whatever.”

“Yeah,” Geno says. He drops a quick kiss onto the corner of Sid’s mouth and then reaches for the drawer of his nightstand.

Sid settles his hands over his chest and laces his fingers together, waiting. He watches while Geno uncaps the lube and squirts it onto his fingers. When Geno looks back at him, he starts laughing.

“What?” Sid scowls.

“You look--” Geno gestures to where his hands are folded against his chest. “You look like you’re for waiting. For dentist.”

“I am waiting,” Sid snaps. He unlaces his fingers and rests them against Geno’s knees instead. “C’mon.”

“I sorry.” Geno is still snickering, so Sid pinches his thigh. “Sorry, sorry,” he says. “Be serious.”

Sid rolls his eyes. Geno is still kneeling between his legs, so Sid pulls his knees up, bracing his heels against the mattress. The sluggish, dizzy feeling is back. His heart thuds weirdly against his chest. Geno’s got his head bent, and he’s staring down at him. “Okay,” Geno says. He brushes his knuckles down the inside of Sid’s thigh, and his fingers find the cleft of Sid’s ass.

His fingers feel cool against his skin. When Sid jerks, surprised, Geno snaps his head up. “S’okay,” Sid says. “It’s just cold.”

Geno’s laugh is a tiny, nervous huff.

Sid closes his eyes while Geno fingers him. Sid’s dick is hard and leaking when he reaches down, squeezing it. After a few minutes Geno lifts his head and presses his face against Sid’s throat. “Okay?”

Sid nods. “Yeah, okay.” He reaches for the condom that Geno dropped on the pillow earlier and tears it open, handing it to Geno. Sid pushes up onto his elbow and watches Geno roll it down his dick. “You know what you’re doing, right?”

“Yeah.” Geno looks up, smiling. “I think so.”

Sid flops back against the mattress again. Geno presses his face to Sid’s. His skin is hot and he feels sticky and overheated. “Okay,” Geno breathes softly. Sid can feel Geno’s dick pressing against him. The stretch is more than he expects at first. When he jerks, Geno freezes. He kisses Sid’s throat and pets his side before moving again. “Okay?”

Sid nods, closing his eyes again. He reaches down and fists his dick. It’s softening as Sid focuses too much on the sting. “Gimme a sec,” Sid says putting a hand on Geno’s hip. He opens his eyes and pulls Geno’s mouth towards him instead. They kiss; messy and uncoordinated while Geno teases Sid’s erection back. Soon, Sid’s grinding down on Geno’s dick.

“Oh,” Geno breathes. His hips snap forward and soon he’s all the way in.

Sid blinks, taking in the full feeling and the way every thrust lights him up from the inside. “C’mon,” Sid urges. He licks his mouth and squeezes Geno’s hip, nudging him on.

*

In the morning, Gus points at Sid’s neck with his spoon, dripping milk on the tabletop. “Nice hickey,” he says. Sid touches his neck. “From the game,” he says, forcing it out.

Gus looks skeptical but he doesn’t argue. Instead, he picks up his phone and scrolls through his text messages. “Ian says we play Millview in the finals.”

“They beat Hemlock?” Geno looks like he can’t believe it. He reaches for the box of Captain Crunch and shakes the last of it into his bowl. When he’s finished, he pushes the box aside.

“Apparently. Fucking pussies.” Gus has gone back to his cereal. When he’s finished, he tips the bowl up to drink the leftover milk. Some of it dribbles down his chin. He stands up and takes the bowl over to the sink. “You’re still driving me to pick up my truck, right?”

Geno lifts his head. “Yeah.”

“I have to be there at ten,” Gus says. He’s standing in front of the sink scratching his nipple. Sid looks back to the empty box of cereal and reads the trivia facts about bobcats. When he shifts, we can feel the dull ache in his ass from the night before. Sid’s face heats up.

Geno nods. “Yeah we go in a minute.”

“I have to go too,” Sid says, standing. “I’ll see you later.”

“Do you want ride?” Geno asks.

Sid shakes his head. “No, I’ll walk.”

At home, Sid locks the bathroom door and peers into the mirror. There are small bruises on his chest, and another at the base of his throat. Sid pokes at it, and then flushes. Once he finished showering, he gets dressed. He’s still in his room when Jim knocks on the door a few minutes later. “Can you give me a hand outside?” Jim asks.

Sid follows him out to the garage. “So we play Millhaven next,” Sid says.

Jim grunts. “They beat Hemlock? Huh.”

Sid laughs. “That’s what Geno said.”

“Gimme a hand taking this down.” Jim reaches for his tools and then starts unscrewing the motor straps. Sid braces it and Jim loosens the last bolt. “Ready?”

“Yup,” Sid says. “Where are we going?”

Jim nods in the direction of his work bench.

The motor is more awkward than heavy, and a few seconds later they have it settled on the bench.

“This’ll be your last series with Geno, eh?”

Sid watches Jim take the casing off the motor. “Yeah, probably.”

“That’ll be weird,” Jim says.

Sid nods. “Yeah.” He picks up a small baby jar of mixed screws and rattles them.

Jim looks at him over the top of his glasses and then glances back down at the motor. “Well, like most things. I guess it’ll probably just take little getting used to.”

For a minute, Sid’s not sure they’re still talking about hockey.

Jim grunts again and shakes his head. “Fuckin’ Millhaven.”

*

“Sometimes unlikely teams steamroll their way through the playoffs. And sometimes it’s the grit that pays off.” They’re in the locker room before game seven. Everyone is worn down and tired, but they’re listening to the speech. “You are the team with grit,” the coach says to them. “You will not be steamrolled.”

Sid glances over at Geno in time to catch him smiling back. In four more months, Geno will be sitting in a different locker room a few hours away. Sid pushes the thought aside roughly. Instead, he puts his glove out for Geno to tap.

On the ice, they play hard, working the corners and digging for any opportunities they can find. It takes most of the game, but Millhaven finally goes down in the last five minutes of the third period when Geno sinks two more goals in the back of their net.

“Yeah!” Sid screams. He skates into the huddle, thumping Geno’s back hard and reaching his arm out for Gus. “Fuck yeah! We got this now, boys! We got this!”

*

When the post season is finally over, and Geno leaves for Truro, Sid spends more time hanging out with Gus.

“Are you a fag?” Gus asks. They’re fishing on the Margaree River. It’s a warm afternoon and the water is lapping the side of the boat gently. Gus has already tanned, and the freckles over his nose are dark brown.

Sid scowls at the word and reaches for fresh bait. The hook between his fingers is trembling.

“I don’t care if you are,” Gus says. He sounds amiable, so Sid looks up.

“Don’t say fag,” Sid says evenly. He glances down and goes back to baiting his hook. Sid can feel him still watching when he leans back in his seat, casting the line into the water. It lands with a near-silent plunk. He reaches down between his feet for his beer. It’s nearly gone and the dregs are warm. Sid swallows it anyway.

“You didn’t say no, Sid.” Gus’s lips have curled up into an amused smile. “So, are you and Geno?” Gus raises his eyebrows and pokes his tongue out against the inside of his cheek. His eyes are wet and dull with beer. He doesn’t look grossed out by it.

Sid can feel the denial sitting on the cusp but he can’t push it out. Gus shrugs. “He’s looked at you for a long time.” Gus takes another drag from his beer. “And I saw you looking back.”

“He’s my best friend,” Sid says. “We’re friends.”

Gus belches and smacks his lips. He’s looking at Sid like he won’t be derailed, but then something changes and his face relaxes. “Well I don’t care,” he says, finally. “You don’t have to tell me, but it’s cool if you are.”

Sid shakes his head, disbelieving.

Gus reels his line back in after that. He casts a few more times before going back to the last of the beer. Finally, when the sun starts creeping lower, they head back to the shore. Sid helps hitch the boat to the back of Gus’s pickup. When they get onto the road, Gus turns the radio up and sings along to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“My uncle’s gay,” Gus says during the commercial break.

Sid rolls his eyes and sighs. “You said you didn’t care,” he points out.

“I don’t. He’s cool.” Gus reaches up and pulls his seatbelt away from his chest. “And his boyfriend is okay, I guess.”

Sid refuses to comment. When the commercial break is over, he leans forward and turns the volume up. It’s the Dixie Chicks now. Gus reaches forward and turns the volume back down.

“It was a little weird at first but they still act like normal dudes, you know?”

Sid bounces his leg, restless. “If they’re so normal, why do you say ‘fag’ all the time? Why do say all that crap in the locker room?” He’s not shouting, but it’s definitely louder than he intended. Sid dials it back. “You always give Ian a hard time and he’s been with his girlfriend for…forever.”

Gus taps his thumb against the steering wheel while he drives. “I dunno. It’s just funny to bust Ian’s balls, y’know?” Gus smirks. “He makes it so easy.”

Sid reaches forward and adjusts the volume again. “Leave it,” he says. “I like this song.”

When they pull onto Sid’s street a few minutes later, Sid is ready to bolt. Gus gets out and helps pull Sid’s tackle out of the bed of the truck. “Hey,” Gus says. He’s holding onto the handle of the tackle box so that Sid is forced to look at him. “All I’m trying to say is that I’ve got your back, okay?”

“Okay,” Sid says. Gus has let go of the box, so Sid lifts it out of the truck. For a second he stands there awkwardly staring at Gus. Gus smiles back. It’s the same easy, dumb smile he always wears. “Thanks,” Sid adds.

Gus nods. He’s already getting back into the truck. By the time Sid leaves his gear in the garage, Gus’s truck is already turning the corner at the end of the street.

*

Sid meets Ted at the diner downtown. Ted orders a poutine while Sid digs into a salad with grilled chicken. “Do you know how many calories are in that?” Sid asks. Ted’s fork stalls halfway between his plate and his mouth. “No,” Ted says, “and I don’t care, either.”

Sid smirks. “710 at least. And it has, like, 41 percent of your daily sodium.”

Ted spears another cheese curd with his fork. “Mmmm…want some?”

Sid shakes his head. “I’m training for Truro.”

“Truro, huh?” Ted’s smile is soft. Geno’s been billeting there since August.

Sid nods. “Coach says they’ll hold my place until my paperwork clears. I already signed my card.”

“You’ll be free and clear of me once the adoption is final,” Ted says.

“Finally,” Sid says, rolling his eyes. “You’re kind of a pain in my ass.”

“You weren’t always such a peach yourself,” Ted says.

Sid looks down at his salad and pushes a chunk of spinach across the plate. Only one side of his mouth curls up when he smiles. “I know.”

“So how’d you get that shiner?” Ted points at the blue bruise under Sid’s left eye.

Sid raises one hand and pokes at the skin with his fingertips. The bruise throbs dully. “Some guy from Bancroft called me a fag.”

Ted nods and chews on his food, waiting for more.

“We both got five for fighting.” Sid shrugs and then gives Ted another lopsided smile. “But Gussy had his number for the rest of the night, so fuck them.”

“Fuck them, huh?” Ted says, quietly.

“Yeah.” Sid smiles when he nods. “Fuck them.”