There was the after-party, and then the after-after-party, and when Geno finally wormed himself free from Kovy’s grip and his slurred ‘just one more shot, Zhenya,’ there was Sidney Crosby fucking a puck bunny behind a ficus on the fifth floor. Geno, clearly, had not drunk nearly enough for this. He stumbled backwards, getting his ass pinched in the elevator doors as they closed.
Geno jumped forward, and whipped a hand over his mouth to cover his yelp. He stared at Sidney's back, the push of his naked ass. His jeans and boxers were stuck at his thighs. His ass was really white. Geno licked his lips, and swallowed.
Oh God, Sidney was having sex. Sidney was having sex where Geno could see him and...wow, that girl was totally faking. She was--was she waving at him over Sidney's shoulder?
Geno tore his eyes away from the...couple in the corner, but the ficus’ leaves kept shaking into his line of sight. Geno cleared his throat. Sidney froze. The girl grunted.
"I..." Geno swallowed. He looked up at the ceiling. "Is better...in room, okay?"
Silence, awkward as all hell, reigned. Jesus, Geno wished he kept vodka in his room like Ovie and Sergei kept telling him to. Sure, it probably wasn't for this reason, but it would have been there, and he could drink it. Maybe the mini-bar. Still keeping his eyes on the ceiling, Geno walked past Sidney and the girl, tugging on the hem of his shirt, back and front. He felt weird, shaky with adrenaline, like he'd taken a hit, but he hadn't slammed into the plastic just yet.
He fumbled with his key card at his door, but managed to get inside before any noises...started up again. The mini-bar had no vodka, which just proved everything his mother had ever told him about America, but Geno made do.
He’d managed to set his phone on the nightstand by his bed, in the midst of drowning his...whatever after last night, but the shrill old-fashioned brrrring! of the tone Talbot had installed back when Geno couldn't read English still made him want to bury his head in the pillows. He smacked his hand out, and caught his little finger on the corner of the nightstand. Geno flopped over onto his stomach, grimacing, and reached out again, grabbing his phone and flipping it open.
He smashed the earpiece against his ear, and groaned.
"And good morning to you!" Brooks exclaimed.
Geno squeezed his eyes shut, and licked his furry teeth, grimacing at the taste. "What do you want?" he muttered.
"You," Brooks said cheerfully. "On the bus with all your gear."
Geno's eyes popped open. The room clock flashed 6:45 at him from across the room. He groaned again, letting his head fall back against the pillow. They were supposed to be on the road by seven.
"Shit," he said
"Shit," Brooks repeated. "Two minute warning: I saw Sidney heading your way."
Geno rolled to his feet, squinting against his headache, and grit his teeth at the bubbling lurch of leftover alcohol in his stomach. "I'll be down in three," he said.
"All right," Brooks said, "I'll save you a danish."
He hung up without saying good-bye, and Geno flipped his phone shut on his chest. He'd managed his pants, but last night's shirt still smelled like cigarettes and other people's stale cologne. The bed next to him was empty, looked like not just Sid got lucky last night.
Sidney had had sex last night. In public, like he couldn't wait fast enough to—Geno took a deep breath and held it before letting it out slowly, trying to calm himself.
Sidney Crosby, who couldn't decide what to do on a weekend without producing two calendars and an itemized list, had fucked a girl where anyone could see. It didn't make sense.
The shirt was a loss, but the pants were still good, so he made it out of the room before anyone had to come and get him. Instead, he met Sidney at the elevator. Right by...the ficus.
Geno pressed the down button, and gripped the handles of his bag, resettling it on his shoulder. He watched the numbers above the elevator light up: 18...17...
"Good morning," Sidney said, very calmly. He was using his 'Guys, we're down by two and if we lose than all the world loses with us, but emotions are for the weak' voice. Ovie had named it. He was very drunk.
Geno wished he knew less English than he did. "Morning," he said.
They waited for the elevator. Geno rocked on his feet. Sidney cleared his throat. Geno glanced over, and saw a splotch of color, a bruise, above the collar of Sidney's polo shirt. He blinked, turning his head just in time to see Sidney's ears bloom into red.
"Stop it," Sidney said.
"Stop it," Sidney repeated.
He brought his hand up, and stopped, hovering right over the bruise on his neck. Geno could still see it, peeping through Sidney’s fingers.
"I do it all the time," Sidney said. He swallowed, and dropped his hand. "Girls like me."
The elevator doors dinged open, and Sidney jumped inside the carriage. He turned around on his heels, and faced Geno, with his chin thrust out.
"All the time," Sidney said again, staring with a weird heaviness in his eyes.
Geno blinked. That wasn’t true. Sidney didn't...Geno didn't need language skills to know that was a lie. Sidney was serious and private and obsessed with doing the right thing. He didn’t do anything like what Geno saw last night; someone would have told him.
The elevator dinged again, and the doors began to trundle closed. Sidney put his hand out, and caught the right-side door.
"Aren't you..." He cleared his throat, and shook his head. "You should grab something from the restaurant here. We don't want to be late to the bus."
Geno suffered through the most awkward elevator ride, followed by the second most uncomfortable continental breakfast line, of his life and bolted for the team bus. He dimly registered Sidney choking on a bagel as he followed him out, but didn’t look back.
He took the steps into the bus in one lunge, and nodded at Steve behind the wheel as he moved past him. Most of the guys had already taken up the first six rows of seats. He kicked Talbot’s ankle out of the aisle as he passed, holding his overnight bag up in the air. Talbot looked up from his Nintendo DS, and snorted.
“The fuck, man?” he asked, eyes already sliding past Geno as he passed by. “I was almost to the fourth level!”
Zbynek smacked Talbot in the shoulder from across the aisle, blocking Geno’s path. “Lies,” he said. “Damn lies, Englishman.”
“You take that back,” Talbot said, sitting up as his very much not English accent thickened.
“I’m so glad we got that Netflix account for your birthday,” Joe piped up from a row over.
Geno nudged Zbynek’s arm out of his way with his knee. Zbynek frowned up at him as he passed, but his gaze soon left Geno to swing back towards Sidney coming up the aisle.
“Ha!” he shouted, and Geno froze right where he was, staring past the remaining filled seats to the blessed emptiness of the back. “I know this one, I rent Mean Girls. Sidney has hickey.”
Geno ground his teeth as the rest of the bus erupted into hoots and hollers and guys standing up out of their seats to take a look at Sidney’s neck. A couple of them slapped him on the shoulders as Geno walked towards the back, which was weird, but not as weird as everything else this morning. Behind him, he could hear Jordy cracking up, and Kris yelling something in too fast English.
He glanced over his shoulder to see Sidney standing in the aisle, patiently waiting until Kris stopped poking at his neck.
Kris glanced Geno’s way, grinning, before turning his head back towards Sidney. Geno tracked him, couldn’t help looking at Sidney’s neck and the bruise he’d decorated it with. He swallowed.
“I thought you were in a rush to get back, huh, Sid?” he asked, pinching Sidney’s cheek. He looked back at Geno, and waggled his eyebrows.
Sidney twitched his face out of reach of Kris’s fingers. A grin slid up his face, calm and satisfied, like he was rehashing a win in the press room. “What can I say, guys? She was really into me.”
The sound level in the room abruptly dropped, even Jordy’s evil giggle died in mid-breath. There was a brief, frozen moment where nobody seemed to know where to look, or what to say, and so Geno found himself just watching Sidney, trying to stare through his calm smile and distant eyes.
Brooks knelt up in his seat. “Um,” he said, with a cough. “I…sorry, okay, um—”
“Sorry, guys,” Sidney said, raising the hand not clutching his overnight bag in the air. “I’m not the type to kiss and tell.”
He slung his bag up into the overhead shelf, and took the empty aisle seat next to Flower, who was looking back and forth between him and Sid. Geno put his bag in the aisle seat towards the back, and took the window for himself. The glass felt cool under his forehead.
Slowly, guys started talking again, joking and throwing snacks across the aisle. Coach boarded just in time for Steve to close the bus door on his heel, and no one bothered Geno for the entire two hour drive. It didn’t make much sense, but he was grateful for it anyway.
On the plane, Geno sat with Jordy and listened to him talk about his brothers, and his family’s farm, and the things pigs got up to. Well, possibly it was nephews and not pigs. His English was more solid these days, but Jordy was clearly working himself up to saying something, and so he was talking pretty fast and a little too soft. Geno wished for vodka; lots of it, and someone who spoke a proper language to drink it with. He hadn’t been able to sleep on the bus like usual, for some reason, and now he could feel sleep sinking long fingers into his brain. It made him clumsy. His eyelids slid downward.
“Uh, Geno? You awake?” Jordy asked.
Geno felt a light touch on his arm, just a brush of Jordy’s fingers, and widened his eyes. “Yes?” he answered.
He saw Jordy glance to his left, and followed his gaze. Dustin and Fleury were staring at him over the backs of their seats. Geno shoved his head into the headrest.
“Gah,” he said.
Fleury’s fingertips waved at him. Dustin’s beady black eyes stared over the little towel on the headrest. Geno glanced over at Jordy.
“What is happening?” he asked, very carefully. “Is prank? I still have shaving cream left.”
Jordy cleared his throat, and glanced over at the other two again. “Um, well, we were just…” he coughed. “See, we all figured, I mean…”
Dustin whapped him in the side of the head, and Jordy kicked the back of his seat. He scooted over, putting his back against the window of the plane, and stuck his jaw out. He glared at Dustin.
“I’m getting to it,” he said, and then looked back at Geno. “Look, I’m just—Geno, we all know that Sid is…Sid, but you don’t have to…I mean—”
“You can tell us the truth about the hickey thing,” Fleury said, over Jordy’s increasingly high voice. “I don’t know what this morning was all about, but—”
When had it become Geno’s job to interpret and explain Sidney’s weirdness? Jesus. “They fuck in hallway,” he said, grinding his voice out between his teeth. “I see them by elevator. Team has to pay for damage to ficus.”
“Wait, the one in the hallway?” Dustin asked. “That was Sidney? With a girl?”
“Ew,” Jordy said. His nose scrunched.
Geno nodded. “Is weird,” he said. “Even for Sidney.”
Jordy’s mouth opened, then closed, and then opened again. “But I thought—”
Fleury stuck his palm over Jordy’s entire face, and pushed his head into the plane window. “Never mind what we thought, Geno,” he said, ducking Jordy’s flailing arm. “I’m sure…this is none of our business.”
He raised his eyebrows, and let go of Jordy’s face, wiping his hand off on Jordy’s chest. Dustin leaned over his shoulder.
“You seriously walked in on Sidney Crosby fucking a girl?” Dustin asked.
“Was puck bunny,” Geno said. “Is no big deal.”
“No, that’s weird, that’s... And you…I can’t believe you walked into that,” Fleury said. He looked over his shoulder and back at Geno. “Look, Geno, I don’t—”
Geno raised his hands. “I don’t know,” he said, cutting Fleury off. They were all three staring at him, like he was…like he was supposed to have an answer, when he honestly didn’t even know where to begin. “I don’t…no need to think about it. Now. I sleep, okay?”
He squeezed his eyes shut, only relaxing when he heard the sounds of them all settling back into their seats. He listened to the rumble of the engines and the guys chirping in the rows ahead of him until he finally fell asleep.
It just never seemed to stop. Deadspin had gotten pictures of Sidney leaving the club, half out of his button-up shirt, and suddenly every half reputable news show was making nasty jokes about spoiled stars and play dates with Patrick Kane. For weeks the minute Geno tried to forget the eye-searing image of Sidney having public sex, someone else in management popped up and asked him about it, like he was supposed to keep track of Sidney’s conquests.
Not that…he’d ever really heard of Sidney having conquests, and not that Sidney was talking to him anyway. Sidney had gone from the bus to the plane to his house without once looking back, sitting back and laughing his false laugh in the face of every smug reporter. Geno stopped giving interviews.
Geno pushed open the door with one hand, carrying his stick and helmet in the other. A clump of guys were stuffed into one end of the locker room, looming over Brooks’ stall.
“—cheating on him!” Pascal said.
Tyler glanced over his shoulder, probably at the sound of the door, and Geno saw his face turn white. He slammed his hand into Pascal’s shoulder, rocking him into Mark and Comrie. Geno rolled his eyes, and stumped his way to his own stall.
“Who is cheating?” he asked, sitting down to unlace his shoes.
There was a short silence. “Hi Geno,” Brooks said. “We’re just talking about the new GTA.”
Geno sighed. Right, and his mother was Queen of Sheba. The guys shuffled amongst themselves, slowly breaking up to walk to their own stalls. Geno glanced over at Sidney’s empty stall. He’d left him on the ice. Sidney had stopped really talking to him after the plane ride. Six games. It was no big thing.
Geno yanked hard on his knotted laces, setting his left leg out straight in front of himself. Nothing was anything. Sidney could have sex with whoever he wanted, and if he wanted groupies than who was Geno to say he couldn’t. Sidney had… He’d always had groupies, and if Sidney had always treated them like actual fans before then it still wasn’t any of Geno’s business.
He toed out of his left skate and started work on his right. It just didn’t make any sense, though. Sidney signed autographs, and posed for pictures, and then he took Geno out for steak to help him with his English. It was what they did. Or, rather, it was what they used to did. Do. Done? Sidney had not spoken to him in a while, maybe he’d finally remembered to be embarrassed that the story seemed to have gotten out. Geno would have been upset, if people knew his sex life. Sidney hated people knowing anything about him at all.
His jacket pocket began to buzz, his cell rattling against the side of his stall. Geno leaned back to grab it, reaching over his head. He fished the cell out of his pocket, and flipped the top open to mash against his ear without looking at the caller ID.
“I have just heard the funniest story in the world,” Ovie said, in Russian.
Oh fuck. Geno sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“To tell you a funny story!” Ovie exclaimed, sounding like he was already half a bottle into whatever party he’d created. “Sasha got it off some hockey blog. It’s about Sidney and some girl in a garden center.”
Geno grit his teeth. “What?”
“No, really, Sidney! With a girl,” Ovie said. “And that’s not the best part. See there was this Rhododendron —”
Geno hung up. He made it through his upper padding, and skates before his phone vibrated again, this time with a text.
Shit, it said.
Geno sighed, and stood up. He shrugged out of his suspenders, and took off his pants, before un-taping his socks from his thighs. He wadded up the grimy tape into a ball, and tossed it at the nearest waste basket. His hockey socks sagged down to his knee guards, elastic long gone.
He took extra care to remove his gear, unwrapping every piece and setting it aside, while around him the guys undressed and made plans for after practice. He let it flow over him, even the short, awkward silence that bloomed when Sidney walked past him to get to his own stall, and then the rising tension as the guys tried to make up for it. Fuck it all.
His cell vibrated again. Geno stood up in his sweaty t-shirt and shorts, already pulling the shirt over his head. He smelled horrible, even to him. His legs ached.
Sidney cleared his throat behind him. Geno paused. It was weird that he could recognize Sidney’s cough. Geno glanced around, but it looked like he’d dragged out undressing enough that the room was mostly empty. He turned around, tossing his shirt in his open gear bag. His cell stopped buzzing, probably gone over to voicemail.
Sidney was already dressed, of course, in jeans that were practically ironed and a t-shirt that had an alligator on it. His hair was wet, and plastered to his forehead. The tip of his long nose was red, still, from the cold of the rink.
“So I was thinking,” he said, loudly. “Do you want to pick up girls?”
Girls, Geno was sure, loved men who smelled like a thousand sweat socks. Geno wouldn’t know; Geno liked men. He liked them after they’d showered, though. He stepped into his jeans, and buttoned the fly, glancing around the mostly empty room. This was a prank, it had to be. There was a hidden camera pointed right at his face. He caught Kris’ startled eyes, and glanced away. His phone vibrated on the bench.
He turned back to Sidney, who was watching him, teeth caught on his lower lip. His nostrils flared as he breathed. “I mean, we could do it together,” he said. “The girls, I mean. We could pick up girls. Together. You could be my wingman.”
Kris made a muffled noise from across the locker room, but Sidney didn’t turn around. Geno grabbed his fresh t-shirt from off the hook in his stall, and stuck his arms through the holes.
“No, thank you,” Geno said, putting his head through the collar.
His phone buzzed. He wanted to look down at it, but Sidney stepped forward into his space, and Geno couldn’t look away. Sidney’s breath was coming too fast. Sidney’s lips thinned; his eyes were showing white around the rims. He leaned forward.
“But, don’t you…I mean, we should, you should come with me. We can get a steak after?”
Sidney was so weird. Geno didn’t even know what to do. He sat down on his bench, and Sidney didn’t step back, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Geno picked up his phone. It’d stopped vibrating, but he opened it anyway. Two missed calls and two voicemails from Ovie. One text from Sasha. He pressed OK, and the message popped up on screen.
We will call your mother.
“I have date,” Geno said, and Sidney jerked like he’d been shocked. “I leave now.”
He didn’t wait for Sidney’s reply, already punching Ovie’s number on his speed dial, grabbed his gear bag, and left the locker room.
Ovie let his first call go to voicemail, but picked up on the third ring of his second try, just as Geno had made it out of the center to his car. He threw his bag in the backseat, and jammed the phone into his shoulder.
“Bullshit you call my mother,” he said in English.
“Geno,” Ovie replied in Russian. “Don’t you believe in the power of motherly love?”
Geno switched to Russian as well, just to make sure Ovie understood every word. “I believe that if you tell my mother about Sidney’s idea of good sex—”
“So the Rhododendron was true!” Ovie crowed. “Oh, wait until I tell Sergei, he didn’t believe me, even though we showed him the blog!”
“Who is ‘we’?” Geno asked, sliding into the driver’s seat.
“Sasha and I,” Ovie said. “He likes all the blogs. I just like the pictures.”
“I hate you,” Geno said.
“You mean you love me,” Ovie said. “Are you as bad in English as you are in Russian? No wonder Sidney is—”
Ovie broke off with a cough, and Geno could hear Sasha yelling at him through the phone. He had a few minutes then. Geno plugged the phone into the Bluetooth, and fixed the headpiece into his ear.
Clearly, Ovie had his speakerphone on. “—and it is not Geno’s fault that he is dating a slut,” Sasha was saying.
Ovie made a hurt noise.
“Not that there is anything wrong with being a slut,” Sasha muttered.
“I am not dating anyone,” Geno said, talking over the sound of Ovie kissing Sasha.
He pulled out onto fifth avenue, and clicked his seatbelt closed one-handed. He squirmed in his seat as he drove towards the intersection.
“Stop it, both of you,” he said.
Ovie grunted, but Sasha was actually a good person (with horrible taste in men) and said, “Sorry, Geno. He’s been worried.”
“He’s been gleeful,” Geno said.
“Well, that too,” Sasha said. “But mostly worried. You know Ovie.”
“I am still here,” Ovie said.
“Yes, dear,” Sasha said.
“Well,” Ovie demanded. “Are you going to tell us why you let Crosby off his chain, or not?”
“I did not…” Geno sighed, and turned right on red onto Grant. “I do not have Sidney on a chain, Alex.”
Sasha laughed. “Geno, you had him dancing to your tune before you could even speak his language.”
Geno squeezed his fingers around his steering wheel. How far away was D.C. anyway? He could make it in time to hit Sasha in the mouth, and back again before the game with Edmonton.
“That is not true,” he said, instead. “Sidney is my friend. I didn’t…”
He cleared his throat, and slowed down, spying the light turn red at the corner of Sixth. The Toyota in front of him had a sticker of three stick figures in the back window, two children and a mother. Americans were very strange. Ovie and Sasha were very strange. Geno had nothing to do with anything about Sidney’s sex life. He didn’t, and no amount of stupid teammates and foolish internet blogs and ridiculous…whatever Ovie was would—
“Geno?” Ovie yelled. “Shout if you can still hear us!”
“It is not my business!” Geno shouted back at him, smacking his hand against the dashboard. “Sidney is not my boyfriend, and he did not cheat on me and it is not fair that he has sex with a girl where I can see, and then wants me to find girls with him, because it is not my fault that he—that he…”
He hit the dashboard again, loud enough that he was sure Ovie and Sasha could hear it, and hissed when his knuckles caught against the vent. He sucked air in through his mouth, and pushed it out again, blinking rapidly. Stupid fucking Sidney. Stupid.
There was a slight ringing in Geno’s ears, not like a concussion, but still loud enough to be noticeable. He swallowed, and rubbed his tongue over his front teeth. It was nice that he still had them.
“You saw him having sex?” Ovie asked quietly.
“Oh, fuck you,” Geno said.
The light turned green, and he pulled out into traffic.
“No,” Ovie said. “I’m serious, he…how? Were you at the garden center with him?”
“What? There was no garden center—why do I keep having to talk about this?” Geno asked. “What did your blog tell you?”
“Was the part with the Rhodo—you know what, I don’t want to know,” Sasha said. “The point is…Sidney wants to look at girls with you?”
“No, the point is, I thought they were already dating,” Ovie said.
“Stop it,” Sasha said, “he’s upset.”
“I’m not upset,” Geno said.
“So he’s a mess,” Ovie said at the same time. “Maybe I should get Sergei in on this call.”
“No,” Geno said, sitting up straighter. “Don’t call Sergei, I’m fine.”
Ovie’s sigh sounded almost exactly like Geno’s grandma. It was horrible, and Geno resisted the urge to drive his car off the road. It’d get on the news, and then Ovie might come to Pittsburgh for moral support.
“Maybe we should come visit,” Sasha said. “There aren’t enough Russians on your team.”
It took most of the ride home to get Sasha to promise not to let Ovie come to Pittsburgh and ‘help,’ and another half hour to get Ovie to promise not to let Sasha come to Pittsburgh and speak to Sidney about his intentions. By the time Geno reached his condo, it was all he could do not to throw his phone into the nearest dumpster. He restrained himself with the thought of what his mother would say when she learned he’d ruined a perfectly good phone. One lecture on what she’d suffered under Communism was enough.
The elevator ride to his condo was blissfully quiet, and Geno let the cool metal of the carriage leach heat from his back. His chest felt sore, just a little, right over the breastbone. Geno rubbed his hand up and over his pectorals, hooking his fingers around his neck. When the elevator dinged, and the doors opened, he stepped out onto his floor. Down the hall, he could see Sergei sitting outside his door.
Geno sighed, loudly enough that Sergei looked up from his Blackberry. He stood as Geno walked towards him, and stuffed his phone into his back pocket.
“Sergei,” Geno said. “You,” he pointed his finger at him, “should be in Ottawa.”
“Geno,” Sergei said. “You need me to be here.”
Geno came to a halt in front of Sergei, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Is that so?” he asked.
Sergei put his hand to the back of Geno’s head, pulled him forward, and kissed him. Geno felt his shoulders slump.
Sergei sighed as he pulled back, and shook Geno’s head lightly. “Come on,” he said. “Let me in your ugly apartment, and let’s get drunk.”
Geno’s skull felt cold when Sergei let go. He licked his lips, and dug his keys out of his jacket pocket. Sergei leaned against the wall, while Geno unlocked the door to his place, lounging like he traveled eight hundred and seventy nine kilometers for no reason all the fucking time. Not that Geno had ever figured out how long that would take on Google Maps, or anything. Inside, he flipped the hallway lights on and tossed his keys into the change bowl he kept on a table near the door.
“Have you eaten?” he asked over his shoulder.
Sergei shrugged. “I could,” he said. “Do you have anything?”
“Leftovers, mostly,” Geno said. “From the Chinese place on fourth.”
Sergei followed him into the kitchen, and sat at the wooden table, watching Geno grab greasy cartons out of the fridge, and vodka from the freezer. Geno thunked the half-empty bottle on the table between them, and circled the cartons around it. He crossed his arms, and stuck his chin out.
“Well?” he prodded.
Sergei raised his eyebrows. “You still keep your plates in the same place?”
He twisted in his chair, pulling open the drawer behind him, and taking out two forks. Geno sighed, and turned back around to his cupboard. He kept the plates close to the stove, just like his mother did back home, although he hadn’t cooked anything more complicated than pancakes since he’d moved in. Sidney liked his pancakes; they were half the reason he kept inviting himself over to beat Geno at Lego Star Wars, and stayed too late to go home. Sometimes Geno thought Sid missed living with Mario more than he let on.
He pulled two plates from the cupboard, and set them down on the table, pulling out his chair with his other hand. Sergei had grabbed two glasses from the drying rack by the sink while his back was turned. He grabbed the bottle, pointing the neck in Geno’s direction. Geno waved his hand, and pulled a carton of food towards himself. He flicked the top open, and sniffed. Pork Chow Mein. He smushed half of it out onto the top plate, and passed it to Sergei, guests first, like his mother had taught him.
Sergei smiled at him, twisting the cap off the vodka. He poured two inches in both glasses, and set one in front of Geno, and then picked up his fork.
“So?” he asked.
Geno picked up his glass, and took a drink. He licked his lips, closing his eyes briefly against the cold searing rush of alcohol down his throat. “It’s nothing,” he said.
Sergei took a bite of noodles, and nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Eat, though.”
Geno opened the rest of the Chinese food cartons, dishing out the leftover Broccoli with Beef, and Honeyed Duck. He speared a bite and popped it into his mouth, chewing automatically. He could feel his shoulders starting to tense, waiting for the inevitable stupid questions. Sergei was like an old woman sometimes, always treating Geno like he was a child. Sergei only grunted, however, when Geno started to eat, and upended the rest of the chow mein onto his plate. They ate quietly, and Sergei made sure Geno’s glass was always filled—although that was wrong, because Sergei was in Geno’s home, and not the other way around. Still, by the end of the meal, the vodka was warm in his stomach, and his lips were pleasantly greasy. Geno let himself slump a little against his table, one hand underneath his chin.
“It’s not fair,” Geno said, muffling his voice in the heel of his palm.
“Probably not,” Sergei said, pouring him another drink.
Geno picked up his fork in his free hand, and swirled patterns into the leftover grease on his plate. “I didn’t…I didn’t want to see Sidney having sex with her.”
Sergei swallowed a healthy amount of his own vodka. “Who does?”
Geno blinked down at his plate, and let his fork clatter to the table. “Nobody,” he said, grimacing, “but everybody makes me talk about it. Like I care it’s on blogs—” He picked up his glass and waved his arm out towards the back wall, sloshing his drink almost over the rim. “—like it’s the best thing to ever happen in the world.”
“Zhenya…” Sergei sighed.
“What?” Geno leaned forward, sticking out his chin.
Sergei clapped him on the top of his head, digging his fingers through Geno’s hair. Geno winced. Sergei looked him in the face, chewing on a corner of his mouth.
“Don’t spill your drink,” Sergei said, letting go.
Geno sat back in his chair, breath hissing from his mouth. He eyed the remaining vodka in his glass, swaying the liquid from side to side. “I just want to forget about her—it,” he said. “The whole thing. I’ll bet Sidney does, too.”
“Oh?” Sergei asked, quickly enough that Geno looked from his glass. “Did he say that?”
“Of course not,” Geno said. “It’s Sidney. He’s insane. He…he walks around like he—wanted the attention. He wore low-collared shirts until his stupid, ugly hickey disappeared.”
Sergei blinked, and poured them both another finger of booze. “Sidney had a hickey? The blog didn’t mention that.”
Geno upended his glass, and took a large enough swallow to bring tears to his eyes. “She gave him one, apparently. Although, maybe because it was something to do.”
“What?” Sergei asked.
Geno slammed his glass down on the table. Sergei refilled it. “She was bored. She waved at me behind Sidney’s back.”
Sergei coughed into his hand, and then covered his mouth, eyebrows twitching. Geno glared at him. Sergei waggled his eyebrows even harder, until Geno had to look away. He eyed the cloth calendar one of the team wives had given him for Christmas, and fought to keep his mouth steady. Sergei chuckled, and Geno kicked him under the table.
“Stop it,” he said, turning back around, giggling, “it was traumatic!”
Sergei nodded, grinning. “I’m sure it was, but at least now we know Sidney’s bad at something.”
“Sidney has always been bad with girls,” Geno said. “That is nothing new.”
“Remember the time that one girl asked him to sign her boobs, and he started to hyperventilate?”
Geno laughed into his glass. “He made me get him a paper bag from the 7-11.”
“Or what about when those twins in Montreal tried to get him into a closet at the Parc Hyatt?”
Geno took a drink, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, giggling. “I think he still might believe they just wanted help getting towels off the shelf.”
“So what makes this girl different?” Sergei asked, watching him over the rim of his own glass.
Geno licked his lips, and felt a laugh evaporate in his throat. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe she used little words. Sometimes it works for me.”
“Yeah, but you don’t want to fuck Sidney in a hallway,” Sergei said, looking at him steadily.
Geno shrugged. He put a hand to his stomach, and rubbed at a little ache above his navel. Had Sidney wanted to fuck in the hallway, right where everyone would see? It was bound to have gotten out. He just couldn’t picture Sidney saying yes to that; not in public.
Sergei tapped the toes of his shoe against Geno’s shin. “Zhenya…”
“Are you staying the night?” Geno asked, standing up. He braced himself on the table, blinking a little against the sudden headrush. He needed to start drinking more, if he was getting to be this much of a lightweight.
He pushed off from the table, and stepped out into the hall. “You can have the sofa,” he said. “I’ve got sheets somewhere.”
Sergei followed him out of the kitchen and down into the living room. He stepped over to the sofa, and sat down, leaning the bottle against the armrest. He looked over at Geno, and raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t make me call Alex for a conference,” he said. “He’s probably drunk enough now to think driving to your house is an excellent idea.”
“Don’t threaten me with people visiting,” Geno said. “You’re not my mother.”
“Now, there’s an idea,” Sergei said, grinning. It wasn’t a very nice grin; too many teeth. “Now sit down. I don’t want to talk about this anymore than you do. I was put on this earth to play hockey, not babysit.”
Fucking hell, why couldn’t everyone just leave it alone? That’s what he wanted to do, bury the memory so fucking deep it never resurfaced again. Then he could go out and watch Sidney get girls and…Geno swallowed. No, he didn’t really want to do that, even though they were friends. Sergei waggled the vodka bottle in Geno’s direction, tapping his fingers under the Grey Goose logo. Geno ground his teeth. Sergei clucked his tongue at him.
Geno stomped around the back of the sofa, and threw himself into the opposite corner, keeping the middle cushion empty between he and Sergei. Sergei passed him the vodka without even asking, and Geno drank from the bottle, swallowing while Sergei turned on the TV to NHL Live.
Geno let the bottle fall to his lap, and leaned his head against the couch. Onscreen, Bob McKenzie was talking out of his ass about the Flyers. Sergei gestured for the bottle, and Geno let him take it, rolling his head against the back of the couch. They passed the vodka back and forth between them, while Sergei made fun of Kevin Allen, and Geno defended everything Olczyk said. Geno pushed down the simmering, oily heat in his stomach, licking his teeth and swallowing heavily. Finally, when the bottle was dangerously low, he turned his head towards Sergei, letting the couch take its weight.
“I’m stupid,” he said, quietly.
Sergei set the bottle between them, balanced carefully on the cushion. “Oh?”
Geno nodded, rubbing his cheek against the zig-zag pattern in his couch. He could feel his stubble catching in the threads. “Yeah.”
“How so?” Sergei asked.
Geno closed his eyes, and yawned. For once, he was going to let the alcohol make him sleepy. “I just…I feel like I lost a game, or something, but I don’t know why.”
He felt Sergei reach over and palm the side of his head, but the couch was very comfortable and suddenly Geno was very tired. Between one breath and the next, he let himself fall asleep.