Sid learns to bake during his 6th and final concussion.
There is something soothing about kneading dough in quiet semi darkness that keeps the anxiety away, and he doesn’t stop even as his symptoms recede. (Part of it, Sid comes to realize later, is that he wasn’t ready to let go of hockey even as his body failed. Hockey had been his everything.)
So Sid bakes breads, buns and rolls, announces his retirement and moves back to Cole Harbor, all without really saying goodbye. Taylor lets him mope for a month before she starts pestering him.
“You can’t just sit and be sad and lonely Squid,” She says one bright august afternoon. “You were never going to have hockey forever.”
“I can’t even skate without vertigo anymore. What am I supposed to do?” Sid pouts.
“Well, you’re a pretty good baker.”
~ ~ ~
The name ‘Sticks and Scones’ was Flower’s idea. Unlike Sid, retirement has left him fat and happy down in Quebec, glad to be home for the birth of his 3rd and final child, a bouncy little boy named Kristopher. The whole Fleury clan comes down for the opening, and Sid is amazed at how the girls who he still thinks of as babies have blossomed before his eyes. It makes his heart ache to know he missed so much, and he’s pathetically grateful that no other Penguins come to the event.
Ally, the woman who he hires to run the front, somehow knows nothing about hockey. During her interview, she looked at Sid with narrowed eyes and after a moment said ‘Weren’t you in the Olympics or something?’ and Sid hired her on the spot.
Things quickly fall into a rhythm, and by late November, Sid has made his peace enough that the soft chirp of NHL radio fills the kitchen while he works. He learns in short order that the Pens gave Geno the C, and it makes Sid’s chest ache. It’s not that G doesn’t deserve it, because he does, but Sid left too much unsaid between the two of them to feel anything but a familiar longing under his breastbone every time he hears Geno’s name.
~ ~ ~
“There’s this weird Russian asking for you,” Ally says one slow Thursday afternoon. “He’s very insistent.” Sid knows it’s the Pens by week, but he tries to be realistic as he uselessly tries to dust the flower out of his hair and apron. But against all odds, it is Geno, and Sid feels a complicated mix of self-consciousness, desire and longing.
“You’re scaring my employee with all that looming,” Sid teases, and Geno gives a booming laugh.
“Not know who I am?”
“She barely knew who I was,” Sid replies. “Which is incidentally why I hired her.”
“Bad Canadian, Not know Sidney Crosby.”
“For starters, I’m from Texas,” Ally says dryly.
“Hockey team in Texas!”
“Yeah, over 200 miles from where I live, dummy. I’m a Texans fan.”
“Steelers better,” Geno says, wrinkling his nose. Sid gives a fond huff as the two of them go at it, slipping into the back to grab his attempt at pryanik along with the tea Geno had always favored back in Pittsburgh. He can’t quite explain why he learned how to bake so many Russian sweets. He doesn’t put them in his store very often but almost every morning he makes something, perhaps in a subconscious desire to stay connected with a man he’s loved for years. But now Geno is actually here, and he stares at his lopsided and slightly leaky cookies and feels defeated. But he steels himself as if it’s a shootout, and brings the cookies and tea out.
It’s all worth it for the way Geno lights up at the first bite, eating another in a few bites before looking away guiltily.
“So good, but diet plan…” Sid fights a smile as his heart flips at Geno’s pout.
“What they don’t know won’t kill them,” Sid says with a wink. “I’m not your captain anymore.” Geno grabs another cookie with a grin before going for the tea.
“So what are you doing here anyway?” Sid asks, heart oddly tense.
“Disappeared, Sid,” Geno says, voice soft and sad. “Only reason whole team not here is Flower. Say you busy being next Tim Horton.” Sid can’t hide a bashful giggle.
“I…At first it was too painful to be reminded of what I’d lost…then with the store…just…it was easier, I guess…”
The moment feels charged, and Sid feels himself squirm under Geno’s intense gaze. Sid settles for fiddling with the edge of his napkin.
“Lot changed, realized…should have said goodbye, say I love you…” That makes Sid freeze.
“But your wife…” Geno shakes his head.
“Left. Didn’t work…Took Nikita back with her.”
“Oh G, I’m so sorry…” Sid reaches out, covering Geno’s trembling hand with his own.
“Better for him…Gets stable life now. Means he’ll be safe.”
“Coming out, Sid…Wanted you to hear from me. That’s why I’m here.”
“I’m so glad you could tell me,” Sid whispers, an aching bloom of hope in his chest. “That you’ll tell the world. That you’ll be braver than I was. Because I’m gay too, G…Just…Thought it would be better to be lonely than to face all that. It was easier to just have hockey…and to have you.” The look that crosses Geno’s face looks like what Sid is feeling and they lean over the table together, perfectly in sync, until they are so close their noses touch.
“Can I kiss you?” Sid breathes. Geno answers by slotting their lips together.
It doesn’t feel like fireworks, or even like winning the Stanley Cup. It feels inevitable, like the tide or the change of the seasons. This was where Sid was always supposed to be. Here, with Geno.