They fought about it, broke up, got back together, fought about it some more: big, dramatic fights, because they were both dramatic people, Zhenya stomping around and shouting, and Anya crying and promising herself it was really over this time. He didn’t take her career seriously and never had. She suggested once that he move home and play for one of the Moscow teams, and he scoffed at her, like it wasn’t even worth considering.
That was when they broke up, and she held out for a whole month, through Zhenya’s every effort of flowers and unbearably romantic love letters. The trouble was that she loved him, his sly sharp sense of humor, his unexpectedly tender heart. She didn’t want to break up. She wanted to stay with him and be with him and love him forever. But who would she be, without her work? What kind of life was there for her in Pittsburgh? She would become a footnote to Zhenya’s life: Malkin’s girlfriend, Malkin’s wife, the mother to his children, and she told herself there was no shame in it, but she had never daydreamed of those things. Her ambitions lay elsewhere.
But in the end her own tender heart made the decision for her. She loved him.
They went to Italy together in July, and Zhenya of course went all out, sunset yacht cruises and fresh flowers in their hotel room every evening. They went for dinner one night at a restaurant overlooking the water, and Zhenya finished telling a story and fell silent, gazing out across the lapping waves, his profile lit by the late sun as it sank below the horizon. Anya watched him from across the table and decided right then. She could imagine a life without him, but she didn’t want it. She loved him.
“Zhenya,” she said, and when he turned to look at her, “I’ll move to Pittsburgh.”
She watched her words transform his expression. He reached across the table to take her hand. “You mean it?”
“Yeah,” she said, giving in to her own besotted smile. There it was: the rest of her life. “I do.”
She sold all of her furniture and shipped the rest of her belongings to Zhenya’s house in Pittsburgh, and then Zhenya—sweetly, foolishly—took her to New York and then Miami, because he was trying to ease her in.
“I’ve been to Pittsburgh before,” she reminded him, while they were waiting to board their flight to Miami. “I know what it’s like.” There was no need to soften the blow. She knew exactly what she was getting herself into.
“Who says this has anything to do with you?” Zhenya said, without looking up from his phone. He was playing chess, and losing. “I like Miami. Don’t I deserve a tropical vacation before the season starts? I work hard, you know.”
“You’ve been on vacation since April,” Anya said, and then regretted it at once, because she knew he had hoped for a deep playoff run.
But he only bumped his foot gently against hers. “I like seeing you in a bikini, that’s all.” He glanced up then and smirked at her, his tongue stuffed in his cheek, wicked, beloved.
She had chosen him, and she wasn’t sorry at all.
They spent a golden week together in Miami, just the two of them, the last time Zhenya would be fully hers until the end of the season. Soon he would be the team’s again, and Sid’s. They would return to real life: Zhenya’s life that he had when he was away from her, which she knew hardly anything about, and which was about to become her life.
Reality set in as the plane descended into Pittsburgh. Zhenya had been spoiled by the team’s charter flights and always complained about flying commercial, but he was happy now, leaning over Anya to look out the window as downtown came into view: excited to be back, for the start of the season and everything that went along with it, the inescapable facts of Anya’s new life.
Zhenya hired a car to take them home from the airport. They sat together in the back seat and Anya snuggled into his side, wanting attention and comfort. He put an arm around her and kissed her head, still focused on his phone, scrolling up and then back down and smiling.
“Are you texting Sid?” Anya asked, because she recognized that expression, small and pleased.
He turned his head to look at her. She watched him decide not to be embarrassed. “I am, yeah. He’d like to come say hi later, if that’s okay.”
She had chosen Zhenya, and that meant choosing Sid, too. She had known that going in. “Maybe in a couple of hours. I’d like to unpack a little.”
“I’ll tell him,” Zhenya said, but he didn’t go back to his phone. He slid it into his pocket and turned toward Anya, his arm settling more firmly around her shoulders. He bent to kiss her forehead, and she closed her eyes and breathed him in, his deodorant and cologne. “I can also tell him that today isn’t so good.”
“No,” she said, pressing closer, wanting to be held. She tucked her face against his neck and kissed him, right at his pulse point. “It’s okay. He should come over.”
Zhenya’s housekeeping service had come by to stock the fridge and make the beds. Instead of unpacking right away, Anya wandered around upstairs, looking through the drawers in the bathroom, inspecting Zhenya’s walk-in closet. Taking inventory. She would need to do some shopping, for toiletries and clothes hangers, all the little things that weren’t worth packing. She had only been a guest in this house before, but now it was her home.
There were two razors in the medicine cabinet. Not all of the clothes in the dresser were Zhenya’s. She wondered if he would have tidied those things away if he had known in advance that she was going to move in.
Zhenya came upstairs after a while with a plate of food for her. “Lunch,” he said, and stood in the doorway of the bedroom to survey the mess she had made, the contents of her suitcases strewn everywhere while she tried to decide where things should go.
“Don’t say anything,” she said, “it’s your own fault for having too many clothes. There’s no room in your closet!”
“Well, I’ll make some room for you, or else we’ll have to buy a bigger house,” he said. He set the plate on one of the tables beside the bed. “Sid is coming over soon. If that’s okay.”
“Sure, tell him to come,” Anya said. She could feel Zhenya’s eyes on her, but she kept her head down, focusing on the makeup she was unpacking, and he left her to it and went back downstairs.
She heard a car pull into the driveway after a while. She went over to the window and saw Sid climbing out of his SUV, a huge bouquet of flowers in his hands.
Her heart fluttered anxiously. She needed to go say hello.
She heard Zhenya’s voice as she made her way down the stairs, and Sid laughing. She came to the foot of the stairs and saw them standing together in the entryway. The flowers were on the console table, and Sid was in Zhenya’s arms.
They didn’t notice her. Sid’s head was resting on Zhenya’s shoulder, and they were holding each other tight, clinging. They hadn’t seen each other since Prague, in May, but Anya hadn’t really thought of them missing each other. Zhenya had been with her all summer, spending most of his time with her, paying attention to her, and she knew that he talked to Sid almost every day, but she never saw it, didn’t dwell on it, and had maybe been pretending, to some extent, that it didn’t happen.
As she watched, Sid pulled back slightly, smiling up at Zhenya. His arms circled Zhenya’s waist. Zhenya touched his cheek, his thumb stroking beneath Sid’s eye. They kissed.
Anya went down the final three steps into the foyer. “Sid, hello,” she said in English.
Sid and Zhenya broke apart: not quickly, like they were startled or guilty, just an easy disentanglement. Zhenya’s hand slid down Sid’s arm and dropped away. They both turned toward her, smiling, and Anya drew in a breath and moved forward to give Sid a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
The flowers, it turned out, were for her: pale pink dahlias, beautifully arranged in a vase. “Thank you,” she said to Sid, touched by the gesture.
He smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re here.”
He seemed to mean it sincerely, and Anya felt her nervous concern ease. She cradled her flowers and returned his smile. They could make this work.
They all went into the kitchen, Zhenya saying something in English that Anya couldn’t follow, and then opening the fridge to produce a bottle of beer that he handed to Sid. They were talking about something. Anya heard Zhenya say ‘hockey’ a few times.
Anya put her dahlias on the island and rearranged the blooms a little, straightening a leaf that had gotten bent in Sid’s car. She wasn’t sure what to do. Maybe she should go back upstairs now and leave Sid and Zhenya alone.
But Zhenya continued rooting around in the fridge, and Sid came over to lean against the island and smile at Anya. He was wearing workout shorts and a T-shirt with the Penguins logo on it, casual kicking-around clothes, casual and relaxed here in Zhenya’s house. Anya knew him mostly through Zhenya’s stories, and it was odd to see him in this context, too intimate a glimpse of a man who was still essentially a stranger.
She had spent time with him before, of course, when she was in Pittsburgh last year for New Year’s, and again when she came out for the playoffs, and briefly in Prague. He had been nothing but kind to her. That had been a major factor in her decision to move: Sid’s friendliness, the way he deferred to her in Zhenya’s house, even though he spent far more time there than she did. Sid pre-dated her in Zhenya’s life by more years than she cared to think about, and she had always thought that he could easily oust her if he wanted to. But he didn’t seem to want to; he seemed content to share Zhenya with her.
“Anna,” he said, and when she looked over, he said, “I hope we will friends,” in his horribly-accented Russian.
“Can be,” Zhenya corrected absently, still buried in the fridge. Sid glanced at him, then back at Anya, deliberately met her gaze, and rolled his eyes.
Anya raised one hand to her mouth to cover her smile. Sid’s Russian was pretty good aside from the accent. Certainly better than Anya’s English. He had greeted her in Russian the first time they met, and hearing him speak had convinced her of the seriousness of his relationship with Zhenya, more than anything Zhenya had said to her about it. It wasn’t a passing fancy for either of them.
Sid was smiling at her. He was a nice guy. He was trying. He had brought her flowers. He wanted her to like him, and Anya wanted to like him, she wanted everything to work out, for Zhenya to be happy, and for her and Sid to get along. She thought they probably would. Zhenya loved him for a reason.
“Of course,” she said. She believed it then, watching his smile. “I think we’ll be friends.”
The first days were full of distractions. Zhenya and Anya went to pick up the boxes she had shipped from Moscow, and she spent a couple of days unpacking and rearranging things in Zhenya’s house to her liking. She needed a driver’s license, and a car of her own, and to be added to Zhenya’s bank account. Seryozha Gonchar arrived to stay with them during training camp while he tried out for the team. Zhenya took her to the grocery store and the drug store and showed her where everything was, so that she felt confident enough to do the shopping on her own. Anya bought a computer program that promised to teach her how to speak English.
She didn’t see Sid at all. Twice Seryozha returned from the rink alone, and when Anya asked where Zhenya was, he told her that Zhenya had gone for lunch with Sid.
She knew very well that they weren’t out for lunch. They were at Sid’s house, probably having sex.
She was in the kitchen when Zhenya got home after the second time. She heard him whistling up the stairs from the garage, whistling as he came into the kitchen to wash his hands at the sink the way he always did when he first came into the house, and then the sound cut off abruptly when he saw her sitting at the table with her laptop.
“Anya,” he said. His hair was wet.
“Seryozha said you went for lunch,” Anya said. She was curious to see what he would say.
“Well. No,” Zhenya said. “Hold on a minute.” He went to wash his hands, totally unable to resist his neurosis, and then he came to sit with Anya at the table. “I was at Sid’s. I didn’t know you were waiting for me.”
“I wasn’t.” She reached out to rearrange his damp hair, where it was curling at the front. “What did you do with him?”
He watched her for a moment, a little wary. “Nyusha, you know what we did.”
She didn’t, not really. She knew the generalities, but not the specifics. They had never talked about it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but at the same time, she was desperate to know. Zhenya’s parallel life with Sid had been easy to ignore when it happened almost entirely away from her notice, but now that she was here, in Pittsburgh for good, she was being forced to confront it. She kept finding Sid’s things around the house: hard evidence that he had spent a lot of time here in the past. She was fairly sure that he and Zhenya had been living together in all but name before she arrived. He was staying away now, probably because of her.
“I don’t want you to hide it from me,” she said. “You can tell me you’re going to his place. I’d rather know.”
He leaned his head against her shoulder. “Are you upset?”
“No,” she said, and she wasn’t. “I know you’re going to—spend time with him. I’d just like to know where you are, and when you’ll be home.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll do that.” He was quiet for a minute as she played with his hair. Then he said, “We probably should have talked about this more.”
“Well, we didn’t know what it would be like,” Anya said. “It’s new for both of us.” She bent to kiss the top of his head. “He can come over here, you know. He doesn’t need my permission. There are three of us. I’d like to know him.”
“I keep telling him that,” Zhenya said. “He doesn’t want to step on your toes.”
“My toes are very tough,” Anya said. “I don’t know what he’s worried about.”
Zhenya laughed. “Yeah, you’ll just spear him with one of your stilettos. I’ll let him know.”
Whatever Zhenya said to Sid about it, they went to Sid’s for dinner a few nights later. Sid had fired up the grill on the back patio, and Anya took off her shoes and wandered around in the grass, a glass of wine in one hand, enjoying the warm evening, until the steaks were ready and Zhenya called to her from across the yard.
The meal was awkward, but in a sweet, fumbling way that made Anya’s heart feel so full. They were all trying. Sid floundered along in Russian until Zhenya started talking about hockey, and then they both forgot themselves and moved off into English. Anya didn’t try to follow.
Zhenya was different with Sid than he was with her, louder, brasher, and Sid turned pink and laughed and by all appearances enjoyed it. Watching them felt like looking into a house at dusk, before the curtains were drawn, and seeing someone cooking or washing the dishes or kissing their baby, all of the most ordinary, private, and vital parts of life. Zhenya’s face was lit with warm affection as he gazed at Sid, and Anya thought that she should be jealous, but she could never manage more than a few faint dour thoughts. She knew Zhenya loved her. It was just that he had loved Sid first.
Sid gave her a tour after dinner, while Zhenya cleaned up in the kitchen. His house was big and nice and boring, and she saw signs of Zhenya all over, a chess board in the den with a half-finished game on it, a book on the end table that Anya had started reading over New Year’s and forgotten at Zhenya’s house. Sid’s office had a framed photograph on the desk of him with Zhenya and Seryozha, holding some trophy Anya couldn’t identify, probably from their 2009 Cup run. They all looked so young. Zhenya hadn’t even attempted a beard.
Sid came around to stand at her shoulder and look at the picture with her. “Gonch is the best beard. Me, the worst.”
“At least you tried,” she said. She turned her head to smile at him. He was watching her face instead of the photograph. He had grown into a handsome man. She could see why Zhenya wanted him. She might have entertained a few thoughts of her own, if he weren’t gay.
Zhenya was singing in the kitchen when they wandered back in, something that had been on the radio a lot that summer. “Geno, you’re — — — —,” Sid said in English, laughing, moving ahead into the room. Anya hung back in the doorway and watched them: Sid emptying the dregs of the wine bottle into his glass, Zhenya moving around to put things away, grinning and snapping the dish towel at Sid’s ass. He knew where everything was in Sid’s kitchen, as comfortable in Sid’s house as he was in his own.
Sid came over to her, still shaking his head at whatever Zhenya had said to him last. He offered his wine glass, and she accepted it and took a sip, turning the glass to put her mouth on a clean portion of the rim, away from where his mouth had been.
“I am give you my telephone number,” Sid said. “Okay?”
“Oh,” Anya said. It was probably a good idea, in case something happened to Zhenya while the team was on the road. “Sure, if you’d like to.”
He studiously typed in his number, tongue between his teeth. She looked at the contact when he returned her phone. He had entered himself as Sidney Crosby, as if she might mistake him for some other Sid she knew.
She texted him a penguin emoji and watched as he glanced at his phone and grinned.
“Now you have mine,” she said. “You can tell me when Zhenya’s bad.”
“Always bad,” Sid said, which was unfortunately true.
“Sid, stop speaking Russian to her,” Zhenya scolded from his place at the sink, “she needs to learn English, you have to help her practice.”
“I need practice Russian,” Sid said, and texted Anya a poop emoji.
Dessert was raspberry sorbet straight out of the pint. They stood at the counter and passed the carton around. Zhenya tried to feed Anya spoonfuls, and she resisted at first, fending him off with both hands, and finally gave in and let him slide the spoon into her mouth.
“Sweet,” Zhenya said, leaning in for a kiss, and she let him, although she wasn’t sure how she felt about doing it with Sid standing right there. And Sid did look a little uncomfortable, but he was smiling, too, and he took the spoon from Zhenya’s hand and dug into the carton again.
Zhenya kissed Sid at the door when they left, a sweet kiss with one hand on Sid’s hip. On the way out to the car, he glanced at Anya, his cheeks a little pink, and said, “It’s weird, isn’t it?”
“It’s weird,” Anya agreed. “But not bad.”
“Normal people don’t do this,” Zhenya said.
“I don’t care,” Anya said. “We aren’t normal. We can do whatever we like.”
Her birthday was at the end of September. The team was in Columbus, playing their first pre-season game, and so Zhenya had planned a group dinner for her the day after. But Zhenya and Sid didn’t travel to Columbus, and Zhenya was there with her in the morning when a bouquet of roses arrived from Sid.
“Romantic,” Zhenya said, when Anya went into the kitchen, a little stunned, her arms overflowing with blooms.
“Does he think he has to bribe me?” Anya asked. “How many flowers is he going to give me?”
She was joking, mostly, but Zhenya gave her a serious look and said, “He’s trying, Anechka.”
“Well, I know that,” she said. She ducked her head to smell the flowers. “He should come over tonight.” With Seryozha out of town with the team, there was no need for Sid to stay away.
“For dessert, maybe,” Zhenya said. “I’ll ask him.” He looked pleased.
She took a nap that afternoon, weirdly tired the way she had been lately. She woke when Zhenya slid into the bed and spooned up behind her, one arm around her waist, nuzzling at the back of her neck.
“You woke me up,” she murmured, still swathed in the fuzzy remnants of sleep.
“I didn’t mean to,” Zhenya said. He moved her hair aside to kiss her nape. “You can go back to sleep.”
“No, I’m awake now,” she said, shifting back against him, tucking their bodies together more closely. Zhenya’s hand slid underneath her shirt to cup her breast, his thumb skimming over her nipple.
They had Anya’s favorite type of sex: her sitting on his face, riding his flat soft tongue until she came; and then Zhenya on top of her and inside of her, heavy and warm. She hardly ever came twice, but it was so good to be close to him and tuck her face against his neck and run her hands over his back, feeling the muscles shift beneath his skin. She loved the noises he made, and how urgent he got toward the end, his hips jerking, the long groan as he came.
She didn’t know what he and Sid did in bed together; they had never talked about it. Mostly she didn’t think about it; she tried not to wonder. But she did wonder a little—if Zhenya was gentle with Sid or rough, if they laughed in bed the way she and Zhenya did.
“Now I need a nap,” Zhenya said when they were finished, limp on top of her, kissing her throat.
“I can tell Sid you’re too lazy to come downstairs,” Anya said. He knew where the bedroom was, if he wanted to try to drag Zhenya out of it. He’d probably spent a lot of time in this bed, maybe lying here with Zhenya fussing over him a little, the way he liked to. She knew how Zhenya was, and she could extrapolate from there, predicting the space Sid would take up in the room, the shape of his body beneath the sheets, the way he and Zhenya teased and prodded and watched each other fondly when they thought the other one wasn’t looking.
Thinking about it made her feel strange, and she nudged at Zhenya until he rolled away and let her get up.
Zhenya made dinner, and they ate out in the yard and were lingering over their plates when Sid arrived with a cake box. Anya watched Zhenya’s face change as Sid came across the lawn from his car, his small fond smile, his eyebrows raised in a wordless challenge.
“Nice — —,” Sid said, tipping his head toward the balloon display at the top of the stairs. He was wearing nice jeans and a polo shirt, and he had done something to his hair: dressing up a little, and just to come eat dessert with her and Zhenya.
“Yes, it’s best,” Zhenya said, sprawled out, smirking.
Sid put the box on the table and bent to kiss Anya’s cheek. “Happy birthday,” he said in Russian.
“Thank you,” Anya said. “And thank you for the flowers. They’re lovely.”
“My pleasure,” Sid said. He ran a hand over Zhenya’s hair. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Zhenya said, smiling up at him. There was a mark on his throat that Anya had left earlier, sucking too hard without meaning to. Sid’s hand dropped to it, his fingers skimming over the reddened skin. He didn’t look at Anya. She wondered, for the first time, if Sid ever felt jealous of her.
If he did, he didn’t show it. He had brought a small cake, rich flourless chocolate drizzled with a berry sauce. It was too sweet for Anya to eat more than a few bites, but Zhenya helped her with the rest of it, and Sid ate two pieces. He sat between them at the table and smiled at them both in equal measure, and Anya still wasn’t sure what they were doing, had no experience with any of this and felt constantly out of her depth, but it seemed to be working. They were making it work.
They went inside when it grew dark. Sid went down the hall to the bathroom, and Anya took the plates from Zhenya’s hands to load them into the dishwasher and said, “He can stay the night if he wants. I’ll make breakfast in the morning before you go to the rink.”
“Stay the night,” Zhenya repeated, and there was the cautious look he still wore too often when he talked about Sid. They were both trying so hard not to annoy her, but the formality and caution made her feel like an intruder disrupting the established patterns of Sid and Zhenya’s lives. She wanted everything to be easy, and each time Zhenya asked for permission, she was reminded of how complicated their situation was.
“Not—with us,” Anya said. That would be too weird, Sid sharing their bed. “In one of the guest rooms. Maybe he won’t want to. I don’t mean to say he’s a guest, but. Or you could sleep with him, if you wanted.” That would be strange for her, to know that Zhenya was down the hall with Sid, but not bad.
“Anya,” Zhenya said. He touched her cheek. The caution was gone, replaced by the tender affection she loved, and glowed in response to every time.
“Well, go ask him,” Anya said, nodding to the doorway; and Zhenya went, and returned after a few minutes with Sid, who was flushed slightly pink, but smiling.
“Help me,” Anya said to him in English, holding out the plastic wrap, and Sid went pinker and smiled more and helped her finish cleaning up from dinner. He knew where everything went.
Sid spent the night in a guest room, and in the morning he was already in the kitchen when she went downstairs, having abandoned Zhenya to his typical snooze-button cycle. Sid had gotten the eggs out of the fridge and was using a fork to scramble them in a mixing bowl. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt that fit him too well to be Zhenya’s: his own clothes, that Zhenya had put away to make space for Anya and then unearthed for him again.
“Good morning,” Anya said, a little self-conscious in her bathrobe.
Sid turned to look at her. He grimaced apologetically. “Sorry, ah—I think. Breakfast?”
“Please,” Anya said, “it’s your—you’re always welcome here.”
“Well,” Sid said. He smiled at her. “Eggs?”
“I’ll have two,” Anya said, and moved into the kitchen to make herself some tea.
Her period was late, which didn’t necessarily mean anything. Her cycle had never been particularly regular. And the nausea and fatigue could be a passing virus, or maybe she was adjusting to the tap water in Pittsburgh, or was still jet-lagged, somehow. She tried not to get her hopes up. But a week went by, and her period still hadn’t started, and her small hopes began to flower.
Zhenya was in North Carolina for the final pre-season game. She thought of calling Katya Ivanova for help, but she wasn’t ready for anyone else to know. She drove to the store alone and stood in front of the pregnancy tests for a while, trying and failing to figure out how they were different, defeated by the many lines of English on each box that her phone translated into an incoherent muddle. She eventually chose three tests essentially at random. It couldn’t hurt to have duplicates.
She had taken a pregnancy test once before, in her early twenties, when she hadn’t been ready and hadn’t even really liked the man she was dating at the time. She remembered sitting in the bathroom and waiting and praying that the second line wouldn’t appear. Now she prayed for the opposite result: two lines, a baby.
It was soon; they had only just started trying. But she was ready, and Zhenya was beyond ready, had been talking about children as long as she’d known him, and she wanted to have good news for him, to watch his face as she told him.
“Please, please,” she whispered, her cross pendant against her lips, and when her phone timer went off, she checked the first test and cried just a little, sitting there on the closed lid of the toilet with her hand over her mouth, a limitless bright joy expanding inside her.
Zhenya cried, too, when she told him, the morning after he got back, his arms around her waist, his face pressed to her abdomen: speechless, overcome.
“My tiger,” she murmured to him, stroking his hair, a little overcome herself. He talked a lot about how emotional he was, but mostly what Anya had seen of it was his bad temper. She had only seen him cry once before, the night she broke up with him, and he had left her apartment immediately thereafter. That had been categorically different from this: Zhenya lifting his head at last to look up at her, his eyelashes clumped with tears, the expression on his face solemn and brimming over, his hands tenderly cupping her belly, where nothing of any note had happened yet.
“A baby,” Zhenya said.
“A summer baby,” Anya said. “Early June.”
“Nyusha,” Zhenya said, and she ducked down to kiss him, happier than she had ever been.
Zhenya recovered from the news more quickly than Anya would have liked, because he immediately began trying to boss her around. “Katya had a good doctor who speaks Russian,” he said, squinting at his laptop. “I’ll call Max and get her name. It says here that you can’t eat seafood.”
So it began. “Most types of seafood are okay,” Anya said. “And you can’t call Max yet. You have to tell Sid first.”
That got his attention. He transferred his squint from the computer to her. “You need a doctor.”
“And I’ll get one,” she said patiently. “But Sid needs to know before anyone else does, don’t you think?”
“We’ll see,” Zhenya said, and went back to his laptop.
Anya thought she had maybe overstepped, trying to meddle in Zhenya’s relationship with Sid, which wasn’t her business. Only it was her business; it was her baby, and she thought Sid deserved to know. Zhenya had told him that they were trying, but she didn’t know how he felt about it, whether he wanted his own children, whether he and Zhenya had ever talked about having children together—really nothing, and she thought that she should know, but she didn’t know how to ask. Sid was kind, but they didn’t have that sort of relationship.
She let it go. Zhenya could do what he wanted; he always did.
She was folding laundry a little while later when Zhenya came to find her, dressed to go out in actual pants and a jacket. “I’m going to Sid’s,” he said, and kissed her a few times before he left; and he returned after a couple of hours and came into the kitchen where Anya was making lunch.
She turned to watch him approach. His face was just a face: there was nothing in his expression that told her how his conversation with Sid had gone. He kissed Anya’s cheek and then nudged her aside to wash his hands at the sink.
“I’m working here,” she protested, holding a carrot in one hand and the peeler in the other.
“You’re too small, you’re always underfoot,” he said, and kissed her all over her face until she gave up and ceded the sink to him.
“You told him?” she said.
“Yeah,” Zhenya said. “I told him.”
“Well?” she said, fighting back her impatience. “How did it go?”
“Fine,” Zhenya said. She watched the side of his face, his profile. He gazed calmly down at his hands and she was certain that he wasn’t telling her everything. “He’s happy for us. He’s, uh. Coming for dinner.” He turned off the tap with his forearm and glanced at her, and she could see him wanting to ask permission.
“Zhenya,” she said. “How will we do this? We’re going to have a baby. And Sid—”
“You and I are going to have a baby,” he said. “Sid will play with it and then be happy to go back to his own house.” He took her chin in one hand and leaned in to press a gentle kiss to her jaw. “Don’t fret. Let me take care of you.”
“Someone needs to fret,” she said tartly, but she let him kiss her a few more times and bully her into sitting down while he finished lunch, and Sid did come over for dinner that night—with more flowers.
Anya sighed as she watched him climb the steps to the front door. She was going to have to put her foot down.
But not tonight, not with Sid standing in her front hall with his arms full of roses, smiling at her with every appearance of sincere joy, and saying, “I’m so happy for both.”
Zhenya was no help; he was too busy looking proud and smug, like he was solely responsible for Anya’s condition, and also a little bit like he might start crying again. What could she say, anyway? What could she do about it? She was pregnant, and if all went well, God willing, there would be a baby. She couldn’t change Sid’s feelings about it, even if she had known what those feelings were.
“Thank you, Sid,” she said, and accepted the flowers and the crooked warmth of his smile.
That night, in bed, she turned to Zhenya and said, “He’s got to stop bringing me flowers.”
Zhenya looked up from his phone. “You don’t like them?”
“It’s too much,” she said. “It’s—he’s so kind. But I don’t want him to keep treating me like a—like some distant acquaintance.”
Zhenya set his phone on the nightstand. “What do you mean?”
“I just want things to be normal,” she said. “Our regular lives.” She stopped, frustrated. She didn’t know how to explain herself. “I know why he’s doing it. But I want him to come over whenever he feels like it, and not apologize to me about it. You should tell me what he likes from the grocery store, and I’ll buy it. He’s not a stranger. He’s your—” She broke off, because she wasn’t sure what Sid was to Zhenya, what word they would use for each other.
“He’s mine,” Zhenya said simply. He turned onto his side and ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll talk to him.”
“He isn’t doing anything wrong,” she said. “I don’t want you to make him feel bad about it.”
“You just want him to make himself at home,” Zhenya said. “Start clipping his toenails on the coffee table. Leave his beard hairs all over the sink when he shaves—”
“That’s you,” Anya said, “Sid would never be that disgusting—”
“Oh, he’s far worse than I am,” Zhenya said, laughing. “You’ll see.” He leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose, and then her mouth, slow and sweet. She curled toward him, the warmth of his body. “Nyusha,” he whispered, and kissed her again. “We’re having a baby.”
“We are,” she said. His hand cupped her cheek. She raised her own hand to touch his face, the corner of his mouth, the scar on his cheek, and they lay there smiling at each other until Anya started crying a little, and Zhenya held her close and whispered soothing things to her until she was done.
The season opened with a four-night road trip to Texas and Arizona: Anya’s first real taste of life with a hockey player. She woke up the first morning that he was gone and walked around the empty downstairs. She had liked living alone in Moscow, having her own space and being able to do whatever she wanted, but she had already grown used to Zhenya’s presence in the house, his socks everywhere, the breadcrumbs he left on the counter every time he made toast, the way he argued with the TV when he watched hockey.
It was only four nights. And she wasn’t entirely alone. She had Katya, and Masha Plotnikova, and she liked both of them; but they didn’t have much in common. Katya was quiet and focused on her daughter, and Masha was young and seemed young, uncertain about everything, wanting reassurance about every decision she made. Anya had them over for dinner the second night the team was away, and it was nice, a pleasant evening, but nothing like spending time with her friends from Moscow.
On the third night, Letang’s wife held a gathering Anya attended despite her misgivings about knowing nobody and speaking almost no English. The other women were kind to her, as they had been kind the handful of other times she’d met them, as Zhenya’s silent, smiling shadow at team barbecues. But Anya was painfully conscious of being over-dressed, too Russian, too stilted, too formal, and she spent the whole time sitting with Masha and left as soon as she could without being rude. It wasn’t a great success.
She talked with Zhenya every night while he was away, either before he went out to dinner or briefly before the game. Out west, the games were too late for her to stay awake; she was lucky if she ever made it past 9PM, these days. So they talked beforehand, for a few minutes, with the noise of the locker room in the background, and Anya said only loving and encouraging things, and read Zhenya’s text messages in the morning for the full report.
Shut out, he sent, brusquely, after they lost to Dallas, and nothing more until he woke up and sent his usual good-morning text, this time a selfie of him pouting ridiculously at his phone; and in the background, Sid’s dark head against the pillow, and the curve of his bare back and shoulder.
She shouldn’t have been surprised, but she was, a little. She hadn’t realized they spent the night together on the road, that they would risk it. Maybe they only did it on certain nights, after a bad game, when they both needed comfort.
I hope practice goes well, she texted, I love you, and then, after a moment’s thought, added, Good morning to Sid)
Tell him yourself, Zhenya replied, and Anya rolled her eyes and switched over to her English keyboard and painstakingly texted Sid: Good morning
Good morning :) Sid replied.
The team was in Phoenix that day. She and Zhenya talked on their computers before he went to dinner. They had spent their entire relationship video chatting; she had fallen in love with him via their respective laptop screens, and seeing his grainy, oddly lit face always filled her with a tender nostalgia for the early days of their relationship, when everything was so exciting and new.
“Sid’s here,” Zhenya said, as soon as the call connected, “but he’s got his headphones in. He isn’t listening.” He turned the laptop so Anya could see Sid sitting beside him on the bed, holding his tablet. Sid looked up and waved at Anya before he went back to whatever he was doing.
“He doesn’t have to do that,” Anya said, although she didn’t really want Sid listening to their conversation.
“He offered to go back to his own room,” Zhenya said. “We compromised.” His expression softened. “I know you’re trying to include him. It means a lot to me. But you don’t have to share everything. Our relationship is private.”
“He gets to have you all to himself on road trips,” Anya said, and she meant it to be light and joking, but it didn’t sound like a joke when she said it. She bit her lip. Maybe she meant it. She had to share Zhenya at all times, but for half the season, he and Sid would be together and away from her.
“Oh, Anechka,” Zhenya said. “I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?”
“It’s just how I feel, I didn’t say it made any sense,” she said. “We don’t need to talk about it. Tell me about your day.”
Zhenya pursed his mouth at her disapprovingly, but he went along with the subject change and told her about practice and a strange bird he had seen from the bus, and the cactus in front of their hotel, and how Seryozha Plotnikov had seen a lizard in the parking lot and dropped his coffee in fright. “It wasn’t even a very big lizard,” Zhenya said disparagingly, but he had different standards for animals than most people did.
She woke the next morning to her expected goodnight text from Zhenya, a series of coded emojis that meant he loved her (a mouse, a tiger face, a high-heeled shoe, a salsa dancer, five different hearts), and an unexpected text from Sid. It was in Russian, and the grammar wasn’t perfect; Sid could understand more than he could speak, and speak much more than he could write, and Zhenya had told her he relied pretty heavily on translation software when he needed to read or write something. But Anya smiled to read it.
Geno keeps forgetting that I understand Russian, and he will tell Plots about the most ridiculous stupidity
Like what? Anya typed, and then, You should really text me in English or Zhenya will scold us both
To Zhenya, she texted a picture she had taken the day before when she got out of the shower, a shot of her ass taken over her shoulder, Zhenya’s favorite view and what he always asked for. He would see it as soon as he woke up. As soon as she sent it, she wondered if Sid was there with him. She knew Zhenya wouldn’t show Sid the picture, but Zhenya liked morning sex, was always horny when he first woke up, and maybe he would look at her selfie and then turn over in the bed and start groping Sid, the way he always did when he wanted to fool around with Anya. And maybe Sid would respond, and they would have sex while Zhenya was thinking about Anya, at least a little bit.
The thought made her uncomfortable in a strange way she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Maybe Sid wasn’t there. He could have spent the night in his own hotel room.
She didn’t know, and that was the whole point: she didn’t know how they were together. Zhenya had said that his relationship with her was private, but that went for his relationship with Sid, too. Anya had seen glimpses of it, but that whole part of Zhenya’s life was closed off to her. She was greedy about him; she loved him, she wanted to know everything about him, and she would never know how he was with Sid when they were alone.
She probably didn’t really want to know.
She got a reply from Zhenya later that was nothing but tongue emojis, and later still, a reply from Sid in English that was simple enough for her to translate on her own: I’ll tell you about it when we’re home :)
She was at the grocery store: mid-morning, and it was only her and a few old people. She was alone in the bread aisle. She took a picture of some abomination that appeared to be peanut butter and jam swirled together in the same jar and texted it to Sid. You like?
Sid sent her a grimacing emoji.
Anya smiled and took another picture, this time of the jam Sid actually liked, strawberry preserves in a glass jar. Maybe this?
:), Sid replied.
Anya put the jar in the cart and moved along down the aisle. Her phone chimed again a minute later, with another message from Sid: Thanks :)
Anya had spent the past decade fully focused on her career. Working in television had provided a clear structure to her days: the time it took for makeup and wardrobe, going to the gym, going to the hair salon and to get her nails done, and the work itself. And of course in Moscow she’d had a busy social life with friends and family, and really she had hardly had any time alone or unoccupied. She was always busy.
In Pittsburgh, she had nothing but time. The team was home for a good while, more than a week and a half, and Anya set about establishing a routine for herself. Zhenya had a cleaning service, but there was the day-to-day tidying to take care of, and laundry; shopping, running errands; working out in the gym in the basement, or going to a BodyPump class where she couldn’t talk to anyone or really follow what was going on; and spending time with Zhenya’s local friends, who he expected to become her friends. She went to many of the games, and that was fun, and also killed an evening. She went to a few more painfully awkward events with the other girlfriends and wives. She studied English. She took a lot of selfies, in the mornings when the light was good.
She was bored, and increasingly lonely. Zhenya was at the rink for hours every day, and on game days he was only home to eat lunch and nap and leave again for the arena. She missed her job, and she missed everyone she had left behind in Moscow.
But she had known the move would be difficult, and it wasn’t worse than she had expected; and in some ways it was better.
Living with Zhenya was wonderful—better than she had hoped. There was no looming deadline, no point at which Zhenya would have to go back to Pittsburgh or Anya would have to go back to Moscow. He would leave for road trips, but he would always come home to her again, after not too long. He came home from that first road trip and dropped his bag in the entryway and held her so tight, for as long as she wanted, kissing her hair and letting her burrow against him and breathe in his familiar smell. And when she finally pulled away, he went to his knees and turned his head to press his ear to her abdomen and said, “Hi, baby.”
Anya touched the top of his head, where his hair swirled at the crown. “It’s the size of a pea.”
“Growing,” he said. He kissed her hip. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” Anya said. “A little sick. It hasn’t been bad.”
“I should be here to take care of you,” he said. He climbed to his feet with a groan and slid an arm around her shoulders, and started walking her toward the kitchen. “Have you eaten yet?”
“I can feed myself,” she said, a little sourly, because who did he think did most of the cooking? But it was so good to have him at home, singing off-key in the shower, rubbing her back when she didn’t feel well, taking her out to dinner on the nights he didn’t have a game. She wasn’t interested in sex too often these days, but Zhenya held her in bed every night, and when she fell asleep before he got home, she would wake up in the night with him curled up behind her, holding her close. And when they did have sex, when she felt good and wanted it, he was so sweet and gentle with her that she couldn’t think of it as anything but making love. She loved the rough, playful sex they had most of the time, but nothing made her feel more cherished than the way Zhenya looked at her now as he moved inside her, tender and awed.
Everything with Zhenya was good, and she was so excited and happy about the baby, and all the rest of it she could live through. Seryozha had gone back to Dallas, released by the team after training camp, and in his absence, Sid started to come over more. She came home from Pilates one day to find him in the kitchen with Zhenya, making lunch together after practice, and they managed to only look a little bit furtive about it. Anya ate with them and it was fine and nice and Zhenya went home with Sid afterward and came back with wet hair and a smirk that he tried to tamp down and wasn’t able to, really.
“Did you have fun?” Anya asked him.
“Oh, come on,” he said, which wasn’t an answer.
Sid came over again a few days later, arriving with Zhenya after morning skate. Anya wasn’t feeling well and was lying on the couch in the den, dozing and hoping the nausea would pass soon, and she heard them come in, and their voices in the kitchen. Zhenya would come look for her in a minute to say hello. She turned onto her back to wait for him.
But Sid appeared in the doorway instead, his brow wrinkling with concern when he saw her lying there. “You okay?”
“Little sick,” she said. She mustered a smile. “It’s okay.”
He leaned against the doorframe. “Can I get you anything?”
Her first impulse was to tell him no, she was fine, or maybe to ask him to get Zhenya. But there were three of them, and he was offering. “Maybe—tea?”
“Give me five minutes,” he said, and smiled at her.
She heard him talking with Zhenya in the kitchen, and a few minutes later, the sound of the kettle whistling. And then Sid came back, and came into the room to offer her the mug, Anya’s favorite mug that she had brought with her from Moscow, the perfect size and shape.
She sat up carefully and leaned back against the armrest, the leather of the couch creaking and shifting beneath her. Her stomach didn’t protest the change in position. She accepted the mug from Sid with a smile. The tea was the perfect color, and when she took a cautious sip, the perfect sweetness.
“Geno showed me how you like it,” Sid said. To her surprise, he sat at the other end of the sofa. He kept a careful distance between her feet and his hip, but he was staying, not going back to the kitchen to be with Zhenya.
“Thank you,” Anya said. “It’s good. Best?” She couldn’t remember the word for ‘perfect.’
“I’m glad you asked,” he said. “Are you sick a lot?” He spoke so slowly that she had no trouble understanding him, and she felt so fond of him because of it: how hard he was trying, how much he loved Zhenya and wanted to make it work.
“Some,” she said. The tea was too hot to drink. She cradled the mug in her hands. “Not all the days. It’s okay.”
“Flower’s wife was really sick, with her first baby,” he said. “But after three months, it went away.”
“I’m not too sick,” Anya said. “Only little.”
“Well. That’s good,” Sid said, and then didn’t seem to know what to say after that. Anya saw him glance at the doorway, like he was hoping Zhenya would appear and rescue him. Then he said, “Flower pranked a rookie this morning.”
“Tell me,” Anya said, and she didn’t understand much of the ensuing story, but she liked to watch Sid tell it, how his eyes crinkled when he smiled. He and Fleury were close, and she wondered if Fleury had any suspicions about Sid and Zhenya. She couldn’t believe they had managed to keep their relationship entirely secret for almost four years. Sid might be subtle, but Zhenya certainly wasn’t.
Zhenya came to find them partway through Sid’s story, and leaned in the doorway to watch them, smiling. Anya knew he was happy that they were getting along, and her heart swelled to see the look on his face. She loved him so much. She didn’t regret anything she had given up. He was worth it to her.
Zhenya laughed along with Sid through the climax of the story, and Anya laughed, too, even though she didn’t really understand what had happened. Then Zhenya said, “Lunch is ready. Anechka, you want to eat anything? You want to come sit with us?”
“No, I might sleep for a while,” she said, and Zhenya came over to kiss her forehead, and then he and Sid went out and left her there.
She drank her tea and took a nap right there on the couch, and woke to a quiet house. Zhenya was probably napping; Sid had probably gone home. Anya ate some cold leftovers straight from the container and went upstairs to look for Zhenya.
Their bedroom was empty, the bed still neatly made. Anya hesitated in the doorway, and then went down the hall to the guest bedroom where Sid had slept that one time. The door was closed. She carefully turned the knob and eased the door open, not making a sound.
Sid was asleep on his back, his head turned to one side, and Zhenya was sprawled over his chest, tucked beneath Sid’s chin. The tangle of their bodies had the easy comfort of long familiarity. In the crook of Sid’s arm was a space just for Zhenya, perfectly molded.
Anya thought about what it would be like to crawl into bed with them, on Zhenya’s other side, and go back to sleep until the alarm went off. But there was no space for her there, in that giant king size bed. She went back downstairs on her own.
The Penguins went on a road trip to western Canada, and Anya went to Miami with Masha and Katya, and her friend Yulya who flew out from Moscow. They had planned the trip before Anya got pregnant, and she did think a little about backing out at the last minute. But she was starting to feel better, a little less tired, and a week of shopping and tanning in Miami seemed much more appealing than a lonely week rattling around an empty house in Pittsburgh. And Zhenya encouraged her to go. “You’ll have fun,” he said, “and I’ll feel better knowing you aren’t alone,” and that settled it for her. She only opposed him when she had a good reason. A ship couldn’t have two captains.
She spent the week lying beside the pool, going out for dinner, and shopping: with Masha, for clothes, and with Yulya, for things for Zhenya’s condo, which he’d had professionally decorated and which was almost totally lifeless. Anya hated it. Zhenya’s house in Pittsburgh was full of his personality, and she loved it for that reason, even the things she thought were weird or ugly, like his stupid stuffed shark. But the condo had no personality at all, and she took great glee in buying art and decorative vases and new furniture and sending pictures of all of it to Zhenya.
You’re going to bankrupt me, he texted her, after she sent him a picture of a painting she had bought for the dining room, abstract streaks of black and deep green that made her think of the ocean on a stormy day. I can’t afford this
You’re a multimillionaire. Anya had no sympathy for him.
I hear you’re redecorating, Sid texted her a few hours later. She was in a cab with Masha when she got the text, heading for the Design District, and she didn’t know the final word, the one at the end, the long one. She looked it up later, while Masha was in the bathroom, and smiled at her phone. Zhenya was talking about her with Sid. She liked knowing that they were both thinking of her even though they were so far away.
I make the house nice, she replied, and the next time she sent Zhenya a picture of one of her domestic upgrades, she sent it to Sid, too.
Nice pillow :), he replied, and later he sent her a picture he had taken from the plane, of a range of snow-covered mountains far below, ridged on the flat earth.
Where? Her North American geography was still hazy.
North of Vancouver. On our way to Edmonton yesterday
Anya was at the beach, lying on a lounge chair with Katya and Yulya while Masha, who desperately wanted children, played with Katya’s daughter in the gentle surf. She took a picture along the length of her body, her bare legs and perfectly manicured toes, and sent it to Sid along with a beach umbrella emoji.
He didn’t reply for a while, and when he did, it was just with a generic, Looks warm :), which she didn’t have anything to say to in response.
She sent the same picture to Zhenya, and he said, I’d untie your bikini with my teeth and eat you out until you make a mess all over my mouth
That was more like it. When she was home later, tired and a little bit sunburned, she sent Zhenya a picture of her fresh wax job. I miss your mouth
God I love you, he texted. Send me another
She sent him a short video of herself standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, stroking her clit. Taking nudes turned her on, and Zhenya’s reaction to them, and thinking about him getting off while he looked at her pictures, which she knew he did. Or maybe—it was early afternoon in Edmonton, time for a pre-game nap, and maybe Sid was there.
She shouldn’t think about that, and she didn’t. She took a shower instead of bringing herself off, and replied to Zhenya’s appreciative filth with a few coy emojis, and got ready to meet Yulya for dinner.
The Penguins won that night. She was already asleep by the time the game was finished, but she woke in the morning to a happy text message from Zhenya telling her they had won, and two pictures from Sid. The first was a shot of Zhenya in the locker room—from behind, but she recognized his bare back and the way he was standing, his hip cocked to one side, hand braced on it, elbow jutting out carelessly. He was talking to someone, Anya couldn’t tell who.
G’s happy tonight :) Sid had messaged.
The second picture was sent a couple of hours later: Zhenya’s sleeping face against a pillow, his eyes closed, his soft mouth open. Anya’s fingers itched with the urge to trace the line of his brow. It was such a familiar sight. Sid knew Zhenya just as well as she did, in all of the same private and intimate ways, and it did bother her, on some level, but she also felt an extraordinary kinship with Sid. They both loved this stupid man, and Sid had shared this quiet moment with her, inviting her into the closed circle of what he did with Zhenya. Drawing back the curtain for her, just a little bit.
Thank you, she sent to him, because she didn’t know what else to say, and added a few heart emojis.
They were both still sleeping, two hours earlier and after a late-night flight to Calgary. Anya went to Pilates with Masha, and when she got home, Zhenya had texted her that he loved her and they were going to morning skate and he would talk to her later, and Sid had texted her, He misses you. He keeps asking me if I think you’re eating enough
Anya rolled her eyes. The baby was the size of a cherry. It didn’t need any extra food. Zhenya was unbearable. She sent Sid a picture of the contents of the fridge: I eat lots
Sid replied with a picture of Zhenya sitting in the locker room, wearing all of his gear except for his helmet and making a deeply skeptical face. She wouldn’t have a moment’s peace from him until she gave birth.
She talked to Zhenya before the game that night, just a few minutes to hear his voice and wish him good luck. Before they hung up, she said, “Could I talk to Sid for a minute? Would that be weird?”
“He’s out taping his sticks,” Zhenya said. “I could go find him. But you know if we win, you’ll have to talk to him before every game, and if we lose, he’ll never speak to you again.”
She laughed. “I’ll take that chance.” Sid had been kind to send her those pictures, to tell her about Zhenya, and maybe he wouldn’t care about her good wishes, but she wanted to acknowledge his efforts in some way.
She waited as Zhenya walked through the corridors, breathing into the phone, a couple of times saying hello to whoever he passed. “I found him,” he said, and then, in English, a little muffled, “Sid, Anya like to say hi,” and Sid saying something Anya couldn’t quite hear, and then a crackle as the phone was transferred over, and Sid saying, “Hi, Anna.”
It was unexpectedly good to hear his voice. She found herself smiling at the warmth of his tone. “Hi, Sid. I want say—play good, have the good game. And thank you for the picture.”
“Well. You’re welcome,” Sid said. “I, uh. Was it okay? To send you those pictures. I don’t mean to, uh.” He switched to Russian. “Cross any lines.”
“Sid,” Anya said. “Please. I love to see. I—” She gave up and switched to Russian, too. “It meant so much to me that you sent me those pictures. When you and Zhenya are on the road together, I feel—” She swallowed, and forced herself to go on. “The two of you are together, and I’m far away, and sometimes that’s hard. But when you text me, I can feel like I’m there with you in some way.”
It was the most she had ever said to Sid about her private thoughts, and when he didn’t respond immediately, she flushed with embarrassment. He had worried about crossing a line, but maybe she had, she had said too much—
“I send lots,” Sid said. “Okay? All you want. As many.”
“Lots,” Anya said, smiling into the phone, and Sid laughed softly on the other end of the line, far away but still there, taking a few minutes out of his pre-game routine to talk to her, even though she was nothing to him: Zhenya’s girlfriend, at best an inconvenience.
“See you at home,” Sid said. Anya knew he meant Pittsburgh, and not Zhenya and Anya’s house, but she liked the sound of it anyway, like they were all making a place together, a life for the three of them to share.
Zhenya came home from that road trip in a black sulk. Well-acquainted with his moods, Anya gave him space to work through it on his own, but when he was still quiet and distracted over dinner that evening, she brought out a slice of the cake he liked for dessert and said, “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Zhenya said, and Anya made a dubious expression, and he sighed and said, “Well, we lost.”
She sat down beside him and took the fork from his hand and ate a bite of the cake. “You’ve lost before.” He would be angry with himself, if he thought he hadn’t played well, or angry with the team; after a bad game, he would come home and stew over it. Anya had learned to leave him to it, and he would be fine again in the morning. But almost a full day had passed since the loss to the Flames, and he still hadn’t pulled out of it. Something else was going on.
He sighed, and rubbed his hands over his face. “The team isn’t doing well.”
She cut off another piece of cake and offered it to Zhenya, and he leaned in and ate it off the fork. “It’s only a month in,” she said.
Zhenya shrugged, chewing. “The beginning of the season, new guys on the team, fine. But we’re into November now and—it’s bad.”
She knew; she watched the games. And she and Zhenya talked about practice and coaching decisions, and did a full post-mortem on every home game the morning after, over breakfast. She liked hockey, and she liked to hear Zhenya’s thoughts about it, but he hadn’t shared these particular thoughts with her before; she hadn’t known he was dwelling on this. The team wasn’t playing well, but he was; he didn’t have anything to be ashamed of.
“You aren’t the team,” she said. “It isn’t only your responsibility.”
He was quiet for a minute, staring at the cut flowers Anya had set on the table as a centerpiece. “Sid isn’t scoring. He’s frustrated. He won’t talk about it. We argued about it last night, after we lost.”
That explained it. She set down the fork and scooted her chair closer, and hooked her hand through the crook of Zhenya’s elbow. “You had a fight?”
“Not—he won’t ever fight it out with me. He just leaves.” Zhenya sighed. “And then I’m all fired up. You know.”
She did. She was the same way. They both liked to shout until the anger was gone and they could be gentle with each other once more. But she could see how Sid wasn’t like that.
“I’m not sure how to talk about this with you,” she admitted. “Should we even talk about it? Would he be upset if he knew we were talking about this? But it’s—you came home and I’m the one who has to deal with your bad mood.” She said it lightly, teasing him, and he smiled at her and put his hand over hers, squeezing gently.
“Maybe I’ll go over there now,” he said. “And not yell, so he’ll listen to me.”
“I think you should,” she said. “But—will you come home tonight? I’ve missed you.”
“Nyusha, my heart,” he said, sweeter than he ever was with her, and leaned in for a kiss. “Of course I will. You think I didn’t miss you, too?”
“Well, it’s nice to hear it,” she said, but instead of taking the bait he only kissed her again.
She was getting ready for bed when he came home and came up the stairs into their bedroom and into the bathroom where she was applying eye cream at the sink. He wrapped his arms around her waist and ducked his head to nuzzle her neck, kissing her once and then simply holding her, his face tucked in close.
“So?” she said.
“We worked it out,” he said. He took a deep breath. “Anna Romanovna, please marry me.”
“What?” she said, shocked. Her stomach swooped, down and back up. She stared at her own reflection. She looked like an absolute fright: hair piled messily on top of her head, no makeup, her face shiny with moisturizer, the jar of eye cream open in her hands. He couldn’t propose now.
Zhenya glanced up and met her gaze in the mirror. He was smiling. “Is that a yes?”
“You—I can’t believe you!” she said. She shoved at him, trying to get him to release her, but he held her fast, laughing, and kissed her neck a few times. “Zhenya!”
He let her go then, and she turned around to face him, her hands clenching in the front of his sweater. Since the move to Pittsburgh, she had assumed they would get married eventually, but she hadn’t thought—she hadn’t expected—
His expression made her eyes flood with tears, and she buried her face in his chest, overcome. He loved her, and she knew that, but seeing the evidence of it all over his face made her melt every time.
“Oh, my love,” he murmured, his arms around her. She felt his lips press against the top of her head. “I have a ring for you, if you want it.”
“Show me first, and then I’ll decide,” she said, and she felt him shake with quiet laughter, because they both knew already what her answer was.
Because Zhenya was Zhenya, the ring was huge, a giant rock of a diamond. Anya liked nice things, but this was too much, it would get caught on her clothes, it was completely impractical. But Zhenya looked so proud as he opened the ring box that she could only say, “It’s perfect.”
“Sid helped me pick it out,” he said, which answered that question.
She wondered how long Zhenya had been planning this. When did he buy the ring? On what afternoon, when she thought he was in Sid’s bed, had they in fact been out shopping for a ring? Sid had known about this before she did, maybe for weeks.
Her face must have shown something. Zhenya’s own face fell, and he said, “Should I not have—was that the wrong thing to do?”
“Sid liked this ring?” she asked.
“No, he said I should go smaller,” Zhenya said, still wary. “But he has awful taste, so I didn’t listen to him.”
Of course. Zhenya was sitting on the bed before her; she ran her hands through his hair and considered him. When she first knew him, she thought he wasn’t particularly handsome, but love had transformed her opinion. Everything about his face was perfect to her now, even his eternally chapped lips.
It was strange to think of Zhenya and Sid out looking for rings together. But who else would Zhenya turn to for advice? Sid had to be consulted, because Anya and Zhenya getting married would affect him. What Anya had always thought of as private business couldn’t be wholly private, or maybe she needed to adjust her sphere of privacy to include Sid. Committing to Zhenya meant committing also to Sid, and she hadn’t fully understood that when she agreed to move, but she thought she understood it now.
She waited for unease to sour her joy. It didn’t come. Instead she felt a sort of calm settled weighty acceptance. She respected Sid, and she also liked him; she had come to care for him. He would be a part of her life for as long as he was a part of Zhenya’s, so probably forever. It wasn’t a future she had ever imagined, but now that she was here, embedded in it, she was content with where she had found herself. Zhenya loved Sid, passionately, expansively, and Sid loved him back just as much. Anya took so much delight in seeing Zhenya’s joy in the relationship, how treasured he was. She didn’t want that to end. There were so many ways to love.
“It wasn’t the wrong thing to do,” she said, holding Zhenya’s face in her hands, watching him smile at her words. “I think it was exactly right.”
She was home alone the next afternoon when she heard a car pull into the drive. At first she thought it was Zhenya, home from running errands sooner than she had expected, but the garage door didn’t open, and she heard a door slam in the driveway. It could have been Max, maybe, or Katya, and she went to the window to check.
It was Sid, climbing the front steps in his jacket, and Anya opened the door for him and said, “Zhenya is out.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sid said, running a hand through his hair. “I texted him.” He looked worried, his expression closed and dry. “Can I come in?”
Anya had put the kettle on for tea, and she added some more water and took out another mug for Sid. He looked like he needed it. “Cake?” she asked him. “Cookie?”
“I—no,” Sid said. “Thanks.” He was standing by the table, still wearing his jacket, like he didn’t plan to stay.
He was silent as Anya made the tea. She had a feeling what this was about, and her heart was a stone in her chest, heavy and cold. She glanced down at the ring on her right hand, a perfect fit; Zhenya had taken a ring from her jewelry box to get the sizing. The diamond was too big, but she loved how it caught the light.
They sat together at the table, and Anya sipped her tea in silence, waiting for what Sid would say. He blew across the top of his mug a few times before he took a sip, like that would do any good, and then he set it down and traced the Magnitka logo on the side and said, “I’ll break up with him, if you want me to.”
Anya put down her own mug, too surprised to think of what to say. She certainly hadn’t expected that.
Sid was looking at his finger on the mug instead of at her. “I know this isn’t—what you signed up for. And you guys are getting married now, so. Maybe it’s time to put all this to rest.”
“Break up?” Anya said. He had used some idioms she didn’t know, but that much was clear to her.
“Yeah,” Sid said. “If you—then you can have him all to yourself. I won’t be in the way.” He glanced at her then, but she couldn’t read anything from his expression.
Her heart twisted, a painful spasm. How long had he been thinking about this? Maybe since Zhenya took him to buy a ring. Maybe since Anya moved to Pittsburgh. Maybe even longer than that.
She reached out cautiously and set her hand over his. “You make Zhenya happy,” she said. “And me, too.”
She meant it. It was true that everything would be simpler without Sid, but Anya’s whole heart rebelled against the thought. Zhenya would be devastated, and the defeated hunch of Sid’s shoulders told her how much he would grieve the loss. She had never known Zhenya without Sid in his life, and she could see now how much Zhenya benefitted from Sid’s steady presence, their teasing push and pull that could drag Zhenya from his dark thoughts. Whatever she gained wouldn’t be worth the cost.
Sid looked down at their hands, at the ring on Anya’s finger. “You said it’s hard for you.”
She wished now that she hadn’t said anything. “Pittsburgh hard. No work, no friends. I am lone. Alone?”
“Lonely,” Sid said. He turned his hand over and laced their fingers together, and squeezed gently. “I’m sorry.”
“You are nice,” she said. His hand was big and a little rough in the same places Zhenya’s was, from their strength training routine. “Send the picture. Text. Make me feel not lonely.”
“Well,” he said. He traced the index finger of his free hand over her knuckles, a gentle and platonic touch that made the back of her neck prickle nonetheless. “You know, uh. I thought for a while about asking him to marry me. But there was no way, I mean. We couldn’t. Maybe after we retired—but I couldn’t ask him to wait that long. So I never did, and now I never will. I’ll never—” His voice broke, and he stopped there and raised his free hand to his face, to cover his eyes.
Anya didn’t know what to do. She had never seen Sid display so much emotion, and it was because of her, because of the ring on her finger, and because she would be Zhenya’s wife, with everything that went along with that status. Sid would be a friend, a captain. And a love of Zhenya’s life, but nobody would know about that except for the three of them.
She didn’t want to feel guilty. She and Zhenya were having a baby, and she needed to stay in the US; she needed the paperwork, she needed those legal protections. But it made sense that Sid felt like everything was changing, and that he was going to be left out in the cold.
“Sid,” she said. He was leaning on his elbow, his hand still over his face, his other hand still in Anya’s. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.” He drew a shaky breath, and she watched him wipe his thumb under each of his eyes in turn before he took his hand away. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“You tell Zhenya?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “He doesn’t know.”
“Sid,” Anya said, because this seemed like something Zhenya ought to know about.
“It would only make him feel bad,” Sid said. “Instead I’ve made you feel bad. I’m sorry.”
Anya was tired of feeling slow and stupid and not being able to say what she meant. English made her head hurt; she had tried enough for one day. In Russian, she said, “I don’t want you to break up with him. You would both be so sad. Please don’t do that on my behalf. Of course it’s harder with three people than it would be with two, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. He’s so happy with you. Please promise me you won’t break up.”
“Okay,” he said. He picked up her hand to inspect the ring. “You like this?”
“It’s a little big,” Anya said.
Sid grinned at her, the tension in his posture easing at last, and Anya’s tightly knotted shoulders relaxed. They had come through it, at least for now. “I told him too big. But he said, maybe bigger.”
“He never listens,” Anya said, and they smiled at each other until Sid released her to pick up his mug once more.
“You tell him, I guess,” Sid said. “What I said.” He took a sip of his tea. He was back to avoiding her gaze.
His tenses were off; she didn’t know if he meant it as a command or a prediction. “Well, probably. I tell him most things. If you ask me not to tell him, I won’t, but then I think you should talk to him about it.”
“Yeah,” he said. He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. It’s—congratulations. It’s happy for you. And I make—I shouldn’t. Sorry.”
“Don’t,” she said. “Please. I understand. I—listen. When Zhenya and I first started dating, you were so welcoming. You never made me feel like I was second best. And now I don’t want you to feel that you are. Zhenya and I are going to get married, but it’s only a formality. It doesn’t change anything about your relationship with him. I want you to know that.”
“It will, though,” he said. “It does.”
“It can be a good change,” Anya said. “We’ll make it good.” She bumped her toes against Sid’s feet, pushing at him until he looked at her finally, a smile beginning in his eyes and the corners of his mouth. “Let me get you a slice of cake. You should stay until Zhenya gets home. And stay the night, if you’d like to.”
“I shouldn’t,” Sid said, but his face told her how much he wanted to.
“I need company,” she said. “I promised Zhenya I would make shchi for dinner. I’ll put you to work.”
“I chop well,” Sid said.
“Good,” she said. “Stay.”
When Zhenya got home that afternoon, he and Sid went upstairs for a while, and when they came down again they both looked raw, but they were holding hands, and Sid didn’t go home. He stayed for dinner, and afterward he came to find Anya in the den where she was working on her English and stood in the doorway with his hands in his pockets until she looked up from her laptop and said, “Yes?”
“Could I, uh. You said I could spend the night,” he said.
“You don’t ever need to ask,” she said, and he looked raw again, but she thought it was good.
In bed that night, Zhenya took her in his arms and they lay close together, curled together, holding each other. Anya felt a little raw herself, and wanted the comfort Zhenya could offer. After a few quiet minutes, Zhenya said, “He told me what you talked about earlier.”
“I hoped he would,” Anya said. She turned her head so she wasn’t speaking directly into Zhenya’s neck. “Is it okay now?”
“I think so,” Zhenya said. “He did the same thing when I told him you were pregnant. We had a big fight about it. But I’m not surprised he tried again.”
“Can you blame him?” Anya said. “He thinks he’s being replaced.” She remembered that day, Zhenya coming home from Sid’s and saying nothing to her about their conversation, only that Sid was happy for them.
“I know,” Zhenya said. He released her and rolled onto his back with a sigh. “I worry that I’m being selfish.”
“What do you mean?” Anya said.
“I want to keep both of you,” Zhenya said. “But maybe that isn’t fair.”
“But we both knew.” Anya shifted closer and slid an arm around Zhenya’s waist, tucking herself against his side. “We knew what we were agreeing to.”
“Did you?” Zhenya said. “I don’t know. I think I’m being selfish.”
She was surprised to hear him say these things. He had always been so matter-of-fact about it, ever since he first told her about Sid, before they were even officially together, before she knew it was Sid. He was in a relationship with a man; he wanted to be in a relationship with her, too; and Anya had been taken aback, certainly, but Zhenya’s calm pragmatism had eased her through the initial shock, to a place where she could consider the possibility. He had never seemed to have any doubts.
“You have a big heart,” Anya said. “Plenty big for two people.”
“I don’t deserve you,” he said, staring up at the ceiling, his voice thick.
“It’s true, you just got lucky,” she said, to make him laugh, and he did. He put an arm around her and raised his head from the pillow to kiss her hair.
“Maybe I should go sleep with him tonight,” Zhenya said.
She was selfish, too, because she wanted him to stay; but she knew he was right. “Yes, go,” she said, and Zhenya kissed her sweetly before he left, and in the morning they were both in the kitchen already when she went downstairs, and had breakfast waiting for her.
“Thank you,” Sid said to her quietly, as Zhenya clattered around at the sink after the meal.
“He loves you,” Anya said, and while Sid was distracted by his emotions, she stole his plate to eat the last of his toast.
She was sorry for Sid’s unhappiness, but she wasn’t sorry about the outcome, because after that he finally stopped being careful. She didn’t see him for a couple of days, but the next time he came over he brought two shopping bags that he unpacked on the kitchen island: a bag of coffee, a pair of workout shoes, a pillow stripped of its pillowcase. Anya had trailed after him into the kitchen and watched as he took everything out, and when he was done he gave her a look that was half apologetic and half defiant.
“Go put upstairs,” Anya said. “It’s not kitchen.”
Sid grinned, shook his head, and started putting everything back in the bags. “There it is.”
“Hmm?” she said, lifting her eyebrows. She didn’t know what he meant.
“I knew Geno wasn’t in charge here,” he said. “You’ve been holding back.”
She knew all of those words, but she didn’t understand what they meant—holding back what? Well, it probably wasn’t important.
She saw more of him in the next couple of weeks than she had since she arrived in Pittsburgh. He came and left according to some personal schedule she couldn’t discern: sometimes for lunch after practice, sometimes for two random hours in the afternoon. Zhenya still went to his place, but mostly Sid came over and took off his shoes at the front door and roamed through the house until he had found both her and Zhenya to say hello.
She worried a little, at first, that having him around so much might make her feel awkward in her own home. But he was quiet, easy company, content to occupy himself; she didn’t have to play hostess with him. Zhenya’s house had been Sid’s home before Anya arrived, and they slipped easily into those same patterns: Sid on his laptop at the kitchen table, Sid watching hockey in the den. He was no more intrusive to Anya’s daily life than Zhenya was, and she liked having him around, his easy-going nature, someone to stick up for her when Zhenya’s fussing became too overbearing. He made dinner, whenever he was there for dinner; he added things to the grocery list when they ran low.
He found her vomiting in the downstairs bathroom one day, a bad afternoon of intense nausea, and brought her a Coke and a hair elastic, to tie back her hair, and sat on the hard tile floor with her until she felt like she was done. Zhenya would have rubbed her back and said soothing things, and Sid didn’t do that, but otherwise he was just as good.
She sat up at last and flushed the toilet, and took the bottle of Coke from his hand to rinse the taste from her mouth. She was a little embarrassed that he had seen her like that, but his expression held only sympathy and no disgust.
“Sorry,” she said anyway, because it wasn’t his baby or his responsibility.
“Hey,” he said. He brushed his fingers over her elbow. “Don’t. Come on. I’m just sorry you aren’t feeling well. You need anything else?”
She shook her head. “Thank you. Okay now.”
“Okay,” he said. He hesitated for a moment, and then squeezed her shoulder; and Anya did feel sick for the rest of the day, but she was happy, too, warmed by that moment with Sid in the cramped bathroom.
The Penguins continued to play poorly. They went to New Jersey and were shut out. Anya watched the game on TV and turned it off partway through the third period, when it was clear there was no hope. She went to sleep alone and woke up alone, but Sid and Zhenya were in the kitchen together when she went downstairs, silent, slumped over their respective plates, and she stopped in the doorway and felt her heart break to see their shared defeat. One loss wasn’t much to fret about, but she knew it was more than just the one loss.
But what could she do? Zhenya came home after practice and lay on the couch with her for a while, his head on her chest. She turned the TV to something mindless, a Russian sitcom he liked, and gently scratched at his scalp with her nails. After a while, he said, “Tell me about the baby.”
“It’s the size of a kumquat,” she said. “Its heart is beating. We’ll be able to hear it in another few weeks.”
“Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “What do you hope it is?”
“Healthy,” Zhenya said. “Ours.”
“Don’t be sweet, you’ll make me cry,” she said. The other day she had cried over a toilet paper commercial.
“Nyusha,” he said, and sighed heavily.
“I know, my love,” she said. “But there’s still time.”
“They’re going to fire Johnston if things don’t improve,” Zhenya said.
“Do you think they should?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe. Sid isn’t happy with him.”
He said it like that was the primary consideration: Sid wasn’t happy, so of course something needed to change. She knew how competitive Zhenya was, how much he wanted to be the best, but also how contently he had followed behind Sid for almost a decade. Which had come first, loyalty or love? Maybe they had grown simultaneously, inextricable as a body and its soul.
Zhenya fell asleep like that, and Anya carefully disentangled herself and took a picture of him drooling onto a throw pillow, and sent it to Sid. Sad today(((
He sent her a picture of his bird feeder, with a number of small dark birds perched on it. Birds are happy
She looked at her screen until it went dim and turned black, and thumbed at it again to bring up Sid’s message. She wasn’t sure how to respond. She had thought they’d reached a turning point, that they were becoming friends in truth, but here he was keeping her at arm’s length still, deflecting her overture.
Come tonight, she tried. I cook
I’ve got other plans, but thanks :)
Well. Fine. Did he not like her cooking? Had she annoyed him? She showed Zhenya the messages when he woke up. “Is he upset? Maybe you should go over there.”
“Are you worried about him?” Zhenya asked, fond and amused. “He can feed himself.”
“He doesn’t have to be alone,” Anya said. “He’s welcome here. I know he was living here—”
Zhenya’s eyebrows went up. “What makes you say that?”
“Well—wasn’t he?” She had seen the evidence all over the house.
“No, I couldn’t ever talk him into moving in with me,” Zhenya said. “He likes having his own house. He says he sleeps better in his own bed.”
“Oh,” Anya said. “But—”
Zhenya rose at last from the couch and gathered her into his arms. “Do you think he’s lonely? He hangs out with the French-Canadians all the time, he’s got more friends than I do. He’s probably having someone over for dinner tonight.” He kissed her forehead. “There’s nothing wrong with your cooking.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Anya said, but she did feel soothed later when Sid texted her a picture of a child beaming over a massive ice cream sundae.
“Duper’s oldest,” Zhenya said, when Anya showed him the picture. “He must have gone over there. That’s their kitchen.”
“I suppose it’s hard for anyone to compete with ice cream,” Anya said.
“Even you,” Zhenya said, tugging gently at a strand of her hair.
Cute))) Anya texted to Sid.
You can feed me tomorrow ;) he replied, which she took to mean that Zhenya had tattled on her. She couldn’t say she was surprised.
Quiet when you not here, she sent.
He started typing, stopped, started again. She watched the typing bubble and waited. Finally he sent her a single pink heart.
Zhenya and Sid left at the end of November for a long road trip out west: eleven nights, the longest Anya had been alone since she moved. She was ready for it, probably. She thought she was ready. She had Katya and Masha, her English studies, her workout routine. She would go to church. Maybe she and Masha would spend a night or two in New York and do some shopping.
The first full day they were gone, she used the bathroom in the morning and there was some blood.
Her heart stopped beating for an eternal, awful moment, and then lurched into motion again at a breakneck pace. The baby was the size of a lime, still not much more than a little clot of tissue, but she loved it already. She didn’t want to lose it.
She didn’t know what to do. Her doctor’s office wasn’t open yet, and she didn’t—should she call an ambulance? She didn’t know what to say, didn’t know any medical terms in English. Maybe she needed an ambulance. She crawled back into bed and searched on her phone. Maybe the bleeding was normal, but maybe it wasn’t. She didn’t have any cramps. She would call her doctor soon, in an hour and twenty minutes, when the office opened. She didn’t need to call Zhenya. He would only worry, and there was nothing he could do, all the way on the West Coast.
She was fine. She lay still and focused on her breathing.
It didn’t help. She pulled up her contacts and called Sid.
The phone rang for long enough that her good sense overcame her panic, and she was about to hang up when he answered at last. “Anna?”
His voice sounded scratchy. She was certain she had woken him. She opened her mouth to apologize and tell him to go back to sleep, but instead she started crying.
“Hey,” Sid said, and he sounded much more alert now. “Anna. What’s wrong?”
“I’m bleeding,” she choked out. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—but I’m frightened, and I don’t—is Zhenya there?”
“No, but I go get him,” Sid said. “He is just down the hall—”
“No, please don’t,” Anya said. “I don’t want him to know. He’ll only worry. But I can’t—I don’t know if I need to call an ambulance, and I can’t talk to anyone—”
“Shh, okay,” Sid said. “Let me, uh,” and she heard some rustling, and something unzipping. “I look up, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, and waited, listening to his quiet, steady breathing. She felt increasingly foolish for overreacting. She should have just waited and called her doctor later.
“What other, uh,” Sid said. “You have pain?”
“No,” Anya said. “It was only a little bit of blood. Just spotting.”
Sid made a humming sound. “Okay, this say—you, uh. Have sex?”
Anya felt herself blushing, which was absurd. “Yesterday morning, before he left.”
“Yeah, he likes morning,” Sid said, with laughter in his voice, and that more than anything reassured Anya that she was going to be fine. Sid wouldn’t be laughing about Zhenya’s sexual preferences if he thought Anya needed an ambulance. “Anna, I think you’re okay. Call the doctor and get examine. But probably okay.”
“Okay,” she said. She turned her face into the pillow, blotting away her tears. “I’m sorry. I woke you up. I shouldn’t have called you.”
“Hey,” he said. “I’m glad you call. Okay? Glad you trust.”
“Thank you for answering,” she said. “And talking to me.”
“Tell me about doctor,” he said. “When you go. Tell me you’re okay.”
“I will,” she said. “I hope you can get back to sleep.”
He laughed softly. “I sleep everywhere, whenever. Don’t worry. Text me later.”
She cried a little more after they hung up, relieved but still scared and overwhelmed, in part by the interaction with Sid. She had called him without thinking about it, because she trusted him, and he had—taken care of her, comforted her, the same way Zhenya would have. She felt so emotional about it and didn’t want to think too hard about why she felt that way. She was pregnant and hormonal; she was emotional about everything.
The doctor wanted her to come in for a checkup, and she went mid-morning and texted Sid from the parking lot when her appointment was done: Baby is okay)))))))))))
It was still early in California, and she didn’t expect to hear from him until later. But instead her phone started ringing right away, and her heart did a slow roll in her chest when she saw Sid’s name on the screen.
“Anna,” he said when she answered. “Everything’s fine?”
“Yeah, all okay,” she said. “Baby is safe.”
He exhaled. “Thank God. I wasn’t sure.”
She didn’t want to explain the nuances of her cervix to Sid. “Yeah, it’s normal. No problem. But need to check.”
“Yeah,” Sid said. “Well. I’m really glad. Listen, I need to get going. We have practice soon. But thanks for letting me know. I’ll text you later, okay?”
“Okay,” Anya said, smiling, already looking forward to his message. “Good luck.”
Zhenya had woken up and texted her by the time she got home from the doctor. High of 54 today, can you believe that? Isn’t California supposed to be warm? Love you, have a good day, and a bunch of kissing face emojis after that.
Anya felt so protective of him. She didn’t want him to know what had happened; she didn’t want him to worry. He couldn’t have done anything, and she had Sid for that now, calm and unflappable, a soothing voice at the other end of the phone, telling her not to worry. And she had believed him: she had trusted him, like he said.
Warmer there than it is here, she sent to Zhenya. I love you, I hope practice goes well. Call me tonight)))
He called that night from his hotel room, and Sid was there with him; she could see Sid’s hip and elbow at the side of the screen, him and Zhenya stretched out on the bed together, a quiet early evening hour before they went out for dinner. She remembered the season’s first road trip, only two months ago, when she hadn’t wanted Sid to listen to her conversation with Zhenya. What had she been so worried about? What sacred secrets did they have that Sid couldn’t be privy to? He knew every centimeter of Zhenya’s insides. So what if he heard them using silly pet names for each other? Surely they had their own pet names that were much sillier than anything Anya had ever uttered.
Sid and Zhenya were talking to each other as the call connected, Sid laughing about something, and then Zhenya tilted the screen to the proper angle and his smiling face filled the screen. “Hi, Jerry.”
“Hi,” she said. She saw Sid untangling the cord of his headphones, ready to slide in the earbuds and shut himself out, and she said, “Does Sid, ah. We can all talk. Together.”
Zhenya’s face took on the same pleased expression he wore whenever Anya and Sid showed some inclination to spend time together. “He wasn’t going to listen. He’s got his headphones.”
“Yes, I see them,” Anya said tartly. “No, he doesn’t need to. I’d like to talk with him.”
Zhenya set aside the laptop, and there was some muffled discussion between him and Sid. The video tilted as the bed shifted around. Then they were back, both of their faces, the laptop on Sid’s thighs and Zhenya tucked beneath his arm, his head on Sid’s shoulder.
“Hi, Sid,” Anya said. She felt shy about inviting Sid into the conversation, and also about seeing Sid and Zhenya cuddled close together like that, with Zhenya in the position Anya always took when she and Zhenya were curled up in bed.
“Hi,” Sid said, smiling. His hand was in Zhenya’s hair, scratching lightly. “How was your day?”
“Tell me about California,” she said, and Zhenya immediately said, “Too cold,” and Sid started laughing, and Anya smiled and settled in.
She began her campaign as soon as Zhenya returned from that road trip. The team had four days off for Christmas, and Zhenya and Anya were going to Miami. She wanted Sid to go with them. Dupuis had announced his retirement, and Anya knew enough to know that Sid was both relieved and heartbroken; and then Johnston was fired, as Zhenya had predicted, and she thought they would both benefit from some time by the pool, in the sunshine.
“He’s going to Canada,” Zhenya said when she first brought it up, without looking away from the TV.
“Do you know that?” she said. “Has he bought plane tickets?”
“That’s what he usually does,” Zhenya said. “He doesn’t like warm weather. He likes the snow. He wants to see his parents.”
“Well, I think you should ask him,” Anya said, and then left it alone for a few days, because Zhenya would need time to pretend it had been his idea in the first place.
She was into her second trimester now and finally feeling like herself again, which meant she had plenty of energy to strategize. She looked into flights, and there were still seats available, even on the same flights she had booked for herself and Zhenya. She went ahead and bought a ticket for Sid, because Zhenya could afford it.
The Penguins went to Boston to play the Bruins, and when they returned, Anya brought it up again—delicately, after sex the next morning, when Zhenya still had his fingers inside her, playing with her idly and making her shiver with delicious aftershocks. She touched his wrist to still him and said, “Did you ask Sid about Miami?”
Zhenya groaned. “He’s going to Canada. Why are you talking about Sid while I’m fingering you?”
“Well, we’re done here,” Anya said, because they were, but she dropped the subject and let Zhenya kiss her neck for a while and pretend he was still young enough to go twice in one morning.
The next time Sid came over, she cornered him in the den and said, “Zhenya and I go to Miami for the break. You come?”
He was doing something on his tablet, but he looked up at her words. “I was planning to visit my parents.”
He and Zhenya were two boots in a pair. “You don’t want, okay,” Anya said patiently. “It’s good you see the parents. But you come to Miami, we happy.”
“Geno told me his plans were to watch you sunbathe in your bikini and then let you tie him to the bed,” Sid said, bland as could be. “Sounds like I would just be in the way.”
Anya’s cheeks heated. Those were in fact their plans, but she hadn’t expected Zhenya to convey them to Sid. “We don’t, ah,” she said, and trailed off. It wasn’t like they were going to fuck in front of Sid. Surely that went without saying.
His mouth tugged to one side, maybe a little rueful. “You really want me there?”
“Yes,” Anya said, trying to sound certain.
“I’ll think about it,” he said.
It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no, either. Anya was willing to settle for tiny victories. She left it alone. After two more games and two more losses, Sid came home with Zhenya and a sore knee, and in the morning, over breakfast, he looked at her, and then at Zhenya, and said, “You guys are, uh. Going to Miami.”
“Yes,” Zhenya said, around his mouthful of toast. “Why, you come?” He reached for the jam as he said it, focused on that and not on Sid, clearly not taking Sid’s comment seriously.
“Zhenya,” Anya said, and when Zhenya glanced at her, she raised her eyebrows pointedly.
Zhenya’s chewing slowed. He looked at Sid, his own eyebrows going up. “You want to come?”
“If it’s okay with you,” Sid said. He was looking at Anya instead of at Zhenya. “I don’t want to butt in.”
“Good, you come,” Zhenya said, smiling at Sid, the same soft close-mouthed smile he turned on Anya when he was feeling particularly tender. From the way he shifted in his chair, he was prodding at Sid beneath the table with his feet.
“Please come,” Anya said, in case Sid was pretending he didn’t know where she stood on the matter.
Sid ducked his head like he was closely inspecting his eggs. “Okay. I’ll look for tickets later.”
“I buy already,” Anya said, and calmly sipped her tea as Zhenya started laughing.
Pittsburgh to Miami was under three hours, if you booked a nonstop flight, and Anya always booked nonstop. They were at the airport before dawn, and Anya dozed on Zhenya’s shoulder until the plane began its descent into Miami.
“You drooled on me,” Zhenya told her when she stirred and sat up.
“Good,” Anya said, brushing futilely at the damp spot on Zhenya’s shirt. “It’s your fault I’m so tired. Your giant baby—”
“It’s the size of an apple,” Zhenya said. “And I’ll have you know I was a small baby. Below average. You can ask my mom.”
“Oh, good, I’ll have her send me your birth certificate for proof,” Anya said. She turned around to look for Sid, seated a few rows behind them. She couldn’t see anything of him but his elbow on the armrest, projecting out into the aisle. But she knew he was there, traveling with them, spending his Christmas with them, and the warm glow inside her was only because of how happy Zhenya would be to have Sid there.
The Penguins had won their final game before the break, 5-2 against the Blue Jackets, and Sid and Zhenya were both in a good mood as they took a car from the airport to the condo, bickering cheerfully about the weather. Anya wondered briefly what the blank-faced driver thought about the three of them piling together into the back seat, and then dismissed it from her mind. Nobody would ever suspect a thing. They were only friends.
She had thought this was Sid’s first time at Zhenya’s condo, but when they walked through the door he unerringly went down the hall to one of the guest bedrooms, and came back out a few minutes later and said, “The place looks way better.”
“It’s Anya,” Zhenya said, already sprawled on the couch with his shoes still on, the way Anya hated.
“You did great,” Sid said, smiling at her warmly, and she could only smile at him in return.
When he went down the hall again, she perched on the sofa by Zhenya’s head and leaned down to say in an undertone, “He’s been here before?”
“A couple of times,” Zhenya said, with that wary look like he thought Anya might get upset. “He doesn’t like Miami, though. That’s why I was surprised when he wanted to come.” He spoke more loudly than Anya would have liked. She had already begun to think of Russian as a secret language in which she could say anything at any time without it being understood, but of course Sid did understand, and she didn’t want him to overhear.
“When did you bring him?” She tried to imagine it: Sid by the pool, maybe going fishing with Zhenya. Sid in the bed where Anya slept now.
“I don’t remember,” Zhenya said. “2013? Yeah, we came the year of the lockout, after the season was over. And then we came for a few days last winter, for the All Star break.” He reached up and touched her cheek. “I thought I told you about that.”
“No,” Anya said, and then, “Oh, Zhenya, I know it’s silly, but you’ve known him for so long, and there are all these things I don’t know, and—I feel greedy about it, because I want to know everything about you that he does.”
She looked away then, embarrassed. She hadn’t meant to say all of that, although of course it was true. She had known Zhenya for several years, but for most of that time they had been friendly acquaintances and nothing more, despite Zhenya’s best efforts. But he had been in love with Sid the whole while, forming memories with Sid, a shared history she kept stumbling over. There were still so many things she didn’t know.
“You’re worrying about this?” He sat up and tucked her beneath his arm. “I’m not trying to hide things from you—”
“No, I know,” she said. “I told you it’s silly.”
“It’s not silly,” he said, so seriously and earnestly that she couldn’t bear to look at his stupid earnest face. “You’re allowed to have feelings about this.”
“I know, I was only asking,” Anya said, desperate to end this conversation as soon as possible, and then Sid, bless him, came down the hall and said, “I’m thinking about making some lunch, anyone hungry?”
Zhenya sighed. “There’s no food, Sid. Let’s go to store, okay?”
“Only if you let me drive,” Sid said, and grinned.
They came home an hour or so later, with several grocery bags, and deli sandwiches that they ate out on the balcony. It was a beautiful day, warm but not hot, with a few scattered clouds scudding out over the water, and boats passing by on their way into the harbor. Anya watched Sid and Zhenya having a silent conversation with their eyebrows and mouths, something they had probably perfected over many years in the locker room. Finally Sid sat back in his chair and said, “Maybe we could get in the pool later.”
“Yes, good,” Zhenya said, pleased, which Anya took to mean he had gotten his way.
When she was finished with her sandwich, Anya left the two of them there and went to change into a bikini. She studied her reflection in the mirror. She was starting to show a bit, nothing more than a slight swell of her abdomen, but enough to make her feel both proud and self-conscious. Zhenya liked to tell her she was vain, and—well, she was. She cared what her body looked like. She had her exercise routine and her diet nailed down, but pregnancy had thrown a wrench into the works. Her body wasn’t entirely her own anymore, which was strange and a little uncomfortable.
She didn’t have much body modesty left after all the modeling work she had done, but on this specific day, for whatever reason, she didn’t want Sid to see her. She changed out of her bikini into a one-piece, admittedly cut low at the neck and high at the legs, but it covered her stomach, which was the important thing.
She went out. Sid was on the couch with Zhenya, sitting sideways to rub sunblock on Zhenya’s face and neck while Zhenya grimaced and whined. Sid’s swim trunks were maybe smaller than she had expected, riding up his huge thighs, and his arms and shoulders were maybe bigger.
“Don’t forget the backs of his ears,” she said, to mask her sudden infuriating embarrassment and shyness. She looked away from Sid’s soft pink nipples. “He always burns there and then it peels and he scratches it and it flakes off everywhere. Like dandruff.”
Sid grinned at her. “Gross.”
“Why are you talking about me like I’m not here?” Zhenya demanded. He grabbed the tube of sunblock from Sid’s hand and waggled his eyebrows at Anya. “Come here, Anechka, let me slather you up.”
“What a terrible way to phrase it,” she said, laughing, and Zhenya rose from the couch and advanced on her menacingly, wielding the sunblock.
The pool area was deserted aside from one elderly woman in a pink velour sweatsuit, napping on a lounge chair beneath the shade of a tree. Anya admired both her fashion sense and her napping locality. She hoped to be like that when she was old, Zhenya beside her, balding and bossy. And maybe Sid on his other side, the three of them baking the aches out of their bones in the sunshine.
“Sid, let’s swim,” Zhenya said, and kicked off his enormous slides.
Anya’s main interest in the pool was sunbathing. She lay on a lounge chair and took full advantage of her mirrored sunglasses to do some discreet ogling as Sid and Zhenya floated lazily in the pool, clinging to the same inflatable raft and talking too quietly for Anya to hear. Zhenya looked great, the surprisingly broad span of his back tapering down toward his waist, the muscles in his shoulder flexing as he skimmed his hand across the surface of the water to splash Sid. She really was going to tie him to the bed later; lately she had been feeling, well—horny, and she indulged in an absurd fantasy about putting Zhenya on his back on a lounge chair and tugging her swimsuit out of the way and riding him, and pulling off after she came and leaving him there, desperate for her.
But Sid was there with them, and he—would he watch? Would he take care of Zhenya after Anya was done with him—
She stopped herself there. Sid would never know her thoughts, but she felt guilty for having them nonetheless.
Sid was Zhenya’s through and through. He didn’t sleep with anyone else; he certainly wasn’t interested in Anya, who didn’t have any of the right parts. But there was no harm in looking. Looking wasn’t thinking, it was just—aesthetic appreciation. Sid was attractive, he was—big, muscular, and she knew enough about Zhenya’s preferences to fill in everything she didn’t know about their sex life, which was almost everything. Sid’s body bearing Zhenya down into the bed, Sid between Zhenya’s thighs—
She cut herself off again. She was slick and swollen between her legs, that kind of soft open feeling that meant her swimsuit would be sticky if she got up.
Frustrated, ashamed of herself, she took off her sunglasses and went to join them in the pool.
The weather continued to be perfect. Zhenya made some vague noises about fishing, but his schemes didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t leave the condo except to go down to the pool. The day after they arrived, Sid took two separate naps on the couch, once in the morning and once in the afternoon when they came back up from the pool.
“Long season,” Zhenya said to Anya. “He doesn’t sleep enough when he’s stressed.”
“He’s sleeping now,” Anya said, pleased that Sid could relax here, that he was able to let go.
She went for a walk on the beach that evening before dinner, some time to herself to watch the sunset and the water. When she came back, the door to Sid’s room was closed. She heard the bedsprings squeaking rhythmically, and then Zhenya groaning as he came, familiar and unmistakable, and she hurried on into her own room, her face hot.
She knew they had sex, but what she saw of their relationship was squeaky clean, nothing more than a hug or a quick kiss. They never said anything sexual to each other beyond some infrequent mild innuendo. Anya’s own shameful imaginings were far more explicit than anything they had ever said or done in her presence.
She changed her pants and went back out to start on dinner. She heard Zhenya laughing, and a throaty moan that had to be Sid. What were they doing? She didn’t know, and shouldn’t wonder.
The clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen masked any other noises they might have made. After a while, she heard the door open, and Zhenya came into the kitchen and dropped an absent-minded kiss on her shoulder on his way to the fridge. His hair was all tufted up.
“Don’t start snacking, dinner’s almost ready,” Anya said.
“It’s just an appetizer,” Zhenya said, and took a huge, obnoxious bite of the apple he had produced from the crisper drawer.
She watched them both during dinner, but they were no different than usual, and why should they be? Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The two of them had been having sex with each other on a regular basis for years. Sid passed the butter and ate off Zhenya’s plate, the same as any other meal. Only Anya was different, dwelling on it, looking for signs.
Zhenya slept with her that night, as he usually did, because she liked to have him there, and because Sid preferred to sleep alone. She curled up against his side as he tapped at his phone, and after a minute he put his hand in her hair and said, “You’ve been quiet tonight.”
She let out a breath and pushed her face into his arm, hiding a little. “I heard you and Sid having sex earlier.”
He glanced down at her. “Did it bother you?”
“No,” she said, but that wasn’t really true. “Well. It didn’t upset me. But I guess I keep thinking about it.”
“Hmm,” Zhenya said. He set his phone aside and slid down the bed to lie beside her. He cupped a hand around the back of her head and urged her to look up at him. His expression was somber, but his eyes were amused. “Thinking, huh?”
He knew her too well. She hid her face again, embarrassed. “Don’t.”
“What did you hear?” He shifted closer and drew one of her legs over his hip, nestling her pelvis against him, and slid his hand up her thigh to tease along the hem of her sleep shorts.
“Zhenya, stop.” She reached down to grasp his wrist. “This is weird. Sid wouldn’t want us to talk about it.”
“Hmm,” Zhenya said again, which meant she was right. He tucked his hand inside the back of her shorts and stroked down between her thighs. She had been wet all day, it seemed like, and she flushed at his knowing chuckle as he touched her.
He shifted around to spoon behind her and brought her off quickly and expertly, his fingers rubbing her clit in small fast circles just the way she liked. He didn’t say anything more about Sid, and in the morning she felt foolish for overreacting. It was only sex, and nothing to get hung up on.
It was only Sid. She had been thinking about him in a way that she shouldn’t, but she would stop that now. He was like her brother, or—her co-spouse, if that was a thing. It wasn’t any of her business what he did with Zhenya behind closed doors.
It didn’t matter if Sid saw her in a bikini. He knew she was pregnant. And it didn’t matter if Zhenya was vocally appreciative and patted her ass whenever she was in range. Sid knew they had sex. Nobody was being furtive or hiding anything. All of it was rigorously above-board, except for Anya’s thoughts, which she didn’t owe to anyone. And she wasn’t going to have those thoughts anymore.
The day before Christmas, Sid produced a small pile of wrapped packages from his bedroom in the morning and arranged them on the coffee table in the living room as Anya watched, bemused. She hadn’t thought to get him anything.
Zhenya, perched beside her at the breakfast bar, groaned and said, “Sid, I tell you every year—”
“Listen, I like doing it,” Sid said. He moved a small present to perch atop the pile.
“You’re so annoying,” Zhenya muttered in Russian, and he went down the hall and came back with a few presents of his own, which Anya hadn’t seen him pack.
“Geno,” Sid said, a smile tugging at his mouth.
“Shut up,” Zhenya said, and kissed him soundly.
Anya investigated the packages when Sid went to change into his swimsuit. Every present was carefully but imperfectly wrapped, with lopsided tape and the paper folded over where it had been trimmed too long. Tags on top bore the name of the intended recipient, written in Sid’s slanted print: Geno, Geno, Anna.
He was too much: too good-hearted, too endearingly flawed. He routinely forgot to hang up his towel after he showered. He had never once put the lid on the jam jar properly. Anya’s heart hurt, looking at her name on the tag: her present from Sid, the first one, for their first holiday together.
“He’s trying,” said Zhenya, who had been watching all of this.
“It’s working,” Anya said.
She fell asleep by the pool that afternoon and burned, because Zhenya had done a shoddy job of applying sunblock to her back. “Oops,” he said in the elevator on the way back up to the condo, touching his fingers to the skin between her shoulder blades. It didn’t hurt yet, but it felt tight and warm, and she knew she would be uncomfortable tomorrow.
She turned to scowl at him. “I’m never trusting you again.”
“Well, Sid can do it, then,” Zhenya said, and Sid raised his hands in a don’t-blame-me gesture and hit the button for their floor again, as if that would make the elevator go faster.
She sat on the couch and made Zhenya rub aloe vera gel on her back. “Don’t get it on my bikini,” she said, craning her neck around to see what he was doing.
“I’m not,” he said, just as he managed to smear a generous clump of gel over the strings around her back.
“Your hands are too big,” she said. “You’re making a huge mess—”
“My—fine,” he said, and tugged on the knot to untie it, and then the one around her neck. The triangle top slithered down to puddle in her lap. “Now I won’t mess it up, okay?” He kissed her nape, where she wasn’t burned. “I’m sorry, tiger. I did get part of your back.”
“Well, it happens,” she said, because she couldn’t ever seem to stay annoyed with him for long.
Sid was rattling around in the kitchen, and Anya was so focused on the shivery-painful touch of Zhenya’s hands that she didn’t notice when the noises stopped, until she heard Sid say, “Oh.”
She looked up. He was in the doorway, a plate of food in his hands. His face was bright red.
She raised her hands to her bare breasts, uselessly, and dropped them again. What was the point? He had already seen, and it wasn’t like she really cared.
“Sorry,” Sid said, somehow even redder. “I was—sorry.” He backed out of the room and disappeared into the kitchen once more.
“Hasn’t he ever seen a woman?” Anya said to Zhenya quietly, a little embarrassed herself in the face of Sid’s reaction.
Zhenya huffed and said nothing, only slathered some more gel on Anya’s overheated skin.
Sid hid in the kitchen until Anya was safely clothed and went in to see what was taking him so long. He was just standing by the counter on his phone, not even trying to pretend he was doing anything other than hiding, and when they made eye contact he flushed again.
“It’s safe now,” Anya said dryly. “You can come out.” She was a little irritated with him for being so dramatic about it. He didn’t have to find her attractive, but he also didn’t have to act like her body was disgusting or shameful.
“Sorry,” he said. He shrugged one shoulder and offered her a plate of food: a segmented orange, a handful of cashews, some sesame crackers: all of Anya’s favorites.
“Thank you,” she said, softening a little, and then a little more in response to his rueful smile.
They opened presents after dinner. Sid went first, at Zhenya’s urging. He opened a medium-sized box that held—inexplicably—a toaster with the Penguins logo stamped on both sides, and equally inexplicably started laughing.
“I can’t—Geno,” he choked out, bent over the toaster on his lap, laughing until a few tears squeezed out.
“What?” Zhenya said, grinning, and then his eyes went to another box on the coffee table, approximately the same size and shape, and he tore into it to reveal the exact same toaster.
“Breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Sid said, still choked with hilarity, and Zhenya leaned into Anya’s side, shaking with laughter.
She didn’t know what was funny. It was clearly an inside joke of some sort, and she was on the outside, as always.
Finally they both calmed down. Zhenya opened a box that held a very soft gray sweater, which Anya stroked assessingly: cashmere. Sid received a book, old and worn, with an inscription inside the cover that he read once and again, his eyes darting back to the beginning, and then he abruptly set the book down and left the room.
Anya said, “What—”
“He’s going to cry in the kitchen,” Zhenya said smugly. “Just give him a minute, he’ll be back,” and he was, after a minute, holding a beer, probably so he could pretend that was why he had gotten up in the first place.
Two presents remained. One was for Anya, and she held it on her lap as Zhenya opened his final gift: a small gold charm, a fat rectangular tag. Zhenya studied it for a moment and then showed Anya the reverse side, the number inscribed so faintly it was invisible until Zhenya tilted it to catch the light: 87.
Zhenya took off his necklace and wordlessly slid the charm onto the chain. “Now you with me always,” he said to Sid.
“That’s the idea,” Sid said, and they sat there and smiled foolishly at each other until Sid cleared his throat and said, “Anna, why don’t you open yours?”
It was a gift certificate to her favorite spa in Pittsburgh: a sweet gift, thoughtful and perfectly appropriate. “Thank you, Sid,” she said, touched, and got up to kiss his cheek.
He was pink when she sat back down. “One more thing,” he said, and handed each of them an envelope. “But, uh. You should open these later.”
“Let’s open now, watch you get embarrass,” Zhenya said, and Sid half-rose from his seat and reached for the card, apparently totally serious about taking it back.
Zhenya clutched the card to his chest, pouting. “Sid—”
“Later,” Sid insisted.
“Okay, we do later,” Anya said, to keep the peace, and they both subsided then, to her relief.
Zhenya read Sid’s card that night before bed, when he and Anya were nestled together in the pillows. It was long; a furtive glance revealed writing filling both sides. Zhenya was quiet as he read it, and then he lifted a hand to drag down over his mouth, the way he did whenever he felt overcome by emotion.
Anya scooted closer. “Zhenya?”
“It’s fine,” Zhenya said. He scrubbed roughly at his eyes. “He’s so—he won’t ever say these things to my face, but then he writes me these letters—”
“Well, go complain to him, then,” Anya said, although from the look on Zhenya’s face as he skimmed the message again, he didn’t have much to complain about.
“I will,” Zhenya said. He leaned over to kiss her, soft and lingering, and then shifted to climb off the bed.
“Wait,” Anya said. He turned back toward her, and she hesitated, and then said, “Will you—please tell him I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to make him uncomfortable.”
Zhenya considered her, perched there on the edge of the bed, turned around to look at her over one shoulder. The new pendant from Sid glinted on his bare chest. “Nyusha,” he said, and stopped.
“What?” she said, immediately on high alert. He wanted to tell her something, but wasn’t sure if he should. “I wasn’t trying to upset him.”
He pursed his mouth. “He’s not upset. He’s—look.” He sighed. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He thinks you’re hot. He was embarrassed.”
“What?” Anya said again, baffled.
“I wouldn’t have said anything, but I don’t want you to think it’s your fault,” Zhenya said. “Ignore him. He’s just being weird about it.”
“But he’s gay,” Anya said dumbly.
Zhenya’s eyebrows shot up. “Is he?”
“Isn’t he?” Anya said. “Zhenya—”
He started laughing and flopped onto his back on the bed. “No. He’s absolutely not gay, he’s—trust me.” He rolled over onto his belly and pushed up onto his elbows to squint at her. “You really thought—”
“Yeah, okay, I did, I just assumed,” Anya said. She felt extremely foolish, and Zhenya’s glee wasn’t helping. “Go away if you’re going to make fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun of you,” Zhenya said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh. I was just surprised.” He reached for her hand and brought it to his mouth to kiss her open palm. “He’s going to die when I tell him.”
“No, don’t tell him,” she begged. “Zhenya, please. It’s too embarrassing.”
“It’s sweet,” he said. He laid another kiss on her hand. “He’ll think it’s sweet.” He had stopped laughing. He held her gaze, his expression serious. “I think he should know.”
There was no good reason for it that she could think of, but she couldn’t argue with Zhenya’s earnest face. “Fine. Go away now. Leave me in peace.”
He squirmed up on the bed far enough to kiss her mouth. “Read your card,” he said, and then he went out into the hall. She didn’t expect to see him again until morning.
Alone, she opened the envelope from Sid and slid out the card. On the front, a fat red bird perched on a snow-covered branch. Inside, Sid had written a few painstaking lines in Russian.
Getting to know you is the best part of a hard season. I hope you know how much Geno loves you and how excited he is to the baby. Every day I see how happy you make him. It’s a great honor for me to share him with you.
Anya closed the card and held it against her chest, her eyes watering. His words could have been empty platitudes, but she didn’t think Sid would say those things unless he meant them.
Zhenya had left his own card on the nightstand on his side of the bed. She couldn’t resist taking a peek. The message was in English, though, and too much trouble to read. At the end, Sid had written, over and over, I love you, ten or twelve repetitions, and then his name: the earnest emotional outpouring of a man who found it easier to write his feelings than to speak them, who wanted Zhenya to know beyond any doubt how much he was loved.
She read her own card again. A great honor, Sid had written, oddly formal, probably because he had used the internet to help translate. She could see where he had stopped partway through great, a small blot on the sha from his pen pressing into the paper, and it was easy to imagine him carefully copying each word from his computer screen.
He wasn’t gay, if Zhenya was to be believed. He found her attractive. If Zhenya was to be believed, and she had no reason not to; he didn’t lie to her.
Trust me, Zhenya had said, and what was his evidence? Presumably Sid dating women, but maybe he had meant evidence. She could imagine the two of them taking a woman home together. Zhenya had told her he’d taken part in a few threesomes, and maybe one of them had been with Sid: three bodies in a bed, the two of them with an unknown woman, and it was a small mental step to picturing herself with them, one on each side—
She turned off the light and tried to will herself to sleep.
In the morning, Sid sat beside her at the breakfast bar as Zhenya cooked. The tag of his T-shirt was sticking up in the back, and Anya tucked it back into place without thinking about it. Sid flinched slightly at the brush of her fingertips.
“Sorry,” Anya said, mortified. He wasn’t hers to take liberties with. She had thought they were over the awkwardness of yesterday, but—maybe they weren’t.
“It’s fine,” Sid said. His cheeks were pink. “I’m just ticklish.”
“Sorry,” Anya said again. She was conscious of the shape of him, the way he sat with his legs spread wide, the soft rumple of his hair, the way he smelled, faintly stale from sleep. The shirt he wore was Zhenya’s, stretched through the shoulders.
She had spent months not noticing these things. Sid was off limits; he wasn’t interested. Not an option in any way. Not the remotest possibility.
“So, uh,” he said, and she redirected her gaze from his forearms to his face. The pink had spread to his ears. “Geno told me that you, uh. You thought I was gay.”
Anya groaned and covered her face with both hands. “Sid—”
“Hey, come on.” He touched her elbow. She felt each of his fingertips as a distinct sensation. “I’m not upset. I mean. I can see why you thought that.”
“It’s embarrass,” she said, without moving her hands.
“Look at me,” he said. His hand slid slowly up her arm, leaving trails of goosebumps in its wake.
She did. He was smiling, still pink. His hand cupped her shoulder.
“I’m not gay,” he said.
She stayed in Miami for a few days after Sid and Zhenya left. They had back-to-back away games, and she saw no reason to go back to the cold any sooner than she had to. But the beach and the pool weren’t enough to keep her from dwelling on the sense memory of Sid’s hand sliding up her arm, or the even more distracting memory of the way he had looked at her.
With a baby in her womb and a giant ring on her right hand, Anya had thought her days of fretting about other people’s romantic intentions were finished. And maybe, if Zhenya weren’t the way he was, those days would be over. But Zhenya was himself, and that meant she had to contend with Sid. Who wasn’t gay. Who had turned red when he saw Anya’s breasts, because he was attracted to her.
Maybe she was misinterpreting Sid’s actions—seeing what she wanted to see. Because she did want it, and had been trying not to want it for a while now.
It. Him: Sid.
She didn’t know what to make of her thoughts. How would Zhenya feel about it? She wasn’t ready to tell him. She could ask him for advice, but he would laugh at her. He didn’t need to know everything. What she felt was too new and formless to put into words. She wanted to keep it safe and private, and see what crawled out of its chrysalis in the end.
The second day she was alone, she took a bikini selfie in the bathroom mirror and sent it to Zhenya, who would appreciate it, and separately to Sid, who might not. Her tits looked good; it was a good picture.
They were in Winnipeg, and napping. She knew when Zhenya woke up because he texted her a plaintive request for a topless picture, which she indulged. And she knew when Sid woke up because he started typing, stopped, started again, and that went on for fifteen agonizing minutes before he finally sent, You look great
She scowled at her phone. What did that mean? How was she supposed to interpret that? Was he just being polite? She sent him a passive-aggressive see-no-evil monkey emoji.
He texted her right before the game, when she was curled up in front of the TV, waiting for the coverage to start. I meant it. You look really good
Anya sunk her teeth into her lower lip to control her smile, warm with satisfaction. That sounded like sincere appreciation.
You like more? she sent.
She didn’t see his reply until the morning; she had gone to sleep immediately after the game ended, when the team was still in the locker room. From the timestamp, Sid had waited until he was on the plane home to message her. I wouldn’t say no
She boarded her own plane home later that morning. Zhenya met her at the airport, looking good enough to eat, a full-course meal in his sunglasses and dark coat. She took him directly to bed when they got home, too worked up to even unpack her suitcase. She had spent the entire flight daydreaming about Zhenya going down on her while Sid watched.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Zhenya said, squeezing her hips as he fucked her from behind, “but what brought this on?”
“My second trimester,” she said, and dragged one of his hands to her clit.
Sid didn’t come over that day, to her mingled disappointment and relief. She wanted to see him, but she also didn’t; she was nervous, the same way she had been when her relationship with Zhenya first became romantic.
It was probably a bad idea to even consider it. She and Sid had achieved a peaceful coexistence. Why ruin that now, when she didn’t know for sure that he was interested, and had no guarantee that it would work out? There was no need to wake bad luck while it was quiet. They could go on as they had been, contently enough, and not risk any changes that might disrupt their fragile balance.
Sid came home with Zhenya after practice the following day; she heard their voices coming up the stairs from the basement, and braced herself to be perfectly normal, cheerful and friendly, but not too friendly.
She was making lunch—salad and pasta with chicken, Zhenya’s habitual post-practice meal. Zhenya came into the kitchen to kiss her, wash his hands, and eat a few cherry tomatoes out of the clamshell, and then he went upstairs to change, leaving her alone with Sid.
Sid drifted over, his hands in his pockets, and leaned against the counter beside her. She smiled at him shyly. Nothing had really changed, but everything was different.
“Hey,” Sid said. She focused on the onion she was slicing to avoid having to look at his face. “You have a good flight back?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” she said. She could feel herself blushing. “Practice was okay?”
“Really good,” he said. “Feels like things are coming together finally.” He watched her work for a minute. Anya was hot with impatience and nerves and wanted to tell him to get out and leave her in peace, but she couldn’t find the words. He said, “I thought you were gonna send me some more pictures.”
Anya’s stomach swooped. She shot a cautious glance at him. He was watching her face closely, not smiling, a little flushed, and that made her feel better about her own state of discombobulation.
She gathered the sliced onion in her hands and dumped it into the salad bowl. “You want?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Anna. Anything you want to send me.”
The air was tense between them like before a thunderstorm. Anya risked another glance. He lifted one hand and slowly, carefully tucked her hair behind her ear, the same way Zhenya always did, a gesture Sid had seen a hundred times, made new by the simple action of his hand.
Anya closed her eyes, overcome by the gentle stroke of his fingers down her neck. Her heart beat in her chest as loud as a drum, stirring bad luck from its sleep. “Sid,” she said on a sigh. She couldn’t remain cautious, not when he touched her like that.
“Send me anything,” he said.
She went to Pilates in the morning and came home to an empty house. Zhenya was still at the rink for morning skate before the game. She showered and talked herself out of it and then back into it, and finally posed in front of the mirror in her underpants, her free arm and hand covering her breasts, and sent the picture to Sid.
Then she put her phone in the drawer of her nightstand and left it there. If Sid didn’t respond right away, she would die, and if he did respond, she would be too nervous to read his message; so it was best to avoid the whole issue. But if Sid came home with Zhenya after skate she would not only die but probably also crumble into ash and blow away on the breeze, so she called Katya and went over there for a few hours for lunch and to play with the baby.
The house was quiet when she returned. Zhenya was asleep in their bed, curled on his side, his face sweet and soft. There was no sign of Sid. Anya ran a hand over Zhenya’s hair, too lightly to disturb him, and took her phone out of the drawer.
There was a message from Sid. Adrenaline spiked her heartrate. She couldn’t bear it. She put the phone back in the drawer, and then took it out again and unlocked her phone and read the message all in one motion.
You look so hot, Sid had sent to her.
She sat on the edge of the bed, touching her mouth with one hand, ready to hide her smile if Zhenya woke up and wanted to know what she was grinning about.
Sid wasn’t Zhenya. He wouldn’t pursue her aggressively. He was cautious; he would wait for signals, and stop completely at any sign that she wasn’t interested. But she was certain now that he had thrown his hat into the ring.
)))), she replied.
She assumed he was napping, but her phone chimed right away with another message: a picture this time, a shot of his duvet-covered legs, a low dresser and an open door in the background, his bedroom that she had never seen.
Her phone chimed again. Just waking up :)
She took a picture of Zhenya’s sleeping face and sent that in response, because there were three of them in this, all three of them together. He is still sleep
Lazy, Sid replied. Can’t wait to see you when we get back :)
She went to the arena that night to watch the game. The Penguins lost in the shootout, but it wasn’t a bad game, and Sid and Zhenya both played well. She sent them both a good-job text and drove home alone while they boarded a flight to Detroit for an away game the next evening. In the morning, she found a message waiting for her from Sid: Zhenya shirtless in a hotel bed, leaning back against the pillows, his arms folded behind his head, the smirk on his face that he wore when he knew he was about to get laid.
She could think about it now, or at least think about it without feeling quite so guilty. She was certain they’d had sex last night, but she had no idea what they had done together, and so her imagination was free to run wild. Sid on his back with Zhenya above him, Sid with his mouth on Zhenya’s cock, and then her brain inserted her into the scenario, watching them, holding Zhenya in her arms as Sid made him shudder. She had a strap-on that she used to fuck Zhenya with sometimes, and she wondered if Sid would like that, too, his thighs parted for her, and she rolled over then and took her vibrator out of the nightstand.
It was New Year’s Eve. The Penguins won decisively in Detroit, with a goal each for Sid and Zhenya, and Zhenya was home before midnight to have a late dinner with their friends. Anya watched Zhenya from across the table as he told a story to Masha and felt love flood through her in a gentle wash. He was her family now, her safe harbor, known and beloved, the witness to her life.
He kissed her at midnight, his hands in her hair, slow and lingering, like they were the only people in the world.
“Thank you,” he said to her quietly, one hand dropping to the slight curve of her stomach.
“Well, what for?” she asked, fussing a little with his collar.
“For putting up with my giant baby,” he said, “and Pittsburgh, and Sid. And me. I know it’s been hard for you.”
“All good things are hard,” she said, “and you’re the best thing,” and he buried his face in her hair and held her close until Max said, “Enough of that, let’s open the champagne.”
They went to sleep so late, much later than Anya wanted to think about, later than she had stayed up in months. She wasn’t a night owl anymore. Zhenya was in bed with his phone when Anya came in from taking off her makeup in the bathroom, and she slid in beside him and rested her head on his shoulder and said, “Sid?”
He tilted the screen to show her the group picture they had taken with Max’s phone timer. “I told him to come for breakfast and help us eat leftovers.”
“Good.” She kissed his shoulder. “Not too early, though.”
He laughed and put down his phone and drew her into his arms. “No. Not too early.”
She slept in, gloriously, waking early and looking at the clock and then rolling over and going back to sleep. When she woke again, the room was flooded with light, and it was past 9.
The team had an afternoon practice that day, and for once Zhenya wasn’t at the rink already. She heard his voice as she went down the stairs in her pajamas. He sounded different in English, nothing she could really describe, a different cadence or pitch or something, some subtle change that she had learned without noticing. But she smiled to hear it now, because it meant Sid was there.
They were sitting together at the kitchen table, side by side, eating oranges. Zhenya had set out a plate to collect the discarded rinds. The room was fragrant with citrus. Sid saw her first and smiled at her as she came into the room, and Zhenya turned to watch her approach and tipped his face up as she bent down for a kiss.
“Good morning,” she said, and touched the back of Sid’s neck to watch his smile deepen. “I sleeped too much.”
“It’s good you do,” Zhenya said. “It’s giant baby. Make you tired.” He reached up to offer her an orange slice. She bent again and ate it from his hand.
“Happy New Year,” Sid said in Russian. “I made tea.”
She sat at the table with them, her feet in Zhenya’s lap, drinking tea and letting Zhenya feed her orange slices, eating some leftover caviar on bread. Sid and Zhenya talked about the team. She didn’t make much of an effort to follow the conversation. She was busy watching Sid, and he was watching her in return, glancing at her so much that Zhenya finally threw a chunk of rind at him and said, “Pay attention!”
“You’re telling me the exact same thing you told me yesterday,” Sid said. “You should be more interesting if you want me to listen,” and Zhenya reached over and crammed an orange segment in his mouth as Sid laughed and failed entirely to fight him off.
They went off at last, taking their noise with them. Anya showered and cleaned up the remnants of the party that Zhenya hadn’t gotten to, texted some friends, called her parents and brother in Moscow to wish them a happy New Year, and she was on the phone still when Sid and Zhenya came back together from the rink, in Sid’s car. She watched through the window as they walked up the drive, Zhenya’s hand in Sid’s coat pocket, Zhenya leaning in to kiss Sid’s temple as they mounted the steps.
Love wasn’t finite. It went on and on, expanding constantly the same way the universe did, growing as time passed. There was luck involved, and hard work, but also the joy of it, the small daily pleasure of waking up and deciding to keep loving the same person. A heart wasn’t a house, with four walls and a door, that could be filled up and become too small. A heart could open up endlessly. There was room in her to grow new life; she could rearrange some furniture and make a place for Sid.
“Anechka?” her brother said, at the other end of the line.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m still here.”
When they said goodbye at last, she wandered through the house, looking for whoever she found first. She heard the TV on in the den, and the door was open a little. She pushed it open further. Sid’s colorful socks greeted her, and then the rest of him, stretched out on the couch with one arm behind his head. He was watching hockey, as always.
He looked over as the door opened and smiled at her, mostly with his eyes. She saw him smile at Zhenya like that all the time, and her breath caught for a moment to have him direct that look at her. Oh, it was too late to turn back, even if she had wanted to.
“Geno went out,” he said. “Max called him about something, he wasn’t making any sense. He said he’d be back in an hour or two.”
“Okay,” Anya said. She hovered in the doorway. She wanted to stay, but she couldn’t think of any reason to.
He was watching her. He lifted his chin slightly and said, “You could come here.”
She took a step into the room. “We watch together?”
“Yeah.” His throat bobbed as he swallowed. “You could lie down with me. If you wanted to.”
Her heart lurched in her chest. He was wearing sweatpants and a Penguins T-shirt, and he looked warm and comfortable and like he probably smelled good, like fabric softener. She wanted so badly to lie down beside him and put her arm around his waist and her head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat.
Why couldn’t she? What was stopping her?
She came closer. Sid didn’t move, but his eyes tracked her progress. The couch was a huge leather monstrosity that she suspected Zhenya had purchased not for style or comfort but simply because it was large enough to fit both him and Sid. There was plenty of room for Anya to lie down, her cheeks hot, and tuck herself against Sid’s side.
As she settled against him, he let out a great shuddering breath that she felt shake all through his ribcage. Still he didn’t move; he kept his arm where it was, folded beneath his head.
“Okay?” she asked, in a voice that was smaller than she meant it to be.
“Yeah,” he said. “You’re. Yeah.”
Moving cautiously, she slid her arm around his waist, like she had pictured. His shirt had ridden up slightly at his waistband, and her fingers brushed against bare warm skin. His breath hitched, and then he exhaled again, long and slow.
She pushed her face into the crook of his armpit, breathing in the smell of his body. “Okay?” she whispered.
“Fuck.” He moved at last, his arm dropping to circle her shoulders, dragging her in closer against him, as close as she could go. She drew up her knee and draped her leg across his thighs, slotting their bodies fully together, undeniably not casual or friendly. She felt him turn his head and press his face against her hair. “Anna. Jesus Christ.”
They lay together, silent, almost motionless. Sid’s chest rose and fell beneath her, fast and shallow. She tucked her fingers just inside the waistband of his sweatpants, along the ridge of his hip, and his abs jumped at her touch.
“Ticklish,” he said. “Sorry.”
She dug her fingers in, and he yelped—it was maybe more of a shriek—and thrashed beneath her. She laughed, clinging to him, shifting with him as he continued squirming, even though she had taken her hand away and was no longer doing anything that could remotely be construed as tickling.
She ended up mostly on top of him. She braced her forearms against his shoulders and gazed down at his dear face, his big nose, the full curve of his mouth. She had gotten to know him through the lens of Zhenya’s love: the private version of him, the man he was with Zhenya, unguarded and intimate. Only a single step removed from his true self, the person he was when he was alone. She was so fond of him already.
“What is it?” he asked, his smile fading.
Instead of responding, she lowered her head and kissed his cheek, something she had done before, but it was fraught with new meaning now. When she drew back, his lips were parted.
“Sidney,” she said.
He slid his hands beneath her shirt and stroked her lower back. “Have you said anything to Geno?”
“No,” she said. “You?”
He shook his head. “It feels like a good secret, you know? Just for us.” He wrinkled his nose. “Plus he’s so goddamn nosy.”
She laughed, because it was true. “I will tell soon,” she said, and he nodded again. She scooted down a little and rested her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. They lay there together until they heard the garage door open as Zhenya came home.
Sid left before dinner. Anya followed him out to his car, shivering in her oversized cardigan. Night had fallen already, as close as they were to the shortest day of the year. She could see Zhenya in the kitchen, moving around as he started dinner, but they were invisible to him in the darkness.
“You’re cold,” Sid said. He leaned against the side of his SUV and drew her against him, rubbing his hands down her arms and then unzipping his coat and trying to wrap her in it, folding her against his broad warm torso.
He wasn’t so much taller than she was. When she wore heels, they were almost the same height. She lifted her face, and he was watching her, his arms around her, his expression masked by the darkness and by the bill of his ever-present cap.
She reached up to push his hat out of the way. She was aware of every place their bodies touched, and every place they didn’t. She knew the texture of each millimeter of space separating them.
He leaned down. Their noses brushed.
Her heart was beating so fast.
“Anna,” he breathed, and she turned her head just so and kissed him.
He didn’t move. He stayed so carefully still, the same way he had earlier on the couch. She repositioned slightly and kissed him again, soft and gentle, and then she pulled back to look at him.
He lifted a handle to cradle her face. She was shivering harder now, even with the heat of his body against hers. He made a small disapproving noise and said, “You’re freezing.”
“Yeah, I go inside,” she said, but she stayed where she was, wrapped in his arms.
He stroked his thumb along her jaw. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, and he finally kissed her then, his mouth warm and open, until she squeezed his arms gently and went back into the house.
She needed to tell Zhenya. Selfies and some innocent touching was one thing, but kissing was a clear watershed, the point at which she had to confess. But she wasn’t sure how to do it, or what to say. She waited until they had cooked and eaten dinner, and cleaned up, and Zhenya was lying in the den watching a nature documentary about crocodiles. She curled up in the armchair near his feet and took a deep breath and said, “Can I tell you something?”
He glanced at her. She didn’t know what he saw in her expression, but he muted the volume on the TV and said, “Anything.”
She studied her nails, her perfect French manicure. She couldn’t bring herself to look at his face. “Something is happening between me and Sid.”
From the corner of her eye, she could see him watching her. “Like what?”
“I don’t know. We kissed,” she admitted.
“Earlier tonight,” he said. “When you went out to his car.”
“Yeah,” she said, and then she covered her face with her hands, overwhelmed by the giddy memory of it, Sid’s mouth on hers in the dark. “Zhenya, I don’t know what’s happening. Are you mad?”
“No, I’m not mad,” he said, and she looked at him finally. He was smiling a little. He sat up and said, “Nyusha, come here, come sit with me. You’re too far away.”
She tentatively joined him on the couch. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders at once, and kissed her face again and again until she softened and leaned into him with a sigh.
“Is it okay?” she asked. “I feel so strange. Like I’m cheating. But it’s only Sid.”
He sighed. “Listen, I. Maybe I meddled a little.”
She drew back to stare at him. He grimaced sheepishly. She said, “What did you say to him?”
“Look, all I did was tell him that you thought he was gay,” he said. “That’s it. And I guess I implied that you might think about him differently if you knew the truth. I don’t know what’s happened since then, but I had nothing to do with it.”
“You wanted this to happen?” she asked. She didn’t know what to think.
“I saw you looking at him,” he said. “And Sid hasn’t kept a secret from me in years. And I thought—well. If it worked, if you both wanted each other.” He stopped, and didn’t continue.
He didn’t look very happy for a man whose schemes had come to fruition. She traced the flat line of his mouth with her fingertips. “I don’t understand.”
“You’ve been getting along so well,” he said. “We’ve all finally settled into a routine. And now everything’s going to change again, and. What if it doesn’t work?”
“You should have thought of that before you decided to start meddling,” she said tartly, but he still looked so distressed that her ire faded at once. She took his hand and bent down to kiss his knuckles. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
He looked away from her, staring fixedly at the far wall of the room. His mouth worked for a few moments before he spoke. “I’m scared of losing him. All the time. But it’s been better lately, the last month or so. He’s been happy. But if you start with him, and it doesn’t work—”
He broke off again. Anya shifted closer, sliding an arm around his waist and leaning against his shoulder. She hadn’t known that Sid was so unhappy, or that Zhenya was so worried. “Why do you think it won’t work?”
Still he wouldn’t look at her. “You know I’ll pick you, now. If I have to choose. Because of the baby. And Sid knows it, too.”
She had expected this conversation to be fraught, but it was turning out to be fraught in a totally different way than she had anticipated. “I don’t want you to have to choose. Zhenya, I don’t understand, what does this have to do with anything?”
Zhenya let out a shaky breath and turned back toward her at last, taking her in his arms and pressing a kiss to her hair. She melted against him gratefully. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m only talking. I’ve got twice as many chances to fuck up, you know. That’s a lot of pressure.”
She wasn’t fooled by this sad effort at deflection. “I think it will work. Why wouldn’t it? Isn’t it worth trying? Think of how good it would be.”
“It would be good,” he said begrudgingly.
She sat up and took his face in her hands. She stared into his eyes, trying to beam the full force of her sincerity directly into his brain. “Please listen to me. I know how much you love him. I see it every day. I would never deliberately harm your relationship with him. I’m taking this so seriously. I want to love him and keep him with us always. Okay? Can you trust me?”
“I trust you with my whole heart,” he said.
Her eyes filled. She hated how easily he could find her soft underbelly. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision. Zhenya was watching her with a tender expression that she couldn’t bear. She released him and said, “Think of how good the sex would be.”
His eyes darkened. “Oh, believe me. I have.”
“I have, too,” she said. She bit her lip, because it was a little embarrassing; she didn’t talk with Zhenya about her private fantasies, the things she thought about to get herself off when she was alone. “I’ve been pretty interested, I guess. In what you and Sid do in bed together.”
“Have you,” he said. He tucked her hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering there, toying with her earlobe: one of her most sensitive spots, that always made her shiver. “You should ask him about it. He can tell you anything he wants, I don’t mind.”
“I will,” she said. She leaned in to kiss him. “Talk to him tomorrow. You can tell him what we talked about tonight. I think you should tell him what you’re worrying about.”
“And then what?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “At this stage, you sent me flowers every day for a week and wrote me a three-page letter about how I was the most incredible woman in the world. But Sid doesn’t seem like the type.”
He drew her close and laughed into her hair. “You might be surprised. I forgot I did that.”
“I still have the letter,” she said. She leaned against him and they were quiet for a few minutes, sharing comfort, until a grisly crocodile-related wildebeest death on the TV finally drove Anya from the room.
She hadn’t chosen her moment well. The team was leaving soon for another road trip, eleven nights away, and she was going to Miami for the duration with two of her friends from Moscow. She had arranged a couple of photoshoots with a local photographer who was looking to develop her portfolio, and she was thrilled by the prospect of working again. It wasn’t journalism, but it was something, and maybe it would be a route to more modeling work. She was excited, but she would have liked more time at home with Sid, to see what might happen.
She didn’t see Sid the next day, which wasn’t unusual. He sometimes came over for lunch on game days, and on a few rare occasions had stayed to nap with Zhenya, but mostly he stayed at his own place and she only saw him on the ice, if she went to the arena to watch the game. His absence felt a little pointed, though, after what had happened the day before. She tried not to worry, and she was reassured when he texted her a picture of Zhenya posing with Kessel in the locker room, Zhenya grinning in a way that showed most of his teeth.
Sid liked the new coach, Zhenya had told her. The mood in the locker room had shifted. Everyone was looking forward.
She waited up for Zhenya after the game: another win, and Zhenya had tallied three assists and was in a good mood, whistling through his teeth as he undressed. Anya lay in bed and watched him take off his suit and listened to him talk about the game, Sid’s two goals, the sea change with the team, and finally she said, “Zhenya, we can talk about hockey tomorrow. Come here and fuck me.”
He turned to smirk at her and stepped out of his briefs. “You might be able to talk me into it.”
It was fast and rough that night, Zhenya still worked up from the game and Anya worked up from—who knew what, hormones, thinking about Sid, watching Zhenya undress. And in the morning, she woke to Zhenya kissing her neck and they went again, slow and heated, holding each other close as they moved together.
When Zhenya got out of bed afterward to clean up, Anya took a picture of his back and ass as he walked into the bathroom, and sent it to Sid. Good morning))
She watched Sid type for a while. He was so bad at this. He had no idea what to say, and she wished she didn’t find it as charming as she did. Finally he sent her a tongue emoji, which made her smile, and then texted, I feel dumb sending that, but it’s what Geno always sends me
Her eyebrows lifted. Did he send Zhenya nudes? How had she not known about this? You send him the picture?
He didn’t reply for some time, until after Zhenya had already left for the rink. Only if he really begs
She smiled. That sounded about right.
Zhenya texted her when practice was over and told her he was going to Sid’s. He came home several hours later, with damp hair and a drawn expression that made her heart sink as he came into the den where she was working on her laptop.
“How did it go?” she asked cautiously.
His face bloomed into a smile full of a sweet private joy that lifted her heart back into its proper position. “It was good. We talked about some things.” He flopped down onto the couch beside her and nosily tilted his head to look at her computer screen. “Hmm, irregular verbs.”
“I hate this stupid language,” she said, and he laughed. She raised a hand to scratch through his hair. “You looked upset when you came in.”
“Well, it was exhausting,” he said. “You know. Feelings.” He sighed and slumped down until his head was resting on the back of the couch. “He said he—wanted to marry me. That he thought about asking me. Before I started dating you.”
“You didn’t know that already?” She smoothed down a stubborn cowlick. “I thought he talked to you about that already, after we got engaged.”
“You know about that?” Zhenya said. He turned his head to squint at her. “He told you?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I thought he was going to talk to you about it. So I didn’t say anything.”
“Wow,” Zhenya said. “Look at that. Sid telling you about his feelings.”
“Don’t be sarcastic,” she said.
“I’m not,” he said. He smiled at her, warm and genuine. “It’s a good thing. He trusts you.” He sighed again. “Anyway, he said he’ll come over tomorrow for lunch.”
“Not tonight?” she said, fighting her disappointment. If Zhenya was this wrung out, Sid probably wanted to hide at home for the rest of the day and avoid talking to anybody.
“No,” Zhenya said. “But you could text him.”
She did, a while later, with a picture of Zhenya stretched out on the couch, fast asleep, his hands folded together on his chest. Tired but happy))
Me too, Sid replied. Really happy :)
Anya was happy, too, and eager and nervous. She had forgotten what it was like, to feel so giddy and distracted, equal parts wonderful and awful. She was distracted all the next morning, waiting for Sid and Zhenya to come home after practice, but then it was just like any other day: both of them chewing with their mouths open, arguing good-naturedly about who had worked harder in the weight room. But it was different, too, with Sid smiling at her and eating off her plate, the way he always did with Zhenya.
“Don’t take all her food, Sid,” Zhenya said. “She’s grow a baby.”
“She’s finished!” Sid protested. “She put her fork down.”
“She’s right here,” Anya said, equally annoyed with both of them, and left them alone to clean up after the meal.
Sid found her in the laundry room later, pulling a load of bedding from the dryer. He wordlessly took the basket from her and carried it into the bedroom, and emptied it onto the bed when she pointed. She wondered if he had been in the bedroom since she moved in. She didn’t think he had.
He helped her fold the sheets without grabbing the wrong corners like Zhenya did. “Good job,” she said.
“I can do things that aren’t hockey, you know,” he said. “Two things. Maybe even three.” They smiled at each other. He said, “I’ll miss you while we’re away.”
“We will text,” Anya said. “Send picture. FaceTime. It’s not long.”
“Less than two weeks,” he said. “Hardly any time at all.”
They kissed, a fitted sheet sagging between them, bridging their hands. Sid had a little bit of stubble, a gentle prickle against her upper lip. She kissed him again and stepped back. They folded the sheet into a perfect square.
She wasn’t sure what to expect during the road trip. She and Sid had shared two sweet kisses and a handful of mildly suggestive selfies, and maybe that would be it until they were both back in Pittsburgh. They hadn’t talked at all about what they were doing. Sid had probably talked about it with Zhenya more than he had with her.
She was too busy to dwell on it very much. Her friends Marusia and Sasha flew from Moscow to New York, where she met them, and they all flew to Miami from there. It was so good to be with them again, to catch up in person instead of on the phone. There was so much sightseeing to do, and shopping and eating and drinking and lying by the pool, and she didn’t have the time to camp out on her phone, waiting for Sid to reply to her messages.
Not that he made her wait. He texted her as much as Zhenya did, or maybe more. She started a group text with both of them and sent pictures of the beach, Marusia posing with a generous glass of wine, the flowers Zhenya sent her, regular updates on the status of her baby bump, which still wasn’t much to look at. She looked less pregnant and more like she had enjoyed a large meal. She was still in her normal clothes, and only unbuttoning a couple pairs of her more form-fitting jeans.
Am I supposed to tell you that you look huge or that you look tiny? Zhenya sent.
That’s too much Russian for me to read but you look great, Sid sent.
Thank you Sid)) Anya replied, and ignored Zhenya altogether.
Zhenya texted her privately later that day, when she could tell from the time that he had just woken up from his pre-game nap. Do I get nudes anymore or is it all Sid-appropriate now?
He was such a baby. You don’t think I should send him nudes?
Send me one now and I’ll show it to him later, he replied.
Anya would have pursed her mouth at him disapprovingly if he were there, but he wasn’t, so she let herself smile. He was meddling. She had an agent on the inside.
She was out at a coffee shop with Sasha, but she had taken some pictures that morning, and she sent Zhenya a coy shot of the steamed-up bathroom mirror, and then a far less coy picture she had taken in the full-length mirror in the bedroom, bare all the way down.
Good, Zhenya sent, and then a minute later, a shot of his hand curled around his hard dick.
“What are you smirking about?” Sasha asked. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“My brother sent me a funny joke,” Anya said primly.
“I know you’re looking at Zhenya’s dick,” Sasha said. “I recognize that face.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Anya said, and texted Zhenya, I’m in public!!!
Then I’ll make Sid come tend to me, he sent, and then a tongue emoji.
Sid texted her while she was out at dinner that evening. She snuck a look in the bathroom. Geno showed me your picture, he had sent, and then a picture of Zhenya reclining against the pillows. From the light in the room, Sid had taken the picture that afternoon and sent it to her well after the fact, so Zhenya had apparently been totally serious about summoning Sid to his hotel room. Zhenya was shirtless, smiling, and Anya could see the love and warmth in his expression, directed at Sid but also at her, because he had known Sid was going to send her this picture.
But that was it: the only picture. Perfectly tame, and nothing he hadn’t sent to her before. Sid-appropriate. Presumably they’d had sex, but he hadn’t shared that with her, and he probably wouldn’t unless she made the first move.
That night she changed into some lingerie, a sheer gown Zhenya liked, gauzy white fabric that was almost entirely see-through if she stood in front of a light. She turned on both lamps beside the bed and conducted her own photoshoot in front of the mirror, gathering the loose skirt up to her hips, and then up to her waist, to show that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath. She was wet from taking the pictures and thinking about Sid looking at them, and she took a closeup shot of her fingers sunk into her folds, swollen and shiny. She sent everything to Sid before she could talk herself out of it.
He was in Montreal. The game was over; they were back at the hotel, or would be soon, to fly out in the morning. Anya waited impatiently, sprawled out in bed, touching herself a little, hoping to hear from him, to learn what he thought.
Her phone rang. She was already smiling as she answered, unable to hold it back.
“Anna,” Sid said.
“Hi,” she said, immensely pleased with herself but also feeling a little shy. “Congratulations for win.”
“You think I called you to talk about hockey?” he said. “Are you, uh.” She heard him swallow. “You looked pretty wet.”
Oh, God, they were doing this. “I like sending the picture. You like looking?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Jesus. Of course I do.” He exhaled. “I wish I were there with you right now.”
“Or I’m there,” Anya said. “Where’s Zhenya?”
“In his own room,” Sid said. “Should I go get him?”
“No,” Anya said. She slid her hand between her thighs again, her fingers circling over her clit, and she didn’t make any effort to hold back her soft sigh.
“Anna,” Sid said again. She was gratified to hear the tension in his voice.
“What did you and Zhenya do earlier?” she asked him in Russian, stroking herself slowly. “Did you make him come? I know he was hard. He sent me a picture of his dick.”
“I. Yes,” Sid said. “We—you want, ah. Detail? Specific?”
“As much as you want to tell me,” she said. She spread her legs wider and closed her eyes. “Whatever you’re comfortable with.”
“We jerked off,” he said, and she wasn’t surprised at all that he used a pretty filthy slang term for it; she was certain he had learned his entire sex vocabulary in Zhenya’s bed. “Together. Quick, you know. Before the game.”
“Did you kiss him?” He made it sound so clinical. Maybe he would do a better job in English.
“Of course,” he said, and then huffed and said, “I’m bad at this.”
“You aren’t great,” she agreed, smiling. She stilled her hand. “We can stop. It’s late. You probably want to get to sleep.”
“No, I don’t sleep yet,” he said. “Please, can I hear you?”
“You want to listen to me come?” she asked, surprised and pleased, and he breathed out and said, again, “Please.”
She had phone sex with Zhenya a fair amount, and he was great at dirty talk, descriptive without crossing the line into bad porn territory. But they had already established that Sid was bad at it, and he didn’t even make an attempt, just stayed on the phone with her in silence, breathing with her. Somehow it was just as hot as Zhenya’s best efforts. She let herself make as much noise as she liked, small gasps and moans that got louder as she got closer, spurred on by the sound of Sid’s ragged breathing.
She wanted something inside her, but she was too close to want to stop and find a toy. She imagined Sid inside her, as thick as the rest of his body, and maybe Zhenya in her, too, both of them filling her. Sid’s mouth on her neck, Zhenya’s hands on her tits—
“There you go,” Sid said, low and approving, and she said “Oh, oh, Sid,” and then she was beyond words.
She was prepared to be embarrassed in the morning. But there was a text message waiting for her from Sid when she woke up, a picture of Zhenya at breakfast before their flight to Raleigh, squinting grumpily at the camera with a piece of toast in his hand. He says hi, Sid had added, and then a kissing face emoji.
She was an endless welling spring of fondness. She texted a lengthy string of heart emojis to both of them. She was having fun in Miami, she was so glad to be with her friends, but she couldn’t wait to be home once more, to see them in person, to kiss Sid again and take him to bed, if he wanted to go to bed with her. She thought he probably did.
She didn’t mention the phone sex to Zhenya. She hadn’t asked Sid to keep it a secret—there was no reason for it to be a secret—but when she video chatted with Zhenya that evening before dinner, he didn’t bring it up. Sid came into the room partway through their conversation and lay belly-down at the foot of the bed, his face pushed against Zhenya’s knee. Anya could barely see him at the side of the screen, and the gentle motion of Zhenya’s hand as he began petting Sid’s hair.
“He had a long day,” Zhenya said to Anya. “Practice took a lot out of him. He’s an old man now.”
“I understand you,” Sid said, muffled.
Zhenya was focused on Sid now, looking down at him, at his hand in Sid’s hair. “You hungry, bunny? What time are you going out for dinner?”
“Soon,” Sid mumbled. “Flower is,” and then something Anya couldn’t hear.
Bunny, she mouthed incredulously. It was a sweet and mushy endearment, and she had a hard time believing Sid allowed Zhenya to call him that. Maybe he didn’t know what it meant.
Sid pushed himself up and crawled up the bed to flop down at Zhenya’s side. “You talk to Anna.”
“Yeah,” Zhenya said. He pulled the computer onto his lap so that Anya could see Sid sprawled out beside him, propped up on one elbow.
Anya felt herself flushing, and was glad the camera on her laptop wasn’t good enough to pick up that level of detail. Sid was smiling at her, and he didn’t look sly or smug, just happy.
“See, here she is,” Zhenya said, and Sid’s smile widened and he said, “Hi, Anna.”
They talked about Miami for a while: what Anya was doing with her friends, how they liked the city. “My tan’s looking very nice,” she said, and got to watch Zhenya smirk at Sid, who lifted a hand to push Zhenya’s face aside. They had been talking about her, then. She knew how Zhenya was; he had probably been teasing Sid relentlessly. She wanted to know everything they said.
Zhenya got up after a while to use the bathroom. Sid pulled the computer onto his own lap, his face shifting as he lay down and propped the laptop against his bent knees. The angle gave him a double chin, and she could see straight up his nostrils. Her heart throbbed with something that felt a lot like love.
“Hi,” he said, softer, a private greeting just for her.
“Hi, Sid,” she said, helpless to stop her smile.
“Anna, last night,” he said. “It’s really good.”
Her face was hot again. She raised her palms to her cheeks, futilely trying to cool herself. “It really was. Sid, it’s going to be ten million years until I see you again.”
“Six days,” he said. His eyes crinkled. “I count.”
“Send me pictures,” she said. “Please.”
His eyes crinkled more. “Geno told me you like, ah. You like to know how we fuck.”
She moved her hands to cover her face fully, embarrassed. She had given Zhenya permission to tell Sid, but that didn’t mean she wanted to discuss it. “I guess. Maybe.”
“I think, too,” he said. “About you and Geno.”
She peeked at him through her fingers. “Really?”
He laughed. “Yes. Of course. Lots.”
“Well,” she said. That did make her feel better. “You can see for yourself, if you’d like. I’m sure Zhenya wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh, Jesus,” he said in English, groaning, and Anya had to laugh at him, giddy with how affected he was.
No pictures came her way that night, although she did receive goodnight texts from both of them, spaced half an hour apart, which she took to mean they weren’t sleeping together. And in the morning they had practice, and she expected nothing, and she was out all day anyway, for shopping and a long late lunch and then an afternoon in the kind of spa where you could get a pedicure while sipping a cocktail and eating fresh sushi prepared in-house. Anya couldn’t partake in either, but she did get hot pink varnish applied to her toenails, bright eye-searing day-glo. She couldn’t wait to hear Zhenya complain about it.
She was in a cab home after dinner when her phone vibrated several times in a row, and a quick glance showed Sid’s name on her screen. Somehow she managed to resist looking at the messages until she was home and had said goodnight to Marusia and Sasha and was alone in her bed, behind a firmly closed door.
Sid had sent her five messages, and the first four were pictures. Anya scrolled through them slowly, drinking in every detail.
The pictures had been taken in one of their hotel rooms, probably just that evening. A lamp glowed on the bedside table. Zhenya stood beside the bed, his torso a blur as he took off his shirt. His pants were unbuttoned and unzipped, and she could see the bulge of his erection distending his open fly.
The next picture was of Zhenya’s body from above, cut off at his chin, sprawled out on the white sheets, his cock lying fat against his belly, his chest and nipples, his necklaces twisted off to one side. And then, blurry, out of focus, Zhenya sucking Sid’s dick, and she stared at that one for a long time: Zhenya’s face obscured and anonymous, Sid’s hand in his hair, Zhenya’s wet mouth stretched around the base of Sid’s cock, the first she had ever seen of it.
She knew what Zhenya’s face would look like if Sid used his hand in Zhenya’s hair to tug him up and off, glassy-eyed and slack with pleasure. His swollen used mouth. He liked having his hair pulled.
The final shot was Zhenya from above again, this time with semen pooled on his abdomen, his flushed dick softening, his chest blotchy.
That’s what we do together ;) read Sid’s final message.
Anya exhaled and covered her eyes with her free hand. That was more than she had anticipated. She scrolled through the pictures again. Her pulse beat between her thighs. His stupid winking face—not even an emoji. He had typed it out.
She didn’t know what to text to Sid. She had to say something. But what did one say in response to pictures like that? Thanks?
Well, why not? I liked so much, thank you)))
She put down her phone then and slid one hand into her underwear. She took her time with it, imagining the parts she hadn’t seen, Sid’s mouth or hand on Zhenya, the way Zhenya’s eyes squeezed shut as he came. Sid’s mouth or hand on her: the parts that hadn’t happened yet, that probably would before too long.
Zhenya called her in the morning, before he left for skate, and he sounded pleased with himself and far too alert as he said, “Rise and shine, Jerry.”
It wasn’t that early. She had showered already, and she put him on speaker as she did her makeup, getting ready to go out for the day. They talked about the game a little, and then Zhenya said, “I guess you saw Sid’s pictures.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Whose idea was that?”
“Well, mine,” Zhenya said, “but he didn’t take much convincing. He said you wanted pictures, so. Why not those?” He was quiet for a moment, breathing into the phone line. “Was it, uh. Did you like them?”
“I’ll tell you exactly how much I liked it,” she said. “Don’t tell me you’ve been worrying about this.”
“I wasn’t sure,” he said. “It’s one thing to know that I have sex with him, but maybe you’d feel differently about seeing it.” He was quiet again. Anya waited him out. He said, “Don’t you feel strange about all of this sometimes?”
“Of course,” she said. “But I don’t want to stop.”
“Okay,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice. “If that’s what you want.”
“I want you to have everything,” she said. “Zhenya, I love you so much. I want you to be happy.”
“You’re the center of my life,” he said. “I never imagined being this happy,” and she had to put down her makeup brush and blink at the ceiling for a few moments to avoid tracking tears through her carefully applied foundation.
She felt the baby move for the first time while she was in Miami, the mildest, lightest flutter in her abdomen as she lay in bed, waiting for sleep. It was hardly anything. She thought it was her dinner repositioning itself. But it happened again the next day, when she was lying out by the pool, and again that night in bed, and finally she realized what she was feeling.
“Hi, baby,” she whispered, lying alone in the dark bedroom, her hands cupped over her belly.
She flew back to Pittsburgh the next morning, and waited to tell Zhenya in person, to see his face. He had gotten home from St. Louis the night before, and he was tired and a little crabby when he met her at the airport, from losing and from the late flight. She waited until they were home and eating lunch to say, “I felt the baby moving.”
He lowered his fork. “Really?”
“Barely,” she said. “Only from inside, you know? I don’t think you would be able to feel anything. But I’ve felt it a few times now.”
“Our baby,” Zhenya said. He didn’t cry, although Anya thought for a minute that he might, and when they took a nap together later, he insisted on lying for a while with both hands on her stomach, waiting for any flutter of movement.
“Nothing’s happening right now,” she told him. “You aren’t going to feel anything.”
He ignored her. “When’s your ultrasound? I want to go with you.”
“Next week,” she said. They would find out at that appointment if they were having a boy or a girl. “I scheduled it so you would be in town.”
“Good,” he said. He looked up at her, smiling, and then rolled onto his back and tucked her against his side. “Let’s sleep now, we’re going to Sid’s for dinner.”
“Oh, are we,” Anya said, annoyed with him, because how was she supposed to get to sleep after that?
They drove to Sid’s that evening in the dark, and went through the side door into his warm bright kitchen, which smelled like garlic and rosemary. Zhenya helped Anya with her coat and guided her in with one hand on her back, taking special care. Sid turned to watch them come in, leaning back against the counter, his face lit by a sweet smile that was for both of them now.
She wasn’t used to looking at him yet: his broad sturdy body, his arms testing the structural integrity of his T-shirt. She had vague memories of feeling equally flustered by Zhenya when their relationship was still new, and probably she would adjust to Sid before long. But it hadn’t happened yet.
“Well, go say hi,” Zhenya said, and gave her a gentle push.
Sid watched her approach, not moving, his arms spread open to grip the countertop on either side. Anya slid in against him, toe to toe, and curled her hands in the hem of his shirt. He was so warm, and gazing at her, fully focused on her, not smiling now but watching her face with an intensity that made her stomach clench.
“Hi,” she said. She was wearing heels: close enough to kiss. She saw Sid’s eyes dart to the side, probably looking at Zhenya behind her, and then he breathed out and leaned in and brought their mouths together.
He kissed her just how she expected, a gentle press of lips. She drew back to look at him. He was white-knuckling the counter. His mouth was faintly tinted with her lipstick. His eyes darted to Zhenya again.
“Well?” Zhenya said impatiently.
“He’s awful,” Sid said to Anya, and she grinned, and he finally touched her then, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her close, and when he kissed her again it was much less polite.
She curled her arms around his neck and pressed against him, her breasts and the swell of her stomach. She wanted him. She wanted to take him to bed and learn what he liked, what his face looked like when he came. He sucked on her lower lip and she opened her mouth for him, thrilled by the soft noise he made in response, certain she was going to get what she wanted.
She heard Zhenya come up behind her, one hand settling on her hip. She turned her head aside. Sid’s mouth trailed over her cheek. She was sandwiched between them, Zhenya big and warm all along her back, just how she had fantasized.
“My turn,” Zhenya said.
She watched from up close as Zhenya slid his tongue into Sid’s mouth, kissing Sid over her shoulder: not polite at all, one hand on the back of Sid’s head, the kind of kiss that was a precursor to getting undressed. Forget dinner, she wanted to say: let’s go upstairs. But Zhenya pulled back then and kissed her cheek and said, low, “Are you going to feed us or not?”
“Leave, go home,” Sid said, laughing, and Anya tucked her face against his neck and smiled helplessly, held safe between them, cocooned in love.
Sid was a good cook and had gone all out with roast pork and asparagus, and he had also made Olivier salad and found pickled mushrooms somewhere, which Anya had been craving. She almost cried from how casually he set the platter by her side and then looked to Zhenya for approval, and how Zhenya smiled at him. They had been scheming.
“I have news,” Zhenya said, when Anya was long since done eating and even Sid and Zhenya were only picking at their plates.
“Yeah?” Sid said. He speared a mushroom from Zhenya’s plate. “What news?”
“Anya felt the baby move,” Zhenya said, all puffed up and self-satisfied the way he invariably was when he talked about the baby.
Anya tensed. She wouldn’t have brought it up that way, or maybe at all. She had seen Sid interact with his teammates’ children enough to know how much he liked kids. She still thought guiltily of the look on his face when he told her he would never marry, and she wondered if this was something else he thought he had to give up to be with Zhenya.
If it was a sore spot, he gave no indication. He sat up in his chair, beaming, and reached to take Anya’s hand. “Move? Like, kick?”
“No, not yet,” Anya said, squeezing his hand. “Only little flutters. But soon, probably. I’m almost halfway through.”
“Exciting,” Sid said. He was smiling at Zhenya now, still holding Anya’s hand. “It’s happy for you.”
“We learn the sex next week,” Zhenya went on, oblivious to any possible undercurrents. Maybe there weren’t any, and Anya was worrying over nothing. The conversation moved on to what Zhenya’s parents were up to, and Sid seemed perfectly normal as he served dessert, as unfussily cheerful as always, and she set her concerns aside.
She thought about staying: telling Zhenya to go home without her, and talking her way upstairs and into Sid’s bed. But Sid liked sleeping alone, and maybe he wouldn’t want her to stay the night. She wavered for long enough that Zhenya herded her through all of the usual leave-taking rituals and into her coat, and then Sid was kissing them both sweetly at the door and it was too late.
Later, in bed, she cuddled up next to Zhenya, who was doing something on his phone, and put an absent hand on her shoulder. Contentment oozed from him in palpable waves. He had said that Sid was happy, and she supposed he did seem to be, but mostly what she had noticed, these past few weeks, was how happy Zhenya was.
“Zhenya,” she said. “Can I ask you something?”
“What’s that?” he said, without looking up.
“Will you show me Sid’s pictures?” she asked.
“Hmm?” he said, lowering his phone and raising his eyebrows. “What pictures?”
“He told me he sends you nudes sometimes,” she said. “Maybe he was only teasing.”
Zhenya lifted his phone again. “He told you that?” He tapped at the screen a few times, and she assumed that was the end of the discussion, and fought down a bitter twist of resentment that Zhenya wouldn’t even talk about it with her. But then he turned the phone toward her, showing her the screen, and—
“That’s him?” She took the phone from Zhenya’s hand to study the picture more closely. That was his necklace, and his big shoulders, his square hand holding his phone. His face wasn’t visible, and he was covering his dick with his other hand. But it was definitely Sid.
“You can scroll through,” Zhenya said. “I’ve saved them all.”
There weren’t many, maybe a dozen at most, and taken over a period of several years, judging from the changing backgrounds and the variation in Sid’s body weight and tan lines. Most of them were selfies taken in front of a mirror, with a few dick shots mixed in, and two pictures that had clearly been taken by Zhenya, during sex: Sid touching himself, Sid with his legs spread wide and two of Zhenya’s fingers buried in his ass.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have showed you those two,” Zhenya said ruefully. “I forgot they were in the same folder.”
“Do you think he would mind?” Anya went through the pictures again, more slowly, thinking about Sid posing, sending these pictures to Zhenya, letting Zhenya photograph him.
“Probably not,” Zhenya said. “He’s pretty shameless. And it’s only you.”
She looked at Sid’s hand on his own dick, his oddly graceful fingers. “What’s he like in bed?”
Zhenya huffed and took the phone from her and set it on the nightstand. “This is what’s on your mind? Why don’t you just find out for yourself?”
“Zhenya,” she said. He was so annoying. “Tell me or don’t, but don’t tease me.”
He turned onto his side to face her, and stroked her hair back from her forehead. His expression was both wicked and tender. “Nyusha. You’re nervous?”
“Of course I’m nervous,” she said, scowling at him. “I thought I was done having sex for the first time. I like how nothing’s new with you anymore. I don’t have to worry about my body making weird noises, or if I miss a spot when I shave my legs. You’ve seen everything. It’s relaxing.”
He laughed. “Relaxing? My ego won’t ever recover.”
“Oh, shut up, you know what I mean,” Anya said, because the sex was perfect and he knew it.
He wrapped an arm around her and shifted closer, until she was nestled against his chest. “Okay. I’m not teasing you. Sid is, uh. I’m not sure what word to use. Passionate.”
She smiled against his collarbone. “Really? Passionate?” Considerate, attentive, generous, all of that she could see—but passionate?
But she thought of Sid’s arm around her waist as they kissed in his kitchen, Sid wanting to listen to her masturbate, Sid sending her those filthy, explicit pictures of Zhenya. Well, maybe she could see it.
“He, uh.” Zhenya cleared his throat, and when she glanced up, he was blushing. “He likes to use his mouth.”
“Use his mouth for what,” Anya said, fascinated by this tidbit, but Zhenya wouldn’t say anything else about it. He kissed her neck until she had more or less forgotten what they were talking about, and then he pressed his lips to her ear and said, “He’ll take such good care of you.”
“With his mouth, I take it,” she said.
He sat up, which wasn’t what she wanted. His hair was all messed up. He gazed down at her seriously. “There’s no one else I would trust with you. And there’s no one else I would trust with him.”
“He’s the only person I would trust with you,” she said, reaching up for him. He lay down in her arms, heavy above her, and she held him and kissed his face and didn’t breathe a word about the suspicious moisture leaking from his eyes.
She could have done it the next day, but she lost her nerve, and the day after that was a game day and there wasn’t time. But the day after that, Anya fed Zhenya lunch after practice and told him she was going to BodyPump and would be back in a few hours.
The exercise class was real. She told herself the whole way there and all during the class that she could still back out if she wanted to. But she had made up her mind; she didn’t want to back out. They had waited long enough.
After class, sweaty and disheveled, she drove to Sid’s. She had memorized the gate code and let herself in, and then sat in the driveway for a few minutes, her heart racing, before she got out of the car.
She had texted Sid that she was coming over. He met her at the side door, wearing a pair of actual jeans instead of basketball shorts or sweatpants, like he had dressed up a little for her. Anya was still in her workout clothes, and her hair was a mess. Sid had seen her in worse states of disarray, but she was self-conscious about it now, because—well.
“Hi,” Sid said. He wasn’t smiling, but his expression was so warm he might as well have been. “How was your class?”
She moved forward into his arms, and he kissed her, his hands at her waist. He smelled good. She tucked her face against his neck and let him hold her. She was all lit up. She could feel him breathing, fast and shallow.
“I can shower?” she asked.
He took a deep breath and let it out. “Yeah. Come on, I’ll show you.”
He took her upstairs to his bedroom, where she had never been. The bed was neatly made, and she wondered if that was typical for him, or if he had made it because he knew she was coming over. The room had heavy dark furniture and a thick plush rug underfoot. Sid led her into the attached bathroom and said, “Hold on a minute,” and came back with a towel.
“So, uh,” he said, still standing there. Maybe he would stay and watch her undress. She wasn’t necessarily opposed. But then he scrubbed a hand through his hair and made a face and said, “I’ll make you a snack, eh?”
“Oh, I don’t need,” Anya protested, but he was already sidling out of the room.
Alone, she stripped out of her sweaty clothes and got in the shower. Here, where she never came, Zhenya was everywhere: his favorite shampoo on a ledge in the shower, his deodorant in the medicine cabinet, and a picture of him on a shelf in the walk-in closet. He showered here after he had sex with Sid, before he went home to her.
She wrapped her hair in the towel and inspected herself in the mirror. She had scrubbed off all of her makeup, but Sid had seen her without makeup before, half-awake over breakfast. Naked, the swell of her stomach was finally clearly the result of a baby, and she didn’t know how he would feel about the visual reminder. But she couldn’t do anything about that.
Maybe this was a bad idea. She felt so awkward. She should have let it happen spontaneously: an evening together on the couch, a kiss before bedtime that turned into something more. But she was never at Sid’s house without Zhenya, and if they did this at home, Zhenya would interfere. She wanted this first time to be just her and Sid.
She hadn’t brought a change of clothes. Her planning had only gone so far. There was no helping it. She went out into the bedroom wearing nothing but the towel on her head.
Sid was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding a plate of food on his lap. He stood up when she came into the room, and then sat back down. His face flushed. “Anna—”
“I don’t need eat,” she said. She took the plate from him and ate a single orange slice before she set the plate aside on the nightstand. Sid was looking at her bare body, and her nervousness ebbed a little, to make room for a growing warmth. She took his hand and brought it to her stomach, pressed to the soft curve, because they might as well get it over with.
“Oh,” he said. He lifted his other hand to cup her belly. He looked up at her, his expression wondering. “It’s moving?”
She smiled at him. “No, not now.” She didn’t know how to explain her intentions, that she wanted him to know he could touch her. She didn’t want him to be squeamish about it. She ran her fingers through his hair and watched his eyes close. “Sid. Can we? Do you like to?”
“Do I—seriously?” He opened his eyes to make a skeptical expression that looked very much like Zhenya’s. “You’re asking me if I want to have sex with you?”
“Yeah,” she said, dropping her gaze to his hands on her, shy about all of it and wishing she weren’t.
“Yes,” he said. “The answer is yes. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.”
“Good,” she said, and pushed him down on the bed and climbed on top.
She straddled his waist. He was wider than Zhenya: a stretch for her tired thighs. She unwrapped the towel and dropped it on the floor and shook out her damp hair, raking her hands through it, and Sid slid his hands up her legs and watched her, loosely holding her hips, his mouth open. She liked that look. She didn’t want him to be polite.
She bent to kiss him, his full mouth that she’d had plenty of her own thoughts about, these last few weeks. He kissed her gently, carefully, but not politely. His hands skimmed along her sides, up her ribs and over the soft sides of her breasts, making her shiver, and up into her hair. She felt him grab a fistful and slowly pull, urging her to tilt her head. Her scalp prickled. His mouth was gentle but he kissed her with intent, sliding his lower lip along hers, sucking lightly, until her mouth was sensitive and tingling.
She shifted against him, dragging her nipples over his shirt, feeling them tighten. He groaned quietly and finally opened to her, kissing her deeply, slick and dirty and nothing like polite. His hand tightened in her hair. His other hand went to her hip, squeezing there, then sliding down over her ass.
She sat up, flushed and flustered. She could feel her pulse beating between her thighs. She didn’t want to make a mess on Sid’s clothes.
“I wasn’t done,” he said, his voice low. His eyes were dark.
Passionate, Zhenya had said.
“Take off,” she said, tugging at his shirt. He curled up to strip it off, and then she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t have to hide behind her sunglasses now. She ran her hands over his shoulders in frank appreciation, and then down to his chest, pinching his nipples gently, watching his face. Zhenya’s weren’t sensitive and he didn’t like having them played with, but Sid arched encouragingly, and groaned again when she pinched a little harder.
“Anna,” he said. “Will you—I hate to stop you. But I really want to take off my pants.”
She laughed and climbed off, and lay on her side to watch him gracelessly flounder out of his jeans and shorts.
“Why jeans?” she asked. “You wear sweatpants, so easy—”
“You know why,” he said, smiling at her, happy to poke fun at himself. “Come on. I’ve gotta impress you.”
“I’m impress,” she said, and then his shorts were gone. He was hard, and just as big as she had thought. He turned toward her. The look on his face wasn’t cocky. He was chewing on his lip, watching her face closely.
She slid close and curled a hand around him, and felt him twitch against her palm. She wanted to taste him. She leaned in and kissed his mouth, and he responded at once, hungrily, and eased her over onto her back.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said, so quietly that he might have been talking to himself. “Anna. God, you’re beautiful.”
“I know,” she said, and he laughed and buried his face in her neck, kissing her there, his mouth working. His face was smooth. He might have shaved just for her.
“You don’t care about that, eh?” he said. “Okay.” He kissed her behind her ear, and then her collarbone, and the hollow of her throat. “You’re funny. I love listening to you and Geno talk to each other in Russian. You both make the stupidest jokes and you crack each other up. You know a lot about hockey. You’re so sweet with Max’s daughter. I know you’re going to be a great mom. You’re kind of mean—”
“Mean,” Anya said, because if she thought about the other things he had said, she might cry.
“I like it,” he said, trailing his lips down her chest. He cupped one of her breasts, his big hand bracketing the pale skin where she wasn’t tanned. Her breath caught. He kissed her where the fold of her breast met her sternum. His eyes darted up to meet hers, searing, as he shifted over and opened his soft pink mouth around her nipple.
She was tender there, lately, a little sore, but he was gentle, sucking for a moment, drawing shivers from her, and then pulling back to check her reaction.
“Good,” she said, petting his hair, and he smiled and shifted over to her other breast and bit her, not hard, and had the audacity to laugh when she moaned.
She let him keep at it until she was too sensitive to stand it, and too turned on for patience. “Sid,” she said, tugging at his hair. “Please.” She groped around until she found one of his hands, and dragged it between her legs, to make him feel how wet and swollen she was. “I’m ready.”
He pushed up onto his elbow, stroking her carefully, running his fingers along her folds to push one inside. He was flushed, and his hair was all messed up from her playing with it. “You, uh. What would you like?”
“Fuck me,” she said in Russian, because she didn’t know how to say it in English.
Sid’s flush deepened: he knew that phrase. She reached for him, and he lay down in her arms and kissed her, and she parted her thighs and drew up her knees to clamp against his sides, ready for him, thinking of how good he would feel inside her, stretching her open.
He kissed her neck, and didn’t push inside. “Sid,” she complained. She slid a hand down between their bodies and found his cock. He was—he wasn’t soft, but he probably wasn’t hard enough to get inside her.
“Sorry,” he said against her neck.
“You need help?” she asked. He’d been hard earlier; she wasn’t going to take it personally. These things happened. In Russian, she said, “I’ll suck you.” She trailed her fingers down his back. “Zhenya’s never had any complaints.”
He laughed a little and sat up, kneeling between her thighs. His erection had deflated even further. He grimaced ruefully and ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry. I’m, uh. Nervous.”
Her heart melted. Oh, Sid. “You need time? We try again.”
“That’s probably it for me.” He lay down beside her, propped on one elbow, and bent to kiss her shoulder. “But I’ll still—I mean, we aren’t done here.” He slid his free hand down her body, over her breasts and belly and hip. “I couldn’t keep it up with Geno for, like. Probably about a month. But he still got off.”
“Really?” Anya said, distracted from her arousal by this information, which was brand-new to her. “You nervous?”
“He’s the only guy I’ve ever slept with,” Sid said. “So I was—obviously I was really into it. But I thought I might not be any good at it, and then he’d lose interest.” He smiled at her, his eyes creasing with it, warm and affectionate. “Lots of pressure.”
“But it’s not pressure with me,” she said. She reached up to touch his cheek. “Sid. Don’t worry.”
“Are you joking? This is so much worse.” He turned his head to kiss her fingertips. “I can’t screw this up. Then you’ll both be disappointed in me.”
“You stupid man, this isn’t your only chance,” she said fondly. “I’m not going to give up on you if you don’t peel the varnish off my toenails the first time we have sex.”
He laughed. “Okay. Second time.”
“You can have as many chances as you want,” she said. “I want it to be good for you, I want you to like it—”
“I already do,” he said. He bent to kiss her mouth. “Show me, okay? How you like.”
“I’m nervous, too,” she admitted. “Maybe I’ll take too long.”
“My day is empty,” he said, smiling at her. His hand moved down between her legs, and she bit her lip and let her thighs fall open as he circled his fingers until he found her clit. “Show me.”
She touched herself and let him watch, flushing at how focused he was on the movements of her fingers. But she couldn’t relax with him sitting there and observing her. She slowed and then stopped, and said, plaintively, “I can’t.”
“Okay,” he said. He brought her hand to his mouth and sucked on her fingers, his eyes closing as he tasted her, making her flush harder. “Anna, let me.”
She let him. He lay between her legs and ate her out, slow, wet, and thorough, two fingers working inside her, thick enough to give her the stretch she wanted. She watched his mouth, the way his eyelids fluttered. Then she covered her face with her hands and told herself sternly that it didn’t matter if she took too long, it didn’t matter if she didn’t come at all, she could just enjoy it. And it did take her a while, but Sid didn’t stop or complain, and her orgasm went on and on, bright twisting pleasure as he gently brought her through it.
He was hard again, after she was done, but lost it as soon as she reached for him. “Next time, maybe,” he said, kissing her, his chin slick with her. “If you want a next time.”
“Every time,” she said, and struggled for a moment to remember the word, and then added, “Forever.”
“Okay,” he said. His eyes were bright. “Forever, eh? I’ll take it.”
He gave her one of his T-shirts to wear, a Penguins shirt with his number on the back, which she thought was some kind of male territory-marking thing. She would wear it home to make Zhenya jealous. They could fight over her a little; she wasn’t opposed.
She and Sid sat on the bed and ate the food he had put together for her. He was still naked, and she watched him openly, his big arms, the slight softness around his middle, his dick small and soft between his thighs. Anya fed him orange slices. He obediently opened his mouth for each one until the plate was empty, and then he toppled her back into the rumpled white sheets and sucked wet kisses along her throat until she was sighing and thinking about a rare second go.
“You’re better than I imagined,” Sid murmured to her. “Anna—”
She tsked at him. “You always call Anna, it’s so, ah.” In Russian, she said, “Formal.”
He rolled over, taking her with him, pulling her on top of him. “Yeah? What should I call you instead? I guess I could take my cues from Geno.”
She squinted at him, not totally sure what he meant.
“Anya,” he said. “That’s what he calls you when you’re in public. And he calls you Anechka when I’m around. What does he call you when you’re alone?”
“Nyusha,” Anya said, which he did, mostly, when he wasn’t calling her a cartoon mouse.
“Which one should I use?” Sid asked.
Anya bit her lip. She couldn’t say it, but she hoped Sid would read it off her, the longing rising from her skin like the smell of rain from the ground.
He nosed along the line of her neck, moving her hair out of the way so he could kiss her pulse. “Nyusha,” he whispered, his breath warm across her skin.
“Yeah,” she breathed, and they lost some time to kissing. Gray winter light filtered in through the curtains. Sid tasted like oranges. Right now, Anya’s heart was nowhere else: only right here, in this room.
He pulled back at last and traced his thumb over her cheekbone. His expression was so tender it hurt to look at.
“What he is call you?” Anya asked, to break the moment.
He kissed her neck again. She felt his smile there. “My name, mostly.”
“Bunny,” Anya said in Russian. She didn’t know the word in English.
He groaned. “Or that.” He dropped his head to the pillow and rolled his eyes. “He started doing it to piss me off, when I was first learning Russian. But at this point I think he means it.”
“Cute,” Anya said. She ducked her head to kiss Sid’s jaw. “He loves you.”
“Yeah,” Sid said. His tender expression was back, even worse than before. “Nyusha. Don’t let me screw this up.”
She couldn’t imagine how he would. She touched his mouth, that he had put to such good use, and the faint lines at the corners of his eyes. If anyone screwed up, it would be her. She wasn’t exactly low-maintenance. “You call me Anna. It’s okay. I was make joke. Tease.”
“I don’t mind,” he said. “If you think it’s too formal—”
“You are not Russian,” she said. “So. For you it’s different. You’re not Zhenya, you don’t call me like Zhenya.”
“I’ll have my own name for you,” he said. “Oh, Anna—”
She kissed him. He ran his hands down her back, under the hem of his shirt to squeeze her bare ass. She slid down to rub herself against his dick, not totally soft anymore. Maybe they could try again.
Her phone chimed, and a moment later she heard Sid’s vibrating from his pants on the floor. He laughed against her mouth. “I bet it’s Geno.”
She groaned and sat up to take her phone from the nightstand. It was Zhenya. He had texted her earlier and she had missed it: Where are you? I miss you. And just now, I see you’re at Sid’s, followed by many eyes emojis.
She rolled her eyes. She had turned on location sharing for him ages ago and should have expected he would use it to spy on her. We’re busy, I’ll be home later
“I was right, I take it,” Sid said.
“Yeah,” she said. She showed him the message with all the eyes. “He looked on his phone and see where I am.” She opened her settings and shared her location with Sid. “Now you see, too.”
He peered at her phone. “Wait, how do I find that?”
He was helpless. She got out of bed to dig his phone from his pants and showed him how to open the map and find the little icon with her face. There was an icon for Zhenya, too. She shared Sid’s location with herself and with Zhenya, and showed him his icon on her own map. “See? Now we all know.”
“So when we’re on road trips, I can watch you, like. Go to Target,” he said.
She laughed. “Yeah. If you want.”
He took his phone from her and tapped at the screen a few times, and grinned. “Geno says, stop hogging my wife, come over for dinner.”
“You come,” she said. She curled against him, draping an arm and a leg over him. “Spend a night. Make Zhenya happy.”
“I gotta run some errands,” he said. “But tomorrow, for sure.”
He wouldn’t be persuaded. He gave her a pair of sweatpants to wear and kissed her at the door, and she drove home with the scent of his laundry detergent in her nose and her heart giddily rattling around in her chest. It had gone great. It had gone so well, and she texted Sid from the garage before she got out of the car: Exciting for next time)))))
Zhenya was waiting for her at the top of the steps. “BodyPump, huh?”
She stepped around him to hang her coat on the rack in the entryway. “I went to class and had a great workout, and then Sid gave me another great workout.”
“I don’t like this,” Zhenya said. “You’re having fun without me.”
He sounded so pitiful. Anya couldn’t help her smile. She went to him and wrapped her arms around his neck and stretched up to kiss his chin. “We’ll have fun with you, too. Are you jealous?”
“Painfully,” he said. He kissed her mouth, his hands on her hips. “I can’t believe he gave you his shirt.”
“I’m his, now,” she said.
Zhenya groaned and kissed her harder. “Was it good? He texted me and said he couldn’t keep it up.”
“He told you that?” she asked, laughing.
“Yeah, with a crying face emoji,” he said. “He’s just nervous. He couldn’t keep it up with me for—I don’t remember. Weeks.”
“He told me,” she said.
“You should have brought me along,” Zhenya said. “I would have helped.”
“We didn’t need your help,” she informed him. “We did just fine on our own.”
“So it was good,” he said. He looked smug, like he was somehow responsible for Sid’s performance.
“It was so good,” she said, and he laughed breathlessly and buried his face in her hair, his arms around her, holding her tight.
Zhenya got a hat trick during the afternoon game the next day. Anya was at the arena with Masha and screamed so loudly that she was hoarse afterward. Zhenya was attractive to her at all times, clowning around with friends or sweetly vulnerable with her or Sid, but she had a special fondness for Zhenya fired up on the ice, making the Canucks look stupid, banging on the glass before his teammates swarmed him. She was going to ride him into the bed.
Sid texted her while she was driving home. She read his message at a red light. Take good care of him ;)
You help, she replied, and spent the rest of the drive thinking about Sid helping her with Zhenya, what that might entail, how Zhenya might turn red all the way down the way he did when he was truly overwhelmed.
She checked her phone again when she got home. I’ll come for dinner, Sid had replied.
Why were they both so annoying? What had she done to deserve being saddled with these two unbearable men? She got her revenge by taking a picture of Zhenya’s face while she was sitting on his dick and sending it to Sid. Zhenya was close and looked it, his head thrown back, his teeth sunk into his bottom lip, and Anya couldn’t wait to watch him lose it and then make him eat his own come out of her.
Later, when Zhenya was bellowing to himself in the shower, Anya roused enough to look at her phone. Good job, Sid had sent, and an eggplant emoji.
She checked her map. He was at home, for some reason, instead of with them. Come over, she sent, but was that too demanding? Please)), she added.
He didn’t reply, but he did show up about an hour later, just as Anya was taking things out of the fridge to start dinner. She heard the front door open and Zhenya come down the hall from the den. He said something in English, and she couldn’t make out his words, but she knew from his tone that he was talking to Sid.
Her smile hurt. She brought one hand her to her mouth, feeling her eyes water. What she heard in Zhenya’s voice was love, full and lasting, and she heard it in Sid’s answering laugh. And she felt it in herself, a warmth in the pit of her stomach, deeper than her heart, messy and essential. She had made a choice to be with Zhenya, to love him even through the hard parts, and now she was making that same choice with Sid. She wasn’t in love with him yet, but she wanted to be. She didn’t think it would take long.
The sex had been good, but it paled in comparison to the quiet closeness afterward, the two of them sequestered in Sid’s bed. She was certain now that it could work. She and Sid could have a relationship independent of their relationships with Zhenya. They didn’t need him to bind them together. They could make their own love.
The baby fluttered in her, small but present, alive, carried under her heart. She laid her hand over that tiny movement. There were four of them now.
“Hi, Anna,” Sid said, coming into the kitchen with Zhenya behind him, smiling at her, coming over to give her a kiss and tug gently on her ponytail, as casual and easy as he was with Zhenya, like they did this all the time.
“Hi, Sid,” she said, and watched Zhenya shining like all the stars in the sky.
Sid went home after dinner, to Anya’s bewilderment. “Doesn’t he want to spend the night?” she asked Zhenya, who to his credit seemed equally bewildered.
“He doesn’t explain himself to me, I don’t know what’s going on in his thick head.” Zhenya scowled at the pot he was scrubbing. “He’s like a cat, he does whatever he wants.”
“Maybe that’s a sign that the two of you have poor communication skills,” Anya said, but when she texted Sid about it, he replied with, Just tired from the game, felt like sleeping in my own bed tonight :)
She didn’t see him for three days. She couldn’t help feeling a little rejected. She and Zhenya went for her ultrasound and found out they were having a boy, and she hoped that might lure Sid out of the woodwork, but instead he only called her when she texted him with the news and made all the appropriate sounds of seemingly genuine excitement.
“Come tonight,” she said. She and Zhenya were having dinner with the Ivanovs and Seryozha to celebrate Zhenya’s hat trick, but Sid could come over after that. “We miss you.”
He exhaled. “Look, I’m. I need a little time.”
Her heart turned to stone. Hadn’t it gone well? Had he not liked it? She had been so hopeful, but her feelings about it didn’t dictate his. She swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat. “Sid—if you don’t like, we stop. It’s just you and Zhenya.”
“No,” Sid said forcefully. “That’s not—I want to do this. It’s just a big change.” He exhaled again. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to make you worry. I’m just, uh. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m feeling. But I’m really happy about it, okay?”
“Okay,” Anya said, still not entirely sure what was going on.
“I’ll come over for lunch tomorrow,” he said. “Okay? I promise.”
He kept his word, and arrived with Zhenya after morning skate. It was the final game before the All Star break. Zhenya was going to Nashville, and Anya was going with him, to watch him play. Sid, absurdly, hadn’t been selected. He would be going home to Canada, to visit his parents, since he hadn’t seen them over Christmas.
She watched Sid closely at the beginning of the meal, but he seemed normal, which eased her fears. He kissed her before he went home to nap, not cursory or hurried but a slow kiss with enough tongue that Zhenya, watching from the doorway, whistled low and said, “Nice technique, Crosby.”
Sid broke away, laughing, his hands still cupping Anya’s face. “Geno—”
“Go away, Zhenya,” Anya said, extremely irritated to have been interrupted. They had just been getting to the good part.
“No, I want my turn,” Zhenya said, and slid in to kiss Sid with one hand tucked down the back of Sid’s sweatpants, which Anya couldn’t bring herself to object to.
The Penguins won that night. Anya was asleep when Zhenya got home, but he was there beside her in the bed when she woke up in the morning, sprawled out on his back with his mouth open. He had practice later, but it was still early. She had time.
She slid closer and tucked herself against his side, and woke him by kissing his ear and his cheek and trailing her fingers over his soft dick. He stirred and opened his eyes, squinted at her, smiled, hauled her on top of him and got both hands on her ass.
“Morning, tiger,” Anya said, and kissed his cheek again. She loved him, but not his morning breath.
“Mm, good morning to me,” he said, kneading her ass. She arched her neck to give him access, and he took her invitation and started kissing along the line of her throat. “Sid’s in the guest room,” he murmured.
“Oh,” she said, taking in this information.
He grinned against her skin. “Go get him.”
Like it was just that easy.
She brushed her teeth first, and took off her pajamas and underwear. Zhenya watched her undress and said, “Going in naked? That’s a bold tactic, but it’ll probably work.”
“No,” she said. She took her silkiest, slinkiest robe from the closet and put it on, carefully tying the belt around her waist to make sure it wouldn’t slither open on its own. “Men have no sense of subtlety.”
“That’s true, but somehow things have worked out for me so far.” He was leaning back against the pillows, his arms folded behind his head, happy to lounge around and let Anya do all the work, as usual.
She left him there and went to find Sid.
He was in the bathroom down the hall where he kept his toothbrush and razor. Anya followed the sound of running water. The door was open. He was bent over the sink, wearing nothing but his boxer briefs, brushing his teeth. Anya watched from the hallway, admiring the curve of his ass and thighs. Anticipation prickled down her spine.
His eyes met hers in the mirror. “Morning,” he mumbled around his toothbrush.
“Hi,” she said. She tugged on the belt of her robe. The soft panels drooped and fell open. She was all bare to him: her tits that kept getting bigger, her belly that kept getting rounder. It gave her the same feeling as sending him nudes, posing like this for him, inviting him to look.
His hand slowed. He watched her in the mirror.
“Come to bed,” Anya told him, and let the robe slide down her arms and drop to the floor, which she thought was a very nice touch, like something from a movie.
He spat in the sink and rinsed his toothbrush and his mouth. His eyes dragged along the length of her body. “Geno’s there?”
She wasn’t sure if that was an attractor or a deterrent. “Yeah.”
He crouched to pick up the robe and draped it over her shoulders. “Can’t let you get cold,” he said, and leaned in to kiss her.
Love slid through her, frictionless as a sharp knife and just as painful. There he was: her Sid. In the face of her best efforts of seduction, he was concerned about her getting cold.
She held his face in her hands and kissed him fiercely, his minty-fresh mouth. “Come on,” she said, and took his hand, and led him down the hall.
Zhenya was on his phone, but he abandoned it at once when they came in, sitting up in the bed with the covers pooled around his hips. His necklaces were turned around backward. His hair looked like he had been wrestling a cave bear. “You snared him,” he said to Anya.
“Lured,” she said. She dropped her robe again, hopefully for good this time, and went to kiss Zhenya, cautiously at first, and then more deeply when she determined that he had in fact brushed his teeth. His hands slid from her hips to her ass, as always, because he knew what he liked and was very focused on getting it.
“Sid,” Zhenya said. “Come here.”
Anya had never had a threesome. She didn’t want to be in charge here, because all of it was new, and she and Sid were still a little shy with each other in a sweet way that made her stomach clench. She climbed over Zhenya to her side of the bed and nestled down in the covers, burrowing in, and watched as Sid and Zhenya kissed.
She was familiar with their brief hello and goodbye kisses, but she had only seen them kiss like this once before, in Sid’s kitchen the night she got back from Miami. This was kissing as a precursor to sex: Zhenya with his head tipped back, one of Sid’s hands on Zhenya’s throat, thumb stroking over his Adam’s apple. Their mouths were open. She could see Zhenya’s tongue sliding along Sid’s upper lip, shamelessly dirty.
She was reminded of the first time she ever saw them kiss, her first day in Pittsburgh, and how she had felt that she was witnessing something she wasn’t meant to. But she was with them here, and they knew it. Both of them were hers.
Sid straightened and looked at her. His mouth was wet from Zhenya’s mouth. She pushed the blankets down to her waist and watched his gaze drop.
Zhenya lay back and drew Sid down onto the bed.
Anya watched them move together, Sid up on his forearms, his mouth on the tender skin under Zhenya’s jaw. She had pictured this many times, and it was different from her imaginings only in the richness of detail. She could dream up Zhenya’s hands on Sid’s ass, his fingertips dipping into the crease, but not the low hungry noise Sid made as he did it, or the way Sid kept glancing over at her, his mouth on Zhenya’s neck and his attention focused on her.
Zhenya was still partly beneath the covers. Anya slid over, extending her leg until her foot brushed against his calf. She dragged her toes down toward his ankle. He turned to look at her and reached out to sink his hand into her hair and tug her closer. “Nyusha—”
She kissed him. She felt a hand on her shoulder, sliding down toward her wrist: Sid, his breath hot against the side of her face, and she turned her head for his kiss.
They were a warm awkward tangle, too many elbows in a close space. Zhenya sucked on her earlobe as Sid kissed her, making her shiver. Someone’s hand was at her waist. She was tingling and eager for it, whatever came next.
Sid broke the kiss but stayed right there, his mouth against hers. “Do you want to watch us?” he asked quietly.
She flushed warm all over. She did want to watch, but she also wanted to be with them, not just observing. She had spent so long feeling that she was on the outside.
Sid kissed her again, lush and open. When he released her, Zhenya claimed her again, tugging on her hair until she bent her head to kiss him. She was overwhelmed by their kisses and their attention, both of them touching her and wanting her, their big warm bodies beside her. Maybe it would be good to only watch them for a while.
“Yeah,” she said against Zhenya’s mouth. “Let me watch.”
They rolled so that Zhenya was on top. Anya curled on her side, hugging a pillow, close enough to lean in and kiss either of them if she wanted to. The blankets slid halfway off the bed, puddling onto the floor. Zhenya spent some dedicated time on Sid’s neck, kissing and sucking, scraping a little with his teeth. Sid’s legs were locked around Zhenya’s hips, grinding up. Anya watched his hands on Zhenya’s hips, moving him, dragging him in a slow rhythm, and felt herself go molten.
“Okay,” Sid said after a while. He put his arms above his head, deceptively submissive. “Make yourself come.”
Zhenya pushed up onto his hands. They stared at each other, passing some silent message between them. Zhenya glanced at Anya. His expression softened. He leaned in to kiss her, and she held him there with a hand in his hair and sucked on his fat bottom lip.
“Okay,” she said, letting him go. “Do what Sid says.”
“Help him,” Sid said, watching her from the pillow, his head turned, face resting against his bicep. “Get the lube.”
Two pairs of eyes tracked her as she crawled to the other side of the bed to get the lube from the nightstand. She knelt beside them, higher than both of them. Zhenya rolled to one side to let her squeeze lube all over Sid’s abdomen and hard pink cock. Sid watched her the whole time, his arms still above his head. She smeared her hand over all of it and he arched into the touch, her palm sliding over his dick. His nipples and his mouth were the exact same color.
“Okay, that’s good,” Sid said, and spread his legs wide, making room for Zhenya.
She couldn’t see much with Zhenya on top of Sid, crushing him into the mattress. But what she could see was more than enough: the flex of Zhenya’s ass and thighs as he rubbed himself off on Sid, Sid’s head turned toward her, his eyes closed, his face slack with pleasure. She and Zhenya watched porn together sometimes, but this was better, because it was real and private.
Zhenya didn’t hurry. He took his time with it, rolling his hips slowly, his toes digging into the sheets as he moved, his face buried in the crook of Sid’s neck, his arms curled under Sid’s back, holding him close. Anya squeezed her thighs together. She loved seeing him like this, taking his enjoyment from Sid’s body. And she loved seeing Sid let it happen, his eyes opening from time to time to meet hers, and then sliding shut again. She kissed the soft underside of his arm and then his mouth, until he broke away from her to arch beneath Zhenya with a moan.
“Geno,” he said. He moved his arms at last, grabbing Zhenya’s hair with one hand and his ass with the other. “Stop fooling around. I told you to get yourself off.”
Zhenya stopped, his back working as he breathed. Then he pushed up onto his hands to give himself more leverage and started rolling his hips again, faster now. And now Anya could see his cock rubbing against Sid’s hip, and flashes of Sid’s cock, wet and pink.
With his face hidden, Anya hadn’t realized how close Zhenya was. Now she could see his sex flush and his mouth hanging open, his eyebrows drawn together. She slid her hand down his back, damp with sweat. Sid had both hands on Zhenya’s ass, palming him, fingertips digging in, helping him keep a steady rhythm.
“That’s great,” Sid said. He was focused on Zhenya now, watching his face. “Come on, G. Let Anna watch you come.”
Zhenya grunted. His hips moved faster, stuttering, chasing his orgasm. Anya slid one hand between her thighs to press against her clit. She wanted to come, and she didn’t care how it happened, but first she was going to watch Zhenya. She loved how Sid had said that, like they were doing all of this for her pleasure.
“Geno,” Sid said, and then, “Zhenya,” which she had never heard him say, and Zhenya thrust hard and came, shaking through it, his cock spurting over Sid’s abdomen as he groaned.
“That’s good,” Sid said, his hands sliding up Zhenya’s back.
Zhenya dropped his head to press a few light chaste kisses to Sid’s mouth. Then he rolled to the side, sprawling out on the mattress, his dick going soft. He smirked at Anya. “Your turn.”
They were both looking at her now. Her eyes slid over Sid’s body. He was still hard, and his dick was shiny with Zhenya’s come. She felt her pussy clench involuntarily. In one motion, she sat up and straddled Sid’s hips.
He stared up at her. He was pink all across the middle of his face.
“Good, do it,” Zhenya said, his voice heavy with satisfaction and approval.
“Anna,” Sid said quietly. His eyes were fixed on hers. She realized they were having the same kind of silent conversation that she always saw him have with Zhenya.
“Yeah,” Anya said, because some things needed to be spoken.
He took himself in hand. She lifted up onto her knees. After a couple of false starts, they got themselves positioned just right, and she sank down in a toe-curling glide.
The stretch was perfect. There was no friction. She was so wet, and Sid was wet with Zhenya’s come. Fully seated, she rocked back and forth a few times. Sid didn’t go soft. His hands curled around her hips, holding her loosely. She watched his gaze trail from her face to her tits and her belly and down to where she was stretched around him, and back up.
“You’re tormenting him,” Zhenya said.
“Geno, I swear to God,” Sid said, and if Anya had to listen to their squabbling in bed, she was going to murder both of them. She leaned forward to brace her hands on Sid’s chest and started to move.
She loved being on top because she could fuck herself just how she liked, slow and shallow. The smug, awed look on Sid’s face was a delicious bonus. Her eyes kept sliding shut from how good she felt, but every time she opened them again, Sid was looking at her, his eyes hot. Maybe he needed Zhenya’s presence to feel comfortable enough to do this, but she didn’t doubt that he wanted her.
She felt the bed shift as Zhenya kneeled behind her, and she sat up to lean back against him. He gathered her hair in one hand and moved it aside to kiss her neck. “Nyusha, let me help you.”
“Yeah,” she said. She raised her arms to clasp her hands behind his head, arching her back to show off for Sid. Zhenya ran his hands over her breasts and belly, cupping the swell of it as he kissed her ear. Sid’s flush was spreading down his chest. “Help me.”
He teased at her a little, circling his fingers around the base of Sid’s cock, where she was stretched around him. She had no leverage in this position and could only rock her hips helplessly, moving a few centimeters on Sid’s dick and hoping Zhenya would get down to business soon. He didn’t seem to be intentionally teasing, just genuinely invested in exploring the place where she and Sid were joined. She could see that Sid was looking at him now. At last Sid grinned and said, “Okay, come on,” and Zhenya finally moved his fingers to where Anya wanted them.
He kept one hand on the curve of her stomach as he stroked her clit. She rocked her hips into his touch, not moving much but enough to give her that good gliding fullness. Sid’s hands were gentle on her hips. It was easy to close her eyes and let Zhenya hold her weight and get her off: familiar, reassuring. He was there with her to ease her through the strangeness of doing this new thing with Sid.
“You look good,” Sid said in Russian, so softly she could barely hear him. “Anna. I love to see you.”
“Isn’t she beautiful,” Zhenya said, mouthing at her ear, rubbing maddening swift circles. She was clamping hard around Sid’s cock, tensing up to come, and forced herself to relax, to let it go on for longer. “You’ll get to see her come, Sid. That sweet pink little cunt of hers going tight around your dick.”
“Jesus,” Sid breathed, like he could possibly be shocked by the filth Zhenya came up with in bed.
Anya dug her nails into the back of Zhenya’s neck. “I’m close,” she said, tensing again, and this time she didn’t try to stop it.
He slid his fingers down, circling around Sid’s cock again, and when he drew them back to her clit they were wetter, an easy glide as he began stroking her again. She gasped and trembled, and felt him smile against her neck. “Now, Sid,” he said, and Sid’s hands tightened on her hips and he thrust up into her, driving in deep as her orgasm finally crested and she toppled over, crying out, twisting in Zhenya’s arms, coming hard with Sid inside her.
“Christ,” she heard Sid say, dimly.
“Nyusha,” Zhenya whispered to her. His hands were on her stomach, her tits. “Can he come in you?”
“Oh, yes,” she said, and shakily extracted herself from Zhenya’s grasp and leaned forward to lie on top of Sid and kiss his mouth. He clung to her, panting. “Come on, now,” she said, touching his hair. “You’ve been waiting,” and he wrapped his arms around her and drove into her hard, a few rough uneven thrusts that made her sensitive body shudder, before he bit down on her shoulder and groaned and filled her.
He frowned over the mark, later, even though it was hardly anything, and Zhenya left marks on her all the time. “I wasn’t careful,” he said quietly, sitting on the edge of the bed, still naked, his hair rumpled. He smelled like sex and her.
Anya had gotten up to pee and clean up a little, and now she stood before him and smoothed her hand over his wrinkled, worried forehead. “I liked. We had good sex, okay? Don’t worry. Trust me.”
His expression cleared. “I do trust you.” He took her hand and kissed the palm. “I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Stop talking,” Zhenya moaned, face-down on the bed behind Sid. From the whiny note in his voice, Anya could tell he was only half-awake at most. They had all three spent a while tangled together in bed, and letting Zhenya get horizontal after an orgasm was almost guaranteed to lead to a nap.
“You have practice,” Anya said, squeezing Sid’s hand.
“Later,” he said. “We don’t need to leave just yet.”
They got back in bed. Zhenya roused enough to spoon behind Sid with an anguished mutter and slide a possessive arm around Sid’s waist. Anya nestled into the warm cradle of Sid’s arms and pressed her face against his chest, breathing in the smell of him, as close to him as she had ever been to another body.
“Nyusha,” she heard him say, wonderingly, like he could hardly believe his mouth was able to form the sounds.
Zhenya was busy in Nashville, networking and playing the role of hockey star Evgeni Malkin. Anya didn’t see him much except on the ice. She was mostly with Max, who had traveled with them, and she spent a lot of time texting Sid.
She wasn’t naïve enough to think that sex had resolved everything. Sid was still very obviously holding back with her: afraid to screw up, afraid to cross lines. Like she would call the whole thing off if he ever got impatient with her or said the wrong thing. Their entire relationship had been mediated by Zhenya; they were rarely alone. But they would need to be, if they were going to come to know each other the way they would need to, if they were going to be a family.
There was no time like the present. She sent him a few nudes, because she enjoyed it, but she also sent him pictures of Max cheering for Zhenya during the skills competition, and the decadent room service breakfast she ordered for herself and was unable to finish, and Zhenya posing in a pair of Anya’s new maternity panties. In return, she got a picture of Sid’s mom smiling over the top of a hand of cards, and a terrible selfie of Sid on a dock that Zhenya identified as his lake house, the frozen expanse of the lake behind him. Most of the picture was his nose. He didn’t know his angles at all.
It was a shame. He was so handsome, especially when he smiled.
She video chatted with him the morning of the All Star Game, when Zhenya was off reluctantly succumbing to his media obligations. He was wearing one of Zhenya’s sweaters, the too-long sleeves draping down over his hands, and Anya was both pleased and pained by this sign of intimacy. She didn’t know if she and Sid would ever achieve that level of comfort. Zhenya and Sid had known each other for so long, and their shared work bound them together past any cultural differences. Anya and Sid had nothing in common, no shared hobbies or interests, only their love for Zhenya.
But Sid greeted her in Russian and said, “Good to see you. I have missed,” and in his smiling face Anya saw the same hope she felt in her own heart. They were both waiting for this fondness to transmute into love.
Sid was at home, in his lake house, sitting in the kitchen. Over his shoulder, she could see snow-covered trees in the yard. “You like the tour?” he asked, and of course she did, so he walked through the house with his laptop, showing her the family pictures hung in the living room, his fishing gear, the fur-coated bed for his dog, who lived with his parents the vast majority of the time. “She is there now,” he admitted, and Anya laughed.
Upstairs, he showed her the bedroom, his big bed covered in thick dark blankets, and a picture on his bedside table of him and Zhenya wedged together in a too-small chair, Zhenya grinning cheesily at the camera, one arm around Sid’s shoulders.
“We just start dating,” Sid said. “January 2012.”
“How did it happen?” Anya asked. She knew the general shape of the story: they had grown closer while Zhenya was recovering from his knee injury, and Sid had confessed he was interested in men. But Zhenya had always been sparse on the details when it came to anything to do with Sid, like he was afraid of scaring her off by oversharing.
Sid chuckled. She saw him reach out to adjust the picture frame. “He kissed me. A little bit drunk, at his house.”
“Sid,” she said. “When I’m back, let’s spend some time together. Just the two of us.”
He sat on the bed, the computer on his lap, and tilted the screen to show his face. “Like dates,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said. They were in an arranged marriage, in a way. They had entered into it willingly, with open eyes, but like any marriage, it would take work. She needed Sid to show her the worst aspects of his personality, the parts of him that were selfish or unkind. Otherwise they would never truly be at ease with each other.
He exhaled. “When you get back? Tonight?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Late. Since there’s practice tomorrow.”
“Then we have dinner tomorrow,” he said. “No Geno. I cook.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” she said, and they smiled at each other as they ended the call.
Zhenya’s team lost, and he said he didn’t care, because the All Star Game was stupid, but she could tell that he did care to some extent from his silence as they took a car to the airport. She laid her head on his shoulder and watched the lights of Nashville pass by, and he finally pulled himself out of his thoughts to kiss her hair.
“I’m having dinner with Sid tomorrow,” she told him. “You aren’t invited.”
He laughed. “I can feed myself.” He put his arm around her and drew her against his side. After a minute, he said, “I thought I would see more of both of you now, and not less.”
She pushed him away so she could sit up and look him in the eye. “Zhenya, I have to know him, and I can’t do that if you’re around all the time.”
“You know him already,” he said, sulkily enough that he clearly knew he was being unreasonable. He sighed. “What can I do? Can I help?”
“Just give us room and time,” she said. “That’s all.”
He put his arm around her again. “He’s afraid you’ll realize he’s not perfect. He’s so—Anechka, he’s so smitten with you.”
“He’ll have to get over that,” she said, “I’m very demanding and hard to live with.” But his words made her glow with a small secret pleasure.
“No, you’re perfect,” Zhenya said, and she turned into him and let him hold her until the car slowed and came to a stop.
She showered before she went to Sid’s and did her hair and makeup and put on a form-fitting dress. The baby was the size of a papaya, active inside her, and she liked how she looked, the growing curves of her body. She wanted Sid to see.
Zhenya came into the bathroom while she was doing her makeup and watched her apply lipstick with a brush, her favorite red. “You don’t need to impress him, you know.”
She was well aware. She’d had sex with him twice without a shred of makeup on her face. Maybe that was why he hadn’t been able to stay hard. “I like to look nice, can’t you mind your own business?”
He clucked his tongue at her, sounding so much like his mother that she had to smile. “You look nice all the time. Sid isn’t worth this much effort.”
“He’s worth everything,” she said, which was an underhanded move, because Zhenya was a sentimental down pillow of a man and left the room then so he could have feelings in private and maintain his veneer of masculinity. She finished applying her makeup in peace.
She drove to Sid’s. He actually came out of the house to meet her in the driveway and help her out of the car. She was wearing her highest pair of heels and was a little taller than him, probably for the final time before she gave birth; her feet were swelling, and her balance was starting to deteriorate. He looked her up and down and grinned and said, “You and Geno both like making me feel short.”
“Zhenya is too tall,” Anya said, and positioned Sid’s arm so that she could slide her hand through the crook of his elbow.
There was no Russian food this time. Instead he had made some type of stew with a creamy white base. Anya couldn’t identify it at all, but it smelled good.
“Chowder,” Sid said. “Traditional Nova Scotian food. I bought the lobster fresh this morning. Everything’s pregnancy-safe. This is my grandmother’s recipe.” He smiled at her. “I think she would have liked you.”
“Sid,” she said, touched. She knew Sid had been close to his grandmother.
“Well.” He stirred the ladle a few times. “You know. Uh, let’s eat.”
The chowder was a little odd: a creamy potato soup, slightly briny from the seafood. But the lobster was tender and the fish was flaky, and Sid looked so hopeful that she finished her bowl, even after she started feeling pretty full. The baby was taking up a lot of room where her stomach used to be.
They talked in Russian as they ate, which was such a relief to Anya, to be able to say just what she wanted to. Sid had been speaking Russian with her more lately, as her English improved. His vocabulary was still bigger, but otherwise her English was about as good after four months of intensive daily study as his Russian was after four years. It wasn’t a surprise. She spoke English every time she left the house, and he spoke Russian only with Zhenya, and now with her. And she’d had Sid to talk to, a constant willing conversational partner, whereas Sid had only had Zhenya, who mostly spoke English to him.
She wondered which language Sid would speak to the baby. Maybe English, and he would grow up bilingual.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Anya said, mopping up the last of her chowder with the crusty bread Sid had served with the meal. “Tell me—I don’t know. What’s your best childhood memory?”
“The day my sister born,” he said without hesitation. “I am eight years old. And so excited. I held her in the hospital.” He shrugged. “You know.”
She smiled. “I was fifteen when my brother was born. I was very excited, but he was also very loud.”
“Big change,” Sid said knowingly.
He had made dessert, too: blueberries topped with biscuits, served in a cast iron skillet. “This is more of a Cape Breton thing, but. Uh, that’s north of where I’m from. Northeast.”
“Look good,” she said, and it tasted good, too, although she really was too full to eat more than a few bites.
She went into his living room while he was putting leftovers away. He had a well-stocked bar cart, she thought mainly for show, because at home he mostly drank beer. She poured him a generous portion of the same brand of whiskey Zhenya liked to drink, which Zhenya had probably purchased for him, and took it back into the kitchen. He was loading the dishwasher now. She offered the glass to him, and he studied it and her for a moment before he took it from her and downed it.
“Jesus,” he said, sucking his teeth and shaking his head like a nervous horse. “I don’t know how Geno drinks this shit.”
She laughed. Zhenya hated whiskey, but drank it because he thought that was what men did. The rest of the time he drank white wine and sangria.
“Anna Kasterova, are you trying to get me drunk?” Sid asked.
She slid in and tugged his shirt out of his pants. They’d had a nice meal, a nice conversation, and she wanted to talk more, but she also wanted to take him to bed again. She’d been thinking about it so much.
“You need to relax,” she said, and kissed him, open-mouthed and dirty, and then again when he didn’t move. “Let’s go to bed.”
They went upstairs. The bed was made. Anya whipped the duvet to the foot of the bed with a dramatic flourish, and Sid laughed with his eyes crinkled up. Fundamentally she just liked him, and that more than passion or even romantic love was what she counted on to help them build a life together. One day they would be old and wrinkled, lying on lounge chairs in the shade, and her fondness for his goofy laugh would sustain her through all the decades until then. She had chosen him.
She stepped out of her heels and he became taller than her once more. They undressed each other, trading kisses, Sid’s hands gentle on her until their kissing became more heated and he shed some of his caution. Anya was a little nervous again, because it was still so new, but even that was good, a foamy bubbling anxious excitement as Sid unclasped her bra and watched for her reaction.
He settled her on her back on the bed, propped up in a nest of pillows, and drizzled kisses all over her until she was a sensitive squirming mess. He spent a long time alternating between kissing the undersides of her breasts and sucking on her nipples, maddeningly, lingering there long past the point that she was ready for more.
“That’s enough, stop playing around,” she said finally, shoving at his shoulders.
He laughed against her skin. “I enjoy myself. A long time since I’m with women.”
“Oh, so this is all about you,” she said, and he grinned up at her and went back to licking her nipple, undeterred.
He moved on at last to kiss her belly and her hips and suck open-mouthed kisses on the insides of her thighs. She was glowing with it, fizzy, reaching down finally to touch herself, because Sid obviously wasn’t going to. But he caught her wrist and kissed her hand and said, “Let me, ah.”
He eased her over onto her hands and knees. He stroked down her spine and over her ass, down along her thighs toward her knees. “If you don’t like, I stop,” he said, and she still didn’t know what was going on until he used his hands to part her ass and pressed a wet kiss to the top of the cleft.
Anya went down onto her elbows to hide her burning face in her arms. He worked his way down, pausing after each kiss like he was waiting for her to tell him to stop. She didn’t. Her breath came faster. At the first soft touch of his tongue against her hole she cried out without meaning to, her toes curling, and pushed her face into the sheets, already feeling like her body was going to shatter into a million burning pieces.
No one had ever done this for her. She was a little embarrassed, but it felt so good, and Sid didn’t show any inclination to stop, working his tongue against her as she gasped and tried to hold still.
He likes to use his mouth, Zhenya had told her, and blushed about it, and now she knew what he had been referring to.
“Hey,” Sid said, his breath puffing hot against her. “You move, it’s okay. Come on.” He curled his hands around her hips and gently tugged her back against his face, encouraging her to move with him as he licked her in soft short passes. She moaned and gave in, letting her body move how it wanted, rocking back against him so carefully, asking again and again for him to keep going.
She sank into the sensation. She was so wet she felt like she was going to start dripping, liquefying on top of the bed. It went on and on, drawing endless shivering pleasure out of her. Sid seemed content to keep going forever, and for a while she was content to let him, but then it became too much: too intense, almost irritating. “Sid,” she said into the sheets, “please, I’m—”
He didn’t stop, but he slid one hand through her wet swollen folds, his fingertips finding her clit and stroking it roughly. The angle was bad, but she didn’t need much, as worked up as she was. She grabbed his hand and held it in place, grinding forward, and it built and built and she heard herself making a choked noise that was barely human, and she came so hard she felt like she was being squeezed out of herself.
She went limp, ass in the air, chest flat on the sheets. Her pulse roared in her ears.
“Okay?” Sid asked, still behind her. His hands slid over her ass, and her face went hot all over again. Maybe he would fuck her like that. She was primed for it, relaxed and tender, open, and she knew from doing it with Zhenya what it would feel like for him to push inside, the stretch and fullness. But instead the mattress shifted as he lay down beside her and splayed one hand across the small of her back.
Slowly, rubber-limbed, she turned onto her side. His mouth was wet and red, and he looked pleased with himself, as she supposed he deserved to.
“It felt really good,” she said, although admitting it made her blush.
“Good,” he said, smiling. “I like to do.” He tucked her hair behind her ear. He was hard, and she wanted to take care of him. She scooted closer and curled her hand around his dick and kissed his cheek, and he drew in a breath and said, “Anna, I. Maybe can’t.”
She considered him. He was hard in her hand, and stayed that way even when she stroked him slowly. It was all in his head. She pushed him over onto his back and reached across him to open the drawer of his nightstand. She was probably wet enough, but it wouldn’t hurt to have some help.
“Oh, uh,” he said, pushing up onto his elbows beneath her. “You—”
“I’m looking for lube,” she said, smiling to herself at the array of crap in the drawer: tissues, hand lotion, multiple kinds of lube, a pair of handcuffs, several lengths of silk rope, a generously proportioned dildo, and what looked like a pair of Zhenya’s briefs. She extracted the lube she wanted, the same kind she and Zhenya used together, and sat up to straddle Sid’s hips.
He blinked up at her, a furrow between his eyebrows. “Anna—”
“Shh,” she said. She squeezed out some lube into her cupped palm and rubbed her hands together, and reached down to slick his cock. His hips flexed into her touch, and she bit down on a smile. “Let me take care of you.”
She sat on him, his cock flat against his belly and tucked neatly between her labia, and rode him like that, rubbing herself along the length of his dick. It felt good for her, but since she had already come she was focused mostly on his responses. She braced her hands on his shoulders and watched his face as she moved, every flicker of expression.
He watched her in return at first, stroking her flexing thighs, but then his eyes slid shut and didn’t open again. His mouth opened, and his head fell back against the pillow, baring the line of his throat. She watched him grow flushed. His nipples hardened. He started making quiet grunts on every downstroke, as she dragged her pussy down toward his balls. She wished she had her phone to send a picture to Zhenya, but she didn’t know where it was and wasn’t going to stop to look for it.
“You’re still hard,” she said, and he opened his eyes briefly and said, “Yeah, I guess it’s, uh,” and then seemed to forget what he was saying.
He squeezed her hips hard when he started to come, his fingers digging in. She watched him hungrily as his cock jerked between her legs, spilling come across his stomach, his face all twisted up with pleasure. She had done that, she had made him feel that way.
“Jesus,” he said, relaxing back against the mattress, his chest heaving.
She bent down to kiss his cheek and the corner of his mouth. “See? It worked.”
“Yeah,” he said. When she sat up again, he was grinning. “It worked good.”
They cleaned up and got back into bed. Sid spooned behind her and kissed the back of her neck, and after a minute gently placed one hand on her belly. She moved it higher, to where the baby was kicking. “Can you feel that?”
“No,” he said. “A little. He kick?”
“We woke him up,” she said. “He’s punishing me for it now.”
He laughed and kissed her neck again. “Busy.”
They were quiet for a while. Sid stroked her belly in slow circles. The baby kicked and stopped, turned over, stilled. Anya tried to think of what to say. There was no good way to bring it up. Finally she said, “Would you like him to be yours?”
Sid’s hand stopped. “Who?”
She rolled her eyes, glad he couldn’t see her. “The baby. I know we haven’t talked about it. But you’ll be around all the time, and.” She took a breath and forced herself to say it. “Do you want to be his father?”
“I, ah,” Sid said. “What?”
“I know you like children,” she said. “So I thought—I don’t know if you and Zhenya ever considered it. But you’re going to be the baby’s parent, in a way, aren’t you? You can do it with us, if you want to.” She touched his motionless hand. “I’d be so happy if you would.”
“Geno is father,” Sid said.
Exasperated, she turned in his arms, a move that was becoming more difficult as she grew larger. His expression was wary, not the eager joy she had hoped for. Her heart sank.
“I, uh,” Sid said. He rolled onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. When he spoke again, it was in English. “I never really wanted kids. I mean. Don’t get me wrong. I love kids. They’re great. But I never wanted any of my own.”
“But,” Anya said, and touched her belly. How could Sid disentangle himself at this point? Right now the baby was mostly hers, because she was growing him, and a little bit Zhenya’s, because he had helped. But once he was born, he would belong to whoever loved him, and she knew Sid enough to be certain that he would love the baby with everything in him.
“Well, he won’t be mine,” Sid said. “I’ll just be the weird uncle.”
Anya lay there, watching his face in profile, struggling with the powerful emotions that beat inside her, some combination of fear and sympathy and regret. Sid didn’t look at her. As the silence dragged on, her complicated feelings began to distill down to simple dread. Maybe she had asked too much of him, and ruined everything.
At last, Sid said, “I knew this would be a problem as soon as Geno and I got together. I definitely didn’t want kids, and he definitely did, and. There’s no way to get around that. But I guess I thought it would, like. Stop being a problem.” He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “It obviously didn’t. So. I thought I was probably going to lose him.”
“Break up?” Anya asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean. He was starting to make noises about it. Talking about adoption. I could read the writing on the wall.” He sighed again. “So then, with you—if I told him I was okay with it, I would get to keep him. He could have his babies, and I could still have him, and. I decided it was worth it to me.”
Anya’s chest hurt. He made it sound so bleak: something done out of desperation and not openness or love. Maybe it had been, for him. Maybe he still felt that way, even now. She sat up, suddenly desperate to leave the house and the choking atmosphere of Sid’s remembered hopelessness.
Her movement caught his attention, and he sat up, too, and reached for her before she could untangle herself from the sheets. “Anna, wait,” he said, his hands on her shoulders, his face creased with worry. “I’m sorry, I’m just—trying to explain myself, I’m. I don’t feel like that anymore.”
“Okay,” she said warily.
“Listen,” he said. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her hard, his closed mouth pressed firmly against hers. “Please listen to me. I didn’t know what it would be like. But it’s been wonderful. Okay? Getting to know you, getting to—I care about you so much.” He kissed her again, more gently, and when he drew back she was shocked to see tears in his eyes. “You and Geno are the best parts of my life. And it’s all—everything’s turned out great.”
“Sid,” she said. She went up onto her knees and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him close.
He was shaking slightly. She held him until his tremors faded and he let out an unsteady breath. Then she lay down again and pulled him down with her, their heads close together on the pillow. This close, his eyes were at least five different colors.
“You didn’t seem,” she said. “I never knowed. Knew.”
“I didn’t want you to know,” he said. “But I—yeah. I was jealous. I wasn’t thrilled about it. I didn’t want to share him. And it was so hard when you first moved here, because I was used to having him to myself, and—you were living together, and I felt like the third wheel in my own goddamn relationship.”
“Third—wheel?” Anya said.
“Oh, what’s the—fifth wheel on a cart,” he finished in Russian.
“Oh,” Anya said. “I feel, too. Like, ah.” She shook her head. “Sid, don’t make me talk about this in English.”
He smiled at her. “Okay. Russian now. Your turn.”
“When I first moved, I felt so guilty for displacing you,” she said. “Your things were all over his house. I thought, how can he not resent me? But you were so kind.”
“Not your fault,” he said. “I tried to hide. I want to hate you and tell Geno, not her, get rid. But first time I meet you, I liked you.”
“I liked you right away, too,” she said, and watched him smile. “That’s the only reason I moved here.” She touched his face. “You’ve known him for so long. And I worried—I still worry, sometimes. That I’ll always be second best. But that’s the wrong way to think about it, you know? You and him, me and him. It’s all three of us. Like three wheels on a tricycle.”
His eyes crinkled. “Yeah.” Cautiously, he laid his hand on her belly again. “Anna, ah. Maybe—” He broke off, and continued in English. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what it will be like once the baby’s born. And I guess I’m kind of, uh. I guess maybe I’m coming around to the idea.”
Anya’s heart lifted. “Oh?”
“Maybe we can talk about it more,” he said. “What it would be like, if I. If we all did it together.”
“Oh, Sid,” she said, and covered his hand with her own.
“I’ll love him no matter what,” Sid said. “And help you take care of him, and watch him grow up. And the rest of it—well, we can talk about it.”
“Okay,” she said. She might never stop smiling. She touched Sid’s face, his answering smile. The baby was moving again, gently, maybe turning. “That’s all I want. I want you to love my baby and my husband, and be with us always.” She drew a breath. “And me, if you’ll have me.”
“Nyusha, I will love you,” he said, and held her in his arms until she was done crying.
She spent the night in his bed, for the first and probably not final time. They ate breakfast together in the morning before he left for the rink. She cooked while he was still upstairs, getting dressed and setting out his suit for later. She knew where almost everything was.
She didn’t want to interfere with his game day routine, but he seemed content to let her sit at the table with her feet on his lap and eat most of his marmalade while he read the news on his phone. “Geno says he’ll pick me up,” he said. “I think it’s just an excuse to see you.”
“He see me later,” Anya said, because he would be home to eat lunch. They would be apart for less than twelve hours.
“Well, he loves you,” Sid said. “He got lonely.” He grinned. “I bet he’s jealous.”
“Good,” Anya said, with satisfaction. She would look forward to a large delivery of flowers later that same day. She knew how Zhenya operated.
Sid grinned wider and went back to his phone. “High of 17 tomorrow,” he said a minute later. “Warm.”
“Mm,” Anya said. She dipped her knife into the marmalade jar again. “You like the name Pavel?”
He glanced up. “Uh, what?”
“Zhenya and I, we need to pick the name for the baby,” she said. “Maybe like, it’s easy for Americans. Not Vladislav, you know?”
He shook his head. “Or Evgeni.”
She laughed. “Yeah. Or Evgeni.”
“You’ll think of something,” Sid said, and went back to his phone.
In the game that night, Sid scored a hat trick, and Zhenya pulled his hamstring and would probably be out for a while. They came home together in a mess of emotions: Zhenya in pain and frustrated and proud of Sid, and Sid worried about Zhenya but high from the win. Anya made sandwiches and took them both to bed, and in the morning she consoled Zhenya by sucking his dick so thoroughly that he was asleep again two minutes after he came.
Sid was downstairs, making breakfast. He kissed her absently, frowned, kissed her again, and then grinned and said, “You’ve been busy, eh?”
“He’s sleep now,” Anya said smugly, and Sid laughed aloud and smacked her ass and said, “One egg or two?”
Sid went to Florida for back-to-back away games, and Zhenya stayed home to rehab and drive Anya up the wall with his surliness. Sid came for dinner the night after he got back, and after they were done eating and were just sitting around the table bickering about whose turn it was to do the dishes, Sid took a piece of paper out of his pocket and said, “I’d like to show you something.”
Anya immediately went on high alert, but Zhenya only shrugged and said, “Okay, what?”
“I, uh.” Sid cleared his throat. “Anna was talking about baby names, so. I made a list of some Russian names that are easy for English speakers to say.”
He offered the paper. Zhenya took it from him and unfolded it. Sid had written out the names in Cyrillic, and Anya’s heart melted, as always, to see his awkward handwriting. Some of the names were too old-fashioned, but some of them were good. Anya rested her chin on Zhenya’s shoulder as they studied the list.
Zhenya lifted his free hand and ran his finger beneath one of the names, and glanced at Anya.
She held his gaze and smiled, speaking to him without words.
“Nikita,” Zhenya said. “I like.”
Zhenya and Sid won the Stanley Cup in June, two weeks after Anya had the baby; and four days before she gave birth, the day after the Penguins won the Eastern Conference Final, she and Zhenya got married.
They didn’t tell Sid about their plans. They took Zhenya’s parents with them as witnesses and drove to the courthouse for a brief, private ceremony, just the four of them and the judge. They exchanged rings and kissed. It was a formality, a precursor to their real wedding in Moscow, with all of their friends and family. Anya hadn’t expected to have any feelings about it. But she did cry a little, watching Zhenya smile at her, wearing one of his game day suits, as proud and tender as Anya had ever seen him. Her dear love, the father of her child, and now her husband.
Afterward, they went to Sid’s. He wasn’t expecting them. He was out in the yard, roaming around talking on the phone, the way he liked to, but he ended his conversation when Zhenya pulled into the driveway, and came over to help Anya out of the car. She was so hugely pregnant that she could barely move. The dress she had worn to the courthouse was the same shape and fabric as a tent.
“You guys are dressed up,” Sid said lightly, but she could see him piecing things together.
“Sid, let’s go inside,” Zhenya said.
Sid had grown touchingly solicitous of Anya over the past couple of months, as she became enormous and immobile. Zhenya’s fussing irritated her, but Sid wasn’t bossy about it, and she contentedly went along with nearly everything he suggested, to Zhenya’s eternal disgust. Sid ushered her into the house now and settled her on the couch in the den, and brought her a glass of water and a plate of fresh sliced peaches, which she accepted happily. She was hungry all the time.
“They’re good,” Sid told her. “I had one this morning.”
“Why you fuss? You don’t think I take care?” Zhenya said grouchily from where he was still lurking in the doorway. “She’s my wife.” Then he shot a guilty look at Anya.
Sid noticed. “Oh,” he said. He had sprawled out on the couch beside Anya, but now he shifted to sit up straight. “You, uh. You went today?”
“Yeah,” Anya said. “Zhenya—”
Zhenya shook himself out of his stupor and reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. In the same motion, he took a few steps forward and went down on one knee at Sid’s feet.
“Geno,” Sid said, tense, pale, staring.
“Shut up,” Zhenya said. He took the ring box from his jacket and opened it. The ring gleamed against the dark velvet: a simple gold band, to match the ones Anya and Zhenya wore now. They had purchased all three at the same time.
“We couldn’t take you with us today,” Anya said. “But you were with us in our hearts, like you always are.”
Zhenya dropped down to his other knee and shuffled forward until he was between Sid’s splayed legs. “Sid,” he said. He clasped Sid’s forearm with the hand that wasn’t holding the ring box. “I’m asking you to marry me.”
Sid said nothing. Anya watched him blinking and swallowing and knew he was trying not to cry. She set the plate on the side table and heaved her body over to reach down and take the box from Zhenya’s hand.
Sid mutely extended his right hand and spread his fingers to let her slide on the ring. He gazed down at it, that shining metal. In itself, it meant nothing. It was jewelry; it was a piece of rock extracted from the earth. But from Sid’s continued silence, Anya knew that it meant everything to him.
“Sorry,” he said at last. “I’m a little,” and his voice cracked then, and he didn’t go on.
“I want to love you until I die,” Zhenya said. “Please let me.”
Sid made a quiet broken noise and leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees and cover his face with his hands. Anya leaned against him and put her arm around his back and sat with him through it, everything he was feeling. After a moment, Zhenya joined them on the couch, on Sid’s other side.
Later, after Sid had gone to wash his face, and Anya and Zhenya had a brief whispered argument about who got to kiss him first, which Anya won, and Anya managed to waddle out to the back yard to sit with them as they drank celebratory beers, they talked about simple things. The corn Sid wanted to grill for dinner. Anya’s brother’s new girlfriend. Whether Sid’s pool was warm enough to swim in yet.
“I’ve got privacy bushes,” he told Anya. “You don’t even need to wear a bikini. Just hop in naked.”
“Yes, you like,” she said, smirking at him, and he grinned and shared a look with Zhenya that she pretended not to see. She wasn’t letting either of them touch her until the baby was out of her. They could tend to each other.
The conversation wound down after a while. Anya got up to do a lap around the patio, because sitting in one position for too long was uncomfortable. When she turned back toward Sid and Zhenya, they were both watching her with matching expressions of love and happiness that made her forget all about her swollen feet and aching back.
She kissed both of them, Sid first and then Zhenya, and reclaimed her seat between them.
Sid reached over to take her hand. “What is this?” he asked. “I don’t know the word for what we are.”
“A marriage,” Anya said.