As Geno drove me over to the arena, I could tell he was lost in thought, brooding Russian thought. He wasn't talking to me, but I knew what was going through his head.
I didn't think that it was fair for Oksana to tell Evgeni that she didn't want him to learn English. As a big-name player in the National Hockey League, he needed to have a good English basis for his job so he could hold his own in interviews and understand the coaches and other players. But I can certainly understand that she was feeling incredibly insecure that Geno would find someone in Pittsburgh to keep him warm at night while she was still in Russia. She had her divorce to straighten out before she could think about staying with Geno for an extended period of time.
After all, so many of the players' girlfriends or wives had to travel to stay with their men. I hated living one county over; I can't imagine what it would be like for her to live across the world.
Like I said, though, I didn't know Oksana. I could tell from our first meeting that she was possessive of her boyfriend. Really, I wasn't much different though. I freaked when Lynne kissed Sidney. I don't know how I would react if something like that happened again, so I'm sure Oksana was worried about her relationship and if Geno would grow away from her if he didn't need to rely on the fact that she was Russian. But she looked like a blonde Angelina Jolie, so I didn't think she'd have to worry about Evgeni leaving her for a prettier girl.
We got the arena around five thirty, and Geno silently headed for the dressing room, still battling with himself about what he should do. I wished him good luck for the game and told him to just follow his heart, and he turned around, waved, and smiled at me before disappearing. I hung out in the lounge with Véro, Kelsey, and Heather while we waited to take our seats, and as we passed the time I itched to knock on the dressing room door and talk to Sidney. I wouldn't, because I didn't want to screw up his routine or his focus, but I wanted to make sure he was feeling okay and not too stressed out about the game, as well as talk to him about what arrangement he had come up with Geno about paying me. Sure, I knew Sidney meant well, but he shouldn't have messed with what I was arranging with Geno, especially when it came to the financial aspect. Hadn't we gone through this before? Didn't he learn the first time that I didn't like his input when it came to money?
Unfortunately, it didn't look like I would get to have this talk with him after all, because the Pens lost again, to the Rangers. Sid got an assist, but it didn't matter to him. The Girlfriends and I waited for a lot of the crowd to file out of our section before we fought our way to the lounge.
"Hey, V," I said, pulling her off to the side so it was just the two of us. "This was a long time ago, but do you remember when you said you had trained Marc to leave the disappointment of losses at the rink?" I looked down at my feet, suddenly embarrassed to ask for help. "Um, how did you do that?"
"So, I take it Sidney's not been his usual, jovial self?" I shook my head. "He's always taken the losses hard. But it's ten times worse with the guys who are waiting to hear about the Olympics. These months at the beginning of the season really determine who gets invited to Team Canada. I know Marc's worried about it, so I'm sure Sid's just extra worried, too."
I kicked myself. I had completely forgotten about the Olympics. This was a chance for Sidney to represent his country, and the games were being held in Vancouver, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I could understand that Sidney was worried about impressing the coaches and staff so he could be ultimately selected for the team, but who were we kidding? Of course Sidney Crosby was going to be picked. He was as close to the perfect player as possible, and what he wasn't perfect at, he worked diligently toward improving. The youngest captain in the NHL to hoist that shiny Cup over his head. Barring catastrophe or injury, he'd play.
"When he got home last night, he just fell into bed, and then he couldn't even sleep. I know that losing bothers him, but it's like he's letting it consume his life. It just hurts me to see him take it so hard."
"You and Sid will find a way to overcome it. I mean, each relationship is different, and I know you guys will figure out how to handle the losses together. With Marc, it was getting his mind away from the ice, so I would just distract him and talk about something fun until he felt better. It may or may not work with Sid."
"Well, thanks," I said, even though V didn't really help, but she was right. Sidney and I would find what would work for us.
It took Sidney a while to come out and meet me, and the night proceeded similarly to Wednesday: he was very quiet, he stormed by to pick up a DVD of the night's game, and then drove us home. Once we were inside, he plopped on the couch and began watching the game. I shook my head but left him alone. What was I supposed to say to him?
In the morning, I found him in the same position. It was obvious that he was going to watch that damn thing until the answer to their losing streak magically came to him. He was obsessing, and that both saddened and angered me. "Hey Sid, let's do something today." He grunted in response, and I lost it. "You can't do this, Sid. You can't complain to me about how we never get to see each other, and then sit here and watch game tape all fucking day. Did you even sleep at all last night?"
Finally, Sidney diverted his eyes from the screen. "Don't do that. I owe it to the team to find out what we're doing wrong. We play the Rangers again on Monday, and we need to beat them this time. So don't try to guilt me into feeling bad for ignoring you. I just need to... focus."
"I'm not trying to guilt you. That's not what this is about. I appreciate your dedication, but you need to put this aside and just keep me company for a while, just to get your mind off it for a while. Don't dwell on it, because that's not going to help anyone."
"You don't understand," Sidney said, shaking his head, like just because I didn't play hockey, I'd never get it.
"You're not helping me understand, either. You're walling off and keeping me out. I don't know what you want from me."
He ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know. I want you to be here, but I want some time to concentrate on what went wrong during the game."
"Fine," I said. "Let me know when you're done, because we need to talk." I left him in the living room and trotted up the stairs to the second floor. Sid's house was big enough that I had the space to get away from him, but I still felt like I was surrounded by his presence. I walked into his office, which was impersonal and generally unused. I pulled out my cell phone, needing some sort of distraction.
But I wasn't sure who to call. Eva was pulling a double shift, Max was always busy with Charlotte anymore, Megan was on a spa weekend with Nat, and I had just talked about this with V last night, so I knew she wouldn't want to hear about it again. Continuing to scroll through my contacts, I found someone friendly who might not mind the chat.
"Hello?" I heard on the line.
"Hey, Evgeni. I just wanted to check in on you, and see if you picked your new English word for the day."
"Hold on, I go see." I listened as papers shifted and adjusted and then as he tried to pronounce it. "Laconic."
"Do you know what it means?"
"Right," I said, laughing to myself because I knew he was reading it straight out of the dictionary. "That is a very fitting word to begin with, because your responses in interviews used to be laconic. But once you know English better, you'll be able to give long answers."
Geno paused before finally saying, "Oh. I get it."
"Make sure you use it in a sentence when you talk to someone."
"Hey, Noelle. My laconic—"
"No. When you talk to someone else. I don't count," I laughed. "Nice try, though." We chatted for a few more minutes before he told me he had to go. I said my goodbye and thought that it was almost a shame he wanted to improve his communication skills. Half of his charm rested in his broken English and piecemeal sentences.
"What did you want to talk about?" When Sid spoke up, I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"Jesus, Sid. I didn't know you were standing there!"
"Sorry," he apologized sheepishly. "I didn't want to interrupt you while you were on the phone. You were talking to Geno?"
"Yeah. Just checking up on him. How long were you there?"
"The whole time. Um, you said that we needed to talk?" he continued. I knew he was stressed. No one likes to hear those four dreaded words: we need to talk.
I sighed. "Yeah. Listen, Evgeni paid me yesterday, and I know you had your hand in that."
He shrugged. "Geno insisted. I told him that you wouldn't like it, but he can be very determined and stubborn."
"So you didn't tell him to do it?"
"Absolutely not! I think I know you well enough by now to know that would be a bad idea," he chuckled. "Geno asked what I thought, and I told him that even though it was his idea, you wouldn't accept payment. But, like I said, he insisted." I nodded and allowed a small grin to creep upon my face. At first, I had thought that Sidney had discussed this with Evgeni; I was glad to hear that he didn't encourage Geno's idea for compensation. "Is that what you were so upset about?"
"Well, yeah. It's just that you kept pushing me to do this, and you said that you thought he would pay, so I thought it was all your idea." Sidney smiled at my comment but didn't say anything, so I continued. "I'm sorry that I jumped to that conclusion. But I'm really glad that you came up here to talk to me. I thought your ass was growing roots into that couch cushion."
Sidney smiled a little, but he was still serious when he said, "It's my job, Nelly. Before I met you, all I did was think about hockey. And I can't let myself get too distracted from what I have to do, and that's win games."
"I know, Sid. And I don't ever want to interfere with that. But I do know that staying up all night and ruminating on a loss isn't going to help. You need to use the day off to relax and unwind, so you can be prepared to focus on the ice tomorrow."
"I don't know what I need to do. On Wednesday, I thought I saw what went wrong. We were just inconsistent, we didn't get to our game. But last night, it just... fell apart." My heart sank. Sidney wasn't giving his automatic, prepared answers. He was truly confessing to me that he didn't know what facet of the team had malfunctioned last night. "I feel bad that I'm looking forward and thinking about the Olympics while my team is suffering. Pittsburgh should come first, but then I think about playing for Canada in Canada."
That's when it hit me. As captain, he was supposed to focus on what was best for the Penguins. But he was just one of a plurality of great players vying for a spot to play in Vancouver in 2010, and he needed to do everything he could to show he deserved to be invited to that team. Those two facts were contradicting each other, and he didn't know what to do. Any other year, he'd focus on his team. But the Olympics? That was an experience he wanted to have under his belt. Canadians were so steeped in the traditions of the sport, and Sidney just wanted to take part in that.
I didn't know what to say. So I did the only thing I could think of, and that was to walk over to him and grab a hold of him. I pulled him into a hug and let him pull me against him, using me like a teddy bear or security blanket for comfort. My hands reached up to the back of his neck, where his brown curls flipped in different directions. My fingers tousled his hair, and I just hoped that being here for him was enough, because otherwise, I was clueless about how to help him.
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago