Thanks for the comments ladies, I love reading what you have to say! With that said, I hope you guys like this chapter, I definitely took your input to heart. I know that it's short-ish but I keep writing, re-writing then deleting chapters that I finally got fed up with myself and posted this thing.
By the end of the first period, I was beginning to grasp the concept of communicating verbally and physically. Hand gestures had become my friend as I fought tooth and nail to be courteous to the Malkins and not appear rude at the same time with my idiotic signalling.
It was almost easy as long as the game was going, it just got sticky when there were longer breaks or worse, a longer break during the time between periods. As if the hockey gods could read my frantic mind, the whistles and buzzer blew loudly signalling that a majority of people in the arena would be migrating outside to refill their nacho and beer supplies. Despite my natural aversion to any form of fake cheese and cheap beer, I almost wished that I was one of those people, simply going to get munchies.
"Evgeni play well, yes?" Mr. Malkin leaned over conversationally to address both me and his wife. I had done my research about the Malkins that day at work and discovered that they hadn't been able to get around Pittsburgh last year without an interpreter because they didn't speak English. Judging from Mr. Malkin's short English, at least one of them must have been trying to learn over the past year.
I nodded along not really sure what else to do except agree with them. He had scored once already and was skating smoothly and creating scoring chances. Of course I would have said all of these things if I was sure that they could understand me.
We sat in silence for a few more minutes while I weighed my options in my head. Finally, it hit me what I needed to start doing.
It really didn't matter at this point if they could understand every nuance of my native language. I certainly didn't understand their language but still, they were here with me and they were trying to understand everything around them including me- this random girl that was suddenly dating their son. All for their son who had miraculously found himself here in Pittsburgh. Geno was trying, his parents were obviously trying and what was I bringing to the table so far? Not a whole lot except my fear of failure at this and my relationship with Geno.
I was only going to have this one chance to make an impression on his parents and whether it all worked out in the future or not, this was what they were going to remember of me. At this point, I could either give them good things to say about me when they returned to Russia or continue to give them bad things to say.
With this new incentive burned in my brain, I began to talk. I talked to his parents like I would any one else that I was comfortable with, keeping in mind that I didn't want to scare them off completely either. I figured that as long as I tried to be myself, they would be able to judge what kind of person I was- regardless of the language barrier.
I wasn't sure how they reacted initially as I began to talk and treat them like I would any other person I knew in my life. I could tell that Mrs. Malkin was skeptical of my sudden mood swing but Mr. Malkin reacted with reciprocated kindness that I was now eternally grateful for. We obviously couldn't understand everything that we were trying to say but he smiled at me kindly and patted my hand gruffly with his large, rough hand as if he knew what I was going through.
Behaving more like myself opened my eyes up to details that I wouldn't have otherwise noticed. Like how Geno, or Evgeni as his parents called him, was a nearly perfect combination of his parents features. He was much taller than both of them but I saw the other pieces of his face split between them in a reassuring harmony.
I also noticed how Mrs. Malkin kept a close eye on me and my actions throughout the rest of the game in a way that Mr. Malkin wasn't. I wasn't stupid though, she was just being protective of her son and trying to figure me out. I wondered if it had anything to do with Oksana and the fact that I was pretty much her complete opposite. Instead of a skinny blonde, she was now faced with a much curvier brunette and an American nonetheless. From what I knew about Russian society, I knew that Russians were brought up to marry and breed with other Russians. They certainly didn't marry American girls with committment problems. At least not that I knew of.
I kept up my cheerful facade through the rest of the game but I was incredibly relieved when the final buzzer rang, signalling the end of the game. Thankfully, the Pens had won 3-1 without the game dragging into overtime.
We waited a few minutes for the crowds to clear out a little bit before we gathered up our stuff and I led them through the crowds as discretely as possible to the elevator that would take us back down to the lounge and locker room. The Malkins attracted quite a few stares and calls as we walked down the hall and I tried to keep my head down so people would ignore me. Geno and I had been reluctant to make our relationship more public because of the way fans had treated Oksana even if I still felt like she deserved the trash talk that she had gotten. If people saw a new woman leading the Malkins around, who were verified local celebrities, then it was bound to raise questions.
In the elevator Mr. and Mrs. Malkin talked quietly in Russian and were so absorbed in their conversation that I had a few seconds to compose myself and breathe a sigh of relief at having made it through the game with them. I no longer cared if it made me feel childish and needy- I just wanted to get to Geno at this point so he could reassure me that his parents liked me.
Stepping out of the elevator into the brightly lighted rooms that were for the players and coaching staff, I waved hello to a few players that weren't being bothered by press.
I wasn't very tall but I spotted Geno's head practically towering over the other players as he stood half dressed but still in his skates. He looked way to serious for a guy who had just played a great game and had even posted a goal to the score board. He hadn't seen me yet and if he hadn't already been dripping in sweat and the other various liquids that clung to his equipment, I probably would have jumped him in relief.
Rather than risking my personal hygiene, I settled for wading through the crowd and stopped behind him where he was bent over un-lacing his skates. I took a second just for myself to admire the muscles working in his back as he performed the simple task of un-tying his skates and relaxing his tired body.
I lost patience when he straightened and continued to strip with his back to me. I really had to get his attention soon and get him to his parents and also give him a quick pep talk for the interview that he had agreed to earlier.
"Geno! Your woman's behind you!" Abruptly he turned around before I got the chance to surprise him. Dupuis, and his surprisingly big mouth, beat me to the punch by getting his attention before I could.
"Hey" he breathed out smiling instantly at me. His eyes crinkled at the corners in his natural smile as he stepped forward to kiss me on the cheek, careful to avoid getting me sweaty. At this stage in our relationship, he was well-versed in my "don't touch me while you're sweaty" rule and obeyed it as long as I gave him a warning look each time.
"Your parents are waiting outside," I told him unabashedly admiring his muscular chest. For as lanky as he seemed in clothes sometimes, up close in personal he was all muscle. "Are you going to come out too?"
He shrugged and wrapped a towel around his chest. "I have interview" he reminded me as if I was the forgetful one. The shit-eating grin on his face told me that he wasn't actually eager to do the interview, he just enjoyed torturing me by leaving me with his parents for long periods of time.
"Go" I told him picking up his shirt and shoving it into his chest. "I'll go babysit them again."
"Baby-sit?" he repeated the word slowly as if he had never heard it before. I didn't bother to explain and marched out of the locker room so I could let his parents know that their son would be a little while longer. And that he was an ass.
When I returned to the lounge, both Mr. and Mrs. Malkin were sitting cozily on a couch and chatting with Sergei Gonchar. They looked to be engrossed in whatever they were discussing and Gonchar still hadn't warmed up to me yet. He hadn't exactly made it a secret that he didn't like me and it worried me that he could be telling Geno's parents anything right now and I would never know because they were speaking in Russian.
"Hey Ava, we need you over here a for a sec." A trainer that I had been introduced to once before waved me back into the locker room and pointed to where Alex Goligoski was dutifully giving his interview to a broadcaster that I didn't recognize. A warning bell went off in my head as I watched them and I tried to mentally scan through my list of broadcasters that were allowed exclusive access into the Pens' locker room. Not only did Alex now look uncomfortable but he had spotted me and was looking to me for help.
"Excuse me," I stepped forward getting the attention of a camera crew member. "Can I please see your press badge?" The camera guy looked at me like I was a bug to be crushed and ignored me.
"I'm serious" I stated letting my irritation creep into my voice. I pulled out my own credentials and pushed them into his face knowing that I was acting obnoxious. "If you're not approved, then you can't be here and I don't think that you're approved."
The camera guy started to respond when another voice interrupted us. "Okay, what's going on? You're ruining my interview." The unknown interviewer was also eyeing me like a bug to be crushed. It only pissed me off more that he looked like a musclehead who was used to getting what he wanted- especially from women.
"I want to see your press pass" I repeated watching Alex visibly relax behind the musclehead. Whatever this guy had been asking him about, it had obviously been out of line because the normally infallible defensemen could handle anything- including huge men barrelling towards him on skates.
The musclehead didn't answer me and it confirmed my suspicions. There were tons of smaller media outlets and sports bloggers always trying to find ways to interview athletes. They tried like hell to get into locker rooms where there was always a good story to be told and in this job, they were the bane of my PR existence. Somehow this guy had gotten into the locker room where he wasn't supposed to be and who knew what trash he was planning to report.
"No press pass, no access to this locker room buddy" I told him trying to rile him more. If he got angry with me, then I would have even more reason to kick his ass out. "Did I mention that I administer the passes myself?"
The hand holding his mike lowered and he snarled at his crew to stop rolling tape. For such an anonymous group of "journalists," they did have some pretty fancy equipment. I looked around and felt my face flush even more when I noticed how many people were staring at us.
"Get the hell out of my locker room gentlemen" I told them pointing towards the doorway. Since there was never really any need for security down in the locker room area, it looked like I was going to have to personally escort these guys from the area to make sure they got out of the building. I felt like the angry Mama bear protecting the reputation of her cubs and the situation was only made worse when I saw that Geno had found his parents and the three of them were watching me escort the intruders out the door in open astonishment.
I tried to pretend like I hadn't really seen them and I winked at Alex who was still hovering nearby and followed the improptu camera crew out the door. I thought I heard a "Go, Ava!" from Max Talbot's direction.
As I marched out the door, I laughed at the cat calls of the boneheads disguised as athletes and began to feel less embarrassed and more empowered. I continued to laugh to myself as I located the arena guards and let them finish removing the intruders from the building. Sometimes it felt really good to be kickass at my job.