After not writing in forever... here is a new post! My only excuse is that I'm now in Grad School and I don't have a life anymore and it doesn't exactly leave me time for writing. But one of my New Year's resolutions was to finish this story. So hopefully I can get there and finish this up! This is sort of a transition chapter because I had to go back and re-read parts of my own story to remember what I had been planning.
As always, thank you for still reading this!
I woke up the following morning feeling achy but sated. One arm was tingling beneath the weight of Geno's head but I didn't care; not when I was feeling so cozy and at peace tucked against his side. In my previous relationships, the start and end of the honeymoon period passed before I even noticed what had happened. What amazed me now was that I didn't feel like a honeymoon period ever happened in this relationship and to me, that was perfect. In place of the honeymoon, it felt like Geno and I had seamlessly slid into something complicated but real. It was so real that it was enough to cause varying levels of fear and joy in me every single day.
Geno's sudden yawn and readjustment of his leg over my hip stirred me from my daydreaming. Not that I minded being his person version of a body pillow.
"What time?" he mumbled sleepily. I tried to lift my head to see the bedside clock but couldn't see beyond his head or the pillow beneath it.
"I don't know. I can't see past your big head." My comment was made teasingly and he instantly picked up the baton and ran with my invitation to banter. My giggling was suddenly muffled as he rolled his body over mine and pressed me further into the mattress.
"See now?" he said grinning down into my face. Before I could respond, he began to kiss along my eyebrows and nose, distracting me even more from our objective.
"Geno, we can't" I half-smiled and whined, instantly picking up on what he wanted to do. It was as if my body had a siren for when he wanted to get frisky and my bells were ringing at full alarm.
"What?" he replied innocently even as his hand was creeping halfway up my t-shirt.
"You have a game tonight and I need to get to my office."
"We have time." I laughed knowing that we probably didn't have time and that this was his last ditch effort to get some in the morning. He may not have been a believer in the 'no-sex before a game' rule but I was and I certainly wasn't about to be responsible for his poor performance in a game. Unfortunately my next refusal was blocked by his exploration of my weak spot on my neck.
"Not fair" I mumbled even as my traitorous body moved to better serve his lips.
I was re-considering the amount of time we had when I heard a few quiet knocks on our door. "Oh my god, someone's at the door." With a strength I didn't know I had, I managed to shove Geno off of me and scrambled to right the t-shirt I was wearing.
Geno called out in Russian and suddenly the door opened revealing a smiling Mrs. Malkin. When she called out cheerfully in Russian, Geno translated for me.
"She say 'good morning.'"
"Morning" I called out in response even though I was dying of embarrassment. Apparently neither of them thought anything of Geno and I in the same bed. I considered myself a modern woman but that didn't mean I was ready for Mrs. Malkin to walk in and make assumptions about what we were or were not doing at night. Geno obviously didn't feel the same way. In his obnoxiously unique way, he yawned and stretched throwing his left arm around me and tugging me into his side.
"She asked if you're still taking her to game tonight."
"Of course" I replied, pausing a moment to allow Geno to translate. The back and forth from English to Russian was starting to mess with my head. Mrs. Malkin could muddle her way through a conversation in English but obviously preferred to speak in her native tongue. For the umpteenth time since last night, I wondered how I was going to survive an entire game's worth of conversation with her tonight.
"Is anyone else sitting with us tonight?" I poked Geno in the side causing him to flinch and rub his side.
"What do you mean?" He retaliated by poking me back in the side.
"I mean, how am I going to talk to your Mom all night? And where are we sitting?"
"Nervous?" He asked grinning. In a playful move, he pushed me back against the pillows again and swung a leg over my legs holding me in place beneath him.
"Of course I'm nervous! What if we have nothing to talk about? What if we can't talk at all!"
Geno interrupted my tirade with laughter and placed a kiss on my cheek. "You be fine, just talk about me and my goals."
"You're not that great" I teased linking my arms around his broad shoulders and sighing. Even though I was beyond nervous to sit with his Mom at the game, Geno had this way of eliminating my doubts and making them seem foolish. Maybe it was because his thick accent still made me thiInk of him as a Cold War spy. Or maybe it was because I was obsessed with his big broad shoulders and couldn't get enough of the cute shrugging thing he did when giving interviews. I was never going to advise him to stop doing that in interviews.
"You thought I was great last night" he grinned gently rubbing his hips against mine and looking smug. "How many times did I hear you yell it last night?"
His reminder was enough to light my face on fire and make me burrow against his neck. "I'm still embarrassed about that. Do you think we can have sex at my apartment from now on?"
"What?" Geno looked at me like everything he ever said always made sense. "They know we have sex."
He wasn't helping the situation and I tried to muscle him off of me so I could finally go shower. Leaving him laughing in bed, I flipped him off while dragging my tired body into the bathroom for my normal routine. There was something so wrong about having to go to work on a Sunday but then again, nothing was conventional about the hockey world. Players, staff members and families all had to endure the stress and long hours of a full season and if they were lucky, the post-season. By the time that I was showered, spritzed and dressed, I was already thumbing through the emails on my phone and debating whether or not to offer Crosby up as interview bait that night. The game was being broadcast on NBC that night and all of the players hated having to do interviews with national broadcasters. Since Crosby was the most seasoned interviewee out of all of the players, he was the usual sacrificed player; plus he was who the nation wanted to hear talk. At the same time, it was good to give other less-known players some exposure. I was still considering my options when Geno poked his head through the bathroom door.
"Hey" Geno greeted interrupting my debate. "Ride with me to the rink?"
I nodded distractedly still mulling over my interview plans for the day. The team was playing Boston and both teams would have a huge number of fans watching at home.
"What wrong?" Geno asked following me downstairs and into the kitchen. We both paused to greet his Mom and remind her of the plans for the night. To save me the trouble of leaving the arena, picking her up and battling through traffic back to the arena, Geno had arranged for a car service to pick her up and bring her to the Consol.
"Nothing" I replied, leaning around him to pop an english muffin into the toaster. It was quiet for a moment while we listened to the soft ticking of the toaster and the sounds of his parents moving around upstairs. My phone buzzed twice indicating that I had a new text message- probably from someone at the office.
My muffin sprang up indicating that it was done but Geno grabbed it before I could put it on a plate.
"Thanks" he grinned slathering peanut butter and jelly on two sides before unceremoniously smushing the muffin together.The fact that he knew that was my favorite only made me more indignant.
"That's mine!" I said trying to grab it out of his hands. Geno easily had a foot on me in height without my heels and I jumped up trying to reach the muffin that he was now dangling over my head."You're such a bully" I said now glaring into his gleeful face. He obviously found this funnier than I did.
"You want some?" he taunted, obviously trying to get even more of a rise out of me. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize the look in his eye and soon found my mouth full of english muffin before I could think about what he was up to.
He burst out laughing at the horrified expression on my face as I tried to chew and swallow the sticky mass of peanut butter and jelly in my mouth. "You're mean" I accused him as soon as I could talk again. I tried to formulate the words necessary to communicate "screw you" but my mouth was too full of sticky peanut butter.
"Baby" he taunted pulling me into his arms. He pulled me up on my toes for a kiss and that's how his Mom found us a minute later, still liplocked and tasting each others' breakfast. She smiled brightly at us and for the second time that morning I was embarrassed about the amount of intimacy his parents were witnessing.
The level of intimacy in our relationship was still something I was adjusting to in general. No one would guess that the 6'4" lanky man in front of me was capable of so much affection on a daily basis but he was easily the most open and affectionate man I had ever known or dated. In the beginning of our relationship I could remember almost flinching when he casually touched me or brushed a lock of stray hair from my face. Now it felt weird for him to not be around and doing those things. Even though the dynamic of our relationship had clearly changed and me along with it, I still wasn't sure how to interact with him in front of other people- whether it was his friends or his parents. That was one of the many reasons I was so nervous to sit with his family again tonight. By sitting in the friends and family section with his Mom, we were making a very public declaration in front of a crowd of (most likely) curious strangers and in front of members of the Penguins organization who also expected Geno and I to maintain a level of professionalism. It almost felt like I would be wearing three different hats at the game: Pens employee, supportive girlfriend and woman trying to impress her boyfriend's Mom.
"Hey" Geno spoke interrupting my racing mind. "Stop thinking so much, just go to game, enjoy and cheer for me."
I smirked in response to his 'cheering' comment. "So you think you're going to play well, huh?"
He tipped my chin up and gave me the cocky look that sent shivers up my spine. "Of course. You there, family there. Tonight will be good."
I laughed at how he was able to simplify a situation that I found to be so stressful and complex. "Just don't go picking a fight with Chara. I don't want to watch a giant pick on my boyfriend."
He laughed outright at that and pulled me against him. "But you could be nurse after game" he said wiggling his eyebrows and sliding his big palm over my butt making me blush and laugh. I glanced over at his Mom who had her back to us and was humming as she dug around the refrigerator.
"Thank god your Mom doesn't understand everything that you say."
Three hours later I was busy scheduling upcoming events in my office and waiting for Mrs. Malkin to arrive. I had received a heads up from another coordinator in the office stating that Rob Rossi of the Trib wanted to do a small feature on the Malkin's attending the game since they were a fan favorite among the fans. I would be required to be on standby to advise the interview and try my best to bridge the language gap if Rob actually wanted to try to get a few statements out of his Mom about their time in Pittsburgh and their opinions of the team. I had no idea how they expected me to bridge the language gap when I only knew a few choice words in Russian but I knew that it would be good PR for the team and it would be something that the fans would actually enjoy reading.
I was jotting down some notes on how to shape the interview when a heavily accented voice interrupted my thoughts.
"Knock, knock." My door was pushed open farther and Mrs. Malkin's grinning head popped in. It was pretty cute that "knock, knock" was a phrase she had picked up along the way.
I pasted on my brightest smile but internally my heart started to race from nerves. "Hey! Geno was supposed to let me know you were here and I would have met you downstairs!" As soon as I said it, I realized that she might not have fully understood what I just said. Instead of responding, Mrs. Malkin merely grinned at me and pushed my office door open fully to step inside. The last time I had sat with the Malkins at a game, it felt stilted and uncomfortable. I hoped that her effort to come find me in my office meant that they were getting used to me and slowly becoming more comfortable with me as well.
"Am I bother?" she asked slowly, as if she too was trying to figure out how this talking in English thing was going to work.
"No! Of course not. I got carried away working." I gathered my purse and slipped my cardigan over my shoulders before I realized she was looking at me funny, clearly not understanding the colloquial phrase I had just used without thinking.
Instead of trying to explain that I wasn't actually physically carried anywhere, I smiled again and ushered her out of the office. Maybe once we sat in the seats and had some hockey to watch, the language barrier wouldn't seem so bad. Still, I couldn't help but feel frustrated by how difficult this was going to be. Every girlfriend wants to impress their significant others' parents and I couldn't do that if we couldn't communicate properly. Didn't all parents want to know if and where their child's boyfriend/girlfriend had been educated and what type of job they had? That was the world I was used to and with the cultural and language barrier, I had no idea what she valued in her son's choice of girlfriend. In the elevator ride down to the main entrance of the arena, I took a calming breath and reminded myself to relax and try not to come off as stuck up or standoffish.
The doors to the elevator swooshed open and the noise level around us increased dramatically with people excitedly entering the arena to enjoy the game and cheer on their team. Sometimes before a game, I purposely came down to the main level just to feel the excitement emanating off of the fans. It was electric and I loved seeing the faces of kids entering, ready to see their hockey heroes battle on the ice.
Not surprisingly, a few fans recognized Mrs. Malkin as we walked to the section where we would be sitting. She had elected again to sit in the friends and family seats and not in the box with the Lemieux's and all of the other big-wigs. A few people called out hello to her and she took it all in stride and smiled or waved back. Personally, I would be a nervous wreck if people did the same to me and called out my name without actually knowing me personally. A part of me secretly hoped I could continue to date Geno and fly under the radar without fans recognizing me.
"Do you want to get anything to eat first?" I asked them as we walked towards our section. She seemed to understand my question and shook her head no. The usher for the section greeted us and we began to descend the long row of steps into the seats. From behind, I spotted Matt Cooke's wife sitting up ahead with her gaggle of Matt Cooke lookalikes sitting around her. One of the youngest sons threw popcorn at his sister and screeched loudly. Yep, typical Cooke family moment.
"Okay, here are your seats guys, enjoy the game!" The usher left us smiling brightly and my nerves kicked back in when I realized that I was all alone with them again.
Luckily, I was saved when I spotted Max Talbot's wife and Crosby's girlfriend sitting together. "Hey, Ava!" Lizzy Talbot waved us over and greeted Mrs. Malkin warmly. "How are you guys doing?" she asked leaning in to accept a double cheek kiss.
Before I even had time to think of ways to keep our conversation going, the guys skated out onto the ice and the crowd around us went crazy. Geno was the last one out and I watched him hit his stride as he took two laps around the Pens' half of the ice. Mrs. Malkin seemed absorbed in watching the warmup so I took the opportunity to go up to the concession area and grab a hotdog and a soda. I was definitely gaining weight from all of the carb loaded foods Geno was able to eat on a regular basis but there were zero healthy options available in the arena. Predictably, every time I complained that I needed to go up a pant size, Geno didn't understand what I was complaining about. The downside to dating a bean pole athlete.
Armed with my food and drink, I returned to the seats where Mrs. Malkin appeared to be having a good time. The guys were starting to filter back into the locker room so at least the game would be starting soon, providing me with more opportunities to relax and not feel pressured to think of something to say. Max Talbot did a little skating jive trick on the ice to impress his wife and the people paying attention in the crowd laughed at his antics, including his blushing wife.
"Weirdo" she mouthed to him while he grinned and saluted at her. I watched their exchange with a twinge of envy, wondering if I would ever get to that level of openness and comfort in my relationship with Geno. Before I could continue to think about that, Geno sped up and came to an abrupt halt spraying Max with a spray of ice. The crowd continued to cheer while Max acted offended and made kids laugh even harder in the audience. Seeing their hockey heroes act silly was going to be almost as good as watching them win a game. Crosby barked at them by the locker room entrance and the guys turned and started to skate away to obey their captain. Geno threw me a wink before he followed causing more than a few heads in the crowd to turn and see who he was aiming the look at.
Mrs. Malkin grabbed my hand causing me to startle slightly. Instead of saying anything, she smiled and squeezed my hand before letting me go.
"Evgeni very flirt." She grinned looking between me and in the direction of the locker room.
Lizzy Talbot smiled next to me at Mrs. Malkin's words and joined our conversation. "He acts like a little kid trying to get Ava's attention all of the time. You should have seen him before they were actually dating."
There was no way that Mrs. Malkin could fully appreciate that whole sentence but she appeared to get the gist of it because she grinned even wider and nodded her head in the knowing way that all women seem to develop once they have children.
"He certainly tried hard to win me over." I smiled remembering how persistent and big and annoying he had seemed at first. It seemed like such a long time ago but really it had been only a few months.
"He nice?" Mrs. Malkin asked me. I smiled wondering if she was asking me whether he had been a gentleman with me initially. If she only knew!
"He was great." I answered honestly. In the few short moments that had passed in this conversation, I had decided to try a different approach in our efforts to communicate with each other. Maybe if I just talked to her like I would to a fluent English-speaker, she would understand the meaning of what I was trying to say.
"I was in a bad relationship before I moved here and Geno pushed me to open up. He's made me enjoy my life here in Pittsburgh." I looked down at my soda after that, not really sure what else I should say. Before she could respond, the lights dimmed dramatically in the arena signalling that the game was about to start.
The rest of the game went smoothly with the Pens tied at the half. Geno had already scored a goal in the first and the Bruins had been covering him like crazy for the rest of the 2nd period until he finally wore them down in the third period, scoring two more goals and earning a hat trick for the night. There had only been two incidents during the game where Mrs. Malkin had been flashed on the jumbo tron with fans recognizing her immediately. She didn't seem to mind and was gracious and waved when her face flashed on screen. With 5 minutes left to go in the third, I asked Lizzy if she would mind escorting Mrs. Malkin down to the locker room after the game. I wanted to beat the crowd and get down to the locker room now so I would be ready to run interference with the press and the players. As soon as the players exited the ice after a big game, the press was always ready to attack and get in the faces of the players and I needed to have my metaphorical stick ready to beat them back and control the room.
"I have to go downstairs to handle the press, Lizzy is going to take you to the locker room after the game if that's alright?"
She merely smiled at me and seemed content to stay where she was.
"I've got her!" Lizzy Talbot smiled and waved at me as I hopped up as soon as there was a break in the play and moved quickly up the stairs into the concession area. I made it down to the locker room while there was still a minute left of regulation play and the Pens were leading 4-2. Smiling at the reporters I recognized and was friendly with, I checked in quickly with other members of the staff who were waiting around and talking about the game. My boss David briefed me on who he had overheard the press members wanting to talk to. Geno was an obvious target because he had played well and scored a hat trick. Sid had already given a half-time interview so I was planning to try to keep his interview short and sweet tonight. The poor kid probably wanted to get out of here.
I could hear that the players were coming off the ice because of the increase in noise level and the whooping and hollering that was happening outside. My heart warmed slightly as I watched the guys walk in all pumped up after their win. As much as moving to Pittsburgh had been a shock to my system, I really was enjoying my job and getting to know everyone in the organization. A blast of hot air hit my neck and I realized that Geno had blown on my neck as he passed behind me to his stall. I felt myself blushing from the contact and tried to control my outward reaction. I decided it was safer not to even look at him because if I did, it would be obvious to everyone in the room what I was thinking. As much as I couldn't handle smelling him and his gear after a game, I had no problem looking at him and I knew if I caught a glimpse of himself removing all of his gear, I would lose focus and need to step outside the room.
Instead, I monitored the room with David and made sure that Mrs. Malkin was settled comfortably in the lounge area outside of the locker room while we waited for the interviews to be over and for the players to shower.
"Hey" Geno's voice startled me out of the email I was drafting on my phone. I smiled when I saw how haphazardly he had dressed after showering, obviously in a hurry to get going after the game. He stood close and I knew that he wanted a kiss but I was still cautious to show any displays of affection while we were in the arena and around players and staff members.
"Your buttons are all messed up" I smiled, my fingers itching to fix them. He looked down and shrugged, starting to fix them himself. "Good game, and it seemed like your interviews went great" I added smiling up at him and taking a small step back. He noticed but didn't say anything.
"Come back to hospital with us?" For the first time in a few hours, I remembered that Mr. Malkin was still in the hospital. I nodded and pointed to where his mom was chatting and smiling with players' wives.
"Any word from the doctors?" I asked walking towards his Mom with him.
"Don't know," he answered. He greeted everyone warmly and leaned down to accept his mom's hug and customary kisses. She talked animatedly with him in Russian and his cheeks got pink signalling that she was saying something that embarrassed him. I laughed at how he could still be reduced to a little boy by something his mom said.
They continued to talk in Russian as we started to leave. I signaled to David that I was on my way out and caught up with them as we made our way to the player parking area. In the parking garage, Geno ignored my no PDA rule and grabbed my hand as the three of us stepped off of the elevator. His grip was firm and left no room for me arguing or trying to pull away. I inwardly smiled at both of us trying to gain control of the situation- each of us with our own set of rules we were trying to implement in our relationship.
At Geno's car, before I could offer Mrs. Malkin the front seat, she hopped into the back and shut the door, leaving Geno and I with as much privacy as can exist in a parking garage. He took the opportunity to pull me close and give me a kiss before I could argue about us still being at the arena. Then he opened my door and ushered me into the passenger seat, making sure I buckled up before shutting the door.
"Nice manners" I teased as he climbed into the driver's side. "You're such a showoff in front of your Mom."
"Hey, I a gentleman" he grinned back. He pulled out of his spot before picking my hand up in his giant paw. He kissed my palm and it occurred to me that he kept acting extra grabby in front of his parents. I wondered if it was on purpose.
For the rest of the ride to the hospital, Geno held my hand and talked to his Mom in Russian. Usually when speaking in Russian he would pause in the middle of the conversation and translate for me. This time, both talked without bothering to include me. Butterflies erupted in my stomach as it occurred to me that they could be talking about me. I thought that everything had gone well today but it was hard to tell.
Rather than dwell on it too much, I decided to take the opportunity to rest for a moment and tune out the sounds of them speaking. I must have been more tired than I let on because I fell asleep and didn't wake up until Geno nudged me in the parking lot of the hospital.
He kissed me on the nose and motioned for me to get moving. "Let's go."