“Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through.” – Jacques Plante
As part of his game day routine Jon always makes his own lunch; two turkey sandwiches, a banana, a milk box, and a bag of Fritos. When he sits at the table he makes sure to sit next to Ersberg. Goalies need to band together, even if Jon sometimes wishes he could take more of Ers’ starts.
Jon powers through lunch, ignoring the team chattering around him. They’re all used to Jon’s routines. They’ve apparently decided if the worst of Jon’s goalie crazy is that he doesn’t want to talk to any of them during game days that’s pretty reasonable. He’d explained it to Toffoli, a call up from JV for the playoffs, during the previous day’s practice. “I like being part of the team, but I’m not really part of the team, you know? Goalies. So I want you guys around but I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Sure,” Toffoli had said, nodding his head. Of course then Toffoli had like, a million questions about whether he was allowed to talk to Jon during the warm up (no), what if they needed to talk for class (they weren’t in any classes together, Toffoli was a sophomore), and if mime was okay (not only no, but fuck no).
Now, at lunch, Toffoli is sitting with Jon and Ers at the end of the table, at the edge of the team. Ersberg is usually a pretty quiet dude, but he’s chatting with Richie and Brownie, who’ve moved further down from their typical seats to talk some strategy for tonight’s playoff game.
Toffoli must look lost without anyone to to talk to. Westgarth asks him if he’d played center on JV and Toffoli darts his eyes over to Jon as if asking for permission to answer. Call ups are like weird ducklings who sometimes imprint on guys from the team. It’s not good to encourage them so Jon ignores him and Toffoli takes that as a blessing, telling Westgarth about how he switched from wing to center as a freshman.
Jon catches bits and pieces of the team’s conversations as he eats. Mostly he concentrates on each bite of his sandwiches. He eats slower on game days, chews more and takes longer between each bite.
“You know on non-game days,” Westgarth tells Toffoli, making it sound like he’s confiding some great secret, “Quickie’s not the most talkative dude, but he’s usually good to mumble out a joke or two, have some back and forth with the boys.”
Jon finishes his sandwich and starts on his banana. Westgarth nudges Toffoli in the side, friendly, but Kevin Westgarth is a senior, and a big enough guy that he has some weight behind it. “You got anything to say to Quickie, Toffoli?”
“Ummmmm,” Toffoli says, but Jon gives him the same look he gives gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe and Toffoli suddenly finds something else he needs to talk to Richie about. Jon rolls his eyes and eats his Fritos. After he’s done he pulls his hoodie up over his head, untangles his earbuds and pulls out his iPod. There’s still ten minutes left in lunch, and that’s definitely enough time to sneak in a quick nap if he just puts his head down and closes his eyes.
Marleau High has a loud crowd, and stepping out from the tunnel onto the ice, even just for warm ups, nets their team a bunch of boos. The sound echos in Jon’s helmet, and he can feel his neckguard vibrating. There’s almost no one there for Gretzky High, just a few parents and one or two girlfriends. Brownie waves at Nicole, who’s sitting in the stands with his parents, presumably catching them up on her own hockey season. Jon skates towards their end, looking around until he sees his mom and his sister sitting two rows back, right next to the goal. Jessica’s got a cup and a straw, which probably means that she’s trying to suck all of the marshmellows out of her hot cocoa, and she’s piled a stack of books next to her. His mom has out the yellow yarn she’s making into a blanket, but she’s not actually crocheting and she waves to Jon as he comes out on the ice. Jon nods back. This isn’t midget anymore, he doesn’t need to wave to his mom, but he’s glad that she came anyway.
Jon starts his pre-game warm up, the team swarming around him as he does lazy laps on their half of the ice and Ers stretches in the blue paint. He looks up at the rafters; Marleau High doesn’t have any championships to hang banners for, but neither does Gretzky High. Sometimes during practice Jon visualizes a banner, black and white fabric hanging in the rafters because he backstopped his team to a championship. During the games he plays he’s too busy to look up, but he likes to imagine that even then he can feel the potential.
Ersberg relinquishes the goal and goes for his own laps. Jon makes his way over and skates three circles around his goal before going back and forth in his crease, scritch, scritch, scritch, marking up the ice. He concentrates on his skates and how hard he has to push, whether the ice feels good underneath his blades. Today the ice is okay, a little grabbier than he would like, but even. Jon’ll take it.
He stretches, testing his legs and letting muscle memory guide him through his sequence. His teammates are skating circles on their half of the rink, dropping in and out of the revolving loop of skaters to do their own stretches. Jon finishes pulling through his split, both hips going through smoothly and no excess strain on his thighs, everything reporting back in good working condition. He shakes his shoulders out one last time and then gets ready in the goal.
When he was younger Jon used to hate pre-game. Even though he knew it was impossible to stop all of his teammates’ shots he hated the pucks going past him and into his net. It felt wrong; the whole point of a goalie was to stop the puck and watching them wizz past him made Jon feel like a failure. Two years ago he had asked Coach Morris if he could skip the pre-game drills, mumbling something about how it felt unlucky.
“Son,” Coach Morris had said, “it’s not unlucky. You know why? Because you’re part of a team, and your teammates are shooting on you, so even when the puck goes in it’s good, because it means your teammates are getting better. It’s good for the team, you see?”
These days Jon doesn’t mind so much. It’s completely impossible to stop all of the pucks that got fired at him during pre-game, especially with no defense in front of his net. Instead, Jon picks one of his teammates, a different one each time, and just focuses on stopping them, stretching himself a bit further on their shots and watching their stick on the puck even when someone else might have a better angle on the goal.
Tonight he picks Westgarth. He’s still on the side of the ice but hasn’t joined in shooting yet, practicing board battles instead. Jon saves the first two shots, but Carter gets one past off a pass from Richards. He blocks Brown, misses the next few, and then blocks Kopitar. Eventually Westgarth starts his own rush towards the goal and Jon’s world narrows down, focuses entirely on the puck, Westgarth’s stick, and his hands. It’s instinct that has him stretch right, all of the hours of practice and time in front of the net in the garage, during the summer when he’ll play pick up with anyone who’s around. The puck thwacks satisfyingly in his glove, and he tosses it out back onto the ice. It’s a good omen for the game, and Jon’s pleased when he finishes warm ups and skates over to the bench.
Their first period goes well. Richie hits Carts for a sweet top shelf goal, and Ers makes a few good saves, but doesn’t have too much work. Over all, Jon’s pretty happy he’s got the best seat in the house to watch his team clinch this game and advance.
The second is a complete shitshow. They give up two in quick succession, and Jon looks up at Coach Sutter, but he doesn’t pull Ers. Despite how hard they scramble in the third it’s not enough. Jon watches the scoreboard and mouths along with the crowd, counting down the last few seconds of their season. The buzzer goes off and the crowd at Marleau High goes wild. Under his breath Jon says, “Fuck this. Fuck this hard.”
This is the second year in the row they’ve been knocked out in the first round, and some things get real old real fast.
“Good game,” he tells Ersberg as they wait for Marleau High to stop hugging their goalie and kick off the handshake line. Ersberg is still wearing his mask, and Jon wishes he could put his own on as well. But he has to face the music with his face bare and losing sucks.
Jon catches up with Kopi, and grabs a beer before making the rounds. He’s pleasantly tipsy by the time he runs into Ers, and he initiates an off-ice hug that makes Ers look a little surprised. Jon’s not really a touchy-feely guy most of the time, but it’s the end of the season, and the end of Ers’ time in the States. If that doesn’t call for a goodbye hug Jon doesn’t know what does. “We’ll miss you,” Jon says, because now that Ersberg is leaving it’s easier not to be slightly resentful about all the starts he gets and Jon doesn’t.
“You won’t miss being backup,” Ers says, which is true. Jon had pushed for the starting role at tryouts, but Ers had two years on Varsity and a year starting, and in the end Coach Sutter had gone with the proven goalie. “You’re a good kid,” Sutter had told Jon. “But you need time to get better, tap your potential. Work hard this season and we’ll talk again at the beginning of next year.”
“I won’t,” Jon admits, because he doesn’t like lying. “But you were a good guy to play with.”
“Let’s hope my tandem next year thinks so too,” Ers said, taking a sip of his Natty Light.
They’re setting up beer pong in Brownie’s basement, and Brownie’s making everyone swear they won’t spill on his mom’s carpet, while Kopi explains how he’s going to kick all of their American asses.
“I’m Canadian,” Toffoli says.
“That’s basically the 51st state,” Kopi responds. If nothing else he’s learned to chirp in English, and since Tofolli’s an underclassman they’re pretty much required to give him shit.
“You two done with your weird goalie bonding?” Brownie asks, pulling out solo cups, tugging when a few get stuck together.
“Well if our captain can’t set up beer pong on his own I guess we should help him,” Jon said. Brownie calls him a bag of milk because Brownie spend a few years in the OHL before he came to Gretzky High and when he’s drunk he sometimes slips into old habits. Toffoli takes that as ammunition for the Canada v. US argument he’s having with Kopi, and it’s hours later before Jon sees Ers again.
“Good luck in the draft, man,” Jon says, putting out his fist for Ers to bump. “If you end up in Cali again at any point, let me know.”
“I’m going to see if I can spend some time in SEL, get Luleå or Frölunda’s dev team to take me for some pro experience.”
“I bet it’ll be nice to go back to Sweden,” Jon says, trying to make conversation while they sober up enough to drive home.
“Yes,” Ers says, with enough feeling to make Jon blink.
Ersberg shrugs at Jon’s expression. “I don’t...I’ve learned a lot living in the States, but I miss speaking Swedish, not being asked where I’m from. Sweden is home. It’s easier.”
“We’ll still miss you,” Jon says. He can’t think of anything better to say; Ersberg’s never mentioned that he might be homesick for Sweden before.
“I’ll see you in the NHL, yeah?” Ers says.
“Of course,” Jon agreed, touching his solo cup full of water to Ers’ in a toast.
Even at the best of times Jon's not a morning person, which is why he doesn't hear about the exchange student until third period.
"Sweden?" Jon asks Kopi. "Do you think he knows Ersberg?"
Kopi shrugs. "I dunno man, but everyone's talking about him." Then Mr. Hernandez clears his throat at the front of the room and Kopi and Jon have to concentrate on the start of the Thirty Years’ War.
At lunch Jon and Brownie walk by the cafeteria entrance where Principle Lombardi is standing with a blonde woman in a pants suit, pointing out the new rooftop garden the school just built on top of the rink. There’s a cluster of girls standing near them, surrounding someone who looks too old to be in high school. He’s wearing a suit too, and has a goatee. It should make him look like a tool but just makes him seem sophisticated, like he's in college or something. The girls around him are smiling, and Melissa Chang, who rules the honor society and the cheerleading team with ruthless charm, is pointing towards the table where she always sits. Jon would bet a thousand bucks that's their Swedish exchange student.
“He looks really European,” Jon tells Brownie as the exchange student runs a hand through his hair and there’s a dreamy sigh, practically in unison, from the group surrounding him.
“The girls like it though,” Brownie says. Jon just “hmmmmms” in agreement. Coming out to Dustin with “I can see why” would be really awkward, especially since being into the newest popular trends makes Jon cranky. Even if he does have great hair and charming blue eyes.
He elbows Brownie. “Come on, let’s get food.” There’s another burst of laughter, but Jon doesn’t turn around.
They go sit with the part of the team that has fifth period lunch. Jon gets a tray of pasta with meat sauce and a side of green beans and trades his banana to Kopi for a orange and digs in.
The team chatters around him as he eats, Carts and Richie talking about some girl in their chem class while Kopi and Westgarth try and diagram plays using french fries and a salt shaker. When Jon’s mostly done he starts flicking tiny pieces of orange peel at his teammates, grinning a little to himself when Toffoli smacks his neck and looks around for bugs.
Jon’s almost used up his orange peel when someone at the end of the table clears his throat. At first Jon thinks it’s Dustin, because Brownie always sits in the chair at the head of the table, but Brownie has turned to look at the sound as well. “Hi,” Gretzky High’s newest student says. He smiles. Jon sees a lot of smiles living in LA, but he’d definitely say the new guy is hitting B-list movie star, maybe from a romcom or something. “I heard you guys are the hockey team.”
As one the table turns to look at Brownie. He’s got the C so this falls solidly in his court. “Uh, yes?”
“Cool,” the exchange student says, and nods. “I’m Henrik Lundqvist. I’m trying out for the team next season, so I wanted to stop by and introduce myself.”
Jon looks Lundqvist over, now as a hockey player rather than a random hot dude. There’s some muscle underneath his suit. He’s probably a bit over six feet, and not super built, but not exactly skinny either. He doesn’t look much like a D-man. Jon hopes he’s not another center, because they’ve already got far more of those than they need.
“Awesome,” Brownie says, nodding his head. “What position do you play?”
“Goalie; I’m trying out for the starter,” Lundqvist says with another smile, and then everyone looks at Jon.
“Well,” Jon says, because the entire team knows he’s wanted to start for the past year. Jon wants to be in goal every time they play the anthem because he’s worked hard, and because he can be the best goalie Gretzky High has ever seen. He’ll be damned if someone else is just going to stroll in and take it. “I guess we’re going to have to compete for it then.”
Lundqvist raises an eyebrow and gives Jon a quick up and down. He smiles again. One side of his mouth tips higher than the other and it’s more predatory, less romcom. Jon might like it better. “Looking forward to it,” Lundqvist says, before heading back to Principle Lombardi and his mom. Jon refuses to pay attention as he walks away.
“Should I?” Ers asks, adjusting his backpack.
“New exchange student,” Jon says, “He’s Swedish and a goalie.”
“Never heard of him, but I can ask around,” Ersberg says.
“Thanks,” Jon says. He takes a few steps away before turning around. “And if I don’t see you, good luck at the draft.”
Ers says back, “Lick a till,” before going into his classroom. That doesn’t seem right, so Jon assumes he said something in Swedish. Maybe that’s how Swedes say good bye.
They hold Brownie’s last bash as captain at In-and-Out. “We’re going to In-n-Out for the end of year party,” Brownie says during lunch. “Don’t any of you fucking punk out on giving us a California styled goodbye.”
Nicole brings the girl’s team and everyone mingles, saying goodbye to the departing seniors and lazily speculating who’s going to get each team’s C next season. It’s a pretty good get together, even if they aren’t allowed to go back to Brownie’s house because his mom is still pissed about how the whole house smelled like beer last time.
Pretty soon guys are headed out, to the draft, to various camps, to summer jobs. Jon’s helps his mom and dad around the house for a few hours every day, but mostly he turns the summer over to training. His father works hard, doesn’t know how to not work hard if Jon’s honest, but there’s not the money to send Jon to a camp. Instead Jon’s got his own training program, devised by Coach Sutter with a lot of input from the goalie coach at the local university.
The entire team has access to the athletic facilities during the summer, and Jon takes advantage. The school won’t put ice down on their rink till August, but they’ve got a weight room and a track and some places to stretch. Jon doesn’t expect to see too many of his guys. The first week he’s there it’s him, the football team, and a few cross country kids who log miles that make Jon want to eat a whole bag of M&Ms just thinking about it. He does a bit of lifting, and he and Colquitt from the football team get into the habit of spotting each other when they’re both in the gym at the same time. Colquitt’s a punter, and as far as Jon can tell it’s the same sort of team-but-not-team relationship as being a goalie.
He ends up doing most of his training on his own though, stretching and endlessly bouncing tennis balls and soccer balls off of the walls. When he’s on it’s almost hypnotic; he becomes nothing more than a set of eyes and hands, watching and catching the ball. When he’s off it’s frustrating as all fuck, because he has to run and catch the ball that’s bouncing away from him. When the boys come back he’ll make some of them shoot on him and get feedback on his stance, and what areas of the net he isn’t covering. Until then he tries to pay attention to his form and does his squats and stiff legged deadlifts in front of the weight room mirrors.
The second week he comes into the weight room and instead of seeing Colquitt, he sees Lundqvist.
Jon pauses as Lundqvist takes a foam roller to his thigh. It’s a momentary mental slip, like catching a skate edge in a rut. Nothing he can’t recover from, but it takes a second to adjust.
He swallows and says, “Hey.”
Lundqvist looks up and smiles. Jon’s mom would totally buy toothpaste from a commercial with that smile. “Hey. Getting some reps in?”
“Yep. You?” Jon’s never really cared about making small talk, but Lundqvist is still moving the roller up and down his thigh and Jon’s trying really hard not to stare. If they have to talk about completely obvious topics as a distraction then Jon’s willing to do it.
“My summer classes just let out and I’d rather be in the gym than doing homework.” Lundqvist switches thighs.
“Fair enough,” Jon says. He gestures vaguely towards the weight bench. “I’m gonna...yeah, so I’ll talk to you later.”
“Later,” Lundqvist says, as Jon slips in his earbuds and starts up his workout mix. Outkast never lets him down.
It’s pretty easy to ignore Lundqvist as they both move around the weight room. It’s a light day on Jon’s schedule, so he’s not lifting and he doesn’t need a spotter. Lundqvist runs through some basic warm ups, lunges and resistance work with a band. Jon’s workout mix starts playing “Hips don’t Lie” while he’s doing pull-ups and Lundqvist has his legs together doing external hip rotations. Jon has to drop off the bar and skip to the next song, because he’s never been a blusher but he doesn’t really trust his poker face either.
He’s had crushes on guys before, it’s no big deal, but it’s mostly been guys who he has math class with, or who work at the local Starbucks. It’s never been a hockey player before (NHLers don’t count, everyone with a pulse who cared about the Rangers in the mid-2000s had a thing for Jaromir Jagr and Jon will maintain that until his dying day).
Jon finishes in the weight room a little sooner than he would if he was alone. He grabs his catching mitt and a lacrosse ball, going out into the hallway he’s begun to think of as his hallway.
His rhythm's not where he would like it to be. He’s getting the ball in his mitt, but it doesn’t feel smooth and he almost takes a rebound off the back wall to his shoulder. Sometimes Jon practices with a lacrosse ball because it’s denser than a tennis ball, and it hurts more when it hits. It’s incentive to be better. Jon stops and closes his eyes. He takes a breath, and then another breath. He focuses on the in and out of the air, and only opens his eyes when he’s refocused.
It clicks, and he’s breathing mostly in time with his catches, a cracking thud to match his exhale and the ball leaving his mitt when the air comes back in. Everything is working together and Jon is lulled by the repetitive thunks and the sound of air whistling in and out of his nose.
“Do you mind if I use the end of the hall?” Lundqvist asks. He’s got a jump rope in his hand, and Jon hadn’t heard him walk into the hallway. Jon’s glad he’d already caught the ball; he doesn’t want to end up with a set of unearned bruises just because a cute guy surprised him.
“Go for it,” he says, lifting and dropping his shoulder. He knows how hard it is to jump rope in the weight room. His rope always gets caught on something and it’s impossible to string enough jumps together to get his heartrate up. He doesn’t want Lundqvist to get the starting position, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a jerk about sharing.
Lundqvist starts doing double unders and the whistling of his rope is a background hum to the thunk of the ball hitting the wall. Jon doesn’t think Lundqvist came out to watch him specifically, but Jon uses that Lundqvist’s there, and his own awareness that he’s probably being evaluated, judged. He’d judge in Lundqvist’s shoes.
Jon’s gotten back into his rhythm when the ball hits a chip in the concrete, forcing Jon to drop a knee to make the catch. He quickly pops back up and tosses it back at the wall, and it bounces back low again. He gets both knees down this time, and doesn’t even bother going all the way up before releasing the ball. The whistle of Lundqvist’s rope has stopped. Jon can’t pull it off a third time though. The ball goes high when he thought it was headed low, and he’s dropping into a split while it flies over his shoulder and rebounds to hit him in the side. He manages to trap it after that, so it least it doesn’t keep bouncing around.
“You keep pretty close to the wall,” Lundqvist says, running a hand through his hair to brush it off of his face. Even though he’s sweaty he’s still got a certain style, and Jon wonders where the hell this guy came from. “Do you like to play out of the crease?”
“Yeah,” Jon, says, pushing himself up. “It’s better for cutting down the angles and keeps guys from getting in your face.”
“More room for error though,” Lundqvist says, and turns and jogs off. He comes back a few seconds later with a glove of his own, mostly white with blue and red highlights.
He holds his hand out. Jon puts a bit of mustard on his throw, but Lundqvist authoritatively snaps the leather of his glove shut round the ball. He stands a few feet farther back than Jon did and taps a rough square on the wall behind him, laying out the corners of an imaginary goal. “I like to stay deep in my paint so I can get across the net faster.”
Lundqvist throws the ball and it bounces back at him. Even off the ice Lundqvist shifts his weight and moves quickly, taking a few small steps to get himself almost all the way across the imaginary goal. Jon wants to see him on the ice, watch him cover space by pushing and gliding rather than the off ice shuffle all goalies have to use as a substitute. “Do it again,” Jon says, crouching down to get a better view of Lundqvist’s legs, trying to visualize his butterfly, the space he’d take up in the goal.
“Again,” Jon says after a lateral push that would have gone post to post on ice and easily lands the ball back in Lundqvist’s glove.
He likes to think Lundqvist draws inspiration from being watched, the same way Jon did.
He’s only alone in the gym for about three minutes.
“Hey,” Lundqvist says. He’s wearing shorts and socks pulled up to his knees. His knees are knobby, which Jon finds weirdly charming. It’s the first things about Lundqvist that doesn’t look like it was created in some sort of factory that churns out ridiculously attractive people.
“Hey,” Jon says back. “What’s up?”
“They’re determined to force all of American history into my head before September.” Lundqvist rolls his eyes as he starts his stretches, casually dropping into a butterfly. “I don’t think explaining your civil war is going to be important in the NHL.”
“I promise not to quiz you on it,” Jon says. He places a tennis ball under his right hip flexor and applies pressure, using his feet to roll his body up and down over the ball where it feels sore after games.
After Jon finishes both sides he looks up at Lundqvist, who is staring at his hands where they’re holding his toes. “What are you doing today?” Jon asks.
“Strengthening mostly,” Lundqvist says, switching to a straddle. Jon tries really hard not to look at Lundqvist’s thighs, because even though he hasn’t talked to his dad yet about the whole liking dudes things, he’s pretty sure his dad’s lecture about looking girls in the eyes when you talk to them still applies. Plus Lundqvist might notice.
“Me too,” Jon says. “Mind spotting me?”
“Sure, if you’ll do me.” Lundqvist says. Jon bites his tongue on the obvious “Your mom” joke and also “Fuck yes”. Lundqvist’s accent isn’t super noticable, but he probably doesn’t understand enough stupid high school innuendo to get why that’s dirty.
“Sounds good,” Jon says, after discarding several other responses. Even if Lundqvist doesn’t get the innuendo Jon doesn’t need that sort of shit right now.
They do arms on the bench press. Lundqvist lifts ten pounds more than Jon typically uses for reps, but Jon doesn’t mention it when they’re switching spots. It’s a good idea to push himself and get stronger anyway.
The majority of their workout is various flavors of squats. Jon spends most of his rest time trying and failing not to look at Lundqvist’s butt. By the time they’re halfway through they’re both dripping in sweat. It’s not actually attractive; no one, not even Lundqvist, can make the amount of sweat coming off their bodies attractive, but Lundqvist’s shirt is basically plastered to his torso and his ass was already a problem. It might not be attractive, but Jon is attracted to Lundqvist anyway.
Jon’s forced to call an end to it when his right knee wobbles and almost buckles with exhaustion. Jon’d feel bad about it, only Lundqvist had almost dropped the barbell on his toe when he picked it up for his last set. Jon’s apparently going to have to be the one with enough sense to call an end to it before either of them injure themselves.
Overall, Jon’s feeling pretty good about himself. He lifted a respectable weight for a decent amount of reps and he didn’t pop a boner. As they’re leaving he’s able to answer Lundqvist’s “See you tomorrow” with a calm “Later, man”.
During dinner Jon eats his broccoli and tries to figure out whether “see you tomorrow” actually means that Lundqvist is going to be in the gym tomorrow or whether it was just something he was saying. Jessica keeps trying to get her broccoli under the table so she won’t have to eat it, and Jon absently watches to see if she’s going to get away with it.
“Jon,” his mom says again, slightly irritated in the way she gets when she has to repeat any of their names multiple times. “How was your workout today?”
“It was good,” Jon says.
Jon’s father looks up from where he’s cutting his pork chop. “Good?” They had a talk at the beginning of the year about the importance of family and communication. Basically, Jon needs to use his words otherwise his father will take away the car keys.
“Today we mostly did squats,” Jon adds. “Lundqvist and I. He’s new. He’s trying out for the team next season.”
“Oh?” Jon’s mom says, leaning over to cut Joey’s pork chop. He’s nine now, but because he’s the youngest mom babies him and still cuts his meat. “I’m glad to hear that you’re making Lunkist feel comfortable at a new school. That’s very nice of you, honey.”
“Lundqvist,” Jon says, stressing the middle syllable. “He’s cool. It’s fine.”
“Is he gonna be one of your D-men?” Jon’s father asks.
Jon shrugs. “He’s actually a goalie. He’s trying out for the starter too.”
“And you’re working out with him?” Jon’s mom sounds surprised.
Jon shrugs again. “He’s trying out. I didn’t say I was gonna let him get it.”
“Well, that sounds more like my super competitive son,” his mom says. Jon wonders if his mom thought he’d sounded like a boy with a crush. He’s knows liking boys isn’t something people can look at him and see, but he wonders if sometimes he acts different, or says things that completely straight guys wouldn’t. He wonders if scouts can pick up on it. His parents haven’t, as far as he can tell. Sometimes he tries to imagine what they’ll say when he tells them.
Jessica calls dibs on not being on Jon’s team for after dinner board games, and Joey spills his milk. His parents have more important things to deal with than Jon’s new teammate, and Jon’s grateful he doesn’t have to talk about why he keeps working out with Lundqvist.
Colquitt asks if he’s been replaced. “You’re still my favorite punter,” Jon tells him.
Colquitt laughs. “Whatever, I know what rejection sounds like. Go hang out with that walking Herbal Essences commercial I keep seeing you lift with.”
Jon gives him the finger. No matter what Colquitt thinks, Jon’s not into Lundqvist’s hair, but he’s more than a little into his everything else. And maybe Jon’s fantasized about what he’s started thinking of as their hallway. Fantasized about Lundqvist rewarding Jon for a particularly impressive save with a blow job. He feels a bit guilty because Lundqvist doesn’t know that Jon is turned on by their competition. But it’s hockey and attractive men, and it’s not like Jon could really stop himself.
Jon heads out into their hallway where he and Lundqvist play a game of handball, which Jon wins.
“If you tackle me so I can’t hit the ball it’s not winning,” Lundqvist whines. Lundqvist looks like he drove by a skunk with the windows open.
“Hockey’s a full contact sport,” Jon tells him.
“But handball isn’t unless you’re a cheater,” Lundqvist argues.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” Jon tells him, which is something he actually picked up off of Jessica.
“Buttercup?” Lundqvist asks, finally getting up from the ground. If Jon had tackled any of the other guys on the team it would have probably turned into a wrestling match, but after tackling Lundqvist he’d disengaged really fast. Jon’s been really careful about not popping boners, and he doesn’t want to ruin that.
“It’s a saying,” Jon says. He picks up the ball and bounces it off the wall. “It rhymes. You’ll get it as you get more used to American.”
“American isn’t even a language,” Lundqvist says. “It’s English.” He grabs the ball away from Jon, because neither of them are actually good losers. Jon doesn’t make an issue of it though because Lundqvist starts up a game of catch.
“Whatever, buttercup,” Jon says.
Lundqvist grumbles to himself in Swedish.
“It’s not like English makes sense anyway,” Lundqvist says later as they’re packing up. “We’re reading Romeo and Juliet in class and half the time I can’t understand anything they’re saying.”
“Let me know if you want help or anything,” Jon says, grabbing his stick and tossing his bag over his shoulder. “I did okay in English last year. We did MacBeth.”
“Really?” Lundqvist asks.
“You helped me out with the shuffle drill the other day,” Jon says. He scratches the back of his neck. “I probably owe ya.”
“Thanks,” Lundqvist says. He pulls out his phone. “Give me your number so I can text you if I have any questions.”
Jon rattles it off and he feels his own phone vibrate in his pocket.
Jon saves Lundqvist’s contact info, letting his phone autocomplete as he types in the name field.
“What’s so funny?” Lundqvist asks.
Jon’s lips twitch into a smile as he shows Lundqvist that Jon’s saved his contact info under Buttercup.
“You’re an asshole,” Lundqvist says, shoving at Jon’s shoulder.
“If you hang out with an asshole what does that say about you then?” Jon asks.
“Guess it means I don’t have good taste,” Lundqvist says, laughing.
Jon would happily be called an asshole a thousand times if it’ll make Lundqvist laugh like that.
Researched the guy you asked about. He was scouted by Frölunda and played in the Scandinavian cup and TV-pucken. Our hockey boards say he’s the next big thing. You’re never going to escape Swedish goalies. Gå Sverige!
“Do you have to take any science?” Jon had asked as they ran through Lundqvist’s courses.
“In September, yeah, but not now. It’d probably be better than literature though,” Lundqvist wrinkled his nose.
“English is basically the easiest subject,” Jon said. “You just gotta come up with a thesis and toss in a bunch of quotes. There’s no right answer, so you can say anything as long as you can back it up.”
“I hate that. I like when there’s a correct answer, and all you have to do is go and figure it out,” Lundqvist said. Lundqvist wrinkled his nose at his copy of Romeo and Juliet. “Literature was bad enough when all I had to deal with was books. Now there’s books and English on top of that.”
“I can’t get you out of either, but I can make sure that you pass your class at least,” Jon said.
“Promise?” Lundqvist had asked.
“Let’s not get too excited,” Jon said, bumping his shoulder against Lundqvist’s. He’d realized that Lundqvist was pretty free with physical contact, casually grabbing Jon’s calves to reposition him during drills or reaching out for a bro hug when they finished up in the gym. Jon was still exploring how much he was comfortable initiating.
sparknotes he texts back. It’s probably cheating, but Jon figures if Lundqvist doesn’t go word for word he should be okay.
too obvious Jon’s phone flashes after several minutes. teachers can use the internet too. help me with act 1 scene 5
which part? Jon asks, shutting the game down and heading to his room. He grabs his laptop and googles the play, going to the part Lundqvist needs help with.
Jon’s phone rings, and he jumps, surprised. Typically the only people who call him are his mom and dad; everyone else texts. The display reads “Buttercup” and it makes Jon smile.
“Hey,” Jon says, tucking the phone between his shoulder and his ear, so he can leave both hands free for internet research. “What’s up?”
“It’s the part where they meet for the first time and there’s all of this kissing and hands and saints.” If Lundqvist doesn’t say hello he must be really irritated. He’s probably trying to glare the book down, like he does with Jon when they play handball.
“Alright, let’s do this,” Jon says.
They make their way through the first few lines pretty easily. Jon has Sparknotes open because it basically got him through most of MacBeth and Mr. Bird didn’t give him any grief for it.
Lundqvist is still muttering about pilgrims and Thanksgiving, since apparently google initially lead him astray. “What’s a holy palmer anyway?” he asks.
“Something Shakespeare made up to annoy you,” Jon says. He has to look that one up on Google since Sparknotes is failing them. “Got it, it’s someone who went to the Holy Land and then carried around a palm branch.”
“So basically this is all just, just a giant...it’s a fucking ordvits. About trees and hands.” There’s a thump in the background, and Jon’s pretty sure Lundqvist just threw his book across the room.
“Ummmmm,” Jon says, because he doesn’t know what an ordvits is, but he doesn’t want to ask Lundqvist and get him even more worked up.
Lundqvist sighs. “Nevermind. I’m just going to look on Sparknotes. Thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” Jon says, because he barely feels like he did anything. “You sure you don’t want more help?”
“With how I’m feeling?” Lundqvist says. “You don’t need to deal with me when I get like this.”
Jon shrugs and the phone rubs against his ear, reminding him that Lundqvist can’t see him. “I said I’d help. I’m not going to pussy out just because you threw a hissy fit.”
“Thanks,” Lundqvist says, his voice unexpectedly soft. Lundqvist takes a deep breath and holds it for a second before exhaling, the way he does when he gets pissed off at himself for not doing well during their exercises. Jon finds his own breath synchronizing. He can hear Lundqvist typing, but neither of them actually says anything, they just stay on the phone, breathing.
Eventually Lundqvist asks about one of Romeo’s lines and Jon answers after peering at it for a bit. It interrupts their synchronized breathing and Jon realizes that’s he gone limp as a noodle, basically sprawled out on his bed. They finish up with minimal drama, and Lundqvist thanks Jon again.
“Do you miss Sweden?” Jon blurts out, instead of saying something normal like “you’re welcome”.
“Every day,” Lundqvist says, matter of fact. “But I knew I would when I moved here, and I would have to leave home to play in the NHL anyway. It’s good to play in North America so scouts can see me play on the smaller ice before the draft.”
“I’m sorry,” Jon says, because he didn’t notice and he should have. He had completely missed Ers’ homesickness, but it’s just fucking dumb to make the same mistake again.
“I made my choice, and I don’t regret it,” Lundqvist says briskly. “Besides, even if sometimes it’s a test mentally to be here, I’m still glad I came. It’ll be good for my hockey and good for the draft. Plus having friends like you makes it easier.”
“Friends make a lot of things better,” Jon agrees, trying to ignore the weird wiggly happiness in his chest.
As he looks up at his bedroom ceiling that night he drifts into Lundqvist’s breathing pattern. The steady in and out lulls him to sleep.
Lundqvist goes out to the water fountain during their post workout cooldowns and Richie leans over and asks, “Since when are you two all buddy-buddy? I thought you wanted to wipe the floor with that guy.”
“I do,” Jon says. Because he does. He’s been working harder than ever this off season because having Lundqvist around inspires him to be better, make more creative saves and keep the puck out of the net. He might also want to pin him to the floor and make out with him, but he’s trying to channel his sexual frustration into his game. “He’s cool though. It’s good to have someone around to push you.”
Richie looks at Carts, who lifts and drops a shoulder. “Alright then,” Richie says. “If you’re fine with it.”
The rest of the team trickles back in, accompanied by bro hugs and comparisons of summer camps. Some guys have graduated and there are a few new ones Jon hasn’t met, but Jon’s familiar with most of the team. The new ones draw his eye though. Jon spends most of his time so wrapped up in his team that he tends to split hockey players into those who are his teammates and those who aren’t. The new guys are in a strange in between category, but they’ll sort themselves out as the season starts. The ones who are new he’ll get to know as the season goes on, or maybe they’ll be playing on JV and he won’t. For now Jon just watches.
Toffoli isn’t the youngest anymore; he’s got two of his little buddies from JV and they look to him now like he knows what he’s doing, which is kinda cute if totally wrong. They’ve also got a new guy from Chicago, Carcillo, who slots in smoothly with Richie and Carts. They’ve apparently played together before at tournaments.
“It’s exciting to see people come back, but I miss having the weight room to ourselves,” Lundqvist says, tossing a towel round his neck as he comes to stand next to Jon.
“We can make some of them help out with drills,” Jon offers, because they’ve both wanted someone else to drop the ball while they practice goal mouth scrambles.
“True,” Lundqvist says with a smile.
“Toffoli!” Jon calls, because he hasn’t learned Toffoli’s friends name yet. Fortunately last year’s playoff obedience hasn’t worn off and Toffoli turns his head and wanders over to where Jon and Lundqvist are standing. “We need you to work with us on goalie drills.”
Kopi finds Jon after they’re done. “How do you think the new guys are coming along?” Kopi wore an A last year, and he’s probably one of the contenders for the C this year. He likes to get Jon’s perspective on things, says that Jon sees things from a different angle as a goalie.
“Toffoli’ll probably stick this year, maybe one of his buddies. Carcillo’s fitting in with Richie and Carts so Coach’ll probably find a place for him.” Jon takes a sip of water.
“And Lundqvist?” Kopi asks, watching Jon’s face carefully.
Jon hadn’t even considered Lundqvist. They’ve spent too much time together, practically glued to each other all summer. Lundqvist doesn’t feel new, he feels like team.
“He’s good,” Jon says. “Really fucking good.”
“Better than you?” Kopi asks and then laughs when Jon bristles. “Forget I asked. Thanks for the advice.”
Lundqvist is talking with Kopi and Toffoli by the squat rack, smiling and gesturing at the weights on the barbell. Jon tells himself he’s not jealous, but he pedals a harder so he can finish up on the bike and go join him. He hops off while Richie, Carts, and Carcillo are still peddling and wipes down his seat. Jon tosses his towel, missing the dirty bin by just a bit. He huffs out and jogs over drop it into place before turning towards the squat rack.
“What, we’re not handsome enough to talk to?” Richie says. Jon’s pretty sure that’s just straight guy chirping, so he rolls his eyes but doesn’t bite. Jon’s not out to the team yet. He’s thinking about saying something, but he wants to do it on his own terms.
“Have you looked in a mirror recently?” Carcillo asks. “You’re nowhere near the pretty enough to make Jonny want to hang around.”
“Your mom didn’t mind last night,” Carts says, and things quickly turn into a series of “your mom” jokes among the three of them.
Jon goes over to the squat rack. “Hey,” Lundqvist says. “Just waiting for your lazy ass to get started. Ready to go then?”
He and Lundqvist switch off reps, pushing each other to get just one more squat. It’s a lifting day, so most of the team is in the weight room, either biking in the back or lifting on the machines. They have an iPod hooked up to speakers blaring music.
“Hey Hank,” Carcillo calls as he finishes up on the bike. “Stop playing your awful oldies music and put on something with a beat. I can’t lift to this shit.”
“You wouldn’t know good music if it got naked and danced up and down in front of you Carbomb,” Lundqvist yells back, but someone switches the docked iPod over to Jay-Z’s latest.
“Hank?” Jon asks.
“Some of the guys had problems pronouncing Lundqvist so they call me Hank now,” Lundqvist says.
“Oh,” Jon says. It’s not surprising, hockey players constantly give each other stupid nicknames, it was only a matter of time that they came up with one for Lundqvist. “You don’t seem like much of a Hank.”
“My nickname at home was Henke,” Lundqvist says, meeting Richie’s fist bump as he and Jon walk past on their way to grab their gear. “Hank isn’t so different.”
Jon turns the names over in his head as they pull on their pads and strap on their blockers. Henke feels better, smooth corners like sea glass while Hank is jagged like the gravel at the end of his parents’ driveway. Henke is Lundqvist’s home, and he deserves something from home if he’s going to give the rest of it up to play hockey.
“Mind if I call you Henke instead?” Jon asks.
Henke smiles so wide he gets little crinkles around his eyes. “I’d like that.”
“I like boys,” Jon blurts out. It’s better than saying “I want to kiss you all the time” but not by much, not when he’s just bringing it up all of the sudden.
Henke freezes, and then blinks, his eyelashes fluttering. “Girls too,” Jon adds, to fill in the silence and for the sake of accuracy.
“Oh,” Henke says, clearing his throat. “Well, that’s cool.”
“Yep. I guess that means I’m bi.” Jon says, and wonders if he could punch himself in the face to stop the words that keep coming out of his mouth.
“I…” Henke says, before he takes a deep breath and runs his hand through his hair. “I thought I only liked girls, but I’m not so sure anymore.”
“Oh,” Jon says, but he can’t get any more out past the lump in his throat.
“What made you bring it up?” Henke asks. They’ve completely stopped the drill and are standing in the hallway staring at each other.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately,” Jon says, which is true. Sometimes he wonders if it’ll come up during the draft, tries to imagine what answers he give during interviews if anyone ever found out. “Thought it might be time to start telling some people.” In Jon’s daydreams Henke just magically figures it out, or he tells Jon first, but daydreams aren’t real life. Jon always figured when the time came he would come up with something. He just wishes he had been smoother about it.
“Cool,” Henke says again. He smiles, and it looks a little shy, which is a new. “Thanks for telling me.”
“Course,” Jon says, grabbing his iPod from the end of the hallway. “I haven’t told people yet, so you mind keeping it a secret?”
“For sure man,” Henke says, and holds his fist up. Jon accidentally bumps him with the fist still holding his earbuds and the little white ovals hit Henke’s thumb. Jon wishes he could crawl under the table, or at least have a do-over, but Henke doesn’t seem to mind. “We can both keep each other’s secret, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Jon agrees.
It’s not an official practice because Coach Sutter isn’t there and because league rules says they aren’t allowed to have official practices until school starts. But the whole team is at the rink, and Jon knows Coach Sutter emailed Richie and Kopi drills to start brushing the summer rust off.
The rest of the team begins practice with suicides. Jon and Henke skate over to the blue paint of their crease and start stretching. People always talk about how crazy goalies are, but neither of them are going to skate until they feel like throwing up, so Jon counts that as a win for their side.
Henke bends down to examine the ice in front of the goal. “Spot my technique?” he asks, as if Jon wasn’t going watch him like a hawk the entire time.
“Sure, but you’ll have to get me back after,” Jon says.
Henke smiles. “I think I can do that.”
Henke spends more time than Jon marking his crease. He skates across the goalmouth and up and down from the top of the paint to between the pipes. When he’s finally scraped up the ice to his satisfaction Henke uses the blade of his stick to push the shavings to the side, clearing space to work.
Henke starts with side to side drills, pushing himself across the ice from one post to the other. Jon watches his stance. It’s wide, and it should be too wide, but Henke has the strength to smoothly cover the entire goal and when he drops down into a butterfly to stop an imaginary puck Jon can barely see the lower third of the net. “Do it in a few shuffles,” he tells Henke.
The rink air is dry, and Jon licks his lips as Henke goes back in forth in quick, perfectly balanced steps. Jon wouldn’t want to try and get a puck past him. “Nice,” Jon says. “Good coverage.”
Henke skates out of the goal and stops next to Jon, tapping his pads. “Your turn. Show me what you’ve got Jon.”
Jon’s better at drills when he has pucks coming at him, so he visualizes opponent’s forwards and a pair of his own D. He imagines where a puck might go, sliding back and forth and keeping a stance that would allow him to track it even through attempted screens.
“You move fast,” Henke says. He’s far enough out that Jon has trouble seeing his face through the mask, but he sounds impressed. “I’ve seen you do splits in the hallway, show me one on ice.”
Jon drops down to the ice, showing off a little as he pulls himself all the way through the split. “Oh,” Henke says. It’s not part of their drill, but Henke’s breathless noise makes Jon want to do twenty in a row.
“We should do box drills,” Henke says, after a few minutes where they’re both silent.
“Yeah,” Jon agrees. They run through their drills and while Jon’s normally pretty focused during practice, Henke’s “oh” keeps on looping in the back of Jon’s head. That shit is extremely distracting.
Richie skates over, pulling up next to Jon. Jon’s shooting pucks with his goalie stick, which isn’t the best for accuracy but gets the puck towards the goal so Henke can practice blocking. “You two ready for a scrimmage?” he asks.
“You’re scrimmaging already?” Henke asks, and Jon takes the opportunity to slide a puck past him and into the back of the net. Henke swears at him in Swedish.
“Yeah,” Richie says. “Today’s conditioning mostly, but we want to do a quick scrimmage to get the boys used to working together.”
“And because hockey is fun,” Jon says. Richie grins, which makes him look a little like a chipmunk, a thought Jon keeps to himself since Richie holds grudges for the longest time over the stupidest things.
“You’re on my team,” Richie says to Jon. “Hank, you’re on the other side with Kopi.”
“We’re going to kick your ass,” Henke says, skating past him on his way to the other side of the ice. Half the team is already waiting for him, and they stick tap and holler as he assumes his position in their crease.
“Is he?” Richie asks Jon.
“Not if I can help it,” Jon says, giving his helmet a little shake to settle it properly.
It’s basically river hockey. The two teams streak up and down the ice and the defense is pretty non-existent, the shots on goal flying hard and fast. By dint of standing on their heads and playing like the puck’s personally offended them (Jon knows he’s showing off a bit for Henke’s sake, but he really hates being scored on), Jon and Henke manage to keep most of the pucks out of their nets. Considering, it’s a pretty respectable 4-4 tie when Carts gets a breakaway.
Carts streaks down the ice past two of Toffoli’s JV friends, and it’s just him facing off against Henke. All of Jon’s muscles tense and he doesn’t even know what he’s hoping for until Henke dives forward, separating Carts from the puck and completely killing the play.
Jon wants to skate down there and demand they do it again, watch it from up close so that he can see Henke’s stance, tell when he commits to the stop, look at his face the entire time and memorize every expression.
Basically, Jon needs to make out with Henke’s hockey. He doesn’t even care if that sounds weird, it’s just something he needs to do to not have some sort of weird hockey-sexual nervous breakdown. Jon could watch Henke play for hours, even if how good he is makes Jon worry that he’s going to have to spend another year warming the bench. In the year before his draft that’s the last place Jon wants to be.
Carts’ breakaway is the last good chance either team gets before the buzzer shuts them down, and the team heads into the locker room tied, leaving the ice to Jon and Henke.
“You’re really fucking good,” Jon says as they stand together on center ice. He’s been thinking it since they’d first worked out together, but it’s not until he opens his mouth that he realizes he’s never said it to Henke in so many words. “Really good.”
“I kept getting angry because I couldn’t see what you were doing,” Henke says, brushing a hand across Jon’s shoulder. “When you stopped Kopi’s slapshot from the point I almost cheered.”
Jon barely remembers the stop Henke’s talking about, lost in the series of shots he took from the other team at the beginning of the game. He thinks he blocked it with the tip of his skate, but it’s always hard for him to pick out an individual stop after the fact.
“Thanks,” Jon says, shrugging his shoulder. “Glad you liked it.”
Henke glares at him, looking annoyed that Jon isn’t as enthusiastic about that stop as Henke was.
“Your takedown on Cart’s breakaway was save of the year worthy,” Jon offers because it was.
Henke takes both of Jon’s shoulders and looks him in the eye. They’re standing close enough that their chest pads brush and Jon can see Henke’s eyelashes, still clumped together by sweat. “You are very stupid,” Henke says, speaking slowly and enunciating each word.
Jon frowns and is about to open his mouth to protest when Henke leans in and kisses him. Their lips are both a little chapped and they catch against each other as Henke moves away. “Stupid,” he repeats.
Jon mummers his agreement to whatever Henke’s babbling about and pulls him back in. They can argue or they can make out, and whatever Henke thinks Jon’s no fool.
Jon gets lost in pressing his mouth against Henke’s, learning the feel of Henke’s beard scraping against his cheeks. They kiss softly at first, mouths closed, learning the limits of lips and how hard to press. Henke nips at Jon’s lower lip and Jon’s mouth opens without any input from the rest of him. Henke takes the opportunity to slip Jon a little tongue, which definitely means that Jon needs to up the ante by licking his way into Henke’s mouth. Jon mentally congratulates himself on the catch in Henke’s breath when they pause to breathe, but only for a second before he starts kissing Henke again, trying to steal more of his air.
It’s not until Jon tries to shift closer and almost falls that he even remembers they’re still on the ice. It takes him another minute to stop kissing Henke and suggest they might want to take this to dry land.
“Right,” Henke says, blinking slowly. “Less pads.”
Jon hadn’t got past the whole not falling over part, but Henke makes an excellent point. Getting off the ice means they can take off their pads and maybe even take off more clothing later. Jon is really into Henke wearing a lot less clothing.
By the time they waddle into the dressing room they’re the last ones left at the rink. Jon’s restrained himself at least a dozen times from pinning Henke to the wall and kissing him until Jon’s beard burn has gone from threatening to full fledged. Henke keeps looking at Jon’s throat like he’s got all sorts of plans.
Taking off goalie pads isn’t sexy. For one thing, they smell like sweat, and for another, it involves a lot of yanking and tugging at velcro. The routine is too much part of Jon’s life to be anything special, not that different from getting dressed in the morning. Getting undressed isn’t sexy, but Henke glues his eyes to Jon the entire time, and Jon can’t stop watching him in return. Even with the locker room smell it’s not really surprising Jon has to adjust himself after putting on his shorts.
“You make me insane,” Henke says, coming over to Jon’s stall. “With the way you play hockey and the way you look at me. I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“When we first met you made me so angry,” Jon says, grabbing Henke’s t-shirt to pull him closer. Jon kisses his lips, then the tip of his chin, and the hinge of his jaw. “You were so sure you’d get starter, that you were better than me.”
“I thought I was,” Henke admits. He twists his head back a little to expose his throat, encouragement Jon hardly needs to keep kissing him. Jon keeps it light for now, but he’s definitely considering hickies in the future. “But you’re amazing.”
“You might be better. Only a little bit though,” Jon says, taking his mouth off of Henke’s neck. It’s something he’s barely let himself think, and then only late at night when the rest of his family is asleep, the house quiet. Jon’s always believed in his abilities and his hockey, but Henke’s mind blowingly talented. In the end it’s shockingly easy to tell him that because even though Henke’s good, there’s no way in hell Jon’s just letting him win. “You make me want to be better,” Jon tells him. “I want to beat you.”
“You think you can?” Henke asks, and then goes into to steal the reply with a kiss.
“Gonna try,” Jon says, muffling the words in Henke’s mouth.
“I can’t wait to see what you do,” Henke tells him, sounding excited to see what levels they can push each other to next. He pulls back with one last nip to Jon’s lower lip. “Come on, let’s go kiss in your car until I have to get home and finish homework.”
“What was that?” Jon asks, waving off Kopi, who’s taken a few steps over like he wants to ask what’s wrong. The rest of the team is looking over, but they take Jon’s hint and stay in their own stalls.
“That was Coach Sutter,” Henke says. He’s staring across the locker room blankly. Jon could probably wave his hand in front of Henke’s face and get nothing. Across the room Toffoli shuffles out of Henke’s line of site and then pretends he moved for completely unrelated reasons. “The district called. They’re not letting anyone play varsity who wasn’t enrolled last year. I can’t play on the team.”
“What do you mean you can’t play on the team?” Jon feels like a parrot, repeating what Henke just said.
“I mean they won’t let me play,” Henke says. He’s still not looking at Jon and he sounds like he’s lost inside his own head.
“That’s bullshit,” Jon says. He goes to his knees and starts taking off Henke’s left skate. They guys probably think he’s being weird, but that’s literally the last thing on Jon’s mind. “That’s complete bullshit, they can’t do that.”
“How am I supposed to stop them?” Henke asks, reaching out to rest a hand in Jon’s hair as if to anchor himself.
Jon pauses. Henke still looks like he’s just taken a puck to the head. “Call Coach Sutter,” Jon demands. “Put him on speaker phone.”
The phone seems to ring forever after Henke dials. “Hello?” Coach Sutter finally says, his voice tinny through Henke’s speakers.
“I got your voicemail, Coach,” Henke says, and Jon unlaces Henke’s other skate. “Is there anything I can do? Anything?”
“I’m afraid not, son,” Coach Sutter says. It’s hard to tell with Coach Sutter, but Jon thinks he sounds sorry. “They were pretty clear about about the new rule. You weren’t enrolled last year so we can’t have you on the team.”
“I moved to America for hockey,” Henke says, looking lost. “I want to play here.”
“We were looking forward to having you,” Coach Sutter says. “This rule is a damn shame, but I can’t talk them out of it.”
“Henke’s in summer school,” Jon argues, bracing himself on Henke’s leg so he can glare at the phone. “That should count for something, right?”
If Sutter’s surprised to hear Jon he doesn’t let it slip. “I did ask the district about that, but they said they needed enrollment during the last scholastic year. Summer school won’t cut it.”
“But that’s not fair,” Jon says, wincing a bit after the words leave his mouth. It’s dumb. He’s too old to believe in that kid stuff any more, but the worst part is that he means it.
Sutter’s been around for long enough that he’s basically unflappable. If he wonders why Jon’s arguing for his competition to stay around, he doesn’t ask. “I’m sorry, son,” Coach Sutter says, and Henke manages to cover all the pleasantries and thank him before hanging up.
Jon leans his head against Henke’s knee. “There’s got to be something we can do,” he mumbles.
Henke sighs. “I need to talk with my mom.”
Jon interlaces his fingers with Henke’s. “Can I come with you?” he asks, turning their hands back and forth. He hasn’t told his mom and dad about Henke yet, doesn’t know what Henke’s told his mom. Jon wants to be there anyway.
“Of course,” Henke says.
Someone clears their throat and Jon’s head snaps around. The locker room has weird privacy bubbles; it has to to accommodate a bunch of half naked dudes all trying to will their way to victory. Sometimes it makes it too easy for Jon to forget that other people can hear them.
“We just wanted you to know that we want you on the team too,” Kopi says. “You’ve got some mean saves.” He and Richie are fully dressed, with their bags slung over their shoulders. Kopi’s leaning against the door, and Richie’s swinging his keys, the lanyard wrapping itself in circles around his wrist.
“Plus you make Quickie less of a giant weirdo,” Richie adds.
Jon snorts, because he’s seen Richie tape his stick and no one who uses a protractor to get all his tape aligned has room to talk. “Hope it works out,” Richie says.
“Me too,” Henke says. Richie and Kopi walk out of the locker room with a nod, leaving him and Henke to change into their street clothes and drive to Henke’s home.
Henke lives in a new development, all green lawns and tan houses. Henke parks in the empty garage bay, next to a grey SUV. Jon leaves his car in the driveway, and they stand together on Henke’s front stoop. “So are your parents home?” Jon asks, reaching out to tangle his fingers in Henke’s again.
Henke shakes his head. “My dad’s still in Sweden with my brother and sister. But my mom’s car is here. She’s been doing all the paperwork for school, so maybe she knows how to fix this.” Henke squeezes Jon’s fingers but doesn’t let go as he opens the door.
“Mamma?” Henke calls out. There’s a response in Swedish, and Henke heads towards his mother’s voice, bringing Jon along.
The tall blonde lady Jon saw in the cafeteria is sitting on a couch with a laptop, a pile of papers on either side. She looks up at them, her eyes flicking from Henke to their hands. “Hello Henke,” she says mildly. It’s strange to hear Henke said with the proper accent; Jon’s used to being the only one who tries and hearing the flat “a” of Hank on everyone else’s mouth. “Are you going to introduce me?”
“Mamma, this is Jon,” Henke says, squeezing Jon’s fingers again. “Jon, this is my mother.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Mrs. Lundqvist says. She follows up with something in Swedish to Henke, and although her tone is pleasant enough, Henke lifts his chin when he responds in kind. Jon keeps quiet because he knows better than to interfere with family stuff.
Mrs. Lundqvist’s mouth goes flat, and Jon can see where Henke gets his skeptical face from. They continue to go back and forth, not exactly arguing as far as Jon can tell, but definitely having what Jon’s mother would call a spirited discussion. Jon studies the pictures on the mantle, framed photos of the whole Lundqvist family. He’s a bit surprised that Henke’s a twin; he doesn’t remember Henke mentioning that. Jon’s pretty sure they’re not identical though, Henke’s definitely more attractive.
Henke says something final sounding, and Mrs. Lundqvist nods. She stands up, moving her laptop and piles of paper from the couch onto the coffee table before walking over to Jon and Henke. She frames Henke’s face with her hands and then goes up on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead. “Mamma,” he says, rolling his eyes.
Mrs. Lundqvist ignores him, stepping over to do the same thing to Jon. Jon can feel the tips of his ears go red.
“You two go grab some food in the kitchen,” Mrs. Lundqvist says. “I know you must be hungry. I will make some calls.”
They’re halfway down the hall when Mrs. Lundqvist shouts “No kissing!” after them. Henke uses his free hand to cover his face.
“She said she didn’t want us fooling around until she’s talked to me about boys,” Henke mumbles through his fingers. “As if I didn’t know about boys, even though I am one.”
Jon’s can’t help smiling. He does manage to lock it down by the time Henke takes his hand off his face, so he’s calling it a win.
“Did you tell your mom what Coach Sutter said?” Jon asks. He doesn’t want to depress Henke again, but he can’t just ignore it either.
“Yeah,” Henke says. Just telling his mother makes Henke seem more secure, more like he believes they can figure this out, and that in turn settles Jon. “She says she’ll call some of the people she’s worked with on the paperwork.”
The kitchen is pretty bare, just appliances on the counter and a few cups in the sink. Henke lets go of Jon’s hand to open the fridge, and Jon tries to hide it when he wipes his palm on his shorts. It had got a bit clammy while Henke and his mom were talking in Swedish.
“How do you feel about meatballs?” Henke asks, considering their options.
“I like the ones at Ikea,” Jon offers.
“You’re in luck then,” Henke says, producing a tupperware container full of meatballs. “My mother doesn’t cook but she missed Swedish food. She went to Ikea last weekend and got a few packages of their meatballs. We’re kinda a stereotype.”
“I’m fine with that,” Jon says, opening a few cabinets until he finds ones with bowls.
“I’m glad you are,” Henke says with a smile as he portions the meatballs out.
Henke pops the bowls in the microwave and then reels Jon in.
“Thought we weren’t supposed to fool around,” Jon gets out in between kisses. It’s really a rhetorical question, Jon definitely wants to keep kissing Henke.
“Just for a little,” Henke says, and bites Jon’s lower lip while stroking Jon’s lower back, effectively ending the conversation.
The timer goes off seconds after Mrs. Lundqvist clears her throat in the doorway.
They jump apart and Jon scratches the back of his neck. Henke asks her something in Swedish and she shakes her head. “Senare,” she says.
“We made some meatballs,” Henke offers, taking the bowls out of the microwave and then looking guilty when he realizes there are only two.
“I will eat later,” Mrs. Lundqvist waves him off. “Henke’s always starving after practice, you must be too, Jon.”
“My mom says I eat like a horse,” Jon volunteers, taking a fork from Henke and sitting at the kitchen table.
Mrs. Lundqvist sits with them as they eat, asking casual questions about Jon’s training and his family. Her accent is stronger than Henke’s and sometimes she’ll pause, as if she’s trying to think of the appropriate word. She and Henke talk to each other in English for Jon’s benefit, and Mrs. Lundqvist seems to delight in telling embarrassing stories about her son.
“And his brother raised his hand for him, because Henke was too shy. Henke wouldn’t even be a goalie if Joel wasn’t so bossy,” Mrs. Lundqvist says, smiling at Henke. It’s clearly a family legend, told so many times that the details have solidified and are told the same way each time. Jon wants to hear all of the Lundqvist family stories, learn where Henke came from and who he was before Jon knew him.
“It was very nice to meet you, Jon,” Mrs. Lundqvist says, standing up. “I never expected my son would date a boy, but he likes you very much, and that makes me like you too.”
“Thanks Mrs. Lundqvist,” Jon mummbles. He scrapes his fork along the streak of sauce left in his bowl. “I like him a lot as well, if that helps.”
When Jon gathers his courage to look at Henke across the table his smile is blinding.
“Just like a boy and a girl,” Jessica says with authority. “It’s like in that book Mommy had to get for me from the Teen Room at the library.”
“Jon,” his dad says, “are you sure? You’ve never mentioned liking boys before.” His hands are folded on the kitchen table in front of him, and the entire conversation actually reminds Jon of when he demanded to play goalie. He’s got the same nervous feeling tightening his stomach, and there’s the same slightly confused acceptance on his parent’s faces.
“I’ve never dated a guy before, so I didn’t mention it,” Jon says with a shrug. “But I’m sure.”
“Well,” Jon’s mom says, nodding slightly to herself. “My cousin Sally’s been going to Peefleg meetings to support her youngest and her wife. I’ll tell her next month your father and I will be joining her.”
Jon pauses, and runs “peefleg” through his mental mom-to-the-rest-of-the-world translator. “I think you mean PFLAG, Mom,” he finally says.
“Yes, thank you, dear,” she says, and then finishes cutting Joey’s roast beef.
“I don’t think I should have to eat my carrots because eating carrots could be homophobic,” Jessica says, which definitely diverts his parents while they argue with his sister over phallic symbols and nutrition.
“Jon?” his dad says after dinner, while Jon is clearing the plates.
“Yeah, Dad?” Jon pauses. His father isn’t huge on talking about feelings, but he is big on the importance of family and being there for each other.
“Your mother and I love you very much, and we’ll always support you. I just wanted you to know that.” His dad is building a birdhouse in the living room, and he holds it up to eye the entrance critically.
“Thanks Dad,” Jon says around the lump in his throat.
“We’ll want to meet your boyfriend of course. Invite him over after practice,” his dad follows up with. Jon wishes that he could “forget” to tell Henke, but he knows better.
“Sure Dad,” he sighs.
can’t sleep he gets back.
Jon’s bedroom is far enough away from his parents’ that he if he keeps his voice low he can make phone calls while they’re asleep.
“Hey,” he says after Henke picks up. “I told my parents about us. They took it pretty well.”
Henke laughs softly, sounding a little embarrassed. “My mom tried to talk to me about sex after you left. She apparently has a lot of feelings about lubrication.”
Jon blinks up at his ceiling. He’s pretty sure that his mom doesn’t know what lube is, and if she does then Jon doesn’t want to know. “Glad I missed it,” he says.
Jon tries really hard not to think about the type of things he and Henke could do that would require lube because they’re also talking about moms and those streams shouldn't cross. He feels his cheeks flush anyway.
“Wish I could have,” Henke says.
“Hope her call with the district went better,” Jon says, shifting his pillow to get more comfortable.
Henke inhales loudly. “Not really,” he says. “Everyone she called said the board had already voted, and they’d have to vote again to get me an exception. And their next meeting isn’t until September.”
“That’s before the seasons starts,” Jon says, mentally running through their calendar. “Our first preseason game isn’t until September 27th. If you talk to them in early September then everything can be cleared up before we even play another team.”
There’s a long pause where all Jon can hear is Henke’s breathing.
“It’s only a maybe,” Henke says. “Mamma says that the people she talked to didn’t think the chance was even that good. I can’t,” Henke takes another deep breath and Jon feels like someone’s sitting on his chest. “I can’t wait on a maybe. Not in my draft year.”
“What are you going to do?” Jon asks. He stuck glow in the dark stars on his ceiling when he was nine, and a few are still up there. He concentrates on what’s left of the Little Dipper, trying to divorce what he’s saying and doing from what’s he’s feeling. It’s the same trick he uses after he gives up a particularly soft goal.
“My mom’s going to call Frölunda’s dev program and see if they’ll take me back for the season. If they say yes I’ll probably fly back to Sweden on Monday,” Henke says. “I’ll need to make training camp and I can’t afford to miss anything, not now.”
“You’re leaving on Monday?” Jon asks. “That’s really soon. Are you leaving for good?” He doesn’t say “are you leaving me?” but he thinks it comes out in his voice anyway.
“Jon…” Henke says.
Neither of them say anything for a good ten minutes, but they stay on the phone and listen to each other breathe.
“You wanna talk about it after practice tomorrow?” Jon finally says. Jon can’t imagine any team turning Henke down, but Jon wants to see his face and talk to him in person. There are some things the phone isn’t appropriate for.
“Yeah,” Henke says. “Yeah, I’ll see you then.”
Henke and Jon get undressed and shower quickly, going out to the parking lot to have some privacy in Jon’s car. Being upset doesn’t make Henke any less attractive, but his arms are crossed and he’s looking at Jon’s dashboard. Jon wants to lean across and kiss him, but he doesn’t think Henke wants that.
“What did Frölunda say?” Jon asks. He tucks his hands underneath his legs. He’s nervous enough that otherwise he might end up chewing his nails again and that habit took him all of sophomore year to kick.
“They want me back. They’re excited I’ll be playing in Sweden,” Henke says, still looking at the dashboard. “I’ve got to start packing as soon as I get back to the house.”
“Oh,” Jon says. He plays with the coins in the divider between their seats, picking them up and dropping them again. He looks at the coins, then at Henke, then back down at the coins. Henke’s looking out the window, as it it’ll hurt less if he can’t see Jon. If they’re this awkward still sitting in the same car Jon can’t even imagine how horrible it’ll be when Henke’s back in Sweden.
“I’ll miss you.” Jon’s distantly pleased that his voice doesn’t crack. “You were a really great boyfriend.”
“You don’t want to do long distance?” Henke asks. He reaches out to capture Jon’s hand, looking him in the eye for the first time since they sat down in the car.
There’s a greedy voice in the back of Jon’s head screaming at him to say yes, take anything Henke’s willing to offer. But it wouldn’t work. “It’d be really long distance. Plus we’ve both got school, practices, and games. It wouldn’t work.”
“You really think that?” Henke asks. Henke’s lips are a narrow line and Jon wants to reach up and brush his fingers across them, to make Henke smile.
But Jon’s seen too many of his former teammates try to keep relationships together after high school. “It’s what always happens,” he says. “I’d rather end it now than be in a weird, uncomfortable limbo until we break up.”
Henke’s face is horribly blank and it’s almost enough to make Jon change his mind. Jon wants to punch himself, or throw up. But he’d hate himself more if they tried long distance and failed.
“So this is it, then?” Henke asks.
Jon can’t end it like that, he can’t. He reaches out only to find Henke reaching back. They kiss over the gearshift, frantic and sloppy, with their teeth clashing.
“I’m going to miss you so fucking much,” Jon whispers when they finally pull apart. “Every fucking day.”
“Me too,” Henke says, brushing Jon’s hair behind his ears. “Me too.”
“You look kinda rough. How was your practice, honey?” his mom asks. She’s sitting on the couch and has the ever growing yellow blanket spread across her lap.
“Not good,” Jon says, dropping his bag since his attempts at stealth failed. “Henke’s headed back to Sweden.”
“Are you okay?” Jon’s mom asks, putting her crochet hook down and moving the blanket off her lap.
“No,” Jon says, and this time his voice does crack. “I broke up with him. I didn’t want to do long distance.”
His mom pats the couch next to her, and Jon sits down. He’s not super into hugs, but he doesn’t resist when his mom curls her arm around his shoulder. “It’s okay honey, it’s going to be okay,” she says, rubbing circles on his upper back.
Jon buries his face in her shoulder and just tries to keep breathing.
Today hockey1975 (whose obsession with Henke’s hockey Jon appreciates) has uploaded a highlight reel from Frölunda’s latest game. Henke makes a stop late in the first that Jon replays five times, peering at his computer screen and trying to figure out the details from the grainy footage. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, and Henke’s team loses, 3-2.
Some reporters interview Henke in the post game. He looks tired, but nothing out of the ordinary for a hard fought game. It’s all in Swedish, obviously, but Jon tries to analyze Henke’s tone, determine if he’s satisfied with the way he played, with how the game went, with playing in Sweden. Jon wants to know if they’ve made the right choice, if Henke misses Jon even half as much as Jon misses him.
Jon opens up an email and taps his thumb against the space bar. He eventually manages a few sentences about Gretzky High’s last game and hits send. He doesn’t mention that he follows Henke’s team. That just seems sad.
He lifts the National Cup overhead with a bone deep sense of satisfaction. The Cup represents a whole season’s worth of struggle and sacrifice, hours spent on buses and in practice, all the times they fought through the downs of loses and the highs of wins. He and his team have earned it.
Later, when they’re all extremely drunk at the team party, Kopi slurs, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile all season you sad bastard.”
Congrats on being drafted. I committed to UMass.
I saw you went ahead of me. Race you to the NHL?
After that he hangs on, holding their one goal lead even after they pull Henke for an extra attacker and Jon has to dive in front of a slap shot that almost sneaks past his left arm.
Jon loves winning, all professional hockey players do, but this might be the first time he feels a little conflicted.
“Hey,” Jon says back.
“You promised you’d pick up the tab,” Henke says, sliding into the seat across from him.
“I did win,” Jon agrees, because winner buys had been the terms they’d agreed to over email. They don’t email a lot; their schedules keep them busy and Jon’s never really liked how impersonal emails feel. He makes an effort for milestones and especially beautiful hockey though. Jon gets emails from Henke on similar occasions.
“I’m ordering the most expensive thing on the menu,” Henke says, flipping through the wine list.
“I think my wallet can take the hit,” Jon says, flagging down a waiter so they can order. It’s a fancy place, fancier than Jon would have picked on his own, but Henke suggested it and Jon doesn’t mind eating at steakhouses with linen tablecloths every once and a while. Besides, Henke said that they made the best steak in all of Manhattan and Jon’s always starving after games.
Neither of them talk very much once their steaks come, too focused on shoveling food in their mouth. They slow down after a while, sipping at their wine and comparing stories about their respective teams. Apparently half of Henke’s rookies have massive crushes on him, although Henke more diplomatically calls it “slightly excessive hero worship”. But Jon knows what it means when someone stands around, watching your drill.
Jon reenacts the celebratory dance one of his D-men does when he scores in practice. He gets a few weird looks from the people in the restaurant with them, but whatever, they’re not who he’s here to impress “I try harder to stop him than everyone else just because it’s so obnoxious,” he tells a laughing Henke. “The rest of them just encourage him.”
“Sounds like you get along with your team,” Henke says, still smiling. Jon’s surprised but relieved that he still gets Henke’s real smile, not the polished one he gives the media.
“Yeah,” Jon says. “They’re an obnoxious bunch of fucks, but that’s just hockey players, you know? They’re good guys deep down.”
Henke tosses an arm around the back of his chair. “Yeah, I know the type,” he says. “I might even like them if you hadn’t just won.”
Normally when Jon hangs out with players who he’s just beaten he’ll chirp them about the loss or gloat the tiniest little bit about his team being better. With Henke, Jon wants to replay the game they just finished, measure up against each other again and see if they’re really better.
“Your guys had me worried in the third,” Jon says. There were a few scrambles where he lost the puck completely, and they hit the crossbar at least once. Jon always tries not to think about crossbar saves, they make him feel lucky. Jon prefers to make his own luck.
“You played beautiful hockey tonight,” Henke says, relaxing into his chair. He must really like the wine and steak; Jon’s watched enough of his clips of his hockey to know how much Henke hates losing.
“I saw a couple of your saves on the Jumbotron,” Jon says. “You didn’t look bad yourself.”
“Maybe next time we’ll come out on top,” Henke says.
Jon raises his eyebrows. Henke’s definitely been in the States long enough to understand that piece of innuendo. Henke raises an eyebrow back, and Jon knows the expression on his face. It’s the same expression Jon wore the first two weeks of the summer he and Henke trained together; pissed, but kinda turned on, and pissed that he’s turned on by someone playing better than he does.
It makes Jon feel brave. “Did I do the right thing?” he asks, locking his hands together underneath the table. “By breaking up with you?”
If Henke’s surprised by Jon’s question he doesn’t show it. “Long distance is tough,” he says, taking another sip of his wine. “And plenty of my relationships have ended because of how much I travel.”
Jon doesn’t track Henke’s relationships because it would probably drive him crazy and it’s hypocritical besides. He’s had a few girlfriends since high school, and even fewer boyfriends, guys who knew how to keep things quiet. Being jealous would be irrational.
“You need someone who understands the lifestyle,” Jon agrees, because you do.
“High schoolers aren’t the most mature people,” Henke says. “I would have tried, and you would have too, but you were right. The distance would have ended it.”
Jon wishes he was satisfied that he did the right thing, but he just feels hollow.
“I used to watch your highlight from Frölunda,” Jon admits. “Learned some Swedish so I could work Swedish Youtube.”
Henke smiles at him across the table. “I still watch your highlights. Nice save against Dallas last week.”
Jon pushes around the lonely pea left on his plate, half looking down the table, half at Henke. “Do you think...I mean, I know there’s not an ocean, but we’re still pretty far apart, but, do you think...Do you want to give it another try? We’re older now, and we both understand what it’s like. I think we could make it work.”
The second before Henke answers seems to take an eternity. “Yes,” he says, reaching his feet underneath the table to tangle them with Jon’s. “I’d like that.”
Jon walks Henke out to his car after dinner, and he can’t stop the probably stupid looking smile that keeps sneaking on to his face.
Henke leans against his car. Jon stands in front of him, close enough that Henke’s jacket brushes against him when he reaches out to grab Jon’s hips.
Their first kiss is tentative, reacquainting themselves, but soon Jon’s pushing Henke up against his car and he’s probably going to have a hickey where Henke is biting at his neck.
Henke laughs when he comes up for air.
“What’s so funny?” Jon asks, taking the opportunity to run his hands through Henke’s hair.
“Making out against a car in a dark parking lot is very high school,” Henke says, but he’s spreading his legs to let Jon stand between them.
“Yeah,” Jon agrees. “Gotta uphold some traditions.”