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Are You Flipping My Pancakes, Parson?

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Swoops seriously needs Kent to stop.

It’s been two weeks since that fateful night at the bar, when the Aces were celebrating that they’d won that night’s game and also didn’t have to get on a plane until the day after next. Several beers in, someone--and Swoops wishes to God he remembered whom, because he wants to strangle them--made a joke that has haunted the team ever since.

Some asshole had asked, hypothetically, what it would be like if people used food-related expressions instead of literally any other idiom.

The joke died that night, for everyone except Kent.

“Swoops, man,” Kent calls across the ice, and Swoops braces himself before Kent continues, “that shot just now? Totally poached my eggs.”

Everyone else laughs. Swoops yells back, “What the hell does that even mean, Parse?”

When Kent just shouts, “It means you’re really steaming up the broccoli today,” Swoops thinks he deserved it.

--

It’s three weeks into Kent’s food idiom obsession and the rest of the guys are picking it up.

“Toady!” Finch yells over the bus seats. “Did you borrow my headphones?”

“Not since you lent ‘em to me last week,” Toady calls back.

Finch slides back down in his seat and digs through the pockets of his bag again. “Well then where the grilled cheese are they?” he grumbles. Swoops buries his face in a book and turns up his own music so he doesn’t have to hear.

--

After four weeks, talk on the ice and on the bench gets weird.

They’re playing the Blackhawks and losing 4-1. Sunny gets off a shift and falls into a seat next to Swoops. “They’re really baking our biscuits,” he grumbles.

Swoops stares at him in sad horror until Sunny realizes what he said. But instead of looking equally horrified, he just shrugs. “Well, they are. We’re making shit passes and giving ‘em too many openings for turnovers. It’s a fucking potluck out there.”

Swoops thinks he sees the start of a smug smile on Sunny’s face. He’s ridiculously relieved when his shift heads onto the ice.

After the game--which goes to the Blackhawks, 5-2, it’s embarrassing--everyone lines up for handshakes. Swoops is a few guys behind Kent, but he’s close enough to hear his team captain look the ‘Hawks captain in the face and say, “Good game, man. Nice cracking walnuts with you.”

Swoops hears the ‘Hawks captain exclaim, “...What?”

Kent moves down the line without providing an explanation. Worse, all three Aces after Kent repeat the sentiment.

When it’s his turn, Swoops just goes with it. “Good walnut cracking,” he says, and yeah, it’s kinda funny to see the befuddlement on the guy’s face.

--

Five weeks in, Swoops fucks up.

Red-faced and still panting after the second period in a game against the Leafs, he stops in the hall to do a routine intermission interview. The guy from NBC Sports asks run-of-the-mill questions. It’s nothing Swoops can’t and hasn’t done a million times.

Which is his only explanation for what happens: his brain is totally off.

“Just getting out there and making shots,” Swoops says, in response to a question about strategy for the final period. “We’re setting up great passes and getting a lot of takeaways, but if we’re not making the shots, then it’s just whisking eggs, you know?”

The reporter blinks at him, then does a half-chuckle as if he just got the joke. “Yeah, right. You guys going to add some flour and milk, make pancakes?”

The words are unusual enough in this context to jolt Swoops out of his half-aware funk. He replays his own words in his head and comes to a single conclusion: fuck. Outwardly, he forces the fakest laugh of his career. “We’ll see if we can flip it around.” Just kill him now.

The real embarrassment comes a day later, when articles about the interview flood the feeds and the Aces get wind of it. Swoops had thought the situation was bad before. He has single-handedly made it catastrophic. The chirping is not only incessant, it’s laden with food-related puns and made-up idioms.

Rock-bottom comes when they’re in a tense, tight game against Pittsburgh. Malkin gets into it with Finch. Sunny goes to break it up, which makes it worse. Nobody is surprised when Malkin gets a penalty, but when Finch and Sunny are both sent to the box and Sunny is handed double minor penalties, to be served consecutively, the Aces coach waves over the ref.

The argument is heated and audible, but professional. Right up until Swoops hears, “...can’t justify it when you’ve got Malkin out there shucking corn with my guys.”

Just because the din of the arena is deafening doesn’t mean he can’t hear the whole bench go quiet.

The ref hesitates. “...Sorry, Malkin is what?”

Coach, visibly going pink, waves it off and quickly concludes the conversation. None of the penalties change.

Nobody mentions the incident, even though they’re all grinning around their mouth-guards.

--

Six weeks in, Kent abruptly stops.

When Swoops asks why, Kent shrugs. “Got bored,” he says, and that’s all the explanation he gives.

A lot of the other guys follow suit. It had become something of a team joke, but it’s a fact that any punchline stops being fun once the captain isn’t laughing anymore.

What’s stupid is that Swoops misses it. When the food joke was a thing, his whole schtick was that he hated it and groaned every time anyone replaced a normal idiom with a food phrase. But now that it’s gone, he keeps finding himself wanting to use food idioms all the time and getting annoyed that he can’t. If no one else on the team is doing it, he’ll sound dumb trying to keep it up by himself. It was different when it was just Kent. The whole point of Kent making dumb jokes is to amuse himself. Kent is like that: he skates like a badass and plays like a wet dream and acts suave and cool for the cameras and fans, but on the bus or the plane or in hotel rooms, he’s the biggest dork.

Swoops misses the food joke. It was asinine and childish, but it made Kent laugh. Swoops never joined in when it was ongoing, but now that it’s gone he feels like he missed his shot.

What’s more, he thinks it’s not his imagination that Kent looks down about it.

He gets a seat next to Kent the next time they’re on a plane. Once they’re in the air, he says, “Wanna watch Netflix?”

Kent does, so they get out Swoops’ laptop and share Kent’s earbuds. Swoops cleans his earbud furiously with a napkin before putting it in.

“Don’t want your fucking earwax, man,” Swoops says when Kent rolls his eyes.

They sit shoulder-to-shoulder for a short while, watching in silence. Kent has chosen a TV series that they’ve both seen before.

At one point, Swoops interjects, “I can’t believe they kill her next season.”

Kent huffs. “Right? Wasted her fucking character with a season of half-assed buildup, then just.” He mimes an exploding head.

“Yeah, it mashes my damn potatoes,” Swoops agrees. He feels rather than sees Kent turn to look at him.

“Bro, you know what you just said, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

Kent huffs a laugh. “Can’t believe you’re still infected with that mind virus. It’s been, like, a month.”

“Nah, just a couple of weeks. And the joke wasn’t that bad.”

Kent pauses the episode. “Wasn’t that bad? It drove you crazy.”

Swoops shrugs. “Yeah, but like. It was kinda funny.”

Kent is staring at him like Swoops is speaking gibberish. “You said, and I quote, ‘I swear to God, Parse, if I could go back in time to that bar, I’d find the dumbass who made that joke in front of you and started us on this path to hell, and I’d kill him myself.’ You said that.”

Swoops winces. “You can’t take me seriously after any game we lose. Especially to the Bruins.”

“Bro,” Kent says. “I stopped doing it because of you.”

“...Oh.” Swoops shifts in his seat. “I wasn’t the only guy who complained.”

“You were the fuckin’ loudest, though.”

“Oh,” Swoops repeats. Then he grins. “You mean you stopped buttering toast just for me?”

Kent shoves him. “Christ.”

“Well, crack some eggs and fry me some rice, Parse,” Swoops teases. “You do care!”

“I’ll crack your fucking egg,” Kent says, and puts him in a headlock until Swoops begs for mercy. (But not before he tells Kent to stop putting away his groceries.)