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Look at the wonderful mess that we made

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Jamie doesn’t think about names until his brother’s starts to appear a few months before Jordie’s thirteenth birthday. He was too young to pay attention when his sister’s came in, and now it just seems like Jenny’s has always been there.

Jordie’s he notices. It starts as a faded-looking freckle on his wrist and comes in so gradually that Jamie doesn’t remember when it stopped being just a freckle and started being something he could read.

It’s Jamie’s eleventh birthday and his family is sitting at the dining room table, eating cake. He catches sight of the darker shapes and it seems weird he wouldn’t have seen it before.

“Hey, it’s letters,” Jamie blurts out.

Jordie rolls his hand over and follows Jamie’s eyesight. “Yeah. Katy.”

Jamie regards him curiously as Jordie goes back to wolfing down the blue icing flower.

“You’ll get yours when you’re older,” his dad reaches over and pats Jamie’s hand. Jamie checks his wrists just in case. There’s nothing there yet.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie doesn’t think about names again until he turns twelve. Jordie’s had come in completely by then, carefully printed letters that seemed to grow with his body. It wasn’t even strange to Jamie anymore; just like with Jenny’s, he’s used to seeing it.

But when Jamie turns twelve, it feels like suddenly he’s counting down to when his own will come in. He checks every morning for freckles or marks, carefully cataloging any bruises or scratches that might turn into anything.

Not everyone gets a name. Some never come in at all. Sometimes a name will start to appear and then fade out for no reason. Sometimes it stays a clouded bruise like Jordie’s had been in the beginning. And Jamie heard a rumor once that if you don’t find your soulmate in time, or if you ignore it and don’t look for them, the name will just go away. He doesn’t know if that’s true, but it makes him sad. How does your name decide how much time is enough time? He hopes that’s not true.

And sometimes, people have to hide their names with wristguards, or if they want to hide it forever, a tattoo.

Jamie’s sister told him about a book she read where a girl had another girl’s name come in. The girl’s mom didn’t want her daughter to have another girl on her wrist and she tried to make her date boys instead, hide her name from other people and didn’t treat her the same anymore. What he remembers most is Jenny telling him that the girl had tried to cut the name off. It scared him to think about, and still does sometimes. Jamie doesn’t remember the ending.

In history class they talked about how people who had same-sex names used to be put in jail. A long time ago in America, some of them were even burned at the stake. It’s not like that here anymore, he knows, but he’s seen the old men in flashy suits and bushy eyebrows on the TV Sunday mornings when he’s looking for cartoons. He’s heard them talk about how people with those names shouldn’t get married, should be sent away. Jamie doesn’t know how strangers think they can decide that for people, but the guy continued on his rant about unions that make children and living the way God wants.

“But if God gives you the name, how can it not be what God wants?” Jamie had asked Jordie.

“Huh? I don’t know. What are you even watching? Batman is on channel 7.” Jamie flipped to channel 7 and let it drop.

But he knows that the guy on TV isn’t alone. He’s also seen on the news or in the newspapers how in other countries—sometimes even in Canada—things happen to those people that are worse than just not being able to get married. Sometimes they get killed.

When he sees people who wear guards, he wonders if they’re hiding a same-sex name. Or how you would even know if your name was same-sex—there are two other Jamie’s in his school and both of them are girls. He met a boy once called Jamie, but his name was actually James.

Jamie knows that people hide their names or wear guards for lots of reasons, though. When he’d asked his mom about it, she told him some people do it because they feel like their names are private, or they aren’t ready to start looking for their soulmate yet.

“What about you? Did you wear one?”

“I did in college. It was important to me to focus on school. I knew what my wrist said, but it wasn’t a priority just then. When I was ready, and I was back in Victoria, I stopped wearing it.”

“And then you met Dad?”

“And then I met Dad. And then we got married and had your sister and your brother and you.”

“How did you know he was the right Randy?” When Jamie was little, he would sit on his parents’ laps and trace over the names on their wrists, sometimes without even thinking about it. He always liked how the letters there looked the same as the letters on the notes in his lunches, the hockey schedule on the calendar, the grocery list. It made him feel safe.

“Well, his handwriting for one. But, it also just felt differently. You remember that time when you and I were at the library and Jordie got hurt at practice?”

Jamie remembers. He’d gone with his mother to run errands after dropping his brother off. Jordie had sprained his ankle pretty badly when he’d stepped on a puck during a drill, and even though Jamie’s mom wasn’t there to see it, he remembers her grabbing him by the hand and dashing back to the rink.

“With a mom and her kids, it’s a mother’s intuition. With your soulmate, it feels a little like that sometimes, but not the same. Sometimes I can tell when he’s having a bad day at work or if he’s getting sick, or if he’s excited about something.”

“Like a mind reader?” She laughs and shakes her head.

“No, not like a mind reader. More like a feeling that I have right here.” She holds her fist up to her chest, against her breastbone. Jamie reaches up and touches his own chest. He doesn’t feel anything but his heartbeat.

She ruffles his hair. “Why the curiosity all the sudden?”

Jamie shrugs and bares his naked wrists.

“Don’t worry honey, it’ll come.”

Jamie had let her think he was just impatient, but in reality, he was scared for it. When Jordie started liking girls, Jamie wasn’t interested at all.

“You’re too young anyway,” Jordie rolled his eyes when Jamie told him so. “You’ll get it one day. It’s not like they actually have cooties.” Jamie just shrugged. He didn’t think about girls in a good way or a bad way, they were just there.

But then boys on his team started talking about girls—boys his age. They talked in the locker room about who was prettier in their class, who smelled the nicest. They talked about who was getting boobs already and whose were going to be the biggest. Jamie didn’t care at all about which girls had to wear bras already; why should he?

Cory had stood in the middle of the locker room in only his underwear, laughing as he mimed feeling up some girl in his math class. He swung his hips in wide circles and moved his hands through the air like he was outlining the silhouette of curves.

The other boys whooped and hollered and threw their sweaty socks at him. Jamie couldn’t stop staring at Cory’s hips.

It didn’t get easier after that. Sometimes the boys talked about who they would kiss if they could. Alexa had really nice lips; wouldn’t it be awesome to kiss her? What about Becca? Hey Jamie, Jamie! Your sister is hot, I’d kiss her.

Jamie punched Andy in the arm as hard as he could and tried to look as pissed as possible. He was distracted though because he was also thinking about kissing Andy.

He tried to stop thinking about other boys, he really did. Anytime he caught himself, he would force himself to think about girls instead. He tried to picture their long hair and their skinny wrists and their sparkly earrings and fluttering skirts. He tried to like how they smelled like vanilla or fruit or flowers, depending on whatever type of perfume they used. He tried to think about holding their hand, with their painted fingernails and colorful plastic rings. Jamie really, really tried.

And he’s still trying when he turns twelve, but it doesn’t feel any more like he can trick himself into believing he wants it. And he definitely doesn’t think he can trick the name on his wrist. So every morning, Jamie checks his arm for any sign of something different.

He’s scared it will come in all at once, with no warning. If it weren’t summer, he’d be in long sleeves every day. Instead, he starts to hide his wrist, shoving his hand in his pocket when he’s walking around, tucking it away in his lap during dinner. He asks his baseball coach if he can try something other than pitcher, not liking the way that his wrist is exposed each time he throws the ball. He tries to love playing in the outfield.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie makes it a full year without a name.

“Mom said Aunt Wendy’s name didn’t come in until she was 17! I wonder if you’ll have to wait that long.” Jordie tells him without warning one day. Jamie really hates that his family talks about his wrist behind his back, like it’s already a concern for them.

About two-thirds of his team has names on them, or the starts of one. None of them wear guards, though. Jenny just got a few for college next year, deciding like their mom she wanted to focus on school first. Jamie wonders if he can start wearing one now, say it’s so he can focus on hockey and baseball.

He thinks about it all summer, asking for one before he needs it. In the end, he decides that he’s going to ask right before school starts. Maybe he can say he’s just nervous that he’s not gotten his name yet, doesn’t want anyone to know.

In hindsight, he wonders if that jinxed him, because he wakes up two weeks before the first day of school with a wide, soft brown splotch in the center of his left wrist that wasn’t there the morning before.

He panics.

Jamie doesn’t mean to cry about it, but the surge of terror through his body shocks him awake too quickly for his brain to keep up and he’s hyperventilating as quietly as he can so no one comes to check on him. He wipes his eyes furiously and holds his breath. He tries laying back down and waking up again. He even stupidly tries pinching himself.

The splotch is still there, and if anything, he already swears it’s darker.

Luckily, Jamie’s been hiding his wrist for so long, no one in his family notices that he’s tucking his hands into his pockets more frantically or wearing his team windbreaker around the house. When he loses the jacket to go shoot pucks with Jordie in the driveway, he’s pleased to see that his gloves cover his wrist completely.

Three days before school starts, Jamie has already picked out a long-sleeved team shirt from a summer hockey tournament to wear the first day. His mom got him a size bigger than he usually wears so he can grow into it, but Jamie likes that the sleeves are long enough that they cover half his palms when he pulls them down.

Two days before school starts, it’s his and Jordie’s turn to set the table. His mom calls them in from the driveway. Jordie bounds inside first, but Jamie hangs back, chucks his gloves back into his bag and shrugs on his windbreaker.

Jordie is sampling from the stove when Jamie comes into the kitchen and he laughs when his mom thumps Jordie on the head. She does the same to Jamie when he opens the drawer and reaches for the silverware.

“Jamie, wash your hands first!” She shoots him a look and he’s so distracted by making sure he looks appropriately sheepish that he doesn’t even think when he budges up his sleeves and reaches for the soap.

“Whoa! Jamie, you’ve got a mark!” Jordie looks over from where he’s pulling plates down from the cabinet and Jamie freezes.

His mom leans over his shoulder to look and Jamie flips his wrist quickly.

“It’s just dirt. From playing outside,” he lies, impressed with how calm he sounds.

“Let me see, honey.”

“No! Mom, it’s nothing!”

She takes his hand anyway and Jamie lets her, heart thumping loudly. “I don’t think it’s just dirt,” she rubs her thumb over the spot like Jamie’s done himself a thousand times, trying to erase it. “How long has it been there?”

“I don’t know!” He’s still shouting and doesn’t really know why. “Maybe a puck hit me! Just let me wash my hands, okay?” Jamie never shouts at his mom.

No one in his family can figure out why he’s so upset about his wrist and Jamie doesn’t volunteer it. When he asks for a guard that night, his mom and dad frown at him, tell him he’s too young for one yet.

“Maybe we can talk about it again next summer, before high school,” his mom offers, but doesn’t sound like she really means it. It’s not good enough for Jamie.

They let him wear his long-sleeved shirt on the first day and Jamie feels embarrassed that they know why. The only thing that makes him feel better is that Jordie isn’t in the same school as him this year, and he doesn’t have to worry about him blabbing about his name coming in to his friends.

It’s easy to hide at school. He’s not left handed so he can keep his wrist hidden away or his palm pressed down on his desk. No one in his year is wearing a guard yet, and it pains Jamie to admit that his mom was right to make him wait. It would probably draw more attention if he had one at this point.

As the year goes on and the hockey season starts, Jamie still spends every morning trying to pick out individual letters as the splotch bleeds together. It’s a little like watching an inkblot form in reverse, he thinks. He wants to know what it’s going to say already as much as he wants it to stay the same indistinct smudge.

By now, everyone on his team has at least the beginnings of a name. They don’t talk about them as much as they did when it was still new, but it comes up more frequently in the locker room than Jamie would like. Some of the guys have one as dark and set as Jordie’s, while others have the same faded bruise Jamie started with. He tries not to stare—for more reasons than just being nosy—but he can’t help it. He’s constantly on the lookout for anyone who might be in the same position as he is.

Cory’s name was one of the first to come in, and his Riley made Jamie wonder for a while, but when the stain had settled and the letters were clear, the handwriting is distinctly curly and girly and feminine, a little star dotting the i. Cory had groaned and rolled his eyes when it was clear enough, showing the boys in the room.

“High maintenance,” some of the guys had chirped him.

“Whatever, I bet she’s crazy hot.”

Of the guys who have names that are legible, the ones that Jamie has seen—Riley, Noemi, Caroline, Alyssa, Sarah, Kayla, Maryse—are all female.

All he can figure is that he’s been staring at his own wrist so long he’s blind to it, because that’s the only thing that explains what happens when Mark looks at him quizzically as he laces up his skates and says: “Does that say Tara?”

“Huh?”

“Your wrist? What’s it say?”

Jamie puts on his meanest face. “Fucking nothing yet, mind your own business.”

Mark pulls back a little, stung. “Sorry, I was just asking. You stare at mine.” Jamie feels himself flush.

When he gets home, he locks himself in the bathroom and stands on the sink to get as close to the vanity light as he can. It does start with a T, he can see that now. It’s blurry and spindly, but it’s definitely there, carefully crossed and slightly crooked.

It doesn’t say Tara, though. He can tell as much.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler.

The first person to see it once it’s readable, but still slightly haloed and indistinct, is Jordie. Jamie shows it to him on purpose.

He’s been able to make it out for three whole weeks now, though the L and the R are the last to really clear up, but what else could it have been? It feels like all his fears have been realized and it takes him each moment of those three weeks to work up the courage to walk into Jordie’s room and bare his wrist.

He thrusts it straight out at him and winces a little, torn between watching Jordie’s reaction and shying away from it. Jordie doesn’t even notice at first, splayed on his stomach on his bed, engrossed in his Walkman and geometry homework.

It feels like an eternity before he sees Jamie standing there, fingers trembling a bit.

“What?” Jordie looks at his wrist and then up at his face. Jamie doesn’t answer, just juts his jaw and pushes his wrist forward a fraction more.

Jordie’s brow is furrowed as he pulls off his headphones and tugs on Jamie’s forearm to get a better angle. Jamie feels tears stinging his eyes before Jordie even says anything.

“‘Tyler’?”

Jamie doesn’t answer. He nods, but Jordie is still looking down at his wrist and doesn’t see. It’s when Jordie looks up at him with a question on his face that the tears finally spill over.

“Whoa, what’s wrong?” Jordie moves to sit, knocking his textbook to the floor. Jamie doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything. He tugs his wrist back and wipes at his eyes as Jordie wraps his arms around Jamie’s waist and pulls him to sit down.

“Jamie, what’s wrong?”

“Tyler,” he croaks out. It’s the first time he’s ever said it out loud.

“What’s wrong with Tyler?”

“It’s a boy.”

“No way.” Jordie scrunches up his nose like that’s impossible, and Jamie feels so much worse. “I bet I even know who it is! My goalie’s sister is a Tyler.”

“She’s in my class, her name’s Taylor.”

“It is? Well, there’s obviously a girl named Tyler out there or else—“

Jordie.” His voice is more forceful and Jordie snaps his mouth shut. “It’s a boy.”

“Oh.”

Maybe there is a Tyler out there who’s a girl, Jamie doesn’t know. But his Tyler is not; he was never going to be a girl, and Jamie kind of hates that he’s always known that.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler’s name comes in when he’s still pretty young, barely ten at the time. He’s the first person in his class to get the tell-tale darkening patch on his wrist. It fades in slowly, though—takes almost a year and a half before he can make out any letters.

He likes this nebulous Jamie right away. He doesn’t know anything about them, but Tyler thinks that they must be pretty special if they showed up so early.

His mom is excited for him and lets him babble on as long as he wants. I bet that Jamie likes… I wonder what Jamie thinks about… Do you think Jamie would ever… Wouldn’t it be awesome if Jamie…

“I’m sure she really likes Harry Potter, too, honey.”

“They.”

“I’m sorry?”

“’I’m sure they really like Harry Potter.’ Jamie could be for a girl or a boy, right?” Tyler doesn’t want to exclude his Jamie by accident.

“Tyler, you shouldn’t say that. People might get the wrong idea.”

But Tyler doesn’t care about people, just Jamie. He tells his mom as much and she snaps at him with an angry look that makes Tyler shrink back.

“Well you should care! How would Jamie feel if she knew you were confusing her for a boy this whole time?” Tyler hadn’t thought about it like that before. His mom’s name had never really come in clearer than a blur so maybe she knew what she was talking about.

He says ‘she’ now, when he talks about Jamie out loud, but in his head, Jamie is still either. Tyler keeps that to himself for the next five years.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wants to play in the NHL. More than he wants do well in school, more than he wants to pitch again, more than he wants to meet his soulmate, meet Tyler.

“There’s nobody in the NHL with a guy’s name,” Jordie looks solemnly over at Jamie after he helped him look online for an answer to his question.

“Did you try ‘gay’?” He can feel himself blushing and Jordie quirks his lip up in a sad little consideration before turning back to the computer. He types something quick and scrolls through search results.

“There’s maybe some? I don’t know. This says that Lecavalier might have a tattoo over his name. And some guys apparently never take their guards off at all. Maybe they have a guy’s name on them.”

“Or no name.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Jordie clicks around on a few message boards. Jamie can read over his shoulder at some of the things people are writing.

Jamie’s face is burning by the time Jordie closes the tab. He feels like he did when that man on the TV said boys with boys’ names shouldn’t get married—confused, humiliated, and alone.

“M’sorry, Jamie.” Jordie bites his lip and turns to him, eyes dropping to where Jamie’s sleeve is drawn over his palm. “I know you really wanted to play hockey.”

“But why can’t I? Why can’t I play?” He tries not to let his voice crack, but it happens anyway and Jordie pretends not to notice when Jamie quickly wipes his sleeve over his eyes.

“I mean, you can, I guess. If Vinny has a tattoo or whatever. You could get a tattoo and cover it up.”

Jamie doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t think that he’d want to get one even if he could. The only time that he doesn’t loathe Tyler, isn’t completely furious with him, is when he stops thinking about him like a Name, and starts thinking about him like a Person.

There’s a Tyler out there, with Jamie’s name written on him, and when he thinks about it like that, Jamie feels something that is much closer to protective. Sure he gets mad at him, but it’s still his Tyler.

What if Jamie tattooed over his name and then Tyler’s disappeared? What would he think? Jamie thinks about how it would feel if his wrist were bare again. He thinks he would be relieved, but if it was because Tyler didn’t want him? Well, that wasn’t fair, Tyler didn’t even know Jamie! Maybe Jamie hated Tyler now, but he didn’t want to reject him forever.

“I’m not old enough for a tattoo,” he says instead. Jordie nods sagely.

“We could find another way to hide it. We could ask Mom and Dad.”

“No!” Jamie thinks about the book that Jenny told him about. How the girl’s mom was so upset at her name that she made her hide it and date boys and stopped loving her the same. He doesn’t want his mom and dad to stop loving him, and he doesn’t want to date girls. He just wants to play hockey. If he’s got to pick between Tyler and hockey, Jamie’s going to pick hockey every time.

“Well, they know your name is coming in. They’re going to want to see it eventually.”

“Not yet. I don’t want them to know just yet.” Jamie tugs on his sleeve until his whole hand is swallowed up in the fabric, tucked tight in his fist. “Maybe Jenny, though.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie wants to talk to Jenny without Jordie there.

It’s dumb, but she’s known their parents the longest, and Jamie figures that maybe she will have some better advice. Maybe she knows a way to hide he hasn’t thought of.

She doesn’t.

She gives him one of her college wristguards though, and a hug that feels so much like the ones that he’s too old to ask his mom for anymore, and Jamie doesn’t feel so scared for the first time in a long time.

“Jenny?”

His sister cards her fingers through his hair and rubs her thumb over the Tyler, so much clearer now that it was even last week. “Yeah, Fats?”

“D’you remember in that book that you read.” He trails off as she traces the letters, one last time, before clicking shut the snaps on the guard and pulling his sleeve back down. “In the book where the girl tried to cut off her name—”

She stills abruptly. “Jamie. Don’t you dare.”

“M’not! I won’t! Jenny, I swear I wouldn’t. I just—what happens at the end? Do you remember?”

“Mmhmm. At the end, Liza meets her Annie, who has her name, and they fall in love—because they’re soulmates.” She squeezes him a little when she says it. “And it’s hard at first, Liza isn’t sure about giving up everything else for Annie. But you know what? She realizes that what she has to give up doesn’t even touch what she gets in return. And they live happily ever after.”

“But, but she has to give things up! That’s not happy, that sucks!”

“Maybe that’s not the best way to say it. I guess it’s more like, more like what gives her up. Like her mom. But she still does all the same stuff. She goes to college and she studies what she wants and she makes friends.” A beat. “I know you love hockey, Jamie. And I know you’re scared that you won’t be able to play anymore, but listen to me. You’re the exact same person that you were before your name came in. You can still skate, you can still shoot. Hell, you’re gonna be faster than Jordie at the rate you’re going. None of that goes away because of any name, okay?”

He nods weakly. “Okay.”

“And there’s no way in the world that your Tyler would be mad at you for trying everything you could to live your dream. I don’t know Sean yet, but I know that he won’t mind that I wear the guard and go to college before I look for him. You know how I know?”

“No.”

“Because if he minded, he wouldn’t be my soulmate. My soulmate wants me to be happy, and yours does, too. Tyler is going to want you to play the best hockey you can. Maybe it won’t work out, maybe you won’t get to play in the NHL one day. But it’s not going to be because of a name, Jamie. That’s got nothing to do with it.”

Jenny shows him how to take the guard off and on. She shows him how to lock it so it won’t come off if someone pulls or if he gets hit during hockey. She promises him that she will talk to their parents—without mentioning him—and gauge their reaction before he shows them.

“I’ll do it for you, but I know they just want you to be happy, too.”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Three days later, Jamie is an expert at taking the guard on and off in the bathroom before school. The boys in the locker room ask him about it, like he worried they might.

“Tell them that it’s a famous person and you have to hide it!” Jordie offers.

Jenny shoots him a look. “Tell them it’s private.”

Jamie does, but they don’t listen.

Is it your cousin? Your sister! Did it disappear? Is it a boy? It’s a boy isn’t it. I bet it’s a teacher here or something. Can we at least see it, Jamie? Just one time.

“It’s private.”

Pssh. I bet you’re gay and it’s a boy’s name. I bet it’s someone in this room! No idiot then someone in here would have Jamie’s name. Maybe he doesn’t have one. No he has one, I saw it before. It was Tara. Wasn’t it Tara, Jamie?

“Shut up! It’s fucking private, okay?!”

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie tells his parents on a Saturday, after Jenny talked to them on Friday night.

“They won’t hate you. I told them that my friend had a girl’s name on her wrist and she was scared and they said that was silly. I told them her parents were mad at her and mom actually wanted me to invite her over to stay here if she needed to. They’re not gonna hate you, Fats. And if they do, and I read everything totally wrong? Then I’ll take you and we’ll go live somewhere else, okay? You and me and Jordie, if he wants to come.”

“Fuck yeah, I’d come!” Jordie looks annoyed at his sister for even suggesting otherwise.

Jamie tells them at the same time, walking into their room, knowing that Jordie and Jenny are right outside the door. He starts crying before he can even get out what he wants to say, settles for wiping his eyes with his right hand and holding his left wrist out toward them.

“It’s—it’s a him.”

They don’t hate him, but it’s not perfect. His mom hugs him so tight he’s afraid he’ll pop, and when she lets go, his dad does the same. His mom is wiping her eyes, too.

“Are you mad?”

“Jamie, sweetie, I’m not mad. I’m a little sad, but I’m not angry.”

“Why are you sad?” His voice sounds so much younger than he means for it to. He’s a teenager, for god’s sake, even if he doesn’t really feel like one right now.

It’s his dad that speaks up first. “It’s, it’s not going to be the same for you. It’s not going to be as easy.”

“I know,” he mumbles into his dad’s shoulder. He does know; he’s figured as much since he read the message boards with Jordie. Since he heard the Sunday preachers on TV talk about people like him like they weren’t whole people. Since he was little and had nightmares about being burned at the stake in Massachusetts for something he can’t do anything about.

“We want you to be happy, Jamie.”

“Well, m’not. I wish it was gonna be easy. I just want to play hockey. I want. I want things to not change.”

“We’ll do what we can, sweetheart,” his dad says finally, and it feels like they’ve settled on something without telling Jamie what it is.

Jordie never talked about what he wanted to do when he grew up until after Jamie’s name comes in. Suddenly, he talks a lot about the NHL, too. He says things like, ‘when we get drafted’ and ‘when we play in the NHL’ and it makes Jamie feel more in control, like there’s someone in his corner all the time.

He ends up playing on Jordie’s teams; no one on his new team has ever known him not to wear a guard.

Jenny puts hers on long before she heads off to school. Jordie starts wearing one, too.

Then it becomes a thing, the Benn siblings all wear guards. They’re private. People who think it’s strange don’t ever guess the reason why. It’s just how they Benns are. Maybe they’re religious. Maybe none of them have names. Maybe they have really strict parents.

It makes things a little harder for Jordie and Jenny, but no one ever calls Jamie out for it.

“When we play in the NHL, we can keep them on there, too.” Jordie says it like it’s nothing.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie is playing on a team with his older brother and he’s keeping up. His massive growth spurt helps, even though he carries all his weight differently—doesn’t mean he’ll ever shake the nicknames though—and it takes him a little while to get his speed back. The aches in his joints have stopped being a constant soreness, his body felt like it had been twisted around a spool for a while. Now they’ve settled into an occasional shooting pain in his legs or back. He’s nearly as big as his brother now; it doesn’t mean that Jordie isn’t still looking out for him though, but Jamie likes that Jordie treats him like an equal and not a kid brother. He’s the one that convinces Jamie to sneak out with him to a team party.

Jamie is fifteen, and he has his first beer and his first kiss on the same night. Jordie hands him the beer, sternly telling him that he is only to have the one—he’ll get him more later if he thinks Jamie can handle it. Then later on, when Jamie is already feeling buzzed and happy, Jordie dares one of the boys—Steven, who Jamie can’t deny he’s checked out once or twice—to kiss Jamie in thanks for the beautiful pass that had set him up for his hat trick goal the game before.

Jamie doesn’t expect him to actually do it, but then Steven is grabbing him by the cheeks, turning Jamie’s head with more force than is really comfortable, and planting a wet, beer-flavored kiss right on Jamie’s lips.

“Thanks for the sweet-ass pass, Fats! You’re a doll!” Steven lets go of Jamie just as hard as he’d grabbed him and Jamie stumbles back a step.

“Ugh!” He wipes his mouth of the excess spit with the back of his sleeve and shoves Steven back but doesn’t miss the way Jordie is grinning at him like this is the best gift he could think of. Jamie rolls his eyes, but it wasn’t all that bad.

On the way out, Jordie swipes two beers a piece for them and once they sneak back into their house, they set up Jamie in a sleeping bag on the floor and sip them slowly, laughing in hushed voices until the sky is glowing navy. They’re only just settling in to sleep when Jordie whispers down at Jamie after a long silence.

“I bet your Tyler likes hockey.”

Jamie looks over at where Jordie is blinking sleepily down at him with a half-smile. Sometimes Jamie thinks it’s weird that his brother is his best friend, but this isn’t one of those times. He knows what this night was about—Jordie wanting him to feel accepted—and in this moment, Jamie couldn’t love him more.

“I bet your Katy likes hockey,” Jamie parrots—it feels rather insubstantial compared to how he’s feeling.

“She does.” Jordie whispers after a while. “I think maybe I met her.”

“What?” Jamie sits bolt upright and stares at his brother best he can in the dim light.

“I think I met her at the rink last week. She’s a goalie.”

Jamie heard stories growing up, from his parents and his classmates and teachers and teammates. All the Victoria natives have always joked about it; the locals have said it’s a part of the lore of the place. ‘People from the Island are always with people from the Island.’ That if you’re born here, you’ll find your soulmate here is one of the reasons that people always come back. It’s been that way forever. Even when you leave, like his mom did, you always come back to Victoria.

“Did you talk to her?”

“No. Well, yeah, but not about—you know.”

“Then now do you know?”

“I don't know. I guess I don't really. It just felt different. Like it was important somehow.”

“A-are you gonna do anything?” Jamie closes his hand around his own wristguard carefully. He’s even gotten used to sleeping in it. “Are you going to talk to her?”

Jordie props himself up on his elbow and looks over at Jamie.

“We’ve got to make the show first, Chubbs.” Jordie grins and then lies back down. “Besides, she’s not going anywhere.”

Jamie is quiet for a long while. He thinks about what Jordie’s given up for him, what his whole family has. And then he thinks about Tyler. What if Tyler does like hockey? What if he plays? Or what if he used to, and he gave it up to look for Jamie.

“I hope Tyler likes hockey, too,” Jamie stares at the ceiling and rolls his tongue around his mouth, tasting the stale beer.

“I’m sure he does. I bet he plays,” Jordie sounds like he’s falling asleep and Jamie feels his eyes drooping as well.

“I bet he’s better than me,” Jamie says finally.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jordie meets Tyler Bozak a year before Jamie does, but he doesn’t mention it to Jamie .

Jamie didn’t understand what Jordie meant about it feeling different until he meets Tyler, because once he does, it’s like everything in the world fucking stops. And Bozie wears a wristguard, too.

He’s cute and Jamie’s first real crush. Sometimes he catches himself flirting, leaning into Bozie when he talks, laughing too loud at his jokes, staring too hard at his fingers on his skate laces. That’s when Jamie has to rein it in, but he can’t help it. He thinks maybe he’s in love.

They play beautiful hockey together, like they can read each other’s minds on the ice. Jamie thinks about what his mom said about feeling it in his chest. It’s maybe not just like that, but Jamie knows where Bozie is without looking for him. He can find him on the ice with his eyes closed. It just feels different, and Jordie looks excited for him when Jamie admits as much.

It’s how special it feels that makes things even harder for Jamie to parse through things rationally. He can’t just go up to Bozie and ask to see his arm—for one that’s rude, but Jamie is too shy to even consider doing that anyway.

“I tried to see his name last year,” Jordie offers. “He wouldn’t show me though, even when I said he could see mine, too.”

Jamie ultimately decides that he doesn’t care what Bozie’s wrist says. It’s fun just to like him, he assures himself. He likes Bozie’s hair and his eyes and his laugh and his beautiful fucking wristshot. He likes that Bozie doesn’t treat him like Jordie’s little brother. He likes how Bozie tells Jamie he’s the best liney he’s had.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

They're deep in the defensive zone at the end of a brutally long shift when their goalie finally covers the puck and gets a couple post-whistle chops for his effort.

Jamie gets up in one guy's face and sees Jordie and his other teammates do the same to the rest of the opponents’ line.

"Watch your fuckin' stick man, fuck you," Jamie gives him a shove across the chest.

"Eh, Big Bennie, you'd probably like that too much," the other guy scowls.

"The fuck does that—”

"I played with Mark last year, says you got a guy's name on you, s'why you got a guard on already. Fucking, like Tyler or some shit. You an' Bozak getting your dicks wet?"

And Jamie fucking decks him. His aim is for shit and he mostly catches the guy in the neck and cage, but it drops him to the ice as well as any better placed punch would.

The ref yanks Jamie back before he can go at the guy again, and he’s already flushed red with anger and embarrassment when he sees Bozie looking at him with a hitched eyebrow.

He ends up tossed from the game. It means he has a long time to sit in the locker room and wonder if Bozie actually heard what the kid said. He thinks about whether or not Tyler was a lucky guess or Mark had seen Jamie's wrist better than he’d let on at the time.

Or if someone—Jordie, his brain unhelpfully supplies—said something to a guy he shouldn't have.

When Jamie asks him later, still seething from the incident, Jordie looks so fucking hurt that Jamie actually feels even worse.

"Fuck you, Chubbs. I'd never tell anyone that shit. It's our fucking business, not theirs. And fuck you again for even asking."

He says 'our' like it's just as much his concern as Jamie's. Jamie wants to be mad about that too—it’s not the same, Jordie is never going to know what it's like to need to hide—but he knows Jordie doesn't mean it that way, and he's already pissed him off enough for one day.

Instead, Jamie goes to bed angry at Tyler, for complicating Jamie's life and not even taking responsibility for it. It feels rational at the time.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie has this fantasy where they have to take off their clothes, even their wristguards, for a team physical. It’s just him and Bozie, getting called in together to speed things up. They strip naked, just the two of them, until they’re down to just their guards. Bozie slides his off carefully, eyes locked with Jamie’s, and Jamie sees his own name written there. He shows Bozie his, and they fall in love. Well, first they fuck, and then they fall in love.

But it’s just a stupid fantasy.

Bozie never says anything to Jamie about the fight on the ice, never asks what he’s got hidden under his guard, but the two of them continue to tear up the league; Jamie gets attention from CHL scouts who skipped over him when he was 16. He thinks that maybe he and Bozie and Jordie will all get picked up, even though Bozie is up against the age cut-off.

In the end, Bozie ends up committed to the University of Denver. The day before he leaves, he comes over to the house to say goodbye to Jamie and Jordie. Bozie shows them his wrist.

Amanda.

“You’re the best I’ve played with, Jamie,” Bozie says as he hugs him goodbye. Jamie doesn’t hug back as hard as he wants to. His wristguard catches on the hood of Bozie’s sweatshirt and for the first time in his life, it feels huge and cumbersome. “You’ll get what you’re looking for, okay?”

And Jamie feels so stupidly transparent because it sounds like Bozie knows, and that means Jamie was more obvious than he thought, and he’s terrified for a moment that he messed up like that. But Bozie is still hugging him, and he doesn’t seem upset. So Jamie nods and tries very hard not to cry. It’s his first broken heart.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie gets drafted. But not into the CHL.

He gets drafted in fifth round by the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. The fucking NHL.

And the phone doesn’t stop ringing then. By the end of a whirlwind week, Jamie goes from moping about Bozie leaving to committed to the Kelowna Rockets—and an NHL draftee.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Even though he’s done it before, playing without Jordie is strange, like he’s forgotten how to look out for himself. He’s a lot more reserved without his brother by his side and mostly keeps to himself. When he meets his Rocket teammates, he pauses a bit longer to crane his neck up at Tyler Myers, but his wrist clearly says Emily, so Jamie doesn’t linger too long.

He rededicates himself to hockey, and it scares him sometimes, thinking about how close he is to actually playing in the NHL. Jamie focuses on putting up points, improving his game, ensuring that he gets the best chance possible. He celebrates every success like he’s proving someone wrong, even if he can never tell anyone what about.

But he’s only human, and he’s also eighteen, so in the meantime, Jamie hooks up—quietly and on the outskirts of Kelowna—where guys from the college go to cut loose and be cautiously out for the first time. They’re in the same boat as Jamie and he never worries they’ll out him, too.

Armed with his fake ID, he meets nice boys—cute boys—who all wear wristguards and never ask to see what he’s got underneath his. It’s fun, and he likes figuring out how get them off as much as he likes figuring out what gets him off.

But the first time he gives a guy a blowjob, Jamie feels guilty. He thinks about Tyler, wherever he is. Jamie has long since stopped hating him, even though he thinks it would much easier to hide being gay if the evidence wasn’t printed on his body. When he gets back to his billets’ that night, Jamie takes off his wristguard for the first time in six months. He wants to make sure Tyler is still there.

He keeps it off while he’s locked away in his room. Later, Jamie jerks off with his left hand, bare wrist brushing against the shaft of his cock with each twisting upstroke. He thinks about what Tyler might look like—smaller than he is, but still strong enough to move Jamie how he wants him—how he’ll touch Jamie, how good it will feel to rub his marked wrist over the body of the man who owns it; how hot it will be to touch someone who has Jamie’s name printed on his own body.

And then he thinks about how it makes him feel to imagine Tyler out there, fooling around and falling in love with other boys that aren’t Jamie. It sets off a small twinge in his heart, but it doesn’t make him angry or anything. He hopes at least that Tyler is happy, and if that happens to be with someone else before Jamie can be there? That’s perfectly fine so long as whoever it is treats him right.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler really likes Brownie. At first it feels the same as all the other friends he’s had that he really likes. Brownie is stupidly funny and he puts up with Tyler’s antics, he likes to wrestle around and he doesn’t treat Tyler like a kid even though Tyler’s only 16 and Brownie is two years older.

But then, it starts to not feel like all his other friendships. Brownie won’t always get up right away after they wrestle and he’s got Tyler pinned to the hotel room floor. He doesn’t shove Tyler out of his bed when he falls asleep there beside him, watching some dumb movie late into the night.

They sit closer together than they need to on the bus and the other guys on the team chirp them for it. Brownie doesn’t stop though. He’ll roll his eyes and then roll up his right sleeve, bearing the name Lauren for whoever is running their mouth at them. Then Tyler will pull up his left sleeve and show off his Jamie.

“Whatever, your girlfriends are probably lesbians, too.” Which doesn’t even make sense but Tyler and Brownie laugh and laugh.

Tyler doesn’t actually think it would be so bad if he had to share his Jamie with Brownie’s Lauren. It would probably mean that Tyler would get to share Brownie, too. It might even be kind of nice.

When the bus finally makes it to the hotel it’s already past midnight, but Brownie flicks on the TV in their room anyway, turning the volume down low. He leaves all the other lights off and they get ready for bed only by the flickering blue light. Eventually, Tyler climbs onto the bed next to Brownie and props himself up with an extra pillow.

“I bet your Lauren is pretty awesome,” Tyler hears himself say. He can’t exactly follow what’s happening in the movie and his mind wanders some.

“Yeah.” And then after a beat: “She’s probably not a lesbian though.” Brownie grins down at him.

“No. I don’t think Jamie is either, to be honest.” Then Tyler takes a deep breath and says quietly, “I don’t even know for sure if Jamie is a girl.”

Brownie doesn’t say anything right away and Tyler can’t read his face from this angle in the dim light. His heart is thudding in his chest and he swears he can actually hear it in the room. Maybe Brownie can, too.

It’s been quiet long enough that Tyler figures the conversation, if it even counted at one, is over. He closes his eyes and tries to settle himself, too scared to go to the other bed, like moving would shatter everything.

The gentle pressure of Brownie’s hand against Tyler’s cheek causes him to open his eyes again, the same time as he hears Brownie speak.

“Hey—” Brownie cuts himself off, leaning down to press their lips together.

Tyler thinks it’s a pretty awesome kiss.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie’s first NHL win is also the Dallas Stars’ first win of the season. The team goes out to celebrate in Calgary and is sure to get Jamie good and drunk. He wasn’t planning on going out, Jamie usually doesn’t when it’s big groups of people and he feels obligated to stay longer than he wants.

But everyone is happy and loose and it still blows Jamie’s mind that he’s actually here, a part of this team. That in two days he’ll be at the rink where he used to watch the Canucks on TV when he was a kid, on the ice. Playing against the Canucks.

The older guys all make a point to let him know that they expect him to show off a little for the hometown fans. Richards lifts his glass to Jamie’s to cheers (“For popping that first win cherry, eh, Bennie? Better try to remember ‘em all while you can. It goes quicker than you think.”) and in the dim bar light, Jamie can just make out the black rectangular tattoo across Richards’ wrist.

He flicks his eyes away quick before Brad notices, but seeing it unclenches something knotted tight in Jamie’s chest. He hears himself burst with a carefree laugh and clinks his glass against Brad’s before downing the rest of it in one go.

He made it. Now he’s just got to make sure he can keep it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie scores his first NHL goal in Vancouver and the arena is packed with family. He spends all night shooting at the net, determined to show everyone that’s sacrificed for him and supported him that it was all worth it for this moment. He ties the game in the closing minutes of the third period. To him, the cheers sound just as loud as when the home team scored. He thinks he can even pick out Jenny’s voice from the stands.

After the game, Jordie hugs him in the tunnel, Jamie with his dripping hair in his nicest suit.

“When I score my first goal,” Jordie grabs both of Jamie’s wrists and shakes his arms for punctuation, “we’ll at least win the game.” Jamie’s never seen him smile so big.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

He’s is already hurt when the Stars make the trip to Boston, but on top of the injury he gets sick. He wakes up sweating, chest heaving, and on the verge of tears, remnants of a nightmare tugging at his brain.

Jamie hates Massachusetts. He knows they don’t still burn people at the stake, but it ignites a flash of anger and shame in his gut that makes him uneasy. He doesn’t trust the state is all, and being in Boston sets his teeth on edge.

The knee he tweaked earlier on the road trip has already knocked him out of the game tonight, but after the nightmare he can’t even bring himself to watch the game live. Instead, he does his rehab during the day and goes to bed early, alone in his hotel room.

He misses Tyler Seguin’s goal.

The Stars lose.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

They also lose the final game of the season, and thus their chance at making the playoffs.

Jamie spends the rest of the postseason getting drunk with Jordie in Dallas. Jordie had played most of his games up with the Texas Stars that year, working his way up from Allen.

“Maybe I’ll get a call up for a game or two to your club next year, hey Chubbs?” He admitted to Jamie that he was under no delusion he’d ever play a full season up there, but Jamie was insistent that anything was possible.

“We do what we can, eh? Like Dad always says?” Jordie beamed at that and let Jamie hand him another beer.

In the privacy of Jamie’s apartment, they don’t have to wear their guards. Sometimes Jamie still does, but Jordie is one of the few people he doesn’t have to hide around. This is a night for relaxing with his brother, and Jamie’s wristguard has been safely deposited on top of his dresser.

They finish off the rest of the twelve-pack and play cards for quarters until they’re laughing too hard to keep going. Jamie thinks maybe this is the happiest he’s been since he and Jordie were kids; he almost feels completely normal.

When the Bruins win the Cup, Jamie doesn’t even care.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler kisses Marchy up against a wall outside Foxwoods at four in the morning.

Brad doesn't kiss back and he doesn't push Tyler away. He doesn't do anything.

"Um," is all he says when Tyler stops.

Tyler plops down on the curb and rests his forehead on his knees.

"Sorry." He mumbles into the pavement, but feels Brad stoop to sit beside him.

When he finally lifts his head, Tyler sees Brad's eyes drop to his wristguard. They're both swaying a bit, shoulders brushing and then not as they move. Tyler blames the alcohol for what he does next.

With shaking hands, he undoes the clasp. He hates wearing his guard, wishes he didn’t have to, but right around the time of his draft combine, it was being strongly encouraged from all sides—strongly encouraged in a way that implied it wasn’t up for discussion. He’d go without forever if it were up to him—what happens if he walks right by Jamie and never even knows it? It makes him sick to think about.

Tyler carefully turns his arm and shows Brad the letters, somehow both tiny and bold at once. He forgets for a moment he's not alone and traces over the J, the M, the I, the E. He saves his favorite for last: the delicate A that swoops like a typeface.

When it first came in, Tyler marveled at how fancy it looked, with the hook at the top. It was like the As that were printed in books and newspapers. He wished he could make his letters like Jamie did.

"Jamie," Brad reads it carefully, regarding Tyler after.

"Yeah." Tyler traces the A again before doing the clasp back up.

"You met him yet?" Brad asks finally. Tyler snorts and shrugs.

"Naw, haven't met them."

"’Them’?"

Tyler looks at Marchy and shrugs again. "I don't know yet, if she's a she or he's a he."

He bites his lip hard. Sometimes he thinks he knows, sometimes he feels it so deeply in his bones that it's like he's already remembering it: looking up for a kiss, shrinking down in strong arms, against a wide, flat chest. Being held down and protected and swallowed by it.

And sometimes he feels like he doesn't know anything at all.

Marchy huffs a tiny laugh and throws an arm over Tyler's shoulder.

"Only you, Segs. Only you." It sounds more empathetic than pitying though and Tyler relaxes.

They sit in companionable silence until Tyler starts to list into Marchy’s shoulder, then Brad pipes up again: "Wouldn't it all be a hell of a fucking lot easier if all our wrists just said Stanley on them?"

Tyler laughs at that, nodding until he feels like his head is swimming with it.

"Yeah. Well, we've already got the only matching tattoos that really matter anyhow."

In that moment, he means it, but the next day Tyler feels bad for saying it. He hopes that his Jamie didn't somehow feel it.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Normally, Jamie likes coming home to Victoria.

He loves the landscape and the weather, he loves his family and his friends and old teammates. He loves how he feels settled, like he’s with people that he can relate to.

Normally, he doesn’t feel so angry.

He can’t take the guard off here, not like he can when it’s just him and Jordie in Dallas. It’s always been like that here, too many unexpected visitors, people who know who he is and what he does. His jersey hangs in hockey shops downtown. It’s not safe here to be exposed.

Normally, that doesn’t piss him off.

Jamie likes to think he’s gotten past his resentment of Tyler. In a lot of ways, he has—it’s certainly not the same bitterness that he had as a teenager.

But this trip feels really fucking different. For the first time, Jamie shows up already annoyed and anxious, dropping his bags in his bedroom and kicking them for good measure. It only gets worse from there. For the first time, Jordie takes off his guard and leaves it off for the whole summer. Jamie is too pissed off and stubborn to ask him about it.

He goes golfing with his dad and Jordie, throws his clubs when he misses an easy putt. He goes camping up at Yellow Point Lodge with Jordie and some of the old Grizzlies guys and punches a rock when he accidentally burns himself stoking the fire.

It bubbles and bubbles inside him, seemingly with no end, a simmering fury that spills over at the worst of times.

And Jamie blames Tyler.

He blames Tyler for making Victoria a place that he has to hide his arm from people he genuinely loves. He blames Tyler for making him have to think twice about what he says to whom in his own hometown. He blames Tyler for being out there, doing whatever the fuck it is that he’s doing that isn’t suffering through this with Jamie. It feels like a greasy kind of rejection that he can’t shake off and can’t argue because he can’t look Tyler in the eye and tell him the fuck off for messing with Jamie’s entire life.

He wants to get back at Tyler.

Jamie makes the fucking five hour drive down to Seattle. He checks into a hotel room and then goes out drinking. He makes out with a guy in a bar whose name Jamie doesn’t even hear over the music. And then he leaves him to go make out with someone else.

He fucks a short blond who doesn’t stay the night, doesn’t even leave his number. He gets fucked by a guy who looks a hell of a lot like Daley.

It’s just one big fucking summer of firsts for Jamie.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Jamie comes back to Dallas and pours himself a hundred percent into hockey. The summer was a shit show, settles like a bruise in the back of his mind and he tries to forget about it. Jamie just never knows what to do with himself when he’s not on the ice.

Jordie gets invited to Fort Worth for training camp but gets cut before the preseason even starts. Jamie’s glad for Jordie not to be in the Central Hockey League anymore but the twenty minute drive to see him in Allen was a lot more manageable than the two hour drive down to the Austin area.

Jamie tries to visit when he gets the chance—it’s not like he’s well-known in Dallas by any means, but Austin is lot more diverse and he’s even more anonymous down there. He hooks up with a couple guys, but mostly he uses the trips to visit with Jordie.

The team dynamic hasn’t changed much. A little less than half the guys wears guards—basically league average from Jamie’s understanding—but even most of those guys will take them off to shower or for games. Jordie told him once that it was about the same for the Texas Stars, but that the younger guys wear them mostly because they’re just looking to hook up.

“Like the opposite of a wedding ring,” Jordie grinned. Jamie kind of hopes people assume the same about him when he’s roped into going out with the team, even though he’s never trying to pick up. He flirts with girls occasionally, but only enough to make a show of it. It’s not like Jamie has really good game anyhow and everyone assumes he’s just striking out. After that he sticks with the married guys and no one really asks about it.

Burish had teased him about it once—whether or not Jamie had a secret someone back home he was keeping from them—but Jamie had been so flustered that Adam dropped it instantly. He apologized later back at the hotel, uncharacteristically sheepish for Bur, but Jamie still felt weird about it.

He’s always been a pretty quiet person. He used to wonder if he’d be the same way with a different name on him, if needing to hide made him shy like this. He spends a lot of time in his head thinking about other people, wondering what they’re thinking about him. He’s heard some pretty terrible things on the ice, things that have hit way too close to home. Some of those things have been said to him, some to other people. Sometimes it’s in his own locker room.

Jamie wonders about that the most. He hates that he has to decide if guys he plays with, guys he really likes, can be trusted or if they’d use it against him if they had a chance. Hockey is a strange world; you’re teammates with someone one day and then battling against them the next. Someone who is his friend now might not be later. Burish hadn’t said anything mean or accusatory, but he’d picked up on something Jamie tried to keep hidden, and just because no one else had ever said anything doesn’t mean they hadn’t noticed, too. All it does is make him want to keep to himself even more.

On New Year’s Eve, they’ve got a home game against Boston and the single boys are already making plans to go out after—plans that include Jamie, unfortunately. He has every intention of faking some kind of illness after the game to get out of it.

He sets up for a faceoff against Tyler Seguin. Jamie wins the draw and the game, and he doesn’t think about Seguin, not even once.

He rings in the New Year alone, driving back to his empty apartment. It’s great to close out the year with a win—over the defending Cup champions no less—but every bit of good feeling that had bloomed in him during that game starts to fade away and Jamie can’t shake off the twinge in his gut that reminds him so much more of loss. Maybe he really is coming down with something.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

Tyler rings in the New Year on the team bus. He sits beside Marchy and watches the lights of the city blur together. He hears fireworks pop in the distance, sees the glow rising over the buildings as they pass. He points them out to Brad, his suit sleeve sliding down, and the distant red, yellow, green, white bursts of light reflect in the leather of his wristguard.

“Pretty awesome, eh?” Tyler tries to smile, but he feels like shit. He hates losing in general, but this one goes a little deeper than usual, settling in him like a gentle ache in his abdomen that pulses with his heartbeat.

It doesn’t go away after that, if anything it gets stronger.

⥔ ⥖ ⥙ ⥔ ⥕

A lot happens in the next two weeks.

Jordie gets called up for his first NHL game on the third. Jamie is elated, even more so when Jordie gets his first point and Jamie adds a goal later. They lose the game, but Jamie is happy anyway.

Jordie stays in the lineup for a second game and Jamie gets another goal. In game after that, Jamie scores twice. He’s riding high to start the year, putting up numbers he’s proud of and finally playing in the NHL alongside his brother.

Then, his scoring streak ends, Jordie gets sent down, and Jamie’s appendix nearly bursts. As good as things were, they quickly go to shit.

Jordie stays with him after the appendectomy, but only until he’s got to head back to Austin. Jamie misses a handful of games, and he’s going a little stir-crazy with no hockey to keep himself occupied. The league is getting ready to head into a break too and Jamie can’t sit on his ass any longer. As soon as he’s feeling even close to better, he decides he’s still attending the All-Star game.

It’s the best and worst decision he makes.