“Any issues handling the boy's club atmosphere of the NHL, Kent?”
Kent smacks her gum in her mouth and fiddles with her long blonde hair, throwing it up into a bun before realizing she lost her hair tie somewhere between the showers and her stall.
“Parser,” Reese calls, sticking out his arm. “I’ve gotcha.” Kent grabs the elastic off his wrist and gives him an appreciative nod. She ties her hair up quickly with it before turning back to the scrum.
She smacks her gum again and grins brightly at them.
“Does it look like it?”
She’d have taken the question better if she hadn’t already been asked it like, fifty thousand times since she was drafted by the Aces. It was supposed to be easier, with the two of them coming up in the same draft year. The spotlight would have been split, shared between two bright young hockey starlettes, between two best friends. The narrative had already been written: all the hockey press guys had to do was click submit. The daughter of Bad Bob Zimmermann, first overall pick in the NHL draft: or would she be beaten by her linemate, the daring American with sick hands and a spread for Sports Illustrated? Regardless, one of them would go to the draft lottery winning Aces and one of them would go to the Leafs and they’d meet twice a year barring any injuries because God knows they wouldn’t be sent down to the minors. Sending Kent Parson or Jack Zimmermann down to the minors would be like sending your prize stallion out to the stables when everyone paid to see a fucking show. They’d insert feline hissing noises into the broadcast and caption it “Catfight,” they’d compare their game-day suits and judge who was hotter (not on like, Hockey Night in Canada, but on the dudebro hockey blogs that Kent pretends she doesn’t read). Kent would hate it, but accept it, because it would all mean being on the ice with Zimms again. She’d skate circles around Jack in the warm ups, bucket-less with her hair and chirps flowing and Jack? Jack would smile, helmet on, the picture of austerity save the glimmer of a smirk in her eyes.
They’d had limited edition Barbies made, for fuck’s sake. Kent’s got one in a box on her mantle. The doll has its own hockey stick but the skates are high heeled. You win some, you lose more.
“Yo, Parser, you gonna pass the puck today or you gonna daydream?”
“Don’t get saucy with me, Daisy,” Kent sighs, slapping a hard pass at her right winger, who barely corrals the rubber on the tape of his stick. His flow is long and dark and sticks out from beneath his bucket and Kent thinks briefly about dying her hair before her brand manager’s voice pops up in the back of her head screaming preserve the image!
“Parser and Day! Get over here, we’re running the next drill,” Coach beckons, and Kent skates.
Kent grabs the plane intercom and grins while the flight attendant on the Aces private jet gives her a patient smile. “This is your captain speaking.”
“Hell yeah it is,” Aggy crows from his usual first row seat.
“Suck up,” Moose prods, elbowing Aggy in the side.
Aggy is Kent’s rookie and an absolute gem: he’s got that puppy dog look that the media fucking adores, and considering his Canadian roots, Kent practically has to fight for airtime while Don Cherry waxes eloquent about that good old Canadian boy Matthew Agnew and how he’s going to reignite the Aces’s chances at the Cup. Aggy’s a real spitfire, though, and will fight anybody despite still missing the last twenty pounds of muscle he promised Kent he’d be putting on in his first few professional years. He’s all junior league gangly with veteran, baby soft hands that make even Kent a little jealous.
“At least I scored tonight,” Aggy chirps, sticking his tongue out at Moose.
“Ags,” Moose says, deadpan. “You know I play goalie, yeah?”
“Martin Broudeur did it!”
“Shut up, kids,” Kent laughs away from the intercom before continuing. “That was a helluva game and I just wanted to say, before we all scatter for the Christmas break, that I’m proud to wear the C for a group of such fine, handsome gentlemen.” Kent puts on a Southern belle accent for the last bit of her announcement, twirling her blonde hair around her finger.
Someone shouts, “Damn right! Give us a twirl, Moose, show off that fine be-hind!” from the back of the plane (Kent can’t tell if it’s Hoover or Frank from the front of the aircraft) and Moose lifts his middle finger in weak protest.
“Seriously guys, you’re the fucking tits. Have a good holiday. Call me if you need any rescuing from family obligations. It’s my superpower.” They clap, she bows, and then she finds her way back to Reese. They take up six seats between the two of them and the rest of the team knows not to invade their space. Sometimes they sit together to go over tape, sometimes they each take their respective window seats and snooze. It’s been their tradition since Kent joined the Aces. Reese is their top defenseman, with usually over twenty-five minutes of ice time per game, and one of Kent’s most important mentors: he’d taken her under his wing practically the moment her skates had hit the ice at training camp. Though they don’t play the same position, Reese has weirdly taught her a lot about what it means to lead: what to say, how to say it, when to press buttons, and when to lay off.
“Classy speech,” Reese grins to himself as Kent flings herself into the seat next to him.
“Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal,” Kent preens as the airplane rocks around them.
It’s Kent’s fourth year with the C and the burden of leadership has gotten easier with time. A nineteen year old girl with the captaincy on an NHL team? Did management have their heads up their asses?
No, actually. And they got themselves a Stanley Cup for their daring move.
Reese keeps looking down at his e-reader, but he throws an arm over her shoulder so that she can lean in and read along. Kent likes that Reese is handsy: he’s good at head scratches and kneading out bruises from blocked shots. Reese is also about twice her size so he’s a great pillow. “You won’t like it. It’s another Furst novel,” he tells her
“Boo,” Kent sighs. “I fucking hate historical fiction.” She falls asleep with her face in his chest and doesn’t wake up until they touch down in Vegas in the wee hours of the morning.
When Kent gets service once again, she’s surprised by a bunch of texts about a new women’s semi-professional hockey team. “Weird,” she murmurs.
She doesn’t have anything against the NWHL, except for the fact that the CWHL already exists. Why hadn’t they just souped up the existing league? Kent thinks that the idea that two separate women’s hockey leagues can exist on the same level in perfect tandem is, honestly, ludicrous.
And then there’s her own situation: Kent Parson, pioneer of the Women in the NHL movement and gender integration. What, pray tell, would she have to say about it?
The Aces PR department gives her a few lines about how it’s great for women hockey players to have so many different ways to play professionally that Kent spits out nearly verbatim every time she’s asked about it. “Do you think it’s less likely you’ll be seeing more women in the NHL now that there are other options?” the main Aces beat reporter, Fritzy, asks her as the scrum around her goes to fawn over Moose’s shutout.
“Off the record?” Kent asks, crossing her arms over her sports bra.
Fritzy clicks off his phone recorder. “Yeah. I won’t ID you in my piece.”
“It makes me doubt there will ever be another girl in this league again,” Kent says honestly. “And that fucking scares me, like. What the hell did I fight so hard for?” But, of course, she knows what she fought tooth and nail for: the chance to be in the show. The big show. The one where, at the end of the day, if you’re talented and you’re lucky, you bring Lord Stanley home with you to meet the parents.
There’s a dirty, dirty rumor going around that Jack Zimmermann is signing with the Boston Pride.
And the Aces have a few days off for the break.
Kent flies to Massachusetts. Might as well get information straight from the source.
Reese calls her as she’s boarding and tells her not to, in his own eloquent words, “kick her own ass” over the break, whatever the fuck that means.
(Too late. But she has to try.)
Jack looks like she wants to kill her when Kent crashes their party. She’s got her arm around a small blonde girl and Kent finds herself adjusting the hair beneath her snapback nervously. There’s no use: it always sticks up, no matter how much fucking gel she slicks in it.
Kent’s never been like, excessively large for a hockey player (hell, she’s the smallest player on the Aces and they don’t let her forget it), or even just for a girl, but the tiny cherub Jack’s got her arm around just seems so, so small. Kent could never be that small.
Jack takes her upstairs. “You should have called before flying all the way out here.”
“You would have told me to stay home,” Kent tells her.
“Yeah, I would have,” Jack says darkly.
“I like your room,” Kent offers as Jack closes the door behind them. “It’s… clean.”
(When they had roomed on the road in the QMJHL, Kent had been the neat freak and Jack had just thrown her shit wherever before collapsing on her bed for a pregame nap.)
Kent shakes her head, trying not to think about their times in junior. “You’re gonna play in the show next year, yeah?”
“Yup,” Jack says curtly. Kent rolls her eyes.
“So, spill. Where are you signing?” Kent grins at her hopefully. “Come on. You have no clue?”
Jack shrugs. “I don’t know. It could be Montreal, it could be LA.”
Kent steps forward into Jack’s space. She’s wearing a worn Samwell Women’s Hockey shirt, burgundy and faded with use and time. It looks soft to the touch and it's easy to imagine the Aces’s spade logo there against Jack’s chest instead of the crossed Samwell hockey sticks. It’s a dangerous thought, but Kent has to ask: “What about Vegas?” she murmurs softly. She inserts a finger in one of Jack’s belt-loops and it’s like the fight just sags out of Jack completely. Kent takes this as a fucking great sign: she runs her thumb along the skin between the hem of Jack’s shirt and her jeans and Jack lets out a stuttering sigh.
“I don’t know, okay?” Jack murmurs. Kent presses her up against the door and they’re chest to chest, hip to hip now. Kent can feel the slow, aching pull of being turned on as Jack’s fingers find their way to Kent’s hips. She’s shorter than Jack but she’s put on more muscle since she left the Q for the big leagues. It’s been years since they were this close. It’s been years since Kent has been this brave.
(Once during her rookie year, she visited Jack in her rehab center and slept with her face mashed into Jack’s bed. Jack had tangled her fingers in Kent’s hair and asked Kent not to come back.)
Kent noses her way across Jack’s cheek. It’s tantalizing, being close enough to kiss. She brushes her lips across Jack’s and Jack fucking whimpers this plaintive noise that Kent swallows, and Jack is kissing back like things never changed for them, like they’re still seventeen years old fooling around in a hotel room before a road game. Kent presses her knee in between Jack’s legs, letting Jack straddle her thigh and Jack grinds down against her. It’s like, stupid hot and Kent can’t fucking believe she has Jack here in her arms again.
“Mmph,” Jack groans against Kent’s lips as Kent slicks her way into Jack’s mouth. She’s always been told she’s good at making out: not too much tongue, just the right amount of breathiness. “Kenny.” And Kent just thrills at the nickname. Maybe she can convince Jack right here, tonight, to sign with the Aces, and then—then they can have this all the time. They can have this forever. “I can’t do this.”
“Zimms, come on,” Kent murmurs. She presses a kiss against Jack’s earlobe, then her neck.
“No, I—um,” Jack starts, and Kent pulls away and makes a face. She really, really fucking hopes the tiny blonde from downstairs isn’t Jack’s girlfriend. “Kenny,” Jack hisses, but Kent needs to have her voice heard just this fucking once.
“Jack, I can talk to the GMs, tell them you’re on board, and they can free up the cap space. Then you can be done with this shitty team—” She doesn’t mean to disparage the team, it just—it just slips out, okay, but the damage is so clearly done that Kent doesn’t even bother with the rest.
“Get out,” Jack says bitterly. “You can’t come here fucking unannounced, corner me in here and expect me to do what you want—”
“You don’t talk to me, Jack! I’m trying to help you—fuck, Jack! What do you want me to say?” Kent knows she must look like a fucking mess, judging by Jack’s disheveled state, but she doesn’t much care. She grabs the front of Jack’s shirt with both hands. “That I miss you?” Her voice squeaks out now. “I miss you, okay?” She looks at the ground because she will not fucking cry, not here, not now. “I miss you.”
Jack puts her hands on Kent’s wrists. “You always say that.”
Kent sees red for one blinding, furious moment, and her fists tighten in Jack’s shirt reflexively before she lets go entirely. “Holy fucking shit, Jack,” she murmurs. “You think you’re too fucked up to care about? That you’re not good enough for the NHL? That the fucking women’s league is the only one that’ll take your kind of damaged goods?”
It was supposed to be them, together, and Kent is fucking pissed that she’s been forced to shoulder being a girl in the NHL on her own.
“Shut up,” Jack hisses.
“Newsflash! Everyone already knows what you are, but it’s people like me who still give a damn!” It’s not quite what Kent means to say: she wants something more like everyone knows what happened so stop letting it drag you down, but it comes out meaner and bitterer than she intends. “You really wanna play powderpuff for the rest of your professional career?”
“Leave. And stay away from my team,” Jack says, vibrating in what looks to Kent like a quiet rage.
Kent opens the door to find a small blonde cherub eavesdropping which is—whatever. If the girl sells her story to Deadspin, Kent has weathered worse media shit.
“Whatever. Call me if you reconsider,” Kent shrugs. She doesn’t face Jack, just adjusts her snapback over her hair. “Good luck with the Pride. I’m sure that’ll make your dad proud.” It’s a knife in the gut, and in the moment, that’s what Kent wants it to be.
Kent shakes in the Uber to the airport, adrenaline coursing through her veins like she’s just won a playoff round or lost in overtime. She sees her phone light up with a text from Aggy that she decides to dismiss until her hands stop twitching.
She calls Reese before she realizes she’s doing it. “Hey, Parser,” he hums over the phone. She can hear something sizzling in the background: a steak, maybe. It’s comforting to know that other people are leading their normal lives while Kent went and blew up the most important relationship she’s ever had in her short years on this planet. It makes her feel smaller. Less significant. A weight shifts on her shoulders: not off it, entirely. But it shifts all the same. “Where you at? Wanna come over? I’ve got shit on the grill.”
Kent wishes, desperately, that she’d never left Nevada at all: that she could walk the three blocks to Reese’s place and sit down at his kitchen bar and rest her forehead against the counter there and emulate the cold, quiet nature of granite. Kent’s breath hiccups when she replies, “No, honey, I don’t think I’ll be making it home in time for dinner.”
She can nearly hear Reese frown over the phone. “Where are you, Ken?”
Kent bites her lip. “Boston. It’s… I kicked my own ass, basically.”
“I did expressly tell you not to do that,” Reese muses over the phone. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Not right now,” Kent sighs, curling up as her car rolls into the highway. “Just… talk to me.”
Reese is a good talker. He’s loud in the locker room, loud on the ice: encouraging, quick to call bullshit on less than one hundred percent effort, a master chirper. Kent listens to him tell her about Aggy’s prank on Moose where he had mounted a fully decorated Christmas tree on top of Moose’s prized SUV. “Moose, of course, is gonna destroy him when we get back from break,” Reese laughs. “But it was well done for a rookie prank.” Reese pauses. “When does your flight get in?”
“I'll let you know when I buy my ticket,” Kent shrugs.
He doesn’t tell her she’s a mess. She knows that already. “I’ll turn on the heat in your house so it’s not cold as fuck in there when you get in,” Reese tells her.
“Thank you,” Kent says.
“Sure,” Reese sighs. He pauses, and Kent is sure he has a million questions for her. Ultimately she is grateful that his only follow up is an encouraging, “Try to get back here in one piece, okay?”
“I’ll do my best,” Kent shrugs. “No promises.”
The Boston Pride announces Jack’s signing in tandem with Knighter’s and Kent has to run to the bathroom and throw up when she gets the news. Not much comes up: just water and a little bile. These are the two women who had the highest probability of making the NHL, besides Kent, and now they’re tied down to a league that won’t cover their fucking rent.
Kent is an anomaly, a bug in the system. Someday, the NHL will course correct and things will revert to the old normal.
She is alone in this league and she’ll remain that way.
“Parser?” Aggy asks cautiously as she makes her way out of the bathroom. The apples of his cheeks are red from exertion after a hard morning of practice. “You okay?”
“Something went down the wrong pipe,” Kent lies, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Any chance you still want to do some extra face-off practice?” he asks with a hopeful grin.
Kent closes her eyes and sees the photo of Jack and Knighter holding up their Pride jerseys and tries to feel something besides betrayal. “I’m yours, Ags,” Kent says, faking a smile, hip checking him on her way back out to the ice.
The Aces win a late March divisional rivalry matchup despite Kent’s two late minor penalties against the Kings and LA is big enough that the team can go out without being spit on by the home team’s fans. Kent buys the first round for the team (her seven million dollar cap hit is, really), and while she’s at the bar ordering the beers a beautiful, dark haired girl offers her a tequila shot. She’s wearing heels that have her towering over Kent. “For your victory,” she grins, her English accented, and Kent’s stomach does a little swoop.
When Kent looks over her shoulder back at her crowd, Daisy is mouthing get it at Kent and lifting his fingers to his mouth in a crude cunnilingus gesture.
“You have bad friends,” Tall, Dark, and Leggy muses, also looking in Daisy’s direction. She pushes a tall shot glass at Kent.
“Tell me about it,” Kent says through gritted teeth before taking the shot in one deft glug. “I’m Kent, but you already know that. You are?”
“Safiya,” she says with a grin before leaning down into Kent’s ear. “I can be bad, too, you know.”
Kent shivers and lets Safiya tuck a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. She just wants something easy that feels good. “I’m listening.”
Kent wakes up alone in her hotel room with a massive hangover and a text message from Safiya that reads: if you don’t want this pic to go public you’ll get me what i need with a selfie attached of the two of them very naked in bed. Safiya’s face is cropped out of the photo but you can see Kent’s tits and it’s really not the way Kent wanted to join the You Can Play organization. Being out to her team is one thing: it’s necessary at this point for Kent’s well being. She’s always been attracted to women and like, that’s fine, she’s not embarrassed about it at all. But that picture isn’t the whole story. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Kent couldn’t disagree more. And she had planned on coming out someday, really, she had. She just, like so many, didn’t want to be the first.
And now she’ll just be some slutty girl who likes girls, feeding into every stereotype she’s wanted to avoid.
She texts Reese 911 and he’s at her door within five.
“I am, haha, fucked?” Kent says, opening the door for him in a long Aces shirt (it’s Moose’s, she thinks) and a pair of leggings with a hole in the knee. Reese is freshly showered, hair still wet. She hands him her phone.
“This is fucking revenge porn. You’re gonna need to lawyer up for this,” Reese says quietly, looking down at the photo. “But you should end up okay.”
Kent’s eyes burn and she slumps down on the edge of her bed. “I was careless. I’m a piece of shit.”
“No,” Reese mutters, throwing the phone on the bed. “No, something fucked you up over break. And I’m kind of wondering if you’re ever gonna talk to me about it.” Kent doesn’t look at him, so he drops down into a crouch and takes her hands. “You know I love you, Parser, but you gotta get your head back fucking in it before even worse shit happens.” He squeezes her fingers once, tightly, before taking out his own phone. “I can make some calls, but they’re gonna want to talk to you.”
They get an injunction on the photo and a restraining order and there are rumors but nothing gets leaked. The Aces camp is practically vacuum sealed and the closest the media ever gets to asking about it is when Fritzy asks her if the partying lifestyle of Vegas ever distracts from the goal at hand.
Kent frowns. Sure, they’d just had their asses handed to them by the Preds, but come on. The Aces have been successful since their fucking inception. “Nah, the team does well staying focused.”
“And you?” Fritzy asks innocently in follow-up.
Kent puts on her brightest smile. “Call me most improved.”
Kent puts sex and love on the backburner and it does her a lot of good as the Aces make yet another deep playoff run. It’s their year, it’s been their year since they won the Cup: their roster was lucky enough to stay mostly the same after their win and they’ve been real contenders each year since. She doesn’t need distractions. All she needs is a chance at open ice.
Jack texts her Good luck the night before they play Anaheim in the conference final. It is, obviously, a peace offering. One that Kent doesn’t deserve.
thanks. it could be US out here she replies quickly before she turns off her phone and gearing up for morning skate.
“Ready to go Duck hunting?” Aggy asks her with a cocky grin. The two of them have been on fire, lately, along with Daisy on their right wing. They’re one of the top scoring trios in the league. It’s especially impressive considering that it’s Aggy’s first year in the league. Kent might very well be an excellent mentor.
“Agnew, your sticks are ready,” Bart, their equipment manager, shouts at Aggy from the gear room as they walk past it toward the ice. “Hey, Parson, you need those skates sharpened after skate today?”
“You know it,” Kent grins, giving him a gloved thumbs up.
“Get me a goal tonight!” Bart calls down the hall.
Kent beams at him. “Seems like a fair trade, Barty.”
(When Kent is eighteen and a newly minted NHL rookie, she gets a five minute major early in the season for spearing a dude in the nads after he pinned her against the boards and humped his grimy jockstrap against her ass. She’s bleeding from the mouth where her guard had slipped between her lips as he pressed her against the boards and she spits on the ice before tramping off into the locker room. She’s pissed because she expected this kind of bullshit and rose to the bait anyway. She’s pissed because she’s a frustration crier and she know she’s on the verge and if any of the cameras pointed her way catch her with tears in her fucking eyes she’ll never live it down.
“Okay, enough,” someone says, stepping in between her and the cameras. “I gotta sharpen her skates. Go watch a fucking hockey game.” It’s Bart Becker, large and bald and grumpy, pointing at the cameramen and telling them to scoot.
He lets her cry while he sharpens her skates. “Much better,” he says stiffly, handing them back to her. Kent pulls up the hem of her jersey and wipes her face of sweat and tears. “Go get me a goal next period, okay?”
She scores in her second shift back on the ice and gives Bart the puck.)
She scores against the Ducks in the first game of the series and points at Bart on the Aces bench during her celly.
It’s the last goal she’ll score that year.
“The Aces and the Ducks are two very closely matched teams on paper, Pat, so it all comes down to how the match-ups perform against each other. The Ducks have done an incredible job of shutting Kent Parson down across five games with just one goal and two assists. Her face-off percentage is also an abysmal .48 in comparison to her regular season .56. If the Aces want to bring this series to seven games, Parson needs to find her stride—”
“Enough,” Daisy barks at the locker room. The A on his shoulder shines brightly in the fluorescent lighting as he stalks toward the noise. They’ve just completed their morning skate and it’s obvious that everyone is nervous. It doesn’t make it any easier to hear that kind of shit about her hockey. “Who the fuck is playing that shit on their phone?”
“It’s fine,” Kent says quietly, standing up and grabbing his shoulder. It’s not fine, she’s been playing like shit and it fucking shows: in her numbers, yeah, but also in the uneasy restlessness of the room. They look scared, and Kent would do anything for them to feel like they have a shot.
“Go home, take a nap, and let’s force it to seven, boys,” Kent says simply. “We win this game, it’s anybody’s series for the taking. So let’s show them what it means to be the best.”
“Motherfucker,” Kent shouts as the ref whistles her down again. “What the fuck was that for?”
She knows it’s for tripping, knows that the second Kesler went flying she’d be called for the penalty. She wants to help her team, wants them to win this game six so badly, but three penalties in one period isn’t going to fucking cut it.
She hangs her head down in shame as she sits in the box. She listens to the announcer quietly calling the misdemeanour (at least they’re not in Anaheim, at least the PA guy isn’t gloating about it) and then someone slams open the door to the penalty box.
“Parser,” Reese says, clapping his hand on top of her bucket. “You gotta stop kicking your own ass.”
“I’m sorry,” she blurts out. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” Her heart is in her throat but she won’t cry, she can’t cry here—
“We’re gonna go kill off this penalty, and then you’re gonna spring from the box and you’re gonna score some fucking goals,” Reese says calmly. “So focus on that for the next two minutes, okay?”
Reese plays all of the following penalty kill. Between that and the pep talk, it’s possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her. In the subsequent celly (because of course they score off her on the rush from the box, on a mean forward pass from Daisy and that gives her a beauty of a two on one with Aggy), she buries her face in Reese’s chest when he finally skates into the group hug.
They force game seven and the Aces’s locker room is a near riot. The young guns are shouting bloody murder while even the veterans have broad smiles on their faces. Coach is careful to tell them in their postgame talk not to get too high or too low, emotionally, but it’s no use: the team can tell that they have a real shot.
The media grill Kent on the three penalties she took in the third.
“So, those penalties, especially the cross checking one, seemed like they were made pretty irrationally. What were you thinking?”
“Not sure I was thinking,” Kent admits.
Someone she can’t see in the back of the scrum calls out, “What, is it your time of the month?”
Kent stills as a nervous hush falls over the locker room. “Shut up, Bob,” Kent hears Fritzy mutter.
“This interview is over,” Kent says plainly. Kyle, one of the members of the Aces PR department, is looking at her wide eyed and nervous. “And that man doesn’t get access to our locker room again. Ever. Strip him of his credentials. He’s done here.”
“It’s done,” Kyle nods.
Hilary Knight is waiting for Kent outside the locker room, a VIP pass hanging around her neck. She is about half a foot taller than Kent and wider, too. Kent knows that she’s dating Anderson, the goalie for the Ducks, so Kent assumes she’s lost her way to the visitor’s locker room. “Hey,” Knighter calls out after Kent ducks around her to get to the exit. “I’ve been waiting for you, hot shot.”
Kent shifts in her game day suit. Her hair is still wet from her quick shower and her heart is still racing a little after her media semi-debacle.
“Nice game,” Knight nods at Kent, and Kent shrugs.
“It’s a tight series,” Kent says warily.
Knighter makes a face and then finally sighs. “You need to stop talking to Jack about signing with the Pride.”
Kent’s eyes narrow. They’re alone in the hallway, but considering that it’s a playoffs series, they likely won’t be alone for long. “I don’t think Jack needs anyone to fight her battles for her.”
“She doesn’t,” Knighter nods. “But here I am, asking you to back off.”
It is so, so wildly not her place that Kent should be choking on her anger. Instead, she’s gassed from the events of the evening (a half hour of ice time will do that to her, plus all the emotional angst of sitting in the penalty box for six fucking minutes) and all she wants to do is sleep. So, in a move that probably doesn’t look great to Knighter, Kent starts walking away.
“You know I used to think I wanted to be you, Parson!” Knighter calls after Kent. The unsaid not anymore hits Kent right between the shoulder blades and she stumbles a little. “Now I just feel sorry for you. Jack’s where she belongs.”
Kent doesn’t look back when she chokes out, “Stay in your goddamn lane, Hilary.”
They lose to the Ducks in seven.
It’s a Perry OT winner that sends them from one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final to packing their bags in miserable silence for their flight back to Vegas. Kent, Reese, and Daisy—the captain and her alternates—are the only ones who stay behind to take media. Fritzy is as gentle as he can be, and Kent appreciates it.
“Keep your phone on this summer,” she tells Fritzy after they finish up. “I have a story for you, I think.” Kent’s already alone in this sport, she thinks darkly: the lone woman in a sea of dudes. What’s one more thing to set her apart? She’s already apart. And despite the fact that of course it would be amazing to be a lesbian role model in professional sport, Kent mostly wants to come out because she’s just fucking tired of hiding.
It’s three days after their loss in the conference final when a drunken Matthieu Agnew stumbles on her doorstep. “Come on, open up, I know you’re in there.”
Kent is half-asleep when she opens the door for Aggy. He smells like the bottom of a bottle of whiskey. “I’ll set up the guest room for you.” It’s something they’ve done in the past: not necessarily when Kent has stayed in, but Aggy’s slept over there before when they were both too drunk to bother calling an Uber.
“Kent,” Aggy slurs, stumbling across her doorstep. “I can’t believe we lost, Kent.”
Kent’s eyes burn and she steers him toward her living room couch, wrapping an arm around his waist to keep him upright. “I know, Ags. I know.” She sits them both down on the couch, and Aggy lets out a quiet oof. It’s quiet for a long moment.
Aggy puts a hand on her thigh. She doesn’t think much of it until he starts sliding his fingers upward toward her crotch.
“Ags,” Kent says, batting his hand away gently. “No.”
“Kent, come on,” Aggy begs. “Just. Just tonight, okay?”
“No,” Kent says more severely, grasping Aggy’s hands tightly. “I'm a fucking lesbian, dude.”
Aggy makes a face. “Come on. Like, if Reesey popped the question, you wouldn’t WAG it the fuck up.”
Aggy is drunk and sad and Kent reminds herself of these two facts over and over in her mind, like a kind of numbing mantra. It is comforting to know that her relationship with Reese is platonic, even if Aggy thinks otherwise. Maybe if Kent were even a little into dick she’d be about that life. But as things are, it’s nice to have the truth on her side.
“Either get the fuck out of my house or stop saying shit I know you’re gonna regret tomorrow,” Kent says harshly. Aggy looks away from her, his expression full of shame, before face planting himself in her lap and just bawling like a damn child. Hell, the kid is just nineteen years old. Kent cautiously pets the top of Aggy’s head and they sit there on her couch for a long while until Aggy passes out.
When Kent wakes up the next morning, Aggy is gone from her couch. She makes breakfast—some eggs, scrambled, and a protein shake, her usual—and considers calling Reese to tell him about her late night encounter.
She calls Jack instead.
“You said, last time, that I should call first,” Kent says to open the conversation. Honestly, she’s mostly stunned that Jack picked up her call at all.
“I did say that,” Kent hears Jack muse. “You’re not planning on making any impromptu trips, are you?”
They make small talk. Jack doesn’t offer any sympathies about the conference final loss. Kent doesn’t apologize about what happened at Jack’s house party. It feels a lot like they’re both dancing around what they really want to say and Kent doesn’t mind it. She thinks maybe she can get through having Jack in her life if they’re just…careful, about each other. Mindful, like they’re being now.
“You ever think about the Q, Zimms?” Kent finally asks. She’s got Jack on speaker phone as she flits around her bedroom looking for shit to pack.
It’s a loaded question, to be sure, but Kent doesn’t mean for them to delve into how shitty it was for Kent to find Jack unconscious in their shared hotel room with an empty bottle of pills next to her. Neither does she want to get back into whatever the hell they had together, romantically. Kent’s not one to beat a dead horse. What she does want to relive is the thrill of skating together on the same line, of playing together, of skating so in sync it’s like they were made for each other. And maybe they were, and maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.
Jack doesn’t reply for a long while, long enough for Kent to ask, “Can you still hear me? Sorry, I’ve got you on speaker.”
“I can hear you,” Jack confirms. “And, uh. I guess I think about it less, now.”
Kent goes home to Long Island. Her mom takes care of her. She trains with a solid crew of Islanders and Rangers who are in the area. John Tavares shows her his personalized lifting circuit and in turn, Kent takes him fishing on her boat. She catches a massive fluke and Snaps it to Reese with the caption “bigger than your dick.”
When she gets back from fishing with John, she has a sunburn and more freckles than she left with. “Someone sent you flowers!” Kent’s mom calls from the kitchen. “Ooh, they’re white tulips. Who screwed up, baby?”
The note reads, “I’m so fucking sorry - Ags.”
Kent smiles to herself and tweets out an old pic of her and Aggy celebrating a monster power play goal together with the caption Missing this nugget.
He texts her a crying face emoji and a heart emoji.
Daisy texts her a disgruntled next time send his drunk ass to my place. if he makes a move on me my wife will beat him up.
She gives Fritzy the You Can Play interview sitting in her mother’s backyard. He flies out to New York for it, and by the end of their three hour interview, they’ve both cried multiple times.
“There’s no one I’d rather have publish this story,” Kent tells him honestly. “You’ve always been fair to me. No puff pieces. Just the right ones.”
Fritzy wipes his face with the hem of his polo shirt. It’s hot, even in the shade, and they’re both sweating. It’s a good sweat, though: Kent feels like she’s purging all the toxins from her system. “Hey, you already changed the hockey world once,” Fritzy grins at her. “Why not do it again?”
As the NHL starts up again that fall, so too does the NWHL. Kent watches as their first official season is a modest hit: they don’t exactly sell out arenas, but they do sell tickets and merchandise and attain a bit of a presence in the world of sports media. Kent buys a Zimmermann Pride jersey the day they become available and wears it on a day off just casually around her neighborhood, doing errands and the like. She gets photographed, of course, and she gets a text from Jack that afternoon: you didn’t have to do that
Kent responds quickly: buy me a coffee with your percentage earnings on it if you feel so weird about it, ok
It’s, like, such a clear come on but Kent just can’t fucking help herself, okay? Maybe it’s coming out, maybe it’s wearing Jack’s name across her low-back like it’s her own last name (and holy shit did Kent have and they got married and lived happily ever after daydreams about her and Jack while they were in the Q).
She doesn’t get a reply for hours, but Kent knows not to poke the bear.
I have a girlfriend, Kent.
Kent almost texts i have a stanley cup ring, jack but she’s not that petty. Instead, she sends back a thumbs up emoji and tosses her phone aside.
“Enough,” Kent says to herself. “Enough.”
Auston Matthews is on Kent’s television.
“Turn it up,” Reese calls from her kitchen. Kent nods at Aggy and Daisy who both fight for the remote while Kent goes to help Reese bring in more beer. They just beat the Habs at home and they’re having a nice little intimate celebration at Kent’s place: you know, drunkenly watching NHL Network like the hockey nerds they are. “She could be ours, you know!”
“Haha,” Kent laughs. “Yeah, if we tank the rest of the season and prayed.” They’re having a middling year. She has heard rumors of management trading a package of players for the first overall pick, but that’s not something Kent wants to bring up in front of players who could very well be in said package deal.
The girl has a pair of perma-tired eyes with a crop of short brown hair and Kent empathizes immediately.
“So, Auston, where do you think you’ll end up? I know the NHL has offered you a spot in their draft, but there are rumors that the CWHL and the NWHL have also courted you.”
Auston laughs and offers a rather diplomatic answer. “I know about as much as you do, Tim.”
“I’m sure that’s not true. Don’t be shy,” the interviewer grins at her. Kent rolls her eyes. “Come on. Give us a hint.”
Auston bites her lip. “I really don’t know yet. But it’ll be fun to find out, won’t it?”
“Get him, girlie,” Kent grins at her television.
It is fun, Kent finds herself thinking, that Auston does have the option.
Kent stands up and tells the guys to order pizza without her.
She needs to make a call.
Jack picks up the phone on the last ring. “I’m a little busy right now.”
“I won’t take up too much of your time,” Kent says easily. “Just wanted to know if you saw the Matthews interview. She seems like a good egg.”
“Yeah,” Jack agrees. “I think the Rivs are trying to nab her.”
“So are the Furies, from what Spooner is telling me,” Kent grins. “And I think the entire Leafs organization would wet themselves if they end up drafting her.”
“She’s a hot commodity,” Jack laughs. There’s a sudden thud in the background, and Kent hears a voice. “Bittle, come on. If you need the mixer from up there, you can just ask me.” There’s so much affection in Jack’s voice that it actually physically hurts Kent to listen. “Sorry, I’ve got to go. Was there anything else you needed?”
Kent swallows her pride. “Just wanted to say that I’m happy for you.”
Someday, she thinks she’ll mean it.