There were a lot of things Kent had expected from his life, none of which had included him sitting alone in an apartment in Las Vegas at 18 years old. He had always known that he wasn’t going to end up on the same team as Jack, but there was this small, childish hope in the back of his mind that they would at least be close to each other. Now they weren’t even going to be playing in same league, which meant that Kent was alone and Jack wasn’t returning his calls, and he had no idea what was going on. Frankly, it sucked.
So, Kent took stock of his life. He was alone, he couldn’t reach his best friend to tell him anything, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be playing hockey anymore. However, he had gone first in the draft, and had signed a contract. There was no going back. In his head he knew he had everything he could ever want, but how was that going to help when he didn’t even feel safe in his own skin?
Kent knew he could call his mom, or his little sister Cori, but he didn’t want to worry them. He didn’t know how to tell what was left of his family that after helping Jack all those times, he was the one having trouble breathing. Why was he suddenly the one who couldn’t keep it together? Why was he the one breaking down when Jack was the one who had been hurting? Jack had needed him, and somehow he had missed all of the signs that someone he loved so dearly was falling apart.
How many times had Kent seen Jack just a little too far gone after a night out? How many times had Jack touched his hair and smiled like he wasn’t really there? What else had he missed? Jack could spend hours lying around with Kent talking and nothing would be wrong, but on game days, and even after practices, Jack was all sharp edges.
They were always playing well, they were always winning, and when they did lose, as long as Kent was there, Jack seemed fine. It didn’t matter what he had seemed like though; Kent should have noticed. He should have realized. Jack had never been consistent; his personalities changed too often and too drastically all based on how they played the game.
Sometimes it wasn’t just the game that made him just a little more wild. Sometimes it was Kent. There were nights when the two of them would touch and talk and stare just a little too intimately. There were nights when Jack needed more than just alcohol or his medication to keep him calm, and on those nights, he had Kent. They always had each other. They needed each other.
But, now that Kent knew the truth, now that Kent realized that Jack needed more than just him, he almost felt used. During all that time, had Jack been abusing him, like his medication? Then again, maybe that meant they were both addicted. Maybe Kent needed Jack just as much as Jack needed him.
They both craved a high in each other, and they reached that high with a reckless passion that often left them both wrecked and tired and undeniably relaxed. Kent loved Jack, but he didn’t want to think about it anymore, because he wasn’t sure if Jack had ever really felt the same. He had always just assumed that Jack understood his feelings and reciprocated.
The evidence had been there in Kent’s mind. Wasn’t he the only one that ever got to call him “Zimms”? Everything had been so easy between them that Kent never really stopped to question what they were to each other, and now he was the one stuck in limbo.
He really fucking missed Jack.
So, Kent sat there on the edge of his new bed, in his new apartment, frozen. He hadn’t felt like this in years, and now he really wished he had someone to talk to besides his own head. As Kent sat there, his mind began to race even worse than before. Each new thought came harsher and faster than the rest and suddenly Kent’s breath hitched as his whole body began to shake.
He couldn’t keep his hands still and he couldn’t calm down or focus. Every sound from the world around him began to sharpen as the seconds ticked by. He tried to clench his fists and get control of himself, but his hands felt wrong, heavier, and larger than they should have. He couldn’t focus on his breathing; he couldn’t even take a moment to collect his thoughts to figure out a next step.
Kent was alone in his apartment above the city of Las Vegas with its lights and people and he couldn’t figure out why he felt so totally out of control and desperate.
Suddenly, like he no longer had any real connection to his body, he was pushing himself off of the bed as tears trickled down his face. His breaths were coming at an even more rapid pace as he felt his feet taking him into the master bathroom. Kent wasn’t thinking straight, or really at all at this point, when he threw himself into his shower and turned on the water.
The ice-cold water hit him almost instantly and began to soak his shirt and pants. It wasn’t helping. His rational brain was long gone at this point as his mind was trying to grasp onto any semblance of reality. Kent screamed.
“Why isn’t this working? Why isn’t this fucking working?” he cried out as the cold water covered his face and kept him from opening his eyes.
He sat in the water for just a moment longer before ripping himself out of the steady stream and falling to the floor. The pain of the impact was the first thing to break through the wild haze that had been building in his mind. It centered him to the cold tile floor that only seconds before had made his body too sensitive.
He needed to calm down and think like Jack. Jack always talked about how he counted each breath. He needed to focus on patterns, on anything that would give his mind a pinpoint on which to settle. With each breathe in and out, Kent began to count the multi-colored tiles on the floor. By the time Kent was able to tune out the buzzing in his brain and calm his rapidly beating heart, he had noted that the bathroom contained 16 black speckled tiles and eight much smaller white ones.
He almost laughed at himself then, just over the absurdity of needing to count the tiles on the floor to feel safe. It was absurd in some ways. He had spent so long trying to help Jack to understand him, and now that Jack was gone he could finally empathize.
Kent lay there for what seemed like hours as he stared down at the walls and tiling. It was only when he remembered the still-running shower that he decided to move. And so Kent Parson, first draft pick of the Las Vegas Aces, quite literally rolled himself over and onto his knees. He sat there for a moment, just watching the patterns in the tile floor before carefully placing his hands on his knees and standing up. The first thing he noticed after his less-than-graceful rise to his feet was how unsettling his own reflection was.
There were droplets of water dripping from his crazily spiked hair down his face and neck. His shirt and pants were soaked through completely, and his all-around appearance might have made his mother cry. Kent hated feeling useless, but more than that, he couldn’t stand being out of control.
He paused for a moment to run his fingers gently through his hair before he dropped his eyes from the mirror and took a step back towards the shower. Then he leaned across the bathtub’s edge and gently turned the knob back to center. Kent took a moment then to run his hands across his face and collect himself and his thoughts before he turned back towards the bathroom door and switched the light off.
His master bathroom was less than five feet from his bed, but with aching muscles and a drifting mind, each step felt like placing dead weight onto the floor. As Kent made his way into the darkened room, he peeled his water-soaked shirt from his back and began to gingerly rotate his shoulders and rub down his arms. Even though he hadn’t played a game in weeks, Kent felt drained in a way he hadn’t in years.
Slowly but surely, Kent began to wiggle himself out of the rest of his drenched attire, leaving only his boxers. For some reason it felt better to have them on, like the cold wetness was an anchor to the fact that he was there and alive. He walked forwards for three more steps before he collapsed into bed. Nothing felt right anymore. He missed his mother, his sister, his bed back home, but most of all, he missed Jack.