The first time David actually thinks about the word ‘gay’, he is 6.
He is sitting on the fluffy rug in the TV room, carefully colouring a book while he waits for the game to start while Mary Anne knits on an arm chair next to him. David is not really paying attention to the TV. He’s busy, worried about keeping the crayon inside the lines of the hockey players he’s colouring in the book Mary Anne bought for him. That is, until a word catches his attention.
“ARE YOU GAY OR SOMETHING?” a man on TV screams.
David looks up to the screen and sees the ad for a TV show he doesn’t recognise. He’s heard that word before, said by older kids in school, but he doesn’t know what it means, just that it isn't something nice. The kids who say it are bad kids. He is afraid to ask about the word, too, in case everybody but him knows and he gets mocked. This is his chance to know.
“Mary Anne?” he begins, not wanting to interrupt her if she is doing something important; he knows adults don’t like being interrupted.
She looks at him. “Yes, honey?”
“What does ‘gay’ mean?” he asks shyly, not daring to look up. The spot on TV is over, and now he can hear a song about yogurt, probably another commercial.
Mary Anne is silent for a second, until David raises his eyes and finds her thinking. “Well,” she says at last, “it’s something said of boys who don’t like girls, for instance, and like other boys instead, or girls who like girls.”
David considers it. He doesn’t particularly like girls, but then again, he doesn’t like other boys too much, either. He likes skating, especially since Dad had taken him to skate with other kids from his company. Dad had skated with him for about five minutes before leaving him with Mary Anne to do some important dad stuff, but it had been fun. He hopes dad takes him again. He also likes beavertails. Oh, and fries. Mary Anne can make about a hundred different kinds of fries. He wonders if there’s a word for people who like beavertails and fries.
“I don’t think I’m gay,” he says, shaking his head, serious.
“Oh, honey, you don’t have to worry about that now.”
He isn’t worried. Why would he be worried? He has his colours and his book and the game is about to start. It’s important that he watches it. Maybe, if dad joins them for dinner, they could talk about the game. He’s not totally sure, but he thinks dad likes hockey.
David doesn’t think his father likes hockey, not anymore. He talks about hockey, sometimes, but never stays to watch games with David and doesn’t like it when David talks too much about it. He has never watched a game of David’s, either, but neither has his mom. David hasn’t been skating with either of them, not after that first time his father took him. It’s always Mary Anne taking him to the rink for practice, always her who takes him to Rideau canal to skate after school, when he wants to skate even if it's -25º, who get beaver tails for him afterwards.
He used to think maybe, if the game was important enough, they would come, but they didn’t even show up for the Little Senators Spring Cup. David had had hope until the last minute, looking for them in the stands from the bench in between shifts, but it was only ever Mary Anne cheering on him.
So his father doesn’t like hockey, and that lost connection bothers David. But hockey is fun in itself, and he likes it when Coach Brown tells him he’s doing well. He just loves the ice, the way it smells, the way it makes him feel like he belongs. Some of the older kids in pee wee don’t like it that much when David does well, when he dangles and avoids them on the ice, even when they are bigger and have been playing for longer.
Some of them, the ones who can’t keep up with him, whisper. He has heard some ugly things, the word ‘gay’ and some others, thrown around when Coach is not in hearing range, or by older players on the ice, but it doesn’t really bother him. He’s not gay, and he doesn’t need to listen to them. They are too slow and he’s making it to the NHL, he has decided. That’s all that matters. There are no gay players in the NHL that he knows of.
He blocks the voices and the whispers and focuses on what happens on the ice, on getting better, and maybe during the next tournament his parents will find time to come see him.
David feels his heart beating fast as he boots up his mother’s computer. He hasn’t been forbidden from using it, exactly, his mother isn’t around enough to set any kind of rules, especially after his father left, but he knows that sneaking into his mother’s office at home is not something he should be doing.
This computer is faster than the older models they have at school, but the long minutes it takes for the home screen to appear are still nerve-wracking. He waits until it finishes loading completely anyway, the way they taught him in school, then he clicks on the Internet Explorer icon and starts typing into the bar.
There is this website he has been told about at school, where people post videos and you can watch them for free. The guys were talking about dirty videos during break, laughing and making exaggerated gestures, but David has something else in mind. The guys at school are idiots anyway. Even most of the guys on his team are idiots, always talking about girls and making dirty jokes, as if they knew anything about sex, as if there aren’t more important things in life.
When the page finally loads, he starts typing his search, again careful to follow the instructions from class, using all his fingers on the keyboard. It bothers him how some of his always classmates punch every key with their index finger, without even trying to do it properly.
David pauses, not sure whether he should be more specific. He decides it can’t hurt to be:
Alexei Konstantinovich Vancouver Canucks
The search offers several results, a mix of grainy interviews and game highlights. David hovers over the first result, something that looks like a morning show interview with Konstantinovich and some other teammates. The second one is exactly what he wants to see. He clicks on that one.
Overtime goal Stanley Cup Final Game 7 1994
He was too young to remember that, but he knows it happened and how it happened, has read about it in a magazine, has heard about it on TV. He has a DVD with a documentary on the last 10 Stanley Cups, where he saw Alexei Konstantinovich for the first time. Broadcasters still mention it during games sometimes, did so when David started watching hockey years ago and Konstantinovich and Perrault were still doing their magic on the ice for the Canucks, before Konstantinovich left for Russia. And it felt like magic to David: it was mesmerizing to watch. He likes the teams out West better than the East ones, even if it is often hard to catch those late games. He has a soft spot for Edmonton, for their overall play, but Vancouver used to have Konstantinovich, and he had played the way David wishes he could play.
The clip starts at center ice, with Perrault carrying the puck into the Canucks’ offensive zone. A Rangers D-man tries to take the puck from him, but Perrault dangles and passes to Konstantinovich, who one-times it into the net before the Rangers’ goalie can to react.
The camera zooms in on Konstantinovich’s face, crying out with joy before he disappears under his teammates. They crush him, forming a pile next to the net.
David plays the video again, pausing to study Konstantinovich’s reception of Perrault’s pass, everything from his posture when he scores to the celly. He freezes the image again when it shows Konstantinovich’s face, just before Perrault, the nearest teammate, crushes him in a hug and covers him completely. Konstantinovich looks overjoyed, eyes shining, hair sticking to his forehead under his helmet, sweat and maybe even tears wetting his cheeks.
David plays the video again and again, stopping always for a few moments on Konstantinovich’s face. It makes his chest feel heavy, something he can’t really identify. He plays it once again. He raises his hand to touch the screen, but catches himself, feeling stupid for the urge to touch a face on the monitor. He clenches his hands, noticing for the first time they’re sweaty, and still feeling something, something crushing his chest every time he notices Konstantinovich’s face frozen on the screen, not a trace of exhaustion in it, even after over 60 minutes of hockey; just pure happiness.
David tries to picture that: scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final. He knows that he is small, and has gotten shit from other kids over it, but he also knows he is a good player. He could do it, he can make it to the NHL. He just has to work harder.
He imagines the crush of his teammates after the goal, sees himself on the ice, Konstantinovich skating towards him, grinning, hugging him and screaming in his ear. The heavy feeling in his chest hasn’t disappeared, but he feels something else, lower, down in his belly. That feeling he knows better. He usually tells himself he is too busy to notice girls, to notice anything that isn’t hockey, but he wakes up hard sometimes, and this feeling is close to that. It hasn’t happened looking at an actual person, however. Yet.
David shakes his head to clear his mind, clenching his firsts harder, until he can feel his nails digging the half moons in his palms. He doesn’t bother shutting down the computer properly, instead just holds down the power button until the screen goes black.
He doesn’t allow himself to sit there and think, just goes downstairs to ask Mary Anne whether she needs help with dinner, and tries to ignore the sinking feeling that has replaced everything else in his chest. Nothing happened. It was just hockey.
David wakes up gasping. He looks up in the darkness of his room at his billet's, refusing to close his eyes. The images of his dream are burned behind his eyelids, and he thinks closing his eyes will only make it worse.
It wasn’t a nightmare, even if it feels like one, if his heart is racing as if it were. It was the contrary, but he can’t help the sick twist to his stomach as he tries to will his dick to go down, tries to erase the memories of the dream, more clear in his mind than any dream has the right to be. He can almost feel the calloused hands, decidedly male, decidedly a hockey player’s, the tongue tangled with his, deep blue eyes locked with his.
He searches on the table until he finds his phone and checks the time, the light on the screen blinding him momentarily. 3:43 . He has to get up in about two hours to go to practice, but it’s hard to will in sleep when he can’t close his eyes; when he can’t stop being hard. Once he admits that falling asleep again is not an option, he takes the issue in hand reluctantly, trying to focus on the physical feeling alone and ignore the still-vivid dream. When reigning in those images doesn’t work, he tries to picture anything else while he moves his hand—a girl, curves and softer skin against his body—but it does him no good either. His brain goes back to the male figure from his dream every time, to a face he recognises from endless hours of watching old clips on YouTube and interviews in Russian he can’t understand.
In the end, he comes into his own hand, muffling his moans with the other. The sick feeling in his stomach doesn’t go away with the orgasm, just grows with the shame that burns his cheeks and the guilt gnawing at his chest as he lies there, hand sticky and cool.
He doesn’t sleep any more that night, curses himself when he has to get up for practice and can barely keep his eyes open, even after his usual shower, with cold water splashing on his face. This can’t happen again. No matter what, he can’t let anything affect his hockey.
David's at this party because he understands that teammate bonding is important, but he hates parties and hates his teammates. Well, that's a lie. He doesn’t hate his teammates, not really. They are ok, some of them are as focused on hockey as he is. They teach him Quebecois slang and they can do homework together on the team bus. But when they’re at a party, they become total asses: loud and obnoxious. David knows he has to be here, though. If he had stayed home, he would have been considered a total weirdo, and he doesn’t want that. He has already skipped two parties with excuses about homework. One party couldn’t hurt, so here he is now, leaning against a door, holding an empty beer can he is pretending to drink from, and hoping nobody notices it has been the same can all evening. Beer tastes gross anyway.
He sits down after a while, tired of just standing there, and leaves the can on the table next to the couch. He takes in his surroundings: there is a mix of guys from the team, other people from high school, and plenty of girls he doesn’t know filling up the space in the house, dancing to loud music, drinking and shouting to try and talk to each other over the noise. He feels somebody looking at him and turns to see a girl, blonde, maybe pretty, a bit taller than him in her heels, talking to some of his teammates, Clément being the closest one, and looking directly at David. David gets caught in the way Clément’s blond hair falls over his eyes, the shape of his jaw, his shoulders, broad and big the way David wishes his own were. He wonders what they’re talking about, if Clément talks to girls with the same intensity he has on the ice, or if his voice changes, if he modulates it when he wants to wheel; wonders if he moans when they suck him off. David looks away, intent on ignoring them, and trying to stop that train of thought. It doesn't work, because his eyes fall on a couple in an armchair at the other side of the room, the guy’s hand clearly moving under the girl’s skirt. David averts his eyes again, feeling his neck hot, his face warming with a blush, like he’s intruding on the couple’s privacy even if they don’t seem concerned at all, so he ends up looking at Clément with the girl again, trying to stop himself from thinking.
He decides the safest option is to fix his eyes on the floor in front of him, a mess of empty solo cups and spilled drinks. Whose house even is this? He wonders what Mother would do if he threw a party like this at their house in Ottawa. Maybe she wouldn’t even notice, if he paid somebody to clean. Maybe he wouldn’t pay anyone, would leave it like that, just to see how she would react. Their perfect clean house wrecked by drunk teenagers. He wonders if she would even care, besides worrying about what the neighbours would think.
The bitter taste in his mouth at the thought prevents him from noticing that the girl has approached him, and next thing he knows, she’s sitting in his lap.
“Wha--” He stops, not even sure what he wants to ask, too shocked to think.
She whispers something in his ear, but the French is too slurred for him to understand. He is still trying to figure out what she had said when suddenly she’s kissing him, soft lips pressed against his while his teammates cheer. He opens his mouth in surprise, and the girl makes the most of it and gets her tongue in there, trying to tangle it with David’s uncooperating one. She tastes like beer, bitter, and David wants to push her away, but he doesn’t want his teammates to know he’s not into this. He tries to move his lips, praying she doesn’t notice he has never kissed anyone before. He wonders if a guy’s lips would feel different, if he would be able to feel the stubble, if the friction would burn his skin in a way that would be visible the next day, whether people would notice.
The girl—and how fucked up is it that he doesn’t know her name?—takes the lead, but seems to get bored of just kissing pretty soon and takes David’s hand to put it on her chest. David doesn’t know where to go from there, feeling totally uninterested in the softness of it all. If anything, he’s anxious, wondering if he’s doing this right, if he should be moving or doing something different, if he has reacted in a ‘normal’ way. He squeezes her chest lightly, hoping he’s not hurting her, guesses it’s not the case by the soft breath she lets out against his mouth. David thinks he could get used to this, can pretend for a while so his teammates get off his back about getting with girls—until her hand goes for his zipper.
He pushes her then, standing up without caring where she lands, and mumbles “bathroom” in the general direction of the girl and his teammates. He locks himself in there and sits on the floor against the door. He can’t… he can’t do anything like that in public, but especially, he can’t allow anyone to see how not hard he is, how uninterested. He looks down, at where there should be a bulge in his crotch and he is not even embarrassed, just mad at himself. He tries picturing the good parts of the kiss, how soft her lips were, the noises she made, but nothing works. He just feels mostly uncomfortable, angry, because he knows he should be feeling a different way, he knows he shouldn’t be focused on his teammates the way he is; mad at the girl for stealing his first kiss without his permission. Scared of what this all means.
He stays there for ten more minutes, trying to calm down, breathe and stop worrying about what his teammates would be thinking of him. He doesn’t know what’s worse: the possibility that they think he’s there to jerk off, or that they have guessed what he’s trying to hide.
On the night before the final game against the U.S, David should be sleeping. He lays in bed instead, eyes closed, trying to summon sleep, but only managing to get more anxious with every passing minute. His mind keeps on providing memories he would rather not think about, the game tomorrow looming over him, last year’s loss too fresh in his mind. Even if it wasn’t, if he hadn’t been thinking about that game for a year, blaming himself as captain, the media won’t let him forget. He gives them the answers he has had drilled into him by Hockey Canada, avoids saying anything personal. He knows the guys on Team USA, played against most of them last year, has played against some in the Q. Knows Lourdes, in the abstract, impossible to miss, racking up points in the O like it’s no big deal, especially when the media keeps asking about him and keeps bugging David about the upcoming Draft.
He pointedly avoids answering those questions, anything about the Draft and about Lourdes in particular. He hadn’t paid too much attention to Lourdes the year before, besides seeing him on the other side of the ice, having to face him at the handshake line. This year though, he has been everywhere, next to David’s name in every headline. Dave has advised him to stop reading the articles, but David can’t help it; he keeps looking up his name and checking the NHL standings to see who’s doing worse, to see who has a good chance of winning the lottery. It’s not smugness: he knows that he will go early in the Draft, maybe even first; he would know he’s good even if he didn’t have a C on his Team Canada jersey, but he still shakes when he thinks about not being drafted, about people not believing in him and passing him over, the way they always have.
He starts relaxing when all the articles mention him as a top prospect, potentially a first pick, even if it means going to a team that is completely tanking, the chance at the first or the second pick this year too good to miss. And that’s where Lourdes comes in, too; the articles are never about David alone, they’re always about Chapman and Lourdes. Nobody's sure about who’s better, about who should go first. David is tired of it, of people talking about them as a unit, of having to see Lourdes’ smug face next to his in the articles, of having his brash attitude and the ugly way he plays being praised.
He won’t admit it to anyone, especially not the media, he’ll barely acknowledge to himself how much footage of the guy he has actually watched, but looking at Lourdes on the ice is actually interesting, almost hypnotic. Even when he plays dirty, often toeing the line, sometimes even downright illegal, you can’t take your eyes off him. It makes something ugly grow in David’s stomach, between envy and hate, because Lourdes makes it all look easy, pushing his big body around, while David has had to work hard to get where he is, to prove everyone who said he was too small wrong .
There’s something else there with the pent-up anger, something that keeps him too focused on the wrong parts of Lourdes’ game, in the pretty plays instead of the bad ones he could be using to fuel his dislike, in the way his hair sticks to his head when he smiles at reporters.
He shuts that train of thought, the way he has trained himself to do when his mind wanders in that direction. He knows that, if he keeps at it, he won’t be able to sleep at all. He feels like there’s something inherently wrong with the way Lourdes’ sweaty face makes him itchy, how his smile goes directly to his dick, in a way nothing a girl has ever done has managed. He shakes his head in an attempt to clear it, and decides to get up and take a shower, let water relax him and wash away everything from the past: last year’s loss, the media, the fact that his parents aren’t here for him, Lourdes’ face…
He steps under the spray, warm for once, and decides to face tomorrow’s game from a clean slate.
The game is good. David stays focused, lets the sound of the skates on the ice take away his worries and anxiety as he skips past US’ d-men, as he passes and watches the puck hit the back of the net.
After the win, when they meet in the handshake line, Lourdes whispers “Good game”, barely managing a smile. David basks in the feeling of having won, both the game and the imaginary battle between him and Lourdes the media has been writing about. He tells himself that’s the only reason his hand maybe lingers a bit too long on Lourdes’ fingers. Why would he do it otherwise? He doesn’t know Lourdes, knows nothing about him and doesn’t care about him. That’s clearly for the best.
David wakes up when his alarm goes off. It takes a few rings for him to register that he has to get up, hit the gym at least for awhile this morning. He tries moving, but the arm around his waist tightens, effectively keeping him under the cover. There’s a mumble in his ear, something that barely sounds human. His body resist the movement, too, sinks into the arms holding him, but he knows he has to move now if he doesn’t want to fall asleep again and lose the whole morning.
“Jake. We need to get up,” he says, trying to move Jake’s heavy arm to no avail.
This time, the mumble at least sounds like a person speaking. “Mhmno. Day-off.”
He knows that, but it doesn’t mean they can afford to spend it in bed. David’s sure that, if they do, Vladislav will know and punish them tomorrow with something awful, like extra swimming instead of skating. It’s tempting, staying in bed, especially when he can feel Jake’s erection against his leg. But Vladislav is scary.
“Jake,” he says, trying to sound stern, “let me go.”
Jake groans in protest, but retreats from David’s back and lays on his back in the bed, releasing David from his grip. David shudders at the loss of Jake’s warmth and contact, but makes himself get out of the bed before he regrets his life choices and goes back to Jake’s arms. He’s halfway through the room towards the bathroom when Jake calls for him. David turns to look at Jake, sprawled in the bed, the covers a mess over him.
“I love you,” Jake says, sleepily.
A little smile tugs at the corner of David’s mouth when he answers, before turning to get into the shower: “I love you too”.
It comes out easy. After years of denying himself what he wants, now it’s just easy for him to wake up next to Jake, to wait for Jake to join him in the shower and kiss him under the spray, to feel Jake pressing against him in the kitchen, hair still damp, and whisper in his ear to go back to bed. Nothing has ever come easy in David’s life before, the path to get here sure wasn’t, but as he gives up trying to prepare breakfast and lets Jake steer him back to the bedroom, his protests about needing to work out even during their day off weaker with every step they take, he can’t stop feeling like this is exactly who he is; this is where he’s supposed to be.