There’s no one else in the NHL whom Tater would rather piss off than Kent Parson. Feints and unnecessary checks and stealing Kent’s puck while saying, “You mind I’m borrow?” like he’s just swung by Kent’s place for a cup of sugar. Twice he’s gotten up in Kent’s business all through a tight game, asking “You want fight? Come on, Parson, little fight, know you want, been asshole all game, come on,” and waited until Kent has snapped, “Yeah, fine,” and tossed down his gloves, only to have Tater laugh and say, “Just kidding.” And then skate away.
Tater also snow showers Parson every chance he gets. He gets the fight he was asking for twice, but mostly he gets insults yelled at him as he ducks away.
Thirdy calls it hilarious. Marty calls it “kinda dangerous, you know he’s gonna kill you one day, right?”
Snowy calls it “the most disgusting display of courtship I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Kent isn’t known for being a mouthy guy on the ice. In press rooms and in person he can’t be convinced to shut up, but in a game his sole focus is his team and the puck. He doesn’t have much time for chirping. Except, it turns out, in situations involving Tater.
The more Tater goads him, the more Kent Parson talks. Fast, clipped words, growing more and more eloquent as the season goes on.
But it’s the Stanley Finals where things really heat up. They go through seven exhausting, drawn out games and it is not pretty. Bodies and tempers are stretched to the limit. Tater’s customary on-ice hassling of Kent takes on more of an edge. Kent, in return, constructs elaborate chirps in reply. Tater barely has to grind to a stop nearby and send a mild puff of snow Kent’s way to get a lengthy tirade in response.
At one point, Tater elbows Kent out of the way--just a nudge, really--and says, “Scoot, peanut,” and Kent seems to lose it.
The tussle that follows is half shoving, half pissed-off yelling. The refs pull them apart and send them to the box. Tate goes in with his jersey askew and his mouth guard almost knocked out. He tries to get Kent’s attention through the glass and is treated to another tirade that he barely catches half of.
“Holy shit,” Snowy says conversationally once Tater’s back on the ice. “He just went at you. Don’t think I’ve seen a roast like that since Beiber went on Comedy Central.”
Tater shrugs. “Kent is baby bird.”
Snowy scrunches his entire face up behind his mask. “Explain.”
“Is cute when he is angry chirping but I'm not know what he's say.”
Snowy pretends to gag. "It’s Parson. Do not ever make me listen to you call Kent-fucking-Parson cute ever, ever the fuck again.”
“So cute,” Tater reiterates, and laughs when Snowy tries to push him over.
The third period is brutal. The Aces and Falconers are tied. A single point will tip the balance.
Zimmboni gets that point, right off Tater’s assist.
The clock runs down the rest of regular time and the Aces don’t get that point back. Tater hears the stadium count down the last ten seconds. Then, all he hears is five hundred fans and twenty-two Providence Falconers screaming in chaotic joy.
Eventually both teams get around to lining up and shaking hands.
Tater is still wearing an enormous grin when he gets to Kent. He shakes the man’s hand and pats him on the arm, saying, “Was good season, yeah? You and me?”
Kent looks startled, befuddled, and intently curious all at once. “I—yes?”
“Good, good. Let’s have good season again next year. You fun.” Tater pats him again and moves on down the line. He thinks he feels Kent watching him go.
The Aces leave the ice. The Falconers are awarded the cup. It is the single greatest night of Tater’s life.
Tater doesn’t expect to see Kent until the next regular season. He most certainly does not expect to see Kent sitting in the Falconers’ locker room three weeks later after a routine, low-impact skate.
Kent has one foot propped on the opposite knee and is playing with his phone. Falconers file in and do double-takes when they notice him.
“The fuck—is that Parson?”
“What’s he doing here?”
“Parson, what the hell?”
Kent doesn’t speak until Tater goes up to him, shadow falling across Kent’s body and half his face. “Kent, why you are here?”
Without looking up from his phone, Kent says loudly, “Do you know how rude it is to spend six months hitting on a guy and then not call him once the season’s over?”
Behind Tater, there’s a choking sound from Snowy.
Kent continues, “Not that you have my phone number, ‘cause you didn’t bother getting that, either. At least you didn’t ask me out with the damn cup in your hands, but still, point stands: I had to fly a thousand miles just so you could do this in person. I am so offended right now. Even Zimms and his chicken tenders had a better game plan.”
“Please don’t bring me into this,” Jack says weakly from the corner.
Kent gets up, pocketing his phone and looking up expectantly at Tater. The locker room is not quiet, since most of the guys are going about their business in a pointed attempt to ignore the soap opera in their midst. But there’s a definite atmosphere of anticipatory breaths being held.
Tater realizes that, for all that he really did spend about six months vying for Kent’s attention, he hasn’t given the actual act of getting a date with Kent Parson any concrete thought.
“You, uh,” he fumbles. “You want…have dinner?”
Kent crosses his arms. “Where are you taking me?”
What follows is the most overdone show of consideration Tater has ever witnessed. Kent is such a drama queen. It’s enticing and not a little bit hot. Tater really hopes he can get his hands on Kent by the end of the week.
Kent says, “Sure. Steakhouse is good. You’re paying.”
“Of course,” Tater agrees, overriding Snowy’s call of “Mooch!” behind him. The rest of the guys seem to take that as their cue to resume pulling off skates and jerseys at full volume. Tater speaks to Kent over the noise. “I’m shower and change, you wait?”
Kent snorts and flops back down into Tater’s spot on the bench. “Waited six damn months, didn’t I?”
Just adorable. “Yes, ptichka,” he says, and heads for the showers.
“Don’t think I won’t Google that!” Kent yells after him.
“You suck, Mashkov!”
Snowy cuts in, “God, both of you, shut up!”
Tater looks back over his shoulder, and catches sight of two things: Snowy’s green-faced glower, and Kent’s warm, smug grin.
Tater still doesn’t know what he’s going to do with Kent Parson now that he’s got him. But whatever happens, it most certainly won’t be dull.