Kent couldn’t stop looking at the damn photo.
By now it was spread across nearly every available social media site and every sports commentator had put in their two cents. Nearly all the Aces had something to say too. Except Kent.
He didn’t really have a chance to get a good look at it when Scraps first passed him the phone. Not with Carly’s mildly-homophobic comments. He’d downed his shot and excused himself to the bathroom where he stared at it from the front page of NHL.com for nearly 10 minutes, willing himself not to cry. He’d left the bar shortly after.
Now, curled up on his couch with Purrs, Kent couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. There was a wave of emotions crashing into him all at once. Joy for Zimms for his win. Pride that Zimms finally took his life into his own hands and did something other than hockey that made him happy. Relief that he wasn’t the only gay NHL player and that Zimms took away the pressure of coming out first. Fear for what was going to come next for Jack and inevitably himself. Envy that it wasn’t him Jack was kissing. Hatred that the kid looked uncannily like Kent but was nothing like him. Shame that these horribly selfish thoughts were running through his mind.
Worst was the crushing loneliness, the twisting curl in his gut and the prickling of tears. Once again Jack had everything Kent wanted. The Falconer’s obviously knew Jack wasn’t straight (gay? Bi?) and they obviously supported him. Why else would Jack have kissed his boyfriend in front of the cameras? He knew there were people behind him who supported him. He knew there was a plan. There had to have been a plan for this. Kent couldn’t see Jack doing something like this spontaneously.
Kent ached to come out. But that wasn’t in the cards for him, at least not right away. His team was open-minded, but only when convenient. They bought a fan base by supporting You Can Play, helping Vegas’s homeless, and participating in other charitable organizations. But supporting a gay player directly wasn’t convenient. Sure PR would put out some bullshit comment about Jack that was worded neutrally enough that not much would be said in response but that wasn’t the same as direct support. Jack was across the country. Kent was right smack at home.
Kent knew when he was first drafted that he could never fully be himself with the Aces. While the guys never said anything outright, Kent’s instincts said that he would have to leave before even considering coming out publicly. And that proved even more correct after Carl’s and some of the other players’ casual homophobia tonight. The loneliness pulsed another wave, threatening to crush Kent’s chest with the force. He sucked in a deep breath as tears streaked down his face. Purrs looked up from her spot beside Kent’s knees and wiggled closer. Kent dug his fingers into her soft fur, wishing that her presence could make up for the lack of human contact even a little bit.
Digging around, Kent found his phone wedged between the sofa cushions and thumbed to Jack’s name in his contacts. The call button was pushed before Kent could change his mind. He hesitantly lifted the phone to his ear.
Jack’s answering machine cut in after one ring. Kent figured it would be off but the sound of the voicemail message still caught him off guard.
“You’ve reached Jack Zimmermann. I can’t come to the phone right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”
A shaky breath rattled Kent’s chest. It was a few seconds before he could speak.
“Hiya Zimms, it’s uh, it’s Kent. Congrats on the win. You, uh, really deserve it. And congrats on coming out or whatever. That was cool of you. It must feel good to be free like that.” Kent closed his eyes. “I just, I’m really proud of you and it was probably really scary and you’re probably freaking out a little bit right now but, yeah. I’m freaking out a bit too and I know I probably shouldn’t but I am and I’m scared and I miss you and I wish I was there. I know you’re gonna be really busy with your own shit but I don’t know what to do and I thought maybe you would know because you always know.” Kent sucked in a shuddering breath. “I wish I was able to be like you and be brave enough to come out but I’m not and I can’t and it’s killing me. I’m just so lonely,” he whispered. There was silence on the other end of the phone. “But congrats or whatever. I hope you are happy.”
Kent ended the call before another embarrassing sound was recorded. He dropped the phone off the edge of the couch and curled into a ball, a sob building in his chest. It was too strong to keep in and Kent released it with a wave of tears and snot and spit. Purrs crawled even closer and didn’t pull away when Kent pressed his wet face into her fur.
He reached up blindly and pulled the blanket off the back of the couch haphazardly over his body. He didn’t care that his front door was probably unlocked and that all the lights were on. He didn’t care that he was disgusting and his head was throbbing. He didn’t care that he just left the worst and most embarrassing voicemail on Jack’s phone. He didn’t care that his name would be dragged into the media because of his connection with Jack in the Q. He didn’t care at all.
For the first time in a long time, Kent wallowed in his own misery and let the loneliness in, no matter how painful it was. He let down his shields and wished that there was someone to ease the pain he was feeling.