"Tony, what do you think?"
Tony looked sideways at his boss and didn't take the bait. He wasn't committing himself to any opinion yet.
"Stubborn fuck," Joe said fondly.
No one had ever called him Joe back in the day. Back in their day, when they had both played the game rather than spent their time standing around and watching from cold stands on a Saturday morning, everyone had called Joe Escher 'Joey the Eraser', for his habit of erasing the opposing team's scoring chances with his catching glove.
Tony, however, had been called a stubborn fuck many times before.
"Joe," he said, still finding the name weird, but they were grown men now. And they'd actually had an honest to fucking god meeting in a boardroom to discuss not calling each other by their hockey names to help the guys on the team remember who were the bosses. "Joe, I want to see the entire practice before I tell you what I think of this guy we just traded for, okay?"
"Sure, Tony, sure."
Tony, who had never been called anything else by way of a nickname and wasn't about to become Anthony at the age of 42 just because he had a real job and an ordinary paycheque, turned his full attention back to the guys on the ice.
The Lions had traded one of their minor-league players who'd been nothing much and got back a rough around the edges type who everyone said needed a change of scenery. That usually meant the guy was a total asshole, and it was Tony's job to sort him out if he was. So far, the guy, too old at 23 to be a kid anymore, was quiet and polite off the ice and ragged and maybe good at a few things on it.
Head of Player Development was Tony's exalted sounding title for the Cubs, who claimed Joe as General Manager. What he was head of, he wasn't sure, because his department was a one-man operation. He got the part-time use of the Lions skills coaches twice a year at most, but the rest of the time they were out of sight and out of mind.
Bridgeport was a handy place to stash a development league team. They were close enough to New Haven, where the Lions played and where Tony and Joey the Eraser had made names for themselves in their day, that players could move up and down without moving in and out of motels. They were handy to some of the other teams in the league so that their travel schedule wasn't too painful, and for the farm club of a team in a small market like the Lions played in, they did okay. But they weren't overflowing with amenities or staff.
"Has anybody taught that guy how to fucking take a faceoff?" Tony groused. And then he whistled through his teeth ― all real, thank you very much ― as the guy skated up the ice on a rush and nailed his winger with a perfect pass. "I guess he wasn't getting by on looks."
Joe snorted out a laugh and gave Tony a long look. "I thought you claimed you never noticed guys on the team."
Tony covered his surprise with a polite smile and nodded at the guys filing off the ice. "We need to get him with Al Framer. Let Al show him how to do all the shit no one else ever taught him, and he might amount to something. Not necessarily big league something, but good enough for us, maybe."
"Okay, sounds good."
"And I never said I don't notice, Joey, I said I make sure no one can see me noticing."
"You know everyone around here is okay with this now, Tony, right?" Joe said.
"Sure," Tony lied. "Sure they are. Now that they see I'm keeping this job and keeping my hands off guys like that," Tony nodded at the ice, "they're fine." They weren't fine, not all of them, but he'd never expected to be out at all, however quietly, and definitely not at work when work was a hockey job, so he wasn't complaining.
"Tony ―" Joe said, hearing the truth in his tone because he'd never been good at hiding shit from Joe.
Tony's phone interrupted Joe, for which Tony was very grateful. They'd had too many uncomfortable conversations when his thing with Cally had gotten serious enough that Cally had moved in with him. He didn't need another.
He took the call when he saw it was his son Pat.
"Dad! Something's wrong."
"What's up, son? Calm down."
"Cally's not getting up. He's like an hour late, and he will never get to New Haven for practice on time. I banged on the door, Dad, pounded on it."
"Is it locked?" Tony asked, looking up at Joe and wanting to get the hell somewhere private for this call, but Joe had him boxed out of the fast route to the stairs down to the tunnel that led to their offices behind the practice arena.
"No, should I?" Pat sighed. "I should just go in, shit. Hold on. Sorry."
"I've heard the word shit before, Patty," he said, hoping his tone would calm the boy down. He was sixteen, nearly not a boy anymore but not really a man.
Tony had nothing to calm himself down with, was the problem. If any guy in the game was a dedicated professional who had never overslept a single time, it was Cally, but he'd been weirdly tired lately.
"Okay, I'm going in," Pat said, and Tony waited while he heard Pat quietly call out Cally's name.
He told himself it was a normal thing, his boy having to go into his father's bedroom to wake up his dad's sick boyfriend. It was fine.
"He's out of it, Dad," Pat said. "I think you should come home, like now."
"Okay, Patty, I'm coming. I am, but," Tony gestured for Joe to get the fuck out of his way, and he took off at a jog for the office, "what do you mean out of it?"
"Like he's passed out or something. I tried shaking him, and he won't wake up. He's not breathing weird like he's sick or anything. I don't know, Dad, it's weird."
It was weird. It was weird and stayed weird and didn't look anything like fine once Tony had broken his speed record from the rink to his house. He had relocated from New Haven to a suburb on the edge of town, but still on the Bridgeport side of the bridge when he'd taken the job with the Cubs.
He tried to act cool when he ran into his bedroom and found Cally sitting up and rubbing his face while Pat stood just inside the door. "He woke up, Dad, but there's something wrong with him," Pat said.
"Cally?" Tony said quietly. He crossed the room and bent, setting his hand on Cally's face.
Cally was pale at the best of times, with freckles all over skin that could look pink in the right light. He didn't look his best; he looked half dead, bleached out bloodless white and with big circles under confused and watery blue eyes.
"No?" Cally said, voice soft and confused. "No."
"Cally, what's wrong, are you sick?" He laid the back of his hand on Cally's forehead like he would with one of his kids, but Cally's skin felt normal. "You aren't hot."
"I don't know. I don't ― where am I? What's going on?"
"Tell me how you feel, okay?" Tony said, while he got out his phone and tabbed through to the staff contacts for the Cubs. He should call the Lions team doctor since Cally was one of theirs, but he was farther away in New Haven. Tony did not want to have all this be office gossip in Bridgeport, however.
"I feel sort of green," Cally said seriously.
"If that means you're going to puke, do it in the bucket," Tony said and got the garbage can.
He said to hell with gossip and called the Cubs doctor, who said Cally sounded like he had the flu and to just call the Lions and say he was out sick.
"Cally, do you think you have the flu?" Tony asked, keeping the doctor on the phone.
Cally screwed up his face and looked around, attention settling on Pat by the door. "Is he Cally?" he asked, pointing.
"You are, Cally, come on." Tony said, fear rising.
"No," Cally said, shaking his head.
"Fine then," Tony answered, hoping Cally was making a stupid joke about his name. Tony was prepared to be angry if he was, terrified if he wasn't. "Who are you then?"
"I don't know," Cally said and shrugged. "I want to go to sleep, though."
He pulled away from Tony and burrowed under the covers. Tony stared at him for a beat. "I need the number of the Lions doctor," he said into the phone.
It only took an hour for Doctor Koss to show up, and Tony spent the time telling himself he was overreacting while he tried to keep Cally sitting up and awake. Koss was a new guy, and Tony had talked to him on the phone once to discuss a player the Lions had sent them to get over a knee injury, but he'd never met him. He had no idea what the man knew about Cally or him or their relationship.
"Go let him in," Tony told Pat, while he got Cally to sit up again.
"I don't want to be up," Cally said, sounding a little petulant. He also sounded stoned.
Koss barely acknowledged Tony or the arrangements of the room they were in when he came in. He used an ear thermometer on Cally and then frowned at the result and tried it a second time. He looked at Cally's eyes, and stood back and stared at him, puzzled frown in place.
"Did you drink anything, take something?" Koss said to Cally.
"I don't know," Cally mumbled. "I don't like you anyway. Where's that other guy?"
"Cally?" Tony said, coming closer again.
"He sounds stoned," Koss said, sourly.
Cally ignored Koss and looked up at Tony, who was leaning over him. Cally smiled, sunny and happy and like a guy who was really fucking stoned. "I like you," he said. "You're pretty and you're nice."
Tony frowned, worried Cally had taken something somehow. Cally caught his mood and the sunny smile faded. "I don't know what's going on," he said, sounding afraid.
"It's okay, Cally. It is." Fuck it. Tony reached out and ran his hand over Cally's hair. He usually kept it so short, it never got long enough to look as pinkish as it could, but it had gotten longer, left unkempt while Cally had been sick. Tony had seen pictures from when Cally was a boy, all strawberry and cream and sunburned cheeks, and he'd look that way soon without a cut.
"I'll have to do a blood test," Koss said.
"He didn't have anything to drink," Tony said. "He's been feeling a little tired, run down. All he does is sleep, so no way he took anything."
"I'm tired now," Cally said. "Will you stay with me, though?"
"Yeah, always, Cally. Always, okay?" Tony's guts clenched, but he knew how to gut it out. He had fully grown kids who could tell you how tough Tony was when they had a broken arm or the chicken pox so bad they were nearly delirious. "It's like he has a fever, but he doesn't," Tony said.
"Hydration is probably not a bad idea," Koss said absently, poking at his phone.
"Pat!" Tony called, and his son appeared gratifyingly quickly. "Get Cally something to drink, a Gatorade or something."
"Sure, Dad. Is he okay? He didn't know who I was when I woke him up."
"Yeah, he's fine, Patty. It's all good. Just a fever or something."
"Mr McCallum," Koss said, addressing Cally. "When did you first feel ill?"
"Who's that?" Cally asked, frowning and rubbing at his forehead.
"You, Mr McCallum. That's you."
"No, it's not. Who are you, anyway? I want the pretty one, he's nice to me."
"Cally," Tony said, almost laughing in the face of whatever the hell kind of disaster he was in the middle of. "Dr Koss is trying to help."
"Oh, shit," Cally said and clapped his hand over his mouth. "Maybe I shouldn't say that. That I think you're pretty. Shit, I'm sorry."
"Never stopped you before," Pat said, sliding between Koss and the dresser and handing over a green sports drink.
"No?" Cally said, taking the drink. "He is, though. His eyes crinkle up when he smiles, and he's got nice lips."
"You guys seem to like each other, so I think it's okay if you say so," Pat said, turning to glare at Koss who was ignoring them all anyway.
"Do I have to drink the green stuff?"
"Yeah, dude, you do," Pat said.
Cally sipped at it while Tony came closer and watched him. He seemed like he was getting better. Tired, but not out of it, like he was waking up from whatever it was.
"Okay, we're going to admit him," Koss said abruptly.
"What?" Tony said, "Now?"
"Tony, we don't know what is wrong here. And this memory loss is very worrying. Maybe we've got a virus, or maybe it's an allergic reaction to something, something he took. I don't know."
"Tony? Is that your name?" Cally said. "I like that."
Tony turned and stared at him. Denial had been his vice for a long time, but he'd given it up for good when he'd gone through the divorce and come out the other side accepting who he was. He couldn't take it up again now, not when Cally needed him, no matter how much he wanted to. Cally hadn't shown the slightest hint he had any idea who Tony was, who anyone was.
"Pat!" Tony said.
"Warm up the car, and then call your brother and see if he can come down for the weekend."
"I don't need a babysitter, Dad."
"I might need someone who can drive, Pat," he said.
"Yeah, sorry, Dad. It's not all about me, I know."
"Thanks, Patty, get the car going, okay?"
"Is he okay, Dad?"
"He will be, son, he will be."
"Tony," Cally said, "What's going on?"
"Okay, Cally." Tony ignored Koss completely and went and sat on the bed, turned enough so he could look Cally in the eye. "Something is wrong with you. You don't remember things you should know."
"Like who you are? I like you, though, Tony. I ― is this your house?" Cally looked around like he was seeing it for the first time, and he absently sipped at his green drink while he did it.
"It's our house, Cally. You live here too."
"Really? It's nice." He turned a smile on Tony that was half the usual wattage this new version of Cally was prone to.
Tony was acutely aware of Koss still in the room, but he ruthlessly sat on his discomfort.
"I have to go to the hospital don't I?" Cally said.
"Yeah, you do, so we can figure out what's up and fix it."
"You'll come with me, though? I won't have to go alone?"
"Yeah, I will. First, you need clothes. Socks." Tony got up and found socks and a warm hoodie and figured Cally's leather coat would do.
"This is a very nice coat," Cally said with intensity when they'd made it to the hallway with Cally dressed well enough for an emergency. He ran his hands down the front of it and twisted around to see all of it. "I need shoes, though."
"Fuck, yeah." Tony ran and got him shoes. He also brought a hastily packed bag made up in Cally's road trip carry-on bag, and he could not freak out, he didn't have time.
It would be fine. It would. They would get him to the hospital and it would be fine.