When Tater doesn’t come out to the ice for morning skate, Jack is unanimously elected to go find him. Which he does, in the exact same spot where they’d left him: the locker room. Except Tater isn’t lacing up his skates or fixing his socks or doing anything to get ready. He’s just sitting on a bench staring at his phone.
Jack is immediately concerned.
“Tater, are you okay?” he asks, coming over to sit beside him. Tactile comfort is something that Jack is far better at receiving than offering, but he puts a hand on Tater’s shoulder. “Did something happen?”
Tater nods. “Is Kent. He’s...do interview.”
Jack is now very concerned. Despite his lingering distrust of Kent, he’s seen unimpeachable evidence that Tater and Kent are good together. He’s seen that Tater adores Kent, and that Kent is trying to make this relationship work. Why would that suddenly fall apart? “Interview? Did he say something?”
Tater’s phone had gone dark, but he unlocks it now. The first thing Jack sees a white screen with “Your order has been confirmed!” in gold text. Tater closes out of that and pulls up a video on Youtube, pushing play before handing the phone to Jack. The video title is The Puppy Interview with Kent Parson.
“Um,” Jack says.
“I’m watch five times yesterday, three today,” Tater says. “Can’t stop.”
The video opens to Kent sitting on a TV studio floor, the backdrop a soft blue. Kent is in a hoodie with his team’s logo and dark wash jeans. No shoes, just socks, and his toe is sticking out of the left. Several puppies scamper into view, jumping onto Kent and making him laugh with delight.
“Oh my god, this is the best day of my life! My cat’s gonna be so mad. Holy *BLEEP* you are the cutest *BLEEP* thing! Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?”
Kent places several loud kisses on a puppy’s head.
“Okay, okay, I can do this. Questions from a hat, love these. Um, first question, ‘What’s your favorite cheat day meal?’ Now see, that’s a fallacy, because a good diet plan doesn’t—Did you just lick me? Oh my god, you’re giving me kisses, I can’t—” Kent giggles and tilts his head back until he nearly falls over.
Jack feels uncomfortable. He’s not Kent’s biggest fan, and seeing him soft and happy like this feels like touching a car door and having his hand come away sticky. Kent’s presence in Tater’s life has always been abstract. Texts, muffled voices in Tater’s room when they Skype, Tater wearing a big smile the morning after an Aces-Falcs game because he’d seen Kent the night before. Jack has never had to actually think about the reality of Kent in that equation.
Tater makes a noise of deep, emotional pain and puts his face in his hands. “I know why he’s do this,” he says. “Is because I do kitty photo spread. He’s have revenge.” He peeks through his fingers at the phone, and catches the exact moment when Kent picks up a puppy and starts nuzzling its ears. “Fuck, why he’s so cute?!” Tater moans. “I’m always think, but now is like...so cute it’s hurt. If I’m see him today, don’t know if I’m kiss or punch.”
Wisely, Jack opts not to voice his opinion on that. “You know, it might help to take a break. We should probably head out—”
“I love him.” Tater’s head lifts and his expression is startlingly intent. “I think—what is phrase? He’s the one. He’s make me most happy I’m ever feel. I want to say this to him, but I’m worry because maybe he’s don’t feel same. Maybe it’s okay text and call and have sex but, I say ‘I love you’ and it’s too much, and we break up. I don’t want break up, Zimmboni. I want winter wedding.”
The phone in Jack’s hands is still making puppy noises interspersed with Kent’s carefree laughter. Jack wants to exit this conversation like a skydiver exiting a plane. “Let’s go to practice,” he croaks. “You can think about it during practice.”
There’s a long pause. Then Tater heaves a sigh and gets to his feet. “Yes. You’re right. Have to think. Maybe summer wedding better.”
Jack turns off Tater’s phone and puts it in his bag. He’s of the belief that Tater should not be doing anything digital—like text, Snapchat, or god forbid, Tweet—until he’s come down off this Kent-and-puppies-induced high.
Together, they leave the locker room and head down the tunnel to the rink. Tater is quiet, still mulling over wedding plans and love declaration anxieties, and Jack feels a tug of sympathy in his chest. He moves closer and lightly rubs Tater’s back, right between his shoulder blades. “He’ll say yes,” Jack says, with a confidence he doesn’t feel but which Tater sorely needs. “If you ask him, he’ll say yes. He’s crazy about you. Just, maybe you should wait a bit. At least until after the season.”
Tater huffs, then smiles. “Yes, okay, I hear you. Puppy video is just...make me think how much I feel, you know? But okay, I focus. Hockey now, wedding later.”
“Well,” Jack allows, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fantasizing about getting married. At this point it’s just hypothetical, right? It’s not like you’ve bought the ring yet.”
It takes several steps before Jack realizes he’s alone. He looks back. Tater is standing in the middle of the tunnel with a guilty look on his face.
Jack has a flashback to a white screen with gold text. “Tater?”
The guilty look becomes a sheepish grin.