Mike runs into his ex-husband at ten AM on a Tuesday in a Whole Foods. He’s right in the middle of illicitly sneaking some pre-made asparagus into his mouth to see if he wants to put it in one of those little containers and take it out for lunch. He bites down, and looks up, and makes eye-contact with Tom across the food station as he robotically chews. The small part of him that doesn’t want to curl up and die notes that the teriyaki-based sauce is pretty good, actually.
“Hi,” he says, or tries to say. He still has asparagus in his mouth. He’s thirty-seven, he’s just seen his ex-husband for the first time in twelve years, and his mouth is full of a vegetable that he doesn’t even really like all that much.
“I didn’t know that you liked asparagus all that much,” says Tom, inanely. Not that Mike thinks it’s inane. Mike doesn’t think anything Tom has ever said is inane, even the most parroted hockey made-for-TV answers in a post-game interview. But Mike can tell that Tom thinks it’s inane, because the tips of his ears flush, and he looks down at the ground. He always does that when he feels a little stupid.
“Taste buds change as you get older,” says Mike, through his food, apparently now devoted to this lie, this false image of himself as an older, wiser, asparagus-loving version of himself that doesn’t exist.
On second thought, this is not a super well-cooked piece of asparagus, because he’s still fucking chewing, here.
“Right, like, I didn’t like brussel sprouts for a really long time,” begins Tom, but then he trails off.
“But now you…” prompts Mike, finally managing to swallow.
“I still don’t really like them that much,” says Tom, shifting from foot to foot. “But they’re more manageable, I guess?”
“Right,” says Mike. “Well, things always change as you get older.” He immediately winces. Things have changed as that they’ve gotten older. Twelve years, a marriage, a divorce, and a career-destroying injury will do that to you.
“What are you doing here, Tom?” asks Mike, abruptly exhausted. He’s been working since seven, and he only has half an hour before he has to get back to the office, where he’s with clients booked straight until four. While it’s certainly flattering that people think he’s a good physical therapist, and he’s lucky that he’s able to make a living off of this stuff, it’s also pretty fucking exhausting, physically and emotionally. And now he’s looking at Tom, and Tom looks great, and Mike’s wearing basketball shorts a t-shirt advertising his own company. Not that it’s not good look for him, because he’s been told it is, but Tom’s wearing a suit. There’s just a little bit of a mismatch there.
“I was picking stuff up for lunch, later,” said Tom, gesturing to the salad bar.
“No, I mean like, here, like—in LA. Where I am. And you are now, also, I guess.”
“Yeah, no, I’m, uh…” Tom scratches the back of his head. Mike is comforted by the fact that Tom looks at least as awkward as Mike feels, if not more so. “I’m working for the Kings? As like, a behind the scenes guy? I’m helping run their peewee teams and stuff.”
“Ah, that’s cool,” says Mike. “Cool, cool, cool.”
“Very cool,” says Tom. “What are you up to? I didn’t even know you were in LA?” He phases the end of the statement up, like it’s a question.
“Oh, yeah, well, after like—” Mike gestures to his knee, visible and clearly wrecked with scars, surgical and otherwise. Tom nods, looking as nervous in it’s presence as any career-athlete would at such definitively career-ending damage. “After that whole thing, I kind of moved here on a whim. I ended up becoming a physical therapist, and now I run my own practice.”
“Oh, that’s actually super cool,” says Tom.
“Your thing was very cool too,” assures Mike.
“So do you do athletes, or…? Because I’m sure I’ll end up having some five year olds to send your way.” Tom grins.
Mike actually laughs, before he sobers. “No, I do, uh, I do chronic pain management. So like, long-term stuff. Lifelong stuff. So some of it is from injury, but not all of it.”
“Ah,” Tom says, nodding his understanding. Mike can feel Tom very carefully not looking at his knee. Mike also very carefully doesn’t look at his own knee.
“So cool, yeah, good to know you’re in town!” Mike can feel his ability to handle this situation rapidly unspooling, like a particularly short ball of yarn with a full on meltdown in a Whole Foods lurking at the end of it. “Maybe we could get dinner or something.”
Mike throws it out in a way that is meant to be flippant. He swears to God, it was meant to be flippant. Instead, it comes out as loosely wistful, and Mike immediately wants to collect the sound waves from the air and shove them right back into his mouth. The worst part, though, is how much Tom perks up.
“That’d be great!” he says, and Mike, as unable as ever to stand up to the force of Tom’s joy; as unable as ever not to open his arms to him and tell him, “Take, take, take whatever you want,”; Mike, cursing himself, leaves that Whole Foods with a container filled exclusively with asparagus he really doesn’t like all that much and Tom’s phone number burning a hole in his back pocket.
“Son of a bitch,” he says, and eats the entire container with his hands on the three block walk back to the office, tosses the container into the trash outside the building, and takes the stairs two at a time, hoping to work out some aggravation. He doesn’t, but his speedy ascent allows him just enough time to wash his hands before his next client, Marie, arrives. It must be a bad day for her, he notes, as she enters the room in her wheelchair.
“Heya, Marie,” he says. “Has your back been feeling like a human being’s back the last week?”
“Oh, most certainly not,” Marie says, full of false cheer. “I’ve had to use this fucking chair for the last three days.”
Mike likes Marie. The musculature of her back is a fucking disaster, and always has been; it’s only been getting worse as she gets older. The best he can do for her is try to manage her pain and attempt to delay some of her symptoms. But she’s always playfully mean to him, which he delights in, and after she’s done screaming at him in pain for the day, she always apologizes and lightly punches him in the bicep. Sometimes she calls him slugger.
He gets her situated on the table face down, and lays one hand down between her shoulder blades, the other one at the back of her neck with his thumb resting at the base of her head.
“Okay,” he says. “I’m going to press down on something on your neck, here, and it’s going to feel like I’m triggering a migraine. And that’s because I am. But it’s on purpose, so don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, fuck you, Mike,” says Marie.
By the time the hour is done with Marie, after he’s worked her back over enough that she can get into her wheelchair by herself and he’s sent her out the door, he’s almost completely forgotten about that whole thing with Tom.
But not quite.
Tom wakes up in the morning with nothing to do. It’s not a new feeling, but every time he wakes up like that, for the first five seconds, he’s confused. He’s been retired for a year, now. He thought he would get used to it. He hasn’t.
His days used to revolve around hockey. Playing it, planning for it, talking about it. Practices and press conferences and interviews and tape reviews; he didn’t even realize how much time they took up. Every day had something to do with hockey, from what food he ate to when he went to bed.
“Figure out what you like to do, sweetie,” said his agent, Christie, a year ago, in one of the last conversations they had as agent and client. “And do it.”
They had both been eating salads in huge bowls that Christie had made for them, sitting outside on her front porch, watching cars drive by. It was a nice day. The salads had mandarin oranges in them. Tom hated mandarin oranges, but Christie always forgot, and put them in everything. Tom was too tired to mention it to her, and so he was just eating around them.
“I don’t know what I like to do,” he said. “I like to do hockey.”
“Well, you can’t do that anymore, kiddo,” said Christie, looking pointedly to the icepack on Tom’s hip.
“Yeah, I know,” he said, resting his head back against the wall of her house.
It was, technically, his decision to quit hockey. He hadn’t wanted to, but things kept lining up. His contract with the Caps was ending, and for the first time in, well, ever, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be resigned. His mother and his trainers kept making passive-aggressive comments about how quickly his body was falling apart. He was in pain all the time, and either the pain was getting worse or his body was becoming less able to bear it, because it was making more and more of an affect on his daily life. And he was just tired, now, more tired than he had ever remembered being.
“You’re not Jagr, bud,” said TJ, on the phone, when Tom had been complaining about it. TJ had retired seven years ago and moved back to Washington (state) with his wife and daughters. “You’ve got to get out of the game sometime.”
So Tom had gotten out of the game. He’d put in his resignation, done the interviews, signed the jerseys, and gone home. The first three months he’d spent with his parents, spending more time with them in one go than he had in maybe twenty years. But then he had come back home, to DC, to a place where he didn’t work anymore. Maybe didn’t belong, anymore.
Tom hadn’t ever felt bad about not having a wife, or kids, and not just because he was gay and hung up on his ex-husband. When he was asked, he would tell everyone that hockey was his wife. Hockey was his kid. And now, apparently, his time with hockey was done, and he was just expected to be cool with it.
He was not that cool with it.
He had gotten the peewee job from a friend of a friend who worked with the Kings. He had taken it because he hadn’t really had anything else to do. His job was pretty nebulous, and not really well defined, and any time he wasn’t spending directly with the kids he always felt as though he was somehow in somebody’s way. But he liked the weather in LA, and the kids were great. He sometimes had to go to meetings, which was deeply boring, but otherwise, things were okay.
He was coming out of one of those meetings when he saw Mike. Or, he didn’t even really see Mike. He saw a bit of Mike’s shoulder, the curve of his neck, recognized his gait, that particular one he had when he needed to get somewhere in a short about of time and was kind of stressed about it. He saw just a bit of Mike, in the crowd, and followed him without thinking about it. It was creepy, he knew, but he had just wanted to see. How Mike was doing. What he was doing, here, in LA, all tanned, with his shoulders stretching out his t-shirt. He ended up following Mike into the Whole Foods, staring at him across the hot food bar, willing him to look up but terrified of what would happen if he did.
But he did. He did, and he talked to Tom, and he asked him to dinner. Or told him they should get dinner. Or said maybe they could get dinner. It was basically the same thing, right?
And so he had gone home, and worked out, and ran some errands, and waited for Mike to text. He had eaten dinner, and watched TV, and brushed his teeth, and got into bed, and waited for Mike to text. He fell asleep, waiting for Mike to text.
He’d had a nightmare where Mike had been screaming at him about something, crying. They had been in the old apartment that they had shared, those few years that Mike had played for the Caps. Only a few years, but such important ones. There had been papers, on the table, papers Tom knew it was critical for him to understand, but Tom hadn’t been able to read them. Mike was asking him questions, screaming them, and Tom didn’t know how to answer because he couldn’t read. And then it had switched to a dream where Mike was lying in Tom’s new bed, in LA, this new, older version of Mike that Tom didn’t know, and he was crying, too, silently. Tom was braced above him, sheltering him, keeping him safe, or trying to at least. He kept asking Mike what was wrong, but Mike didn’t tell him. Just kept shaking his head and crying.
Tom woke with a start, in the middle of the night, and shook his head at himself. A team therapist had once told him that his dreams were almost stupidly easy to interpret—his conscious mind was so close to his subconscious mind his dreams were literally just about whatever had happened that day, or what he was worried about at the moment. In any case, Tom knew it wasn’t true, because Mike wasn’t a crier. Mike hadn’t cried, the whole time. Tom bawled like a baby when Mike had been drafted away from him, cried even harder when Mike had brought up, over the phone, six months later, the concept of divorce. He’d sobbed when he’d signed the papers, scanned them and sent them to Mike’s lawyer, still teared up sometimes when he thought about it too hard, which wasn’t often. Mike hadn’t cried, though, not the whole time.
Tom had himself a little cry then, just a quick one, got a glass of water and went back to bed, slept like a baby.
Now, he wakes up with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Checks his phone immediately. He has a text from Andre, a link to a skateboarding dog that won a world record.
[Transcript: image of an iPhone conversation between Tom and Andre Burakovsky. Andre is listed as “Burky” in Mike’s phone.
Tom: Saw Mike yesterday. Cool dog!
Burky: Which mike? many mikes, very common name
T: The Mike that’s my ex-husband.
B: oh. that mike.
T: Yeah, that Mike. Did you know he was in LA?
B: okay yes i did know but i didn’t want to tell you because i figured you guys would never actually see each other.
T: Well, we did. I gave him my number.
T: I know
B: willy that was a stupid fucking thing to do.
T: You think I don’t know that?
B: OBVIOUSLY NOT since u gave ur number to ur ex husband who broke your heart!!
T: He’s probably not even going to text me.]
Obviously, since the universe hates, him, the second he sends that text, he gets another one.
[Transcript: An image of an iPhone conversation between Tom and an unknown number. It’s Mike.
Mike: Hey Tom, it’s Mike. Crazy seeing you yesterday, haha. Still want to do dinner?
Tom: Totally! You know, I mean, sounds good.
M: Cool, just let me know when works for you
T: Will do]
Tom wants to beat his head against a fucking wall. “Totally!” God, he sounded like a real fucking idiot. What is he thirteen, texting a crush? No, he’s thirty-five years old and texting an ex he’s still in love with. Which, if he’s honest, is not too different of an experience.
Tom flops back into bed and groans. Now he has to let Mike know what time works. Thinking over his schedule in his mind he realizes that, to be honest, he doesn’t have much of anything going on this week. Which makes it very similar to every week he’s had since he retired. But he can’t just say that because that makes him look like he’s a) desperate, and b) has no friends. What he definitely can’t say is the truth, which is that he’s c) all of the above.
Tom sighs and drops his phone on the bed next to him. He’d figure it out later. After all, he had all day.
Mike’s not proud of it, but he calls up a fuckbuddy the afternoon before he’s going out to dinner with Tom. He just needs to relax, needs to do something physical to take him out of his head. He needs to be reminded, when he’s sitting there, across from Tom, that there are other people in the world, and that he can and has fucked those people, and that sexual pleasure does not begin or end with Tom Wilson.
He takes Friday afternoons off, because he works Sunday mornings. There’s only one person he knows who would be available at this time, so he calls her up. Forty minutes later, Bethany is at his doorstep with a wheatgrass smoothie, and has her top off practically before he shuts the door.
Bethany is a chemical gardener, or maybe a free-range botanist. Her schedule is very weird. He’s not sure exactly what she does, and he’s afraid to ask, but it definitely has to do with plants, because she knows a lot about flowers and always has some dirt under her fingernails. He knows she’s tougher than him because she has her nipples, bellybutton, and genitals pierced, which is fun and sexy and also a little bit intimidating. She has a terrible farmers tan. She has strong arms and broad shoulders, thick muscled thighs from bending and carrying all day. He’s not ashamed to say he has a type, and that’s people who are broad and make him a little bit nervous.
She sucks his dick until he’s fully hard—it doesn’t take long—and rides him on his couch until he comes so hard his eyes cross. Then he takes her to the bathroom and eats her out in the bathtub until she comes, and squirts all over his face. She usually squirts, which is pretty fucking unusual, and while it’s very sexy it’s also a bitch to clean out of couch cushions—hence the move to the bathroom. They’re both in their late thirties. They’re practical about this kind of thing.
He works a crick out of his back as he stands up, then bends down and lends her a hand. They shower together, an easy intimacy after having been fucking on and off for about three years. Bethany is “mindfully single” and Mike just isn’t looking, but two well-meaning friends set them up on a blind date a few years ago. Nothing romantic came of it, but Mike can’t say he’s disappointed by a source of consistently good sex, and also restaurant advice.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Mike has absolutely no taste in restaurants. It’s not that he doesn’t like good food—he does, he really does. He just has no ability to choose a good restaurant. The food always somehow ends up being terrible. Bethany has lived in LA her whole life, and has a lot of opinions about where to eat, and what to eat.
“There’s a good vegan bistro Asian fusion eatery that just opened up, real close to you,” she says, thoughtfully, taking a sip of her wheatgrass smoothie, abandoned on the coffee table. She offers him some; it’s made of grass, and yet, somehow, he’s disappointed and betrayed when it tastes like it. She laughs at the face he makes, not unkindly, but not kindly, either.
“They use some of my vegetables,” she continues.
“Ah, then I’ll make sure not to order anything with veggies in it,” he jokes.
“It’s vegan, dumbass,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Why are you asking? Have a hot date?”
“Meeting up with an ex, actually,” he says, wincing.
“Oh shit! Dude, be careful. That can get nasty. Anyways, don’t fall back in love or anything. I’d hate to not have this ass on tap.” She lunges to slap him on the ass, but a lifetime of locker rooms has him dodging out of the way. They both laugh.
He waves her out the door, but, as she walks down the walkway, he has a moment of doubt.
“What should I wear?” he asks.
Bethany turns and looks at him, then gestures to her own outfit—a pair of coveralls tied at the waist, a white tanktop, hiking boots, and a red bandana covering her black hair, everything coated with at least a little bit of dirt—and says, “How the fuck would I know?”
He laughs, and closes, the door, and is immediately just as nervous as he was before Bethany came over. Fuck. And now his knee hurts from kneeling in the bathtub. Double fuck. This entire experience was really a net loss, orgasm not included.
“But what should I wear?” he asks himself, again, out loud, and winces. He really needs to get some sort of dog or cat, so that his habit of talking to himself aloud isn’t as creepy. Maybe one of those gross, hairless gremlin cats. He likes the way they look, like they’re plotting your death at any moment. All cats did that, but the gremlin cats really seemed to make it a priority.
He settles, eventually, on black jeans with a plain white t-shirt and a flannel tied around his waist, in case it got cold. It’s ageless. Timeless. Always acceptable. But is it too boring? Classic is just another word for old.
Mike shakes his head, looks at his watch. He doesn’t have time for this. He was going how he looked, and that was that. And in any case, it wasn’t a date. He shouldn’t care how he looked. It was just dinner with an old friend, a friend that he had kissed at the altar, and planned a life with, and had had Mike’s dick in his mouth. So not a date. Obviously.
He showed up ten minutes early to the restaurant. He had ended up going with the one that Bethany had suggested, just because he had absolutely no faith in his own ability to pick, and Tom had deferred, saying that he was new to LA, and that Mike would probably know better. Mike certainly did not know better, but hopefully Bethany did. He waited until the time that they had agreed to meet, and then five minutes after, and then ten minutes after that. He was about to text Tom, or, more realistically, call the whole thing off and go back and get into bed and stay there, when Tom entered the restaurant.
Mike was a hockey player, and had grown up around hockey players, but he still somehow always forgot how god damn big Tom was. In this restaurant filled with emaciated LA hipsters, Tom literally stood above them as a beacon of health and vitality, seeming to take up three times as much space as anyone else.
“I am so sorry,” he said. “I got lost, somehow. I don’t know how. It’s a grid system. I was going to text you, but I was driving.”
“Totally fine,” said Mike.
As Mike went in for the handshake, Tom went in for the hug. They both reared back a bit, and this time, as Tom went in for the handshake, Mike went in for the hug. Mike ended up with his face in Tom’s neck and Tom’s hand stuck awkwardly between them. Tom smelled good. Not like he used to, when he was younger, and just used Old Spice deodorant religiously to try to keep the stink at bay. He smelled like he was wearing cologne, maybe, something smoky and nice. Something that matched their age. They pulled apart, and Tom cleared his throat.
“Let’s go eat, huh?” said Mike.
“Yeah, sounds good,” said Tom.
They were seated in a nice quiet corner of the restaurant, a placement that was definitely based on the belief that this was a first date, going off how the hostess was looking at them. Mike had noticed that look particularly when he was out to dinner with another man—the affect of a self-conscious attempt against homophobia, a kind of “look at how nice I’m being to these gay men” air that waiters had, even in LA. At least it usually got Mike great, if a little awkward, service.
“This is a really nice restaurant,” said Tom, looking around. The restaurant wasn’t upscale, but it was comfortable, with mismatched interior decoration and was, most importantly, full of the smell of really good food.
You don’t have to sound so surprised,” said Mike.
“But I am, dude!” Tom laughed. “You were such shit at choosing restaurants before. Did you improve with age, or something?”
“Well, I asked a friend, and she said that this was a good one, so—”
“Oh yeah, yeah, that’s what I thought, man.”
They both laugh, and then sort of quiet. Mike scratches the side of his face, and winces at the feel of his stubble. Should he have shaved? It wasn’t a date. If it was a date, he would have shaved. Mike snuck a look at Tom’s chin. Tom had shaved. So Mike probably should have shaved. Fuck.
“Do you want to split something?” Tom asked. Mike looked up, right at the wrong fucking moment, just in time to see Tom’s eyes crinkle up into a little half smile, tilt his head just a little bit to the side. It was a fucking gut punch. Mike had seen Tom do that so many times before, in line at a drive-thru or at a team dinner. Tom, for all his size, loved to share food, would eat off of everyone’s plates, let anyone eat off of his. Mike was somewhat territorial about his own food, so early on they had compromised, and always ordered one thing to explicitly share. A milkshake, or a starter salad, or a side of mashed potatoes.
They had fallen back into habits so quickly, Mike realized, suddenly. He automatically had left the seat with it’s back to the wall for Tom, because Tom had a whole thing about people walking behind him when he couldn’t see them. The second they had sat down, Tom had pulled the candle over to his side of the table, because Mike had a nasty habit of knocking centerpieces over. And now Tom was looking at him, with crinkled eyes and a lightly tilted head; was waiting on him to answer a question he had answered so many fucking times before.
Fuck. This was going to be a long god damned night.
Mike swallowed, and did his best to smile back, and said, “Sure, bud. What’re you thinking?”
Tom doesn’t want to push it. He doesn’t want to upset any sort of equilibrium that allows Mike back into his life. So he’s not going to push it.
They order food, which ends up being pretty good. They talk, and it’s slow to start, but it ends up being pretty good. They avoid—well, they avoid a lot of things. They avoid talking about the Capitals, or playing together, or injuries, or retirement, or their relationship, anything beyond the last six months. But Tom has plenty of stories from coaching the peewees, and Mike has good stories about some of his crankier clients. Mike explains more about his work, and Tom does his best to muddle through an explanation of his own. He’d rather hear Mike talk anyway; Mike is clearly so passionate about the work he does, and so knowledgeable. It suits him so well. Tom can’t imagine ever finding something other than playing hockey that could make him light up like that but, well. Mike has always been better at rolling with the punches. Making good out of a bad situation.
It probably helps that they have wine. They have a lot of wine. They share a bottle, and then half of another. When they get out of the restaurant, after some vegan ice cream that was surprisingly good, Tom is in no state to drive. He says this. Mike shrugs, and looks at him out of the corner of his eye.
“My house is within walking distance, if you want to sober up there for a bit,” he says.
“Oh, walking in LA?” Tom teases. “I thought you guys are supposed to get in your cars to drive half a block down the street.”
“Shut the fuck up,” says Mike, laughing, and pushes Tom a little bit. Tom is off balance, because he’s drunk, and so he actually stumbles, reaches out to steady himself and accidentally grabs Mike’s hand. There’s a moment where they’re just standing there, holding hands. Tom clears his throat, and removes his hand. He doesn’t want to push it.
They head back to Mike’s. It really is a pretty short walk, and it’s a nice night. It’s pretty much always a nice night in LA, but this one seems especially pleasant. Maybe it’s the company.
Mike’s house, when they get to it, is—well, Tom doesn’t want to say cute, because Mike would probably take offense, but that’s what it is. It’s a little one-story Spanish style house, obviously just enough space for one adult man. The inside is cozy, and warm. Maybe Mike picked up some sort of decorating talent from somewhere, because there are pictures on the wall and colorful throw pillows on the couch. Throw pillows! Tom picks one up and hugs it to his chest. It’s very soft.
“You getting sleepy there, bud?” asks Mike, coming into the living room with two cups of coffee.
“No, just… admiring,” says Tom. “You have a really nice house.”
Mike flushes a little bit, obviously pleased but trying not to show it. He sits down on the couch, and Tom sits on the other end from him. Not pushing it. It’s a small couch, though, and they’re both big men, so they end up sitting pretty close to each other anyway.
Mike is the one who kisses him. Tom knows this, because Tom is very carefully not pushing it, and trying to kiss Mike would basically be the definition of pushing it. The cardinal pushing sin. So it’s Mike who kisses Tom, first, something gentle, with his fingers just barely brushing Tom’s jawline. Obviously Tom kisses back, though, because he’s not a fucking crazy person.
Their kisses get deeper, little by little, and the whole time, Tom is marveling at how similar it is. How little has changed. Mike still kisses almost exactly like he did when they were kids, with one hand on the back of the head for control and the other one free for optimal body stroking. Tom forgot how nice it felt, to have Mike’s hands on him, big and warm, cupping the back of his head and pressing gently into his ribs. He makes a noise, then another one.
“Fuck,” said Mike, laughing a little, breaking the kiss. “Always so fucking noisy, bud.”
“Oh, I—” Tom starts. He can feel himself blushing.
“No, no, I like it,” says Mike. “I’ve always liked it. You know.”
Tom does. Mike has always been as vocal about what he likes in bed as he hasn’t been outside of it. Outside of bed, Mike would have preferred to rely on smoke signals, sign language, and notes written in code to communicate, rather than sitting down and talking like human beings.
Mike kisses Tom’s neck, pulls off his shirt and kisses down his chest. They wrestle his pants off, and Tom still has his underwear hanging around one ankle when Mike kneels down on the floor and sucks Tom’s dick so deep he can feel the edges of his throat.
“Shit,” hisses Tom, and Mike hums.
Mike brings a hand up behind Tom’s knee, pushes it back, taps at it twice with the tip of his finger. Tom knows what that means. Hold your leg open for me. They’ve had sex so many times, even twelve years apart from each other, that they’re still speaking the same shorthand. Tom draws his leg back and moans, feeling open and vulnerable and a little bit nervous, in a nice way. He and Mike lock eyes, and Tom knows that if he could be, Mike would be grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Mike starts just by brushing his fingers over Tom’s balls, skimming over them and cupping them gently. He moves farther back to firmly rub over Tom’s perineum, just the way he likes it, unerringly pressing into his prostate from the outside with a knuckle, sucking hard at the same time. Tom gasps and twitches, and Mike huffs a laugh. Mike’s always given exquisitely sloppy head, and so he just easily wets his finger enough to press into Tom, just to the second knuckle. He immediately finds Tom’s prostate—they’re athletes, their muscle memory is leaps and bounds above the average person’s—and Tom gasps again, bucks his hips into Mike’s mouth, and Mike chokes.
“Oh, shit dude, I’m so sorry,” says Tom, worried he’s ruined it, worried that Mike is going to realize that, actually, this isn’t a new, suave, sexy version of Tom. Tom is the same as he was when they got married, clumsy and eager, the guy who interrupted the priest to say I do at the altar and also once tried to use aloe as lube and got a UTI. He isn’t different, and Mike isn’t different. Tom knows that, but he wonders if Mike does.
“No, you’re fine, man,” says Mike. “It’s just, my knee hurts, do you think we could—here.”
Mike rearranges them so that he’s the one lying down on the couch, Tom straddling his chest.
“Fuck my face, bud,” says Mike, smiling up at Tom. Tom’s mouth drops open, and Mike laughs.
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” says Tom, and when Mike opens his mouth to answer, pushes his cock into Mike’s mouth. He groans at the heat, and as he thrusts he can hear Mike’s heavy, purposefully even breathing, heaving in and out through his nose. He times it just like he’s done it a hundred times before, because he has, and between one breath and the next, slips himself into Mike’s throat.
Mike’s eyes go wide, and he chokes a little bit. His hand automatically comes up, and Tom holds it, loosely, brings their hands up to his mouth to kiss Mike’s knuckles. They agreed years ago on their signal: if Mike needs to stop, he’ll tear his hand away from Tom’s. But he doesn’t, so Tom holds on with one hand, brushes Mike’s hair away from his face with the other, and starts to fuck his face.
Tom becomes aware, after a few moments, of a rhythmic sound behind him. He twists himself around to look, and Mike has his own hard cock in his hand, looking close to coming.
“Is that for me, dude?” asks Tom, a little bit teasing, but a little bit awed, too. “Just from sucking my cock? Did it get you that hard? You’re my little cocksucker, huh? Shit.”
Tom groans, buries himself one last time and shoots down Mike’s throat. As he pulls out, two things happen: first, Mike takes in one big breath and starts to cough, and almost at the same time, Tom feels Mike’s come hit the back of his leg.
“Fuck,” Tom says, and leans down, holds himself up over Mike so he can kiss his red mouth, brush his lips over Mike’s neck. Mike sighs heavily, satedly, and drapes his arms around Tom’s shoulders. Tom moves back up, and kisses Mike on the mouth once, twice.
“I guess just having deep-throated you isn’t enough of an excuse to get out of this talk we’re about to have, huh?” asks Mike, a little hoarse. Something thrills inside Tom to hear it, but something even bigger in his jumps for joy at the idea that they’re finally going to talk about this, the two of them, no matter how much he isn’t looking forward to the conversation itself. He has questions he’s been carrying around for more than ten years. He’s looking forward to getting them answered.
“Not quite,” he says, and kisses Mike on the nose. “I’ll make you some tea, though. With honey.”
“Good enough,” says Mike. “I’m gonna brush my teeth. Meet you in bed?”
Mike lies in bed, on his back, and takes mental stock of himself. His knee is aching something fierce—that fuck with Bethany keeps seeming like a worse and worse idea, in hindsight—and his throat is sore. But what he’s more worried about is his emotional state. Tom isn’t in the room yet, even, and he’s already anxious, his stomach turning over again and again. He’s not sure if his throat is sore from sucking dick or impending tears. He tells himself the waiting is the worst part, but he’s not sure if it’s true.
Tom comes in not a few seconds later, naked and carrying a mug of tea. Mike sits up, and Tom hands him the mug, climbs into bed like it’s his.
“You always organize your kitchen the exact same way, huh?” asks Tom. Mike shrugs, and drinks his tea. Tom seems happy to lie in bed next to him, closing his eyes and breathing softly. His hair is getting long—almost as long as it was when they first met.
“Quit looking at me and drink your tea,” says Tom.
“You quit looking at me and drink your tea,” grumbles Mike.
“I’m not looking at you. I’m very carefully not looking at anything so you won’t get weirded out."
Mike has to bury his face in his mug for a moment, feel the heat against his face. Tom had always been kind, and thoughtful, and when they had first gotten together Mike had been almost envious of him, how easy things came to him, things like birthdays and gifts, little gestures, the things that made a successful relationship. It wasn’t until they really settled into their relationship that Mike saw—it wasn’t effortless. It was incredibly effortful. Tom worked really, really hard to be thoughtful. He paid attention. He kept a ongoing note in his phone, just about Mike, what he liked and what he didn’t, how he liked to be touched and where, what to do if he was upset. Mike didn’t really feel like he deserved that effort then, and he certainly doesn’t now.
He finishes his tea and sets it on the bedside table, lays on his side and waits for Tom to come up from behind and spoon him, a big heavy weight on his back. Tom kisses the back of his neck, and Mike opens his mouth. Shuts it. Opens it again.
“When I got traded, it was. I mean, it was a nightmare. You remember, you were there. I was in such a fucking state of shock, even though I knew it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Hell, I knew it would probably happen, but somehow, it didn’t hit me until it actually did. And we had to deal with the packing, and the negotiations, and all of that, and I just didn’t. I didn’t really have time to think. And then I was away from you, by myself, in some apartment that wasn’t ours, and I couldn’t figure out how to start thinking again. I kept moving through my own life like I was in a fog.
“And I… God, Tom, I don’t know how I got this into my head, but I did, and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I kept thinking about how much better you’d be without me. Like, if we broke up. Got divorced. And so I brought it up to you, because I couldn’t… I couldn’t figure out if it was a real thought, you know? Or if it was one of those half-baked ones that I’d been having since I left.
“And so I brought it up, and what I wanted you to say was, ‘No, no, of course I’m not better off without you.’ You know? ‘Don’t be stupid Mike, we’re going to be together until we’re old and senile.’ But you didn’t. You just sort of—I mean you cried, but you said that if that was what I wanted, then we could do that. And I kept asking, and you kept not saying no. And so I figured, like—well, maybe you wanted to break up, and this was your way of doing it.”
“But I didn’t want to break up,” says Tom, into the back of his neck.
“But I didn’t know that, man,” says Mike, pained. He can feel a lump in his throat. He sniffs. “I kept asking, and you kept saying, ‘Fine, fine,’ and before I knew it we were broken up.”
“I kept saying yes because I thought that was what you wanted!”
“I didn’t know what I wanted! I was by myself, in a city where I didn’t know anybody, on a new team. I was all alone. I had no idea what I was doing! And by the time I fucking figured out what had happened—I mean, I’m not an idiot, you know, I figured out eventually that you hadn’t wanted to break up—by the time I—.”
“I was going to call you, you know. Like, it took a couple of years, but I figured it out. I figured out what had happened. And so I woke up, one morning, and I just decided to call you. But I knew you were traveling, and the time zones weren’t right. So I decided to play the game we were scheduled to play that night, and then I would call you.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Why? What happened?”
Mike gestures to his leg. “This happened.”
“Yeah. Tom, you know, I’m okay with this. Now. I’m okay with what my life is. Hell, I like my life. I like my work. I’m pretty fucking happy in a lot of ways. But that is after years and years of therapy. Physical and mental. When I first got hurt, I thought my life was over. Like I genuinely couldn’t imagine going on. Everything that I was, everything that I loved, it had all gone down the shitter. And so for… maybe three years I was just focusing on trying to rebuild my life. Learn to walk again. Figure out who I was going to be without playing hockey. And I know it sounds stupid, but I just thought. Like, would you even want to hear from me? I know you. I know hockey’s your whole life. Or like, it was. Even if we did reconnect, would you really want your fucking… disabled ex-boyfriend hanging around? Talking about the glory days?”
Mike laughs, teary. “Well, I wasn’t sure.”
“Be sure, dude. Look, that was all some stupid ass motivation—”
“I know, I’m so fucking—”
“Don’t interrupt me, bro. Like I said, that was some stupid ass motivation. But it’s also understandable ass motivation. I’m not saying it was the smart thing to do. But we’re both pretty fucking stupid. And, granted, I could have done a little bit more than just cry about the whole thing.”
“Can you believe we played—” Mike starts to laugh. “Can you believe we played misery chicken until we got a fucking divorce?”
Mike starts to laugh harder. He lifts a hand to wipe moisture out of the corner of his eye, and finds himself crying instead.
“Aw, bud,” says Tom. He turns Mike over onto his back, holds himself up above him. “Let it all out. It’s okay to cry.”
“You’re the fucking… cry baby in this relationship,” says Mike.
“Ah, so it’s a relationship again, huh?” asks Tom, teasing.
Mike nods. He hiccups, and cries some more, covers his face.
“I had a dream like this, you know. Like, a few nights ago. Except it was in my bed.” Tom kisses Mike’s forehead.
“Your dreams are so fucking stupid,” sobs Mike. “Like, they’re just the dreams of a stupid, obvious person.”
“I know! But I’ve never had a prophetic dream before, so that’s fun.”
“Prophetic’s a pretty big word. You learn that in your SAT prep course?”
“We’re Canadian, dumbass.”
“Yeah,” says Mike, nonsensically, and kisses Tom. Tom slots himself in between Mike’s legs, grinds up against him.
“You know, I really want to fuck you,” whispers Tom. “But I don’t think I can get it up.”
“Me neither,” Mike whispers back.
Tom flops onto his back next to Mike. “We’re so fucking old!” he yells. The sudden increase in volume makes Mike laugh. Tom turns to him, smiling, and Mike takes in his familiar face, a face he’s loved so much, for such a long time.
“We can go again tomorrow,” says Mike. And all of the sudden, it’s easy again, just like it was when they first met. He can see it stretching out ahead before him: going to work and coming home to find Tom there. Going out to the movies with Tom, or staying in to watch something on the TV. Eating breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners, countless meals with Tom across from him at the table, sharing one pre-assigned dish of food. The rest of their lives, together. “We’ve got time.”