One day, it starts.
Kent crouches down next to a blue bird splattered on the sidewalk. There’s not a lot of blood, maybe because birds don’t have as much blood as humans. Or maybe it’s all trapped between the wings. Or maybe it’s still stuck in its awkward body. If Kent was only looking for blood, he wouldn’t think the bird dead. But it has a snapped neck, and its open eyes don’t twitch.
Kent reaches out, planning to push it off the sidewalk, when he feels the tug. He frowns. He touches a feather.
The bird’s eyes blink. Its neck snaps around.
Kent surges backward.
The bird’s wings spasm. It flings itself to its feet, and it looks up at Kent.
Kent’s heart beats three time, stutters once. Kent flinches, and the bird rockets into the sky, blue wings thrashing.
Rimouski has a game in Halifax, and Kent snags a window seat on the bus. It's prime napping real estate and everyone too slow to grab one is an idiot. Probably won't make it far in life.
Fish tries to kick Kent out of the seat, and Kent kicks back. “Was here first, loser,” he snaps. Fish scowls, calls him a dickwad, but moves away. Kent grins and pulls out his iPod.
It takes about two hours for Kent to pass out, music ringing in his ears to block out Crazy Craig’s snores. He startles awake to pitch black, gasping for air. Kent rips out his headphones, and his eyes snap to the road.
Between one breath and the next, a dead stag flashes past. Kent squeezes his eyes shut. Blood coated its fur, bloomed out from its legs, bent and twisted and cut. Kent’s palms itch. He scratches at them, but the itch sinks deeper, and Kent can’t get at it. Palms red and stinging, Kent squeezes his hands into fists; his nails bite into his skin.
When the forest finally gives way to streetlights, Kent risks opening his eyes. It’s fine. He’s fine. His palms sting a little but they’re… fine too. He takes a shallow breath and then a deeper one. Kent’s hands shake when he picks up his earbuds again. He forces them steady like he can always make them on the ice before he goes back to listening to music.
He doesn’t go back to sleep.
Kent counts three more dead animals. Another deer. Two raccoons.
Unbidden, the bird flashes before his eyes: The jerk of its straightening neck. The whirl of its wings. The tug from his fingertips. Kent feels sick. Starts feeling sicker, stomach rolling and head pounding.
The bus finally makes it to the hotel. Kent stumbles off it first, shouting he needs the bathroom. He barely makes it to the lobby restroom in time, puke rolling up the back of his throat. He throws up twice before the nausea passes enough for him to grab his room key from coach.
“You feeling alright, Parse?”
Kent flushes. “Stomach bug. Feeling better now.”
Kent collapses into bed without taking a single piece of clothing off. Zimms, up reading a book, makes some sort of weak chirp, probably about his hair, but Kent’s French isn’t that good yet. Either way, it’s a Jack chirp, so it doesn’t deserve more than a grunt, which is all Kent gives it.
On the way back from winning the game the next night, Kent pauses at his normal bus seat, the window wide open for the taking. Kent runs his nails over his palm. Through the glass, Kent sees the deer’s open, dead eyes and twisted legs. He blinks, and the animal disappears.
“Quick holding up the fucking line, Parse!”
Kent flips off Crazy Craig and takes his good old time moving two more seats back to Zimms. He has an empty aisle seat. Zimms has his head in a book. Kent drops down into the free seat.
Zimms starts, book almost tumbling out of his hands. Kent snorts. “You have such tunnel vision.” Kent pushes the seat back to a better angle and sprawls his legs for maximum comfort, ignoring when Zimms tries to push his leg back over.
“I have longer legs than you,” Zimms complains, shoving his right foot and calf along Kent’s left. Kent doesn’t budge. In fact, Kent ignores Zimms and gets out his music. Zimms huffs and turns back to his book. He doesn’t move his leg though.
Kent dozes off after a couple dozen miles. The bus bumps, and Kent jerks awake. He scratches at his palms, instinctively turning toward the window, but Zimms obscures the view, hunched over his book.
Good, Kent thinks, and shuts his eyes without a new dead animal lying behind them. He startles awake three more times on the trip, palms itching. He fists his hands.
Kent wonders how long it takes for someone to clean up roadkill. If it ever happens. Or if a wild animal takes the dead. Or if, sometimes, enough cars hit it that it smears to nothing.
It storms late on a Tuesday, rain turning into pelting hail. The wind howls and the trees groan. Kent stays inside and listens to the hard thuds of the ice against the roof, windows. He keeps his eyes firmly on his phone. Zimms sent two texts in the last 30 minutes, which means he’s in a talkative mood. Any delay in responding will only increase the already exhaustive delay of Zimms’s messages.
“Kent,” Mrs. Miller calls from downstairs, and Kent looks away from his phone.
“What?” he hollers back. When Mrs. Miller doesn’t respond, Kent rolls off his bed and pads down the stairs. He stops a few steps from the bottom, leaning over the banister to make eye contact with his billet mom. “What do you need, Mrs. Miller?”
“Were you still planning on going out tonight?”
Kent shrugs, glancing outside. He was going to run over to Crazy Craig’s to work on some homework. And hopefully play video games. “Dunno. Do you know when it’s supposed to pass?”
“A few minutes. Hear that, it’s already letting up. You can head on over now without getting too drenched.”
Kent doesn’t hear it letting up, but imagines Mrs. Miller knows better than him in these instances. Kent doesn’t really know how often it hails in Canada, but it probably does more here than in New York. Actually, he can count on one hand how often it hailed (and he noticed) in New York. It’s a fucking fat three times.
“You really think it’s letting up?”
“By the time you grab your coat and bag, it’ll be rain again.”
The hail hasn’t turned entirely to rain by the time Kent goes out, but he’s pretty sure he won’t be impaled by a golf-ball-sized chunk of ice between his billet and Crazy Craig’s. Kent takes the shortcut between the two houses, cutting through the grumpy neighbor’s backyard, filled with so many trees that it’s almost a small, miniature suburban forest.
The trees provide some cover for the rain though, and Kent’s almost out of the weird patch of land when his palms start itching. Kent fervently ignores them, lengthening his strides. His palms start to hurt instead of get better, and Kent stumbles to a stop when he feels his breath still for a moment inside of him.
Kent hears the clatter of a bird taking off over the pound of the rain on the overhead leaves.
Kent turns without really meaning to. He steps off the path he and Crazy Craig started wearing with overuse. Kent pushes aside one branch, and another snaps under his foot. Kent’s feet start to hurt, and Kent crouches down. He moves a pile of wet leaves, and there’s a squirrel, eyes wide and a dent in the side of its head.
Kent reaches forward. He snaps his hand back, looking around. No one’s in the woods with him, and Kent wonders if he’s crazy. What does he think is going to happen when he touches the squirrel? That it will pop back to its feet like the bird did, take off into the woods? Kent’s crazy, and he scoffs at himself. He’ll touch the squirrel, nothing will happen, and then he’ll wash his hands and go to the doctor about whatever the fuck this skin rash is that keeps kicking up.
Kent doesn’t move an inch. The trees only provide so much cover, and soon Kent’s dripping wet instead of just damp. He shivers. He either touches the squirrel now or goes to Crazy Craig’s and—
Kent presses a fingertip against the squirrel’s damp fur.
The squirrel’s eyes blink first, like the bird’s did, and Kent doesn’t draw his hand back, heart freezing in his throat. He presses another finger against the squirrel’s body, and it warms under Kent’s touch. He feels blood start to pulse. Where there had been raw, torn skin, fur fills in, stitching together the wounds. Its tail flicks, and it scuttles to its feet.
Kent pulls back, and it stares at him. Its whiskers twitch, and then its head jerks up to the sky. It shakes away rain drops, glances one last time at Kent, and then scampers off.
Kent wishes he could do the same, but his legs feel like jelly. He tries to stand and doesn’t make it far off the ground before collapsing back onto it. His palms start to itch, and Kent swallows.
He uses a nearby tree to get to his feet, and moves from tree to tree, following the tug. He finds another squirrel. It looks like it had slipped, fallen to its death. Kent kneels. He hesitates only for a moment, before lying his full palm across its back. He doesn’t breathe.
It rises up under his touch, shaking off water. It totters for a bit, as if reattaching muscles to memory. It shifts until its wet nose touches the underside of Kent’s hand. It chatters once and darts away. Right. Kent swallows and blinks away rain. Okay.
When Kent makes it to Crazy Craig’s house, he feels a bit like Coach bagged skated him for most of a period.
“You run here?” Crazy Craig asks, voice nasally from one too many broken noses.
Kent scowls and flips off Crazy Craig, before mortifyingly catching sight of Mr. Thompson. Kent immediately drops his hand and stutters off some sort of apology. Crazy Craig starts howling with laughter, and Mr. Thompson crosses his arms, giving Kent a stern staring down. On top of that, Kent’s entire backpack is soaked through, including his homework. And Zimms hasn't even texted back.
Kent tries to stay away from dead animals. Maybe he’s being paranoid. Maybe he’s hallucinated the whole thing. But he takes the long way around to Crazy Craig’s, prefers to drive instead of walk, avoids the part of the supermarket where the meats still have eyes.
Kent desperately hopes there’s a time limit on bringing back animals. He does not need to accidentally start making a fish flop and then kill it again, having no absolute clue where to get a big bowl of water for it. Kent’s pretty sure the time limit has to be a thing, or maybe the eyes are required—Kent has, thankfully, not yet brought back a cow from a slab of steak or a chicken from a fried leg. He hopes it stays that way.
So Kent avoids dead animals with eyeballs and hopes no one sees him utterly blaunch at the roasted pig they have at the end of the season party. Kent’s palms feel like they’re on fire, and Kent tells himself over and over again it’s because there’s some other dead animal by the spit, not because the pig needs saving.
Fish makes fun of Kent’s avoidance of the pig, and Zimms is Kent’s saving grace. Zimms takes one look at the pig and plants himself in front of Kent’s line of view. “Kind of creepy, eh?” Zimms says, and Kent nods, feeling immediately better without dead animal eyes staring at him, asking Kent to give it life.
In the heat of summer, Kent swelters.
The Brooklyn apartment his mom owns is too small for Kent’s too many brothers and too many sisters. Kent would rather brave the outside world, but he misjudges. Outside, there’s a lot of animals.
Baby animals, with fragile bodies and uncoordinated movements.
They die a lot, and Kent’s feet keep taking him to them. He can’t not cup his hands around a cracked egg shell, feel the baby bird’s heartbeat take off, quicker than Kent’s own, its wings swinging unstably. Kent deposits it in the nest he’s fairly certain it came from. And then his feet head in a new direction, Kent’s palms grow hotter in the humid heat, swelling and itching. He saves birds and squirrels. He brings a racoon back to life and a rat with a litter of seven.
Between hockey practices and trying to put on more weight, which he can’t seem to do, Kent doesn’t bother ignoring the tug, the itch in his palms, like he did before.
If he has the power to do good, to bring something back to life, to give them a second chance, why shouldn’t he? Why shouldn’t Kent do good?
Kent goes back every night to his family and their warm embraces and laughter and questions. No matter how exhausted the day leaves him, they crowd him with love and encouragement, reaching out and hugging, touching, sharing their own stories of the day. Katherine is going to college in a few weeks. Kaitlyn is trying out makeup for the first time. Kyle is pretending he can navigate the city by stars. Kameron is showing off his new skateboard tricks. And Kent. Kent saves animals when backs are turned, each time feeling something tug at his heart strings.
Each night, something in Kent settles then, and he knows he can face the next day.
Kent goes back to Canada, and he goes back to hockey. He practiced in the off season, but he didn’t get daily time on the ice. He didn’t get his teammates: Zimms and Crazy Craig and even Fish, the asshole.
“Did you miss me?” Kent asks in rusty as fuck French, walking into the locker room with his equipment bag slung over his shoulder. Mostly his teammates complain, but Zimms and his blue eyes smile.
Kent’s heart balloons, and he wonders what Zimms, Captain Zimms now, would think of Kent saving all the animals. He thinks Zimms would be proud.
When the season starts to go hard, so do the parties. Kent knows all the right people, and he takes advantage of it. He knows Teddy Frank with the big house; Kim Johnson with the great alcohol stash; and Courtney Madison with the parents who don’t care—at all.
It’s a typical Friday at Courtney’s, and Kent is double fisting. He’s honestly not quite sure what either of them are, but he knows they’ll get him drunk. It’s something he’s been very into recently, getting drunk.
It makes almost everything easier.
For example, Kent can brush up against Zimms’ side without popping a boner because whiskey dick. He can even sometimes lean his head on Zimms’s shoulder, and no one will bat an eye. Zimms doesn’t care much either, because he’s just as drunk, if not more so. They match each other drink for drink pretty well. Kent can hold his alcohol and Zimms can’t, but Zimms has a good thirty pounds on Kent. So it works out to them being about the same amount of too drunk.
Right now, Kent’s trying to find Zimms. Fish waylays him though, wants to talk about Kent’s day. “It was fucked up man,” Kent slurs, stumbling forward, and Fish leans in. Probably because Kent’s story is fucking enrapturing. “Today there was a dead deer, and I felt…” Kent trails off as a shiver runs up his arm. There was so much blood.
“You saw a dead deer?”
“Yeah,” Kent says, and if he shakes his head enough the image disappears. “Yeah, but then it got up. I made it get up, and it walked away.” Kent’s eyes bug out of his head at his own words. He can’t believe he made a deer walk again. Deer are big. Deer are like the size of humans. “How much do you think a deer weighs?”
“Female or male?”
Kent squints, takes a sip from his one drink. He doesn’t remember, so he takes a sip from his other drink. Takes another few.
“Cause if it was a male, then it might’ve been like, 125 kilos.”
Kent snorts his drink out of his nose. “Oh shit. Shit that’s huge. That’s more than a person.”
Fish nods, and then takes one of Kent’s drink. Kent does not have the coordination to get it back, knows he doesn’t, and walks away. He wants to find Zimms, but instead Kent finds himself outside. Kent’s palms start to itch, and so he makes the only logical choice and drains his cup.
It doesn’t really help, nothing ever helps except… Kent stumbles off, away from the house. His head hurts, and he can’t really tell where he’s going, but he knows at the end he’s going to find an animal. An animal that needs him, that he can save.
He finds it, but it’s not just one: it’s four out in the middle of a back road. There’s one racoon still alive, paws shoving against each body, one racoon at a time, shaking them. Kent stares until his feet start moving. His foot catches, and he falls forward onto the ground. The racoon cries, scampering back. Kent freezes on his hands and knees, and it watches him. He swallows and reaches a hand out slowly to one of the dead animals.
The live raccoon’s teeth come out when Kent sinks his fingers into the first raccoon’s fur. He feels air race through its soft, plump body. Fat covers its bones, oozing back together under his touch. The dead raccoon raises its head. Its friend chitters, and the raccoon darts out from under Kent’s palm.
The two raccoons touch noses, reach out to one another, and then abruptly stop moving. The one’s eyes twist to Kent, and it waits. Kent jerkily crawls to the next raccoon and lays his hand upon it. And then the next.
Kent watches them topple over one another in excitement, in happiness, and then they’re gone. Kent brings his hand back to himself, fingers numb and freezing. He feels so cold, so tired. His hand is covered in blood, and he doesn’t feel much of anything, heart slow, skipping beats maybe. He draws his knees up to his chest and drops his head against them. He takes ten slow, steading breaths. His stomach rolls, and Kent clenches down on the feeling.
Everything is fine, he tells himself.
The animals are alive. He saved the animals.
Kent goes back to the party, and he finds Zimms outside, relief flooding through him.
“Looking for me?” Kent gets out, before toppling over next to Zimms. Kent was looking for Zimmas. Kent takes a few minutes to properly situate himself next to Zimms, needing the warmth, his touch. Their legs press together, and Zimms has a beer. “You going to finish that?” Kent asks, already reaching for it.
Zimms hands it to him, flush high in his cheeks. He frowns a few seconds after the exchange. “Why are your hands red?”
Kent wrinkles his nose and looks down at them. “There was a dead raccoon.” Kent frowns, “No, sorry. There were three dead raccoons.”
“Yeah,” Kent says, going a little fuzzy around the edges. He drinks the beer. He can hear what’s happening on the second floor. Two people arguing over a cat that yowls. Kent leans over to Zimms to make a joke about pussies, when the cat falls over their heads.
It slams into the ground. It doesn’t land on four feet.
“Fuck!” Zimms goes. “Fuck—fuck, oh fuck, oh my God.” Zimms scrambles to his feet, and because he and Kent are sort of latched together, Kent makes it up to his feet, too. “Are you seeing—is it—”
“Dead,” Kent confirms, scratching at his palms. He looks down and the beer is knocked over on the ground. “Hey, Zimms,” Kent says. “Do you want to see a party trick.”
Zimms’s mouth opens and closes, and Kent shrugs and starts toward the cat. He makes it all the way to the body, when Zimms shouts, “Don’t touch it! Are you fucking crazy, don’t—”
Kent threads his fingers through its thick, brown fur. The open eyes blink, and then it straightens its spine. Kent shivers. It staggers to its feet, like Kent does drunk, and it howls. It twists between Kent’s legs, and then it darts off to the house, where the two voices from upstairs are still screaming.
Kent turns around to smile at Zimms, wants to know what he thought. Kent doesn’t even get his eyes to Zimms’s before his vision goes black.
Kent wakes up in a pile of vomit, with a pounding headache and chills that won’t go away. He drags himself to the bathroom, avoids someone with their head over the toilet, and turns on the shower. Kent strips as quietly and as quickly as he can, which is neither quick nor quiet.
But the water’s hot by the time Kent trips into the shower, barely getting his hands up in time to catch himself against the wall. The person by the toilet moans. The water pounds over Kent's skin and into his hair. Kent slides slowly down to sit at the bottom of the tub, and then cranks the water up even hotter.
Not remembering the night before is normal, how shitty he feels is definitely not. Kent pushes water out of his eyes and runs his hands through his hair. Kent’s teeth start to chatter. He pulls his legs up, wraps his arms around his knees, and waits to warm up.
He does, eventually.
“So you don’t want to go grab something to eat?” Kent asks, eyes trained on the video game, Zimms trying desperately to keep up and failing. Zimms gets even worse at the game when he starts trying to answer Kent’s question. Kent takes pity on him after the third attempt and pauses the game. “So?”
Zimms turns his full attention on Kent, and Kent squirms a bit with it. He likes being Zimms’s center of focus. “There’s leftovers in the fridge downstairs,” Zimms says.
Kent whines. “But what about something other than leftovers today.”
Zimms frowns, and Kent wants to reach out and press the corners of his lips into a smile. Or just touch his mouth. Honestly, Kent isn’t that picky at the moment. Zimms says, “Eating out isn’t healthy.”
“It is if you don’t get dessert,” Kent counters and then finds he’s slid a few inches closer to Zimms. Kent looks down at Zimms’ lips. He can’t help it, and when he flushes and tears his eyes back to Zimms’s, he sees Zimms jerk his gaze up, too. Neither of them says a word, and
Kent leans forward, hesitantly.
Zimms doesn’t move back, so Kent closes the space between them.
The picnic sounded like a great idea, but the ground is muddy, the peanut butter and jellies got too soggy, and Kent can’t keep warm. He feels better when Zimms lets Kent wrap himself around Zimms, but it’s never for long.
Zimms snorts. “Let’s just go on a walk instead.”
Kent’s nose scrunches. “In the woods?”
“Yes, Kenny, in the woods.”
Kent doesn’t point out that if the grass is muddy, the ground isn’t going to be any better in the woods. But they bundle up the now filthy blanket, toss it in Zimms’s truck, and then they’re off. Zimms ducks around a few low hanging branches and leads Kent onto a trail. “Been here before,” Zimms says. Kent tries to avoid every step that looks like a mud trap. “Usually run the trail—”
“I’m not running through the woods,” Kent interrupts as his foot sinks down a solid inch into the ground. “Motherfucker.”
Zimms turns around laughing, and he keeps laughing. “I don’t know—” Zimms suddenly cuts himself off, and his mouth drops open.
“What are you—”
“Kenny,” Zimms hisses, and Kent clamps his mouth shut. “Behind you.” Kent freezes. He can’t believe he keeps his foot where it is, slowly filling with moisture and ick, and turns. It’s a deer. Kent swallows, and it stares at him.
Kent knows it, he realizes slowly, horrified. A puddle of blood he moved through, flies circling its eye. The lurch of its second first breath, the fast stretch of skin to hide bone once again. “Hey.” The word falls out of Kent’s mouth.
It raises its head, snorting, and walks to him. It’s not worried about the mud, the squelch of each step. Good to see you alive, Kent doesn’t say, and it nudges against his shoulder. Kent sways back, and his hands come up, steadying him against its neck. He can feel its blood move, feel the heat of it, the life in it. Its eyes are a deep brown. The deer steps forward, and Kent’s hands slip from its neck to its flank. It breathes, and Kent’s hands rise with its inhale, fall on the exhale.
“Kenny?” Zimms says, and the deer spooks. It kicks up dirt and fucking wet ass leaves. Kent’s hands feel cold. His feet are wet, his shoes soaked. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re a fucking Disney princess?” Zimms laughs, sort of out of breath and in awe.
Kent turns around scowling and freezing, and shoves at Zimms. “I fucking hate the woods, Zimms. Let’s go get some hot cider.”
Kent wakes up to an empty bed, idly scratching at his palms. “Zimms?” he mutters, and when he doesn’t hear a response, Kent flips over and buries his head back into the pillows. They have a game tomorrow, Kent needs all the sleep he can get.
But it’s like he’s wired, and a few moments later, Kent kicks off the covers. He lets his feet move him, thinking getting rid of the itch will let him sleep, and he stops in front of the closed bathroom door. Kent squints at the sheaths of light coming through where the door doesn’t quite line up with the walls. Ice starts to thread its way through Kent’s veins. He puts his hand on the door and pushes.
Zimms’s eyes are open, staring at nothing, not moving, not blinking. They’re a sharp, dark blue like animals’ eyes never are. Zimms must’ve hit his head, fell. He must’ve tripped, hit his head, fallen. He must’ve been tired, tripped, hit his head, fallen.
It doesn’t take a moment for Kent to wrap his hands around Zimms’s arms.
It takes barely half a moment before Zimms blinks.
Before he sucks in a breath.
Kent keeps holding on though, because he didn’t feel any bones knit together or skull slide back into place.
Kent tightens his grip as Zimms starts to sit up, because Kent doesn’t know if he fixed whatever was broken.
“What happened?” Zimms mutters, and Kent swallows, swears his heart skipped a few beats, and doesn’t tell Zimms he died.
Zimms shakes off Kent’s hand, so Kent shifts until their thighs are touching. Zimms stands up, and Kent does, too. “What are you doing?” Zimms hisses, and Kent shrugs, his throat closing up. He thinks maybe it’s the one too many shots. “Just let me be for a bit, okay?” Zimms says, and Kent nods and doesn’t follow through.
Kent stalks Zimms through the house party, staying a few steps behind so Zimms won’t get mad. Fish and Crazy Craig try to pull Kent into conversations, and Kent ignores them. He needs to keep Zimms in his sight or else all he sees is Zimms on the floor in the bathroom, eyes wide open and unmoving.
Kent watches Zimms take five pills before he heads to bed saying, “It’s the only way I can sleep anymore.”
Kent doesn’t say he didn’t ask — hasn’t asked since that first time Zimms did it. Instead, Kent brushes his teeth, pulls on pajamas, and slips into bed next to Zimms. It takes a few moments before Zimms stops breathing, and then Kent slips his hand underneath Zimms’s shirt. His fingers press into Zimms’s still warm skin, and he rests his hand where Zimms’s heart should be beating. Kent closes his eyes and wills Zimms’s chest to rise and fall again.
It takes longer than it has before, and then Kent feels the thud of Zimms’s heart, the shaky intake of his breath. Kent’s hand curls into a fist over Zimms’s heart. He doesn’t move it the entire night.
Kent drops down into the aisle seat next to Zimms and immediately presses their legs together. Zimms’s thigh flexes, but he doesn’t pull away. Victory bubbles in the bottom of Kent’s chest. “We fucking killed it,” he says. Zimms is in a good mood, and Kent is perfectly fine with exploiting that. “You were amazing.” Zimms already knows it, but Kent can’t stop saying it, thinking it.
Kent has never played better hockey before. Strung out, anxious, sleep deprived — Kent consistently gets two to three point nights, him and Zimms lighting up the ice, passing without looking and always connecting. Tonight, between the two of them, they got seven points. Holy shit.
They haven’t lost in twelve games, and Kent imagines the Memorial Cup in his hands. Every other heartbeat, it’s what Kent sees, Zimms right next to him, raising the Cup with him.
It’s where Kent wants Zimms to always be. Next to him. And it feels like he is all the time now. Even when they’re separated, Zimms is still right there with Kent. it’s second nature now, to always know where Zimms is even when they’re off the ice.
“Here,” Kent says, passing over a blue Gatorade, a peace offering. Zimms grins up at Kent, taking it.
“My favorite,” Zimms says. Kent can’t help the smug smile sliding onto his face. He knows. He gets out his music not much later. Zimms gets out his book, but he keeps his leg pressed tightly against Kent’s, not trying to move away this time.
The bus passes a dead squirrel, and Kent almost wants to reach out, happy and ready to help in a way he hasn’t felt in a long time, but they keep moving. The moment is gone.
They win the Memorial Cup, and Kent can’t stop laughing, cheering. His eyes keep flicking to Zimms, and Zimms keeps looking back. Crazy Craig grips Kent’s shoulders hard, spins him around the ice.
Steve from the coaching staff runs out with a cell phone, slams against Kent’s ear. “Your mom!” he shouts, and Kent fumbles for the phone. He can’t tear his eyes away from Zimms — his mom and dad hug their son something fierce. Kent’s heart stutters, and he imagines he feels Zimms’s pick up right next to his own. They were made to go together; perfect for one another.
“Kent!” his mom shouts, and Kent jerks back to that conversation. “Congratulations,” she tells him, and then the rest of his siblings are chiming in, taking their time on the phone. Or maybe everyone is on speaker phone, Kent doesn’t really know. He’s so excited they watched, swelling fast with happiness.
Zimms better not kiss Kent for at least an hour, or else Kent might burst.
No other day will ever top this one.
Kent goes back to Brooklyn and his mom’s brownstone. He visits with the bodega cats, typically one sister or another under his arm. Sometimes all three go out with him. Once or twice his two brothers trail along.
Kent doesn’t have a lot of money at the moment, but he and his agent have talked about money, how much Kent will likely earn. The bonuses he could probably make on top of whatever flat rate a team gives him. Kent hasn’t signed a contract yet, hell, the draft hasn’t even happened yet, but Kent doesn’t doubt his contract will be good. Second only to Zimms’.
So Kent gets his first credit card and runs up the charges for his siblings, and doesn’t give a shit, because he’ll make enough to pay it all back the first game he plays.
When Kent’s siblings are out, having their own lives, Kent follows the itch in his palm. He toes cats back to life and birds to flight. And at the end of the day, the Parson family always comes back together for the night.
“Kent,” his mom says one day. He’s helping with the dishes, scrubbing off ketchup from burgers and fries. “I don’t think I can make it to the draft.”
“Figured,” Kent says, without any heat. His mom works long hours, has to worry about six kids. “I talked to Zimms about it though. We booked hotel rooms right next to each other. I’m leaving in about a week. We’re spending some time up there, seeing the city.”
“Good,” Kent’s mom says with a nod and a smile, starting to dry the dishes and put them away. “I’m so glad you’re happy,” she tells him. Kent leans over, a couple inches taller than her, and plants a kiss on her forehead.
“Me too,” Kent mumbles, and he swears that as he thinks about Zimms he can feel Zimms right there next to him in the kitchen.
In the days before the Montreal draft, Kent drags Zimms around to eat at different places, and Zimms insists they go to some museums. They separate in the museum about Inuit culture. Kent goes toward the weapons, Zimms the art, but when Kent wants back to Zimms, he’s always easy enough to find.
They have dinner at a swanky place with Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann, and then they go back to the hotel. Kent goes to his room first, but it’s not long before he’s going into Zimms’s.
They watch a movie together, have sex together, lie together. Zimms brushes his teeth and then takes a handful of pills — something Zimms tells Kent he only does when hockey’s closed by now. They sleep together that night, too.
Zimms dies a little after 2 a.m., but Kent brings him right back.
The night before the draft, Kent slips back into Zimms’ room. They’ve already discussed it: Pre-draft sex tonight, post-draft sex tomorrow.
“I want to sleep separate tonight,” Zimms says, and Kent freezes, halfway to taking off his shoes. The hotel door clicks closed behind him.
“I heard, but I don’t—”
“I think it’s for the best—”
“I don’t think—”
Kent clenches his jaw. He twists away from Zimms, his eyes starting to smart. Fuck. He blinks rapidly.
“I just think,” Zimms says softly, “that I want to be alone before the draft.”
Kent scoffs at the about-face, and angrily rubs at his eyes, forehead. “I don’t understand why—you’re going to go first. Everyone knows it. You even said we’d—”
“Kenny,” Zimms pleads, and Kent can feel the emotion there. Jack’s regret, but unwaverable decision about this. His desire to be alone, to gather his thoughts before the draft. One last night. The anxiety he doesn’t want Kent to see, witness. He doesn’t expect to sleep and doesn’t want Kent to stay up on his behalf.
The anxiety. Fuck. “We’ll get breakfast first thing tomorrow then.”
“My parents want to get breakfast,” Zimms says and doesn’t extend an invitation like he usually would. Kent swallows down the words to invite himself along, knowing Zimms would ignore him this time. It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. But.
“Okay,” Kent manages to get out. “Okay, fine. I’ll see you at the draft then. But you can’t. You can’t take any pills tonight, okay? Promise me.”
Zimms frowns, opening his mouth.
“I know it helps you sleep, but—” Fuck, Kent’s crying. He needs to get out of here. “But promise me you won’t take any tonight.” Kent’s voice cracks and both of them wince at the sound.
“I don’t take them every night,” Zimms says.
Kent nods sharply. Right. He knows that. “Okay,” Kent chokes on the word and pretends he doesn’t, “see you tomorrow then. Fucking Las Vegas, you’re going to melt.” Kent casts one last look back at Zimms, whose lips have twitched into a smile, before heading to his hotel room right next door.
Kent wakes up to pounding on the door. It’s not his door and—
Kent leaps out of bed. His heart hammers in his throat. His motions are frantic, clumsy. He yanks open his door. Commotion streams through Zimms’s room, and more people hurry into it. Kent clutches at his own heart, and he knows. He knows Zimms’ has stopped.
Kent ducks below someone in a polo shirt, flings himself into the room. Someone grabs at him, tugs him back. Kent is all muscle though, has been all muscle since he started hockey. He wrenches himself out of the grip and flings himself across the room. Zimms is in bed, looks like he’s sleeping, but there are metal plates on his chest, and two people leaning over him Kent doesn’t recognize. And oh fuck. Fuck. There’s Mrs. Zimmermann, and she’s sobbing in the corner, and Mr. Zimmermann is shouting at the first responders, at Zimms, at Mrs. Zimmermann.
“We’ve already tried—”
“Do it again!” Mr. Zimmermann roars, and Kent dives towards Zimms before anyone can stop him. Mr. Zimmermann lunges to pull Kent back. Kent fights against his grip.
“I just need to—” Kent blubbers. He doesn’t know how long Zimms has been dead for. How long is too long. Kent never found out, never tested how long something could be dead until he couldn’t bring it back. And this. Kent thinks this might be it. However long Zimms has been dead is the limit. Kent scrambles away from Mr. Zimmermann. Kent surges forward, and his fingers find Zimms’s skin. He slips a hand under Zimms’s shirt, palm pressing over Zimms’s heart. “Zimms,” he cries, and Mr. Zimmermann tears him away.
Kent kicks and fights. “Let me go. Let me go, I can make it better,” he shouts. Mr. Zimmermann hauls him across the room. He throws Kent out the door, slams it behind him.
Kent crashes into the hallway floor. He lurches to his feet, rams his fists against the door, demanding entry. No one gives it to him. Kent stumbles backward, crying. His hands rake over his face and through his hair. He backs into the wall, and then he drops his weight against it. He hits the ground not a moment later. He can’t get enough air, and he can’t stop crying, and he can’t move. He can’t move.
Zimms’s door flies opens, and the first responders shove a gurney out the door with Zimms strapped down on it. They pound down the hallway, and Kent can’t react fast enough. Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann follow not a step behind, and Kent can’t push himself to his feet. He can’t follow. He can’t move. He drops his head into his hands and keeps crying.
Fuck. Kent needs to get it under control. He needs to stop crying. He needs to get up, go to his room, get dressed. Then he can call Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann. Then he can find out where Zimms is. He needs to pull himself together, and then—fuck—Kent needs to go down to the front desk. He locked himself out of his room. As if the day couldn’t get any shittier.
Kent doesn’t have to call Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann to find out where Zimms is. Kent’s feet take him straight to the hospital only a few blocks away. Kent doesn’t know if that means Zimms is alive or not. His palms don’t itch. So maybe…
If Zimms was dead, he wouldn’t be in a hospital, Kent figures. He nods to the receptionist who looks at him oddly, but doesn’t make him stop. Kent keeps walking, until his feet slow outside a private room with the curtain pulled.
He knocks, and Mr. Zimmermann opens the door, circles under his red, raw eyes.
“Kent,” Mr. Zimmermann says and steps aside to let him in.
Kent goes, and Mrs. Zimmermann is at Zimms’s side. He’s awake. Relief floods Kent. “Mom,” Zimms croaks out. Fuck. Kent wouldn’t trade Zimms for anything. He’d trade anything for Zimms. Every time. Even looking like that. Pale and shitty and not at all like it’s the best day of his life. Not like it’s the draft and he’s going to go first. But even like this, what little color Zimms has gone from his cheeks and dark circles under his eyes — Kent will take him. “Dad, can I have a second with Kenny?” Kent closes his eyes, and for a moment, he imagines Zimms’s heart beating next to his. A little out of sync, but there. With him. Right next to his own.
When Kent opens his eyes, it’s just him and Zimms. Kent takes Mrs. Zimmermann’s abandoned seat by Zimms. Kent reaches out to take Zimms’s hand, but Zimms moves away.
“Zimms,” Kent says, softly. “You couldn’t just not take the pills, could you?”
“I remember the cat,” Zimms interrupts, and Kent frowns.
“From the party. I thought I was hallucinating, but I remember it falling out of the sky. Someone must’ve thrown it out of the window, and it died in front of us.” Kent flinches. “And you said. You said something stupid like, ‘Want to see a party trick?’ and then you brought it back to life. It was dead, Kent!” Kent flinches. “It was dead and you brought it back. God, there was so much fucking blood. Its back was broken. And then you touched it, and it got up, and it went back inside.”
“I don’t remember,” Kent says, because he doesn’t. He doesn’t remember many full nights from parties, especially not the ones from before Zimms died the first time.
“And they told me, here,” Zimms continues, “They told me, ‘You’ve made a miraculous recovery. That many pills stopped your heart.’ Then they fucking asked me, ‘Did you know you were going to die if you took that many?’ And do you know what I fucking told them, Kent? I told them that I didn’t know that. That I needed that many to help me sleep, and I’d never had a problem before!”
Kent locks his jaw, looks away from Zimms’s face. Zimms starts crying a little.
Kent refuses to wipe at his own eyes, even when Zimms does it. Kent tries to take a deep breath, but it somehow lets out more air then it brings in. His hands are shaking, and he wraps them into fists, presses them down against his thighs instead of reaching for Zimms.
“How many times, Kent? How many times did you bring me back?”
Kent swallows, and stares at the window on the far side of the room. It has a sheer curtain in front of it, distorting the buildings beyond it.
“Kent,” Zimms demands.
“Every time,” Kent says. “Every time I brought you back.”
“Every time,” Kent repeats, because he doesn’t know how many. He didn’t count the nights he spent wrapped around Zimms, palm pressed over his heart until he came back.
Zimms lets out a harsh bark of a laugh. “Go away,” he says.
“Go the fuck away!”
“You never told me! You never told me I was killing myself over and over and over—”
“You wouldn’t have stopped!” Kent shouts, shoving the chair back, suddenly standing, towering over Zimms like he never has before. “You wouldn’t have fucking stopped, fucking dependent on whatever the fuck is in them. The only fucking way you ever fucking slept was when you were fucking dead!” Kent heaves in breathes, but air isn’t coming fast enough.
“Get out,” Zimms repeats. “Get the fuck out.”
“No,” Kent pleads. “No, Zimms, I—”
Zimms screws his eyes shut. “Get out, Kent,” he says. “Get out, get out, get the fuck out—”
Kent goes first in the draft. To Las Vegas. To the relentless heat.
i, like, live on melodrama. #sorrynotsorry
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Zimms slowly rips Kent’s heart out of his chest.
With every text Zimms ignores.
With every phone call Zimms lets go to voicemail.
Kent finds himself cradling his phone to his ear, before practices, before games, before going to bed. He leaves voicemails until he can’t anymore, and they always start the same:
“Zimms,” Kent says, the name cracking in his throat and twisting Kent’s heart, “please pick up.”
Kent looks away from his ceiling when he hears the creak of his door on its hinges. Swoops pushes it open, wearing shorts and no shirt. “Do you want to go running?” Swoops asks.
Kent shrugs, the movement awkward lying down.
“Let me rephrase,” Swoops says. “Get your ass up and let’s go. I read somewhere exercise gives you endorphins.”
A laugh escapes Kent. “Yeah? Well then why aren’t hockey players the happiest people on this fucking earth?”
“Do I look like a scientist to you? Let’s go. It’s almost eight and the sun gets brutal by nine.”
Kent groans, but finds himself moving, rolling out of bed. “The sun is always brutal.”
Swoops shrugs, and a few minutes later, the two of them exit their apartment. Swoops leads them in a series of stretches before they set off in a light jog around the town. “How long are we going?” Kent asks.
“Until you’re happy.”
Kent snorts. “I’m not sure if this is going to do it for me.”
“Well then we’ll have to go every morning.”
Kent rolls his eyes, but he keeps pace. Unbidden and unsurprisingly, Zimms steps into the forefront of Kent’s mind. They used to go running early, early. Before the sun even decided to get up. But taller than Zimms, Swoops’s long legs make Kent push himself even harder than he did then, which Kent appreciates.
If his legs burn and his lungs struggle for air, he can focus on that instead of the constant constriction of his heart. Without warning Swoops picks up the pace, and they start sprinting. Kent can’t focus on anything except running faster, longer, stronger. Kent hears beeping, and Swoops slows down, starts walking. His hands go to his hips. Kent’s let his own swing by his side.
Right when Kent starts to catch his breath, Swoops begins counting his watch’s beeps, “Three, two, one!” He takes off, Kent not far behind, arms and legs pumping. Sweat gathers on the back of Kent’s neck, falls down his back and from his armpits. Swoops’s watch beeps, and they slow again.
“Heat’s a killer,” Swoops gasps out. “I hate this heat.”
“At least there’s no humidity,” Kent gets back, and then they stop talking until Swoops’s watch starts beeping.
“Oh shit,” Swoops says with a groan. And they sprint again, heading back in the direction they came from.
Halfway through the interval, Kent pulls up short. He blinks, Swoops already far ahead. On the side of the empty road they’d been running down, there’s a dead rodent. Kent doesn’t know what it is, but he can’t look away. He can’t. He can’t. Zimms.
Kent toes at it, and that’s enough. The animal moves, rolling onto its back and then loping away. Kent turns to Swoops watching him. Kent flushes despite a chill running up his spine, slipping into the tips of his fingers. “What was it?” he asks.
“A marmot,” Swoops says, eyeing Kent in a way he doesn’t like. “They get hit pretty often. Dumb animals.”
Kent nods, and they walk the rest of the way back to the apartment.
“More roadkill out here than in the city,” Swoops comments. “There, you just have to deal with drunk people.”
Kent doesn't really get better. He feels best when he's drinking though, so he does that a lot.
Not always before practice, but always after games. Sometimes he has a little before his afternoon nap. Just. It takes the edge off, calms his heart, lets him breathe.
Swoops wants to know where Kent’s going after they get back from celebrating a win. “Out,” Kent says, and doesn’t elaborate. He has a plan to get better. Formulated it while drunk, executing while sober. Mostly sober.
“I think I should come with you,” Swoops says, and Kent does not agree. “You’ve been drinking.”
While technically true, Kent still shrugs. “Like a beer. I’m still good to drive,” Kent says, and Swoops does not agree. But. Kent needs to go, and Swoops isn’t his mom, so Kent climbs into his rental. He doesn’t have a destination in mind, but he puts the car into gear, and then he’s zipping down highways.
He slows as he takes a curve, and a dead deer shows up in his headlights. The head is mostly gone, blood, skin, and bone blended into a puddle on the ground. Kent pulls off the road, bumping on the uneven ground. He gets out. He’ll feel better once he saves a few animals. Does some good things. This one starts making him woozy just by looking at it. There aren’t even eyes, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the deer looks like now, Kent will heal it.
Kent places his hand on the deer’s neck. Nothing happens. Kent keeps his hand there longer, breathing slowly and pushing down rising panic. It’ll work.
And, eventually, it starts to. The neck lengthens, fur sprouting, wrapping around muscle, clinging to bone, bursting into existence from nothing. The skull forms, the brain inside repairs, and then it’s covered.
The deer’s eyelids open. They’re dark brown. Kent doesn’t take his hand off the deer until it totters to its legs. It chuffs at Kent, and then it walks away, nibbling at plants every few steps.
Kent sways. He passes out.
Kent lets himself back into the apartment, wincing at his movements, the light from the rising sun. He just needs to get to the room before—
“Didn’t know when you’d be getting back.”
Kent grits his teeth. Doesn’t want to deal with this. With Swoops. Anyone. He just wants to go to bed, go to sleep, not wake for a while. Maybe a couple of years.
“Parse,” Swoops starts, and Kent tries his hardest not to let Swoops finish, heading straight to his room. He swings around and shuts the door before Swoops can get through. Kent leans the full weight of his body against it as if Swoops might try and follow him into his room. But Swoops doesn’t, he just sighs. Then he must leave.
I’m still playing good hockey, Kent doesn’t say to the empty room, the empty hallway. Kent backs away from the door. He strips, parts of the deer still clinging to his hands, and burrows under his blankets. He closes his eyes and breathes. He puts his hand on his chest, feeling his own heartbeat. He wills it slower, softer. He needs to sleep.
Like he slept with Zimms, curled around him or tucked between his arms. Kent with his hand on Zimms’s heart so he would be okay. Kent all but memorized the rhythm of it while Zimms slept, imagines it now, sliding in next to Kent’s own. They’re a little out of time, like they always were. Zimms’s goes slower than Kent’s when he sleeps, but it’s strong and steady. Kent feels it in his ribcage too, nestled right next to his own heart.
Kent knows Zimms isn’t dead. No matter the unanswered calls and texts. No matter the radio silence. Kent is positive he would know if Zimms died. Somehow.
And that’s the thought that finally lets Kent sleep: Zimms is still alive.
The arena is only a block or two from the Strip. The Aces take full advantage of it, despite how expensive drinks on the Strip are, but it’s not like they don’t have the salary for it. For the VIP booths and wristbands for free drinks all night. In Vegas, both self-made gambling millionaires and those who dug themselves into millions of debt mingle as if they’re one and the same. To Kent, they’re both good targets to ply free drinks from.
Kent gets really good at weaseling away those drinks.
He would worry more, about being drunk when he hasn’t yet made it to 21, but only locals recognize him. Locals who know all about how what happens in Vegas stays in the city, have it signed into their contracts. Besides, why should they waste their breath gossiping about Kent, not even a B in celebrity terms, when Madonna was in the other night. A++.
“Parse,” Swoops says, elbowing Kent a little. Kent sloshes his drink, and he scowls a bit, licking at the side of his hand to get the remnants of the sip. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough.”
“I see you lost your drink there, Parse,” Jakey interrupts, before Kent needs to spend time thinking about a response to Swoops. “I’ve got you another one.” Kent laughs and grabs at the blue frothing glass in Jakey’s hands. Jakey is a great drinking buddy.
“I think you should come back to the apartment,” Swoops says.
“Don’t you worry,” Jakey says, draping an arm around Kent’s shoulders. “Imma get him home safe and sound. Before practice even.”
“Tonight,” Swoops says, but Jakey’s already pulling Kent back to the bar. They clink glasses and then chug them. Jakey orders another round for the two of them. They lose one another after a few moments, Jakey scrambling after Vanessa Hudgens, or her lookalike. Or, well. It doesn’t really matter.
Kent stumbles out of the bar and around the Strip for a bit. He has such a good buzz, and the fountains are fucking lit. Always lit. He wonders what time it is, pads himself down for his phone and finds it out of power.
Kent trips across a couple of sidewalks, laughing and apologizing to others doing the same. Kent spins a bit, looking up at the bright lights, when he stops abruptly. He looks down, and down is a dead pigeon. It might be sleeping. Sleeping with its eyes open. There are a few just like that. Sleeping with eyes open. Kent rubs his palms together, soothing the itch.
Dead pigeons. Car must’ve hit them. Tourists don’t know that these birds don’t fly away. Such dumb birds. Dumber humans to run over pigeons.
Kent wants to get down on the ground next to them. It takes him a while. He has to use his hands to steady himself on the ground, but he makes it. He makes it next to the dead pigeons. A few cars honk at him, and Kent gives them the finger back. They drove over the pigeons, not him. Their fault he’s on the ground with the dead birds.
Kent tries to decide whether he should save them or not. Doesn’t really think he should, remembering the deer. He passed out after that, felt awful for days, but the deer had a lot of problems with it. Lost a lot of itself. These pigeons still have all their body parts, including their eyes. He just needs to give them a little jump. Give them a little life.
Kent touches the first one, and he gets a little light headed, and his heart. Kent swears his heart stops for a moment. But then the pigeon is ruffling its wings, and when Kent puts his hand on his own chest, it feels just fine. He has a heartbeat. Has a steady heartbeat.
Kent leaves his hand there, though, when he reaches out to the next one. Kent touches the bird, and his own heart stops. For a moment, a single breath. Before the pigeon’s heart starts up, rapid and strong, Kent’s is silent. Kent sucks in a cold, quick breath. Then another one, his own heart rate picking up, and Kent shoves himself to his feet one handed. His other hand on his heart. His other hand on his heart. He turns away from the other dead birds.
Something is creeping up the back of Kent’s spine, and when he spins two pigeons are staring at him. Dead ones. With their eyes opened. As if waiting for him. Kent’s palms itch and his breath comes short, and he presses his hand harder into his own chest. His heart is still beating. His heart is still beating. He’s still alive.
Kent stumbles away from the birds and flags down a taxi. He promises not to puke as he gets inside, gives the address to the apartment him and Swoops have away from the Strip. The bright lights pass, and Kent imagines going into a hospital, waiting around for people to flatline and then bringing them back. He’d be doing good. He’d be doing so much good.
But fuck. Nothing comes without consequences — isn’t that how life works? And Kent didn’t even worry about consequences before. But, shit. This must be it. Every time he bring someone back he gives them his heartbeat. And what if. Oh shit, Kent can’t seem to breath. What if he did that in the hospital, saved all those people, and gave away too many heartbeats, too much of himself. And he just. Didn’t wake up. Killed himself. Kent gasps in breath. Frantically wonders if he can get the heartbeats back.
Gave away so many to Zimms. Maybe too many. Maybe that's why he's like this. He's been giving away his own life.
Kent throws up in the taxi, dry heaves the rest of the way back as the taxi driver starts shouting, cursing. Kent swears he can pay for it, tries to reassure the driver, but Kent starts shivering, chills sliding into his bones. It’s warm in Las Vegas, it’s so warm, and Kent’s bones feel brittle and frozen. Like death. Kent feels like death. Like he’s given away one too many parts of himself and death is finally coming for him.
Kent shudders and shakes and tries not to vomit again from the smell of his own puke. The taxi pulls up in front of the apartment building, and Kent barely makes it out. He turns around and starts pulling out hundreds. He just has hundreds in his wallet. He keeps handing them to the taxi driver, and all Kent can think about is how he doesn’t want to die. How he can’t save anything else, anyone else, or he’s going to die.
Kent barely makes it to his room, shaking all over, before he’s on his hands and knees, pulling out the vodka Swoops thinks he’d hidden away from Kent. It’ll help. It’ll help the shakes and warm him and it’ll make him stop thinking about life and death and how many heartbeats he has left.
Kent groans awake to Swoops cursing at him. Kent’s curled up on the floor around the vodka. Swoops rips it away from Kent, and kicks Kent hard in the side. Kent groans and rolls over. He pukes inches from Swoops’s feet.
“Get the fuck up,” Swoops says with disgust. “Get to the fucking shower and then clean this shit up.”
Kent closes his eyes and doesn’t move.
They don’t have practice for another few hours.
“Parse,” Swoops hisses. “We’re running this morning if you forgot. Get. Up!”
Swoops kicks Kent again. Kent winces and opens his eyes.
“Now, you stupid fuck,” Swoops says, like he’s Kent’s mom. Which. Kent hasn’t talked to his mom in months, so maybe Swoops is his new one. Kent hasn't talked to any of his siblings either. Hasn't talked much to anyone.
Kent pukes no less than three times during the interval training, Swoops shoving water down Kent’s throat each time. “You’ve got to be hydrated for practice or Coach is going to flay you.”
It doesn't matter how much water Kent drinks. He goes to practice too hungover. The team notices, Coach notices. Easy to notice. Kent shows up to practice wearing sunglasses.
Coach makes him take them off, and Kent winces when he does, squinting into the rink.
Kent gets bag skated.
The whole team does, too.
“You're a team,” Coach growls out. “One of you fucks up, you all do. You win together, you lose together. You work together.”
Kent doesn't look anyone in the eye after practice. He doesn't say a word to Swoops the whole ride home, body aching, heart hammering, eyes smarting.
The next day, Kent walks into the locker room, and he pauses. Kent narrows his eyes. He whips off his sunglasses, headache mild if anything. No one else on the team removes their sunglasses, even though everyone else is wearing a pair.
“Haha,” Kent says, and he narrows his eyes at Jimmy-Jim, the normal culprit. “Did you buy everyone a pair of Dollar Store sunglasses?”
Jimmy-Jim faux gasps. He’s awful at it. “These are not Dollar Store.”
Kent snorts. “Five Below, whatever. I can’t believe you all got hungover without me. I’m hurt. Thought we were a team.” Jimmy-Jim grins, but doesn’t say another word, the shitter. Someone coughs loudly into his hands. Probably fucking Jakey. Kent slides his sunglasses back on, and then he goes to get ready for practice like all the other dweebs wearing sunglasses when they obviously don’t need to.
Coach has a lot of comments on his team’s style choices when he gets into the locker room that day.
They don't get bag skated, though.
Kent rips open his protein bar, ready first for his morning workout with Swoops for the first time in his entire life. The Aces have two months until playoffs, and they’re not going to get a spot. They’re not yet mathematically eliminated, but the odds aren’t in their favor. They might be a Vegas team, but anyone would be stupid to bet on them this year.
The only good bet they could make is on Kent winning the Calder. Kent hasn’t scored as much as he and Zimms did, but he scores more than enough compared to the other rookies. So far, he’s up by ten points.
Reporters, announcers, his team tell him he’s a shoo-in. Kent can’t say how he managed it so far, the games a blur of drink, exhaustion, and adrenaline. Kent remembers his first point, but not his first goal. He remembers his first hat trick, but not his first fight. But he remembers these runs, Swoops waking him up and insisting they go out each morning, even if it’s only for one interval instead of five. To get Kent up, to get him moving. Once, Swoops and him just walked. The sun too high in the sky, and Kent too hungover.
Swoops talked about his sister then. He has just one. Kent thinks he would’ve gone insane with only one sister.
Kent takes a big chunk off his morning protein bar as Swoops steps into the kitchen. Kent doesn’t bother swallowing before he confesses to Swoops with a full mouth, “The running helps.”
Swoops snort and grabs his own bar. “I fucking know,” Swoops says. “Your cardio is goddamn amazing.”
Kent nods, stuffing his mouth with more protein. “And with the other stuff. Getting up helps, running helps. You’re helping. The team is. Everyone. All of this.”
Swoops takes a while before he responds. Weighing his words. He opens his mouth a few times, as if tasting his reaction before he gives it. Finally, Swoops just punches Kent’s shoulder. Kent almost chokes on his protein bar. “Even Smelly Hank?”
Kent coughs a few times, unsticking chewed bar from the inside of his lungs before he responds, “Maybe not Smelly Hank.” Kent doesn’t thank Swoops for asking what exactly the running is helping with.
Kent wakes up, head pounding, heart aching. He drops his hand onto his chest and listens to his heartbeat, imagining Zimms’ right there next to his.
Kent can’t remember yesterday night beyond a few fuzzy impressions. Laughter and vomit tied together in the back of his throat. Anger there as well, rage swinging inside of him.
Kent remembers they lost the game. It was a bad score, but Kent doesn’t know what it was.
He barely remembers the game.
Kent tries to recall whether that’s because he was drinking before the game or because he was drinking after or…
“Are we going out today, Parse?” Swoops shouts, “Or your ass too hungover?”
“Give me ten,” Kent says, and winces at even that volume. He digs out his phone to check the time. Habit has him thumbing open to his messages too, and right on top are a set of new messages from Kent to Zimms. Zimms hasn’t responded.
Kent deletes whatever he sent instead of reading them.
Then he gets ready to face the day with Swoops. It’s their last game of the season, and Kent wants to win it, but he doubts they will.
Jakey fist bumps Kent when they step out of the company car together. Kent has never been more uncomfortable in his life. The rehab center doesn’t say it’s a rehab center on the front, but Kent thinks it still looks like one.
“They’re going to sort us out in there,” Jakey says, and he leads the way inside. Management signed Kent up before telling him, and then cornered him into going. If he didn’t, the Aces promised to bench him basically the entirety of next season and not renew his contract. Even if he was a great player, management said without explicitly stating it, Kent getting alcohol poisoning and dying was way too much of a liability for them.
Kent doesn’t know what they told Jakey to get him to go, probably something similar. Jakey, four years older than Kent, likes to tell Kent how he’s never had his life together.
Mostly Kent keeps thinking about how this means he’ll miss Worlds. His first Worlds out of the junior leagues.
Rehab sucks a lot.
But there are no dead animals.
And if Kent lies still enough in bed, he can feel his heart reaching for Zimms’, and sometimes he imagines Zimms’ is reaching back.
Jakey doesn’t ask why Kent drinks, and Kent doesn’t ask Jakey.
Kent learns that Jakey’s mom died young though, that his family has always had an alcohol problem. Jakey’s five uncles drinks, his three aunts drink, and his two brothers do, too.
Kent hears all about Jakey’s fucked up family while Kent spots Jakey and while Jakey spots Kent. The gym is great. Most of the patients are professional athletes, so Kent guesses it makes sense. But it’s weird to see other hockey players in here, besides Jakey.
Kent has a therapist who wants to know why Kent drinks. Kent talks about how his career drives him to drink and a little bit about an old boyfriend who almost died. A few times. Kent doesn’t mention at all about how he’s pretty sure he’s fucked up because he gave his heartbeats away.
“My sober bro,” Jakey calls to Kent two weeks into the eight-week program. Kent rolls his eyes and fist bumps him back.
Kent steps onto the ice, and it feels like he’s made it home.
Kent takes a few loops, and it’s almost like he never left. His body feels strong, his mind clear.
The summer was brutal: emotionally, physically.
He called his mom finally, called his siblings, flew them out for a weekend. They hugged him and laughed at him and teased him. They loved him. And it's everything Kent didn't realize he was missing. Everything he needed.
And now he’s here. He feels better.
He’s ready to win.
The party after the Aces win the Cup starts as soon as they win, and then it goes on for two or three days. Jakey kisses at least three different girls. Jimmy-Jim doesn’t let go of his wife’s hand as they dribble champagne into one another’s mouths. Swoops parades a group of rookies through the streets of Las Vegas.
Kent takes videos for prosperity, including of everyone gagging when Smelly Hank lets a particularly bad one go.
Most of them make it onto his Instagram account.
The PR team sends him a few dozen messages about what should and shouldn’t go on social media until Kent takes down the one of a rookie stuffing dollars into a stripper’s thong. His mom is also disappointed in that post, but she also sends him lots of congratulatory texts.
Kent lays in bed with his hand on his heart, counting his heartbeats, and looking through his phone. It’s been two years since Kent saw Zimms. Since they’ve talked.
Kent closes his eyes, and he thinks he could find Zimms without knowing where he is.
Swoops brings it up to Kent while they’re resting a scant few seconds between sprinting intervals, “Did you hear Jack signed with Samwell University?”
“Who?” Kent asks, still trying to get his breathing under control.
“Zimmermann,” Swoops says. “Jack Zimmermann signed with Samwell University.”
The air goes out of Kent like Swoops just punched him. He grasps around for what to say back when Swoops’s watch beeps. Swoops takes off, and Kent curses, sprinting after him.
The Aces win against the Bruins, and Kent rents a car, slipping out before curfew and not entirely sure if he’ll be back before then. Kent doesn’t need directions from Boston to Samwell University, a small liberal arts college thirty minutes away, he somehow knows which roads to take, which turns to make.
The house he parks in front of is run down, but there’s music and flashing lights. Not many cars out front. Excitement skips up Kent’s spine. He knows Zimms is here, the heartbeat next to his own strengthening.
College kids litter the steps and balance on the porch railings, drinking and laughing and talking. One of them recognizes Kent, shouting, “Parse, my man, Jack invite you up?” Kent jogs up with a nod and a grin.
“Know where he is?” Kent asks, even though he knows the answer to his own question, straining his neck to look past the steps to the inside of the house.
“In the Haus somewhere,” the guy says. “Hey, can you sign something?”
“You have a pen?”
“I’ve got shit all. Next time you stop by then?”
Kent skips up the steps in the small space that’s left. He jogs into the house, and he finds Zimms in the corner, nursing a single solo cup. “Zimms,” he calls out, and Zimms’ whole head jerks up. Zimms freezes, and Kent forces himself forward, even though Zimms’ heart started jack rabbiting, the same way Kent’s gets when. When he’s stressed, scared, angry.
“Kent,” Zimms says, and Kent can feel eyes on them. He wants to close the gap, wants to put his hand on Zimms’s heart and feel it underneath his fingertips. Kent wants— Kent wants a lot.
“Can we talk,” Kent asks, hands firmly in his pockets, and voice pitched low enough so that only Zimms can hear him. “I,” Kent swallows and wets his lips, “I’ve missed you.”
“Haven’t missed you,” Zimms snaps back, and Kent jerks back with hurt. “Can’t miss you when you’re always there,” Zimms snarls low. Kent opens his mouth to tell Zimms that doesn't make sense, but Jack cuts across him. “I need you to leave,” Zimms tells him. “Right now.”
“Zimms,” Kent says, reaching out only to have Zimms stumble back.
“Not Zimms,” Zimms says. “I’m Jack. My name is Jack.”
Anger flares in Kent. “Yeah okay,” Kent snaps, “Jack. Jack Zimmermann.”
“Stop it,” Zimms hisses. “You’re being immature.”
“I’m being immature?” Kent scowls, moving closer, until they’re almost chest to chest. “I’m not the one who stopped texting like a sullen, bratty rich child.”
“You want to do this here?” Zimms cuts across. Kent flicks his eyes around to the college kids, a few who have openly started staring.
Kent shrugs, embarrassment running hot under his anger. “They’re your friends. Your reputation, Zimms.”
“Jack,” Zimms snaps, turning abruptly, leading them up the stairs, to his room.
“Whatever,” Kent mumbles, staring at the posters on Zimms’s walls, notices pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann. Notices the lack of pictures from Major Juniors, and Kent grinds his teeth. “Such bad memories you couldn’t even put a picture of me up?”
“I want to get rid of you,” Zimms seethes. “I want to never see you again, never hear from you again, never talk to you again.”
“Wow, way to get it where it hurts, Zimms,” Kent snaps.
“Fine, Jack. Fucking Jack.” Kent blinks, looks away from Zimms before he can catch Kent crying. “I didn’t know you could fucking hate the person who saved your fucking life over and over—”
“I never asked you to!” Jack shouts, and Kent doesn’t look at Jack.
“You didn’t want to die,” Kent says. “You didn’t know you were killing yourself.”
“How do you know?” Jack demands. “You never fucking asked me. Never even told me it was happening.”
Kent crushes his eyes closed. “You didn’t want to die.” Kent repeats, “You didn’t want to die. You didn’t want to die.”
“Did you ever ask any of those fucking animals if they wanted to come back, huh? Or did you just assume you were doing everyone a favor—”
“I saved your life!”
“Yeah, fucking thanks for that. Fucking tied me to you like a dog. I can’t get away from you even though I so fucking desperately want to. I always know where you are, and I know when you score a goal. I feel it!” Zimms shouts. He shoves at Kent’s chest. “Right there, I feel it in there.
“Whenever we were in Rimouski, I could always find you. Didn’t matter if we were on the ice, off the ice. I always knew where you were, and now I never want to know where you are ever again, but I can’t stop. I can’t stop knowing where you are, and I fucking hate it. All because of you and your fucking, whatever the fuck you did to me. I fucking hate it,” Jack tells Kent. “I fucking hate you.”
Kent stumbles from the force of Jack’s words. He wasn’t expecting. He didn’t. He never. “Yeah?” Kent asks and his voice cracks. He doesn’t start crying though. Thank fuck he doesn’t start. “You hate me?”
“Yeah,” Jack says, face turned away from Kent. “I do.”
Kent wonders if Jack knows how much he hurts right now. How much he.
The tub juice they’re serving is too sweet and goes down too easily.
Kent has three more glasses. And then he has two more. And then he has another.
Kent can barely walk, and he wonders if Jack knows that.
Does Jack know Kent can barely walk?
Kent wants to go back up to Jack, go back up and tell him Kent gave Jack his heartbeats.
Kent can barely walk though. He couldn’t do stairs. Shouldn’t try stairs.
Kent makes it into his rental car, and he starts it.
Kent wakes up to his car smoking, to pain in his neck and pain in his arms. He can’t see, and Kent blinks and blinks and blood falls down from his eyes.
Kent crashed. Kent crashed his car, and. Through the cracked windshield, Kent sees another car. Kent’s palms itch.
Nausea fills Kent’s stomach, and he slams open his door. It swings closed, and Kent shoves it again. He clamors to his feet, and there are people inside the other car. A mistake, this is all a horrible mistake. He, he needs to fix it. He needs to fix his mistake.
Kent struggles to pull their side door open. It’s crumpled. He tugs and tugs and tugs, and finally it gives. There is so much blood. Blood on the windshield and blood on the airbags.
Kent wraps his hand around the closest piece of skin. An arm, an arm covered in blood. “I’m sorry,” Kent says. “I am so sorry. You’ve got to come back,” Kent says, and his heartbeat stops for one moment, two, three. Kent jerks back when the passenger finally gasps, and Kent stumbles to the other side of the car. The driver. Eyes open, eyes open.
The window shattered open. Kent reaches his arm in through the glass. It cuts a bit, but it doesn’t cut bad. He slides his hand alongside her head, side of her skull matted with blood-crusted hair. Kent holds his breath as he waits for her to come back. Come back to him. To her friend who has started screaming. “You’re not dead,” Kent tells her. Her eyes blink, and Kent pulls back.
He stumbles back to his car, collapses in the driver’s seat. He feels so small, alone, afraid. He shivers and shakes. His vision darkens.
Kent wakes up to screaming. “Don’t die,” someone’s shouting at him. “You can’t die!” Kent blinks his eyes open, and it’s the woman. The one he saved. The one he killed.
“Oh thank God,” she says, crying. “Oh thank God.” Her friend is saying something about insurance, that their insurance will figure everything out. “A miracle,” she keeps repeating. “It’s a miracle we didn’t die.”
Kent blacks out for three days straight.
When Kent finally comes to, he’s in the rehab center again. He must’ve missed the end of their roadie.
Kent groans and the lights hurt. Everything hurts.
This time, the rehab program is an abbreviated 15 days. The hockey season in full swing. He can’t miss many more games.
This time, it’s just Kent in the program. No Jakey.
Kent closes his eyes, lying on bed with his hand over his heart. Counting his heartbeats, counting Jack’s.
“Are you perpetually hungover now?” Jakey asks, and Kent rolls his eyes, fighting back a smile.
“They send you back in here, too?”
Jakey laughs. “Naw, I have my life together now, remember? Sober for seven days so far. It’s a personal record since getting out of the program.” Jakey holds out his hand for a fist bump, and Kent gives it to him.
Swoops punches Kent in the arm when he sees him. “You look good when you’re sober enough to hold your own piss.”
Kent rolls his eyes. “Appreciate it.”
“It’s a good look,” Swoops says seriously. “Chicks dig it. Also, Jimmy-Jim gave this to me to pass along.” Swoops brandishes a pair of cheap-ass sunglasses. Kent rolls his eyes, but he puts them on anyway so Swoops can send a picture to the purchaser.
Smelly Hank shows up with at least two rookies in tow.
“Your stench is going to drive everyone back to drink,” Kent says.
Smelly Hank shrugs, producing an Xbox. “I’ve come to challenge you to a rematch.” He gestures to Leggy and Muncher. “These are my witnesses.” Smelly Hank frowns for a second. “V and Oleg are here, too. Somewhere.”
“Getting snacks,” Muncher pipes up helpfully, and then they argue for a few minutes figuring out how to plug the Xbox into the janky-ass TV.
Kent stares at the dead pigeons, until Swoops shoulders him. “They’re not going to come back to life if you keep looking at them.”
Kent nods tightly, scratching at his palms.
“Come on,” Swoops says, dropping an arm around Kent’s shoulders. “Let’s go get you an ice cream. Best thing about you not drinking anymore is we can use the calories for something better. I’m thinking peanut butter double chocolate chip.”
Kent doesn’t mean to bring the cat back to life.
He thinks it’s still breathing when he touches it, but then his heart stops and its starts.
Kent closes his eyes and breathes through the flood of sadness that runs through him. He doesn’t know why it happens, why he’s not okay after he heals animals anymore. Back in, back in Major Juniors it was fine. He was fine.
“Parse?” Jakey calls.
“Here.” Kent pushes to his feet and the cat doesn’t go away. It starts wrapping its way between his legs, brushing up against his jeans. It has blood still caked into its fur.
“You adopting alley cats?” Jakey asks, and then he manhandles Kent back to the bar everyone is in. “I’ve got you a pina colada without any alcohol and it’s stellar. They put in extra coconut in, which is my favorite.”
Kent wrinkles his nose. “That sounds like shit.”
Jakey laughs, and they head back into the bar. “Well then, I can drink this one and you can get like, something more juicy. Don’t you like prunes?”
Kent shoves Jakey, who finds himself too humorous for his own good. Kent slips back into the booth the Aces got, finding himself pressed between V and Leggy. Across from him is Swoops and Jakey. They’re a good bunch, and Kent’s heart warms.
The cat meows when Kent leaves the bar. Jakey starts with a laugh. “What did you do, feed it?”
“Not really,” Kent says as he and Swoops peel off from the group to find a taxi. The rest of the group still living within Vegas proper.
“It really likes you,” Swoops observes as Kent tries his hardest not to step on the cat threading between his legs with every step.
Kent stares at the cat in his and Swoops’s apartment, and the cat stares back.
“You need to buy it like, food and shit. Also, probably take it to the vet.”
Kent reaches out with his hand for Kit, and she purrs, padding forward to press her head against Kent’s fingers. She wiggles around, nuzzling at Kent’s fingers.
Kent moves his hand to press against her flank, and she pauses, looking at Kent. Kent can feel her heartbeat under his palm, but it doesn’t echo in his chest. Not like Jack’s does. Maybe because he only saved her once, and Kent’s okay with that. He doesn’t want her to die again.
“You’re a good girl,” Kent tells Kit, and she licks at his arm in agreement.
Kent falls asleep on the couch with Kit on his chest. He cracks an eye open when Swoops ruffles his hair.
thanks for reading installment #2 -- one more to go!
Kent closes his eyes. He doesn’t need to watch the game to know the moment the buzzer sounds. Jack’s heart soars. The Falconers are Stanley Cup champions.
Kent has two rings already, was in a good position to make it three. Then their chance just… didn’t happen.
“Parser,” Swoops says, and Kent opens his eyes, glancing at Swoops.
Swoops nods toward the TV, and Kent watches the replay of Jack kissing his boyfriend on the ice. Short, blonde, built. Kent doesn’t want to admit he’s imagined that. Happening to him. Him and Zimms winning the Stanley Cup. Fuck, Kent wanted that moment when they won the Memorial Cup, not just the tilt of their heads together they got, not just brushing hands when Zimms passed off of the Cup to Kent. Kent wanted to kiss him.
“About time someone came out,” Swoops says.
“Yeah,” Kent says, his body echoing with the beat of Jack’s heart and his unbridled happiness.
The first game of the new season, they lose a horrible four to zero to the fucking Schooners. Motherfuckers. Schooners are all dickwads.
“If that sets the tone for the rest of the season,” Kent groans, “we’re going to get first pick.”
Swoops shoves at Kent, and he shoves back. “You just don’t want an 18-year-old stealing your thunder.”
“They can have all my thunder. All the thunder.” Kent grabs at the fruity drink Jakey slides him. They knock glasses. Kent pauses mid-sip, eyeing Jakey’s drink. “Is that a fucking pina colada?”
Jakey scowls. “Like you’re one to judge with all that flavored syrup.”
“I need calories,” Kent says, and then takes a gulp from his glorified fruit juice.
Smelly Hank rolls his eyes. “Empty calories like your empty head.”
“At least it doesn’t make me fart death.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Smelly Hank takes a sip from his beer, “that stopped happening like four years ago.” The conversation devolves further until Kent finds himself nodding along to Smelly Hank’s latest story about how great his girlfriend is.
Toward the end of the night, Swoops admits the girl he’s fucking he doesn’t want to just fuck. He wants to be with her, together. “Boyfriend and girlfriend, you know? Like domestic. I want to be domestic with her.”
“If you want to date her,” Jakey says, “you have to ask her out on a date.” Newly married with twins on the way, Kent isn’t sure when the fuck Jakey became the voice of life advice. “What does she like to eat?”
“Don’t take her to sushi. Sushi breath is the worst,” Kent cuts in before Smelly Hank can suggest it. Smelly Hank opens his mouth to argue, and then they’re having at it. Jakey suggests dinner and a movie, and then V slides in, suggesting a fucking walk in the park.
“Look at him,” Kent says, gesturing to Swoops. “He’d burn to a fucking crisp before they finish the date.”
“But if you put on sunblock,” V says. “Also, hear me out, picnic.”
Kent purses his lips, doesn’t think of his failed picnic with Jack, and then shares his own horrible suggestion after horrible suggestion. They head out not long after. They trip by a dead pigeon on the ground, and after a moment, Kent toes at it. It shakes out its wings, gives Kent a look, and then takes to the sky.
A moment later, Swoops dangles his arm around Kent’s shoulder, and giving life feels like it did back in the Q. It feels effortless, it feels right.
Kent keeps wetting his lips, his mouth dry. In his chest, Jack’s heart is ramping up beside Kent’s own. The adrenaline both getting to them before they take the ice.
Swoops knocks Kent along his shoulder pads, says something encouraging that Kent doesn’t really listen to. He hears the, “Okay, Captain?” at the very end though, so Kent nods. He shakes out one leg and then the other — needs to stay loose before they take the ice for the puck drop.
When they step onto the ice, Kent can’t lose his awareness of Jack, no matter how hard he tries. He knows exactly where Jack is on the ice, where he plans to take a pass from, where he expects to shoot to score.
Together, their hearts speed up and slow down, always on the same shifts, always resting at the same time.
Kent wants to know if Jack feels the same thing, too.
It’s never been like this before.
When the Aces make it to the summer, Kent has officially been sober for a year. It’s. It’s a lot. But it’s good. The Aces lasted long enough that Kent didn’t have to play in Worlds again, which he’s okay with.
The Aces have him on for a few media requirements during the summer, but it’s only a handful. The most immediate is Draft Day, where they’ve asked Kent to announce their first round choice. Or, asked isn't the right word. Kent doesn’t really get a choice in the matter, but it’s not bad.
Kent doesn’t realize until too late that the media have choralled him into the same interview as Jack, who must be doing something similar if he’s here. Jack is all stiff posture and short, clipped words. He’s wearing a suit. Kent is definitely not. Kent takes off his hat, sliding a hand through his hair to try and push it down.
“Jack,” someone asks, “What does it feel like to be at Draft Day?”
Kent tries to pay attention to Jack’s answer, but all that comes through is that Jack’s happy with the road he took. He wouldn’t have it any other way. He doesn’t regret anything.
Kent can’t help adding, “I wouldn’t have gone first if he hadn’t decided to get his degree. Smart choice.” Kent smiles, trying to lighten the mood, but no one else really does. Jack’s heart drops, and so does Kent’s. The media ask a few more questions, and then the first pick is being called and they go off to harass someone else.
Kent expects Jack to march away, going in the same direction to get read, but instead he turns to Kent. “You were just as good as I was,” Jack says, and Kent closes his eyes for a second, for two of Jack’s heartbeats that punctuate his sincerity, his belief in his words, in Kent. He wants that feeling to last, to live forever. But another heartbeat, and it’s gone.
Kent opens his eyes, shrugs off the words with a lopsided grin. “They wouldn’t have passed up a hockey legacy,” he says, tries to joke, “The jerseys that would’ve sold.” He’d come to terms with it years ago, before the draft.
Jack nods absently, and this is when Kent should walk away, the natural end to their interaction. But he doesn’t, and Jack doesn’t either. Kent fidgets a little, because Jack. Jack hates him, hates everything about him and everything he did — except for those two heartbeats. Those two moments when it felt like... Kent opens his mouth, not sure what he’s going to say, but knowing he needs to say something when Jack goes, “Let’s get dinner.”
Kent swallows, looking at Jack’s earnest blue eyes.
Kent goes to visit Swoops in Canada after the Draft.
They sprint each morning, and Swoops complains about how they’re not getting any younger. “You need to put a ring on it,” Kent tells Swoops. “She might not like you anymore when you start to flab up.”
Swoops punches Kent, hard.
Swoops raises his eyebrows the first time Kent tells him he’s going to visit a friend in the area. “It’s Jack,” Kent elaborates when Swoops gives him a look. “I’m going to hang out with Jack.”
Jack has a new boat since the last time Kent was at the family’s lake house, which makes sense. It’s been a long time. Not quite a decade, but almost. It’s still a small boat, enough for maybe four people maximum, guided by a slow, steady motor.
Jack has a line in the water, but he’s not really fishing. It’s more like he baited and dropped it in the water for something to do with his hands. Kent wishes he had something to do with his hands, but he just ends up shoving them in his pockets, protecting them against the chilled air surrounding the glacial lake.
Jack takes them in a slow, wide circle around the water, letting them drift more than guiding them to any destination.
“Do you still,” Jack starts to ask, before stopping.
Kent looks up from where he’d been watching the fish dart in and out of the reeds. Jack’s hand is still firmly clasped on the rudder, but he’s staring at Kent. Kent frowns. “Do I still what?”
It takes a moment, like Jack’s fortifying himself, and then he asks in his blunt way, “Bring things back to life?” Air drops from Kent’s lungs like he’s been punched. He wants to say he didn’t bring back “things.” He brought back squirrels and cats and dogs and deer and — Kent brought back Jack.
Jack holds Kent’s eyes for a moment before he looks away and to the far shore. His hands tighten around the rudder.
“I try not to,” Kent says tightly to the side of Jack’s face instead of pouring everything else out. His palms have been itching the entire trip, fish beneath them, probably. “Doesn’t make me feel good. It’s like every time I do, I give a little of me away, you know? Heartbeats, I give myself away in heartbeats.” Kent drops his hand into the water and watches the ripples for a bit.
“I was trying to decide whether it means I’m going to die young, because of what I did in the Q.” Kent hears Jack’s sharp intake of breath. “But I don’t think so,” he rushes on, before they can play the blame game — who would really be responsible for Kent dying young: Kent of Jack. “I don’t think it’s going to kill me. I can get it back, sort of. I don’t know, but friends help. And then you, back then. You were helping back then, and it didn’t hurt to give life away. It was like, you being there for me made it… made it okay to give life. Does that make any sense at all?” Kent asks, and then groans, tugging his hand out of the water. He splashes himself, the inside of the boat.
“Nevermind, I know it doesn’t. I just. You helped me back then, Jack,” Kent says. “A lot. It was rough when you didn’t,” Kent trails off and then clears his throat to amend his last words. “It was rough when we weren’t talking.”
Jack stays quiet. Kent wonders if Jack knows all about the rehab stints. If he heard about the crash after the party: The horrible accident where somehow, miraculously, everyone survived. Kent wonders if Jack cared enough back then to check in on what Kent did. Or if Jack caring is mostly just a recent thing, a brief thing. Kent wants to know if Jack googled Kent to find out what happened all those years they were apart, or if Jack just accepts Kent as he is now. Everything he’s become. Kent shifts to look at him.
“I’ve missed you,” Kent says. “Talking to you. Being your friend.”
Jack’s lips twist. Not quite into a smile, but. Kent catches the slight upturn of Jack’s eyes, the way they go a little soft at the same time. Jack doesn’t say, “Me too,” but Kent’s pretty sure it’s there in his expression. It certainly is in the beat of his heart.
Kent moves out from his and Swoops’ apartment before pre-season begins. He gets a house in Vegas proper, right off of Sunset Park. It’s expensive, has a pool, and it’s his. His and Kit’s.
Kent doesn’t want to hire a decorator, doesn’t know how he wants to decorate it, so it just.
It doesn’t sit empty exactly.
Kent magnets photos onto the refrigerator. Of him and the team. Oleg trying for a keg stand and not quite making it. Jakey’s new baby. Smelly Hank with his long time girlfriend. A photo of Kit sleeping.
“I broke up with Bitty,” Jack says unannounced on one of their phone calls. “Uh, my ex.”
Kent’s heart swoops. He puts his hand on his chest. His and Jack’s hearts are synced up in their fast beats. “Yeah?”
“So,” Jack says. “I just think you needed to know. It’s been about a year.”
“I didn’t know,” Kent says. The moment stretches on, awkwardness chasing the silence. Before Kent knows what he’s doing he’s saying, “Are you telling me this because you’re lonely and want me back in your pants?” Kent cringes as the joke falls far too flat and wonders if he can just hang up the phone at this point. Obviously that isn’t what Jack is saying. Jack’s just sharing the news, officially telling Kent not to bring up Bitty in the context of boyfriend.
Kent’s fingers twitch for a drink, but there’s no alcohol in the house. Dumb decision. Too late to buy anything at the stores either, even in Vegas.
“Yeah,” Jack says.
Kent stares at the wall. “What?” Kit twines between his feet, and Kent was pretty sure Jack wasn’t being sarcastic but. He presses his hand harder to his chest.
Jack clears his throat. “Yeah, that’s why I’m telling you.”
The Aces go to Providence the second week in October, and Kent’s fired up. He has a good feeling about the game, about his team, about this year. They’ve won every game so far, which isn’t many, but it’s a good omen. And Kent will take good omens.
The moment the plane lands in Providence, Jack’s heart drops heavy into Kent’s chest. It beats louder, clearer, stronger than it does anywhere else.
Jack and Kent eat takeout on the sofa. On in the background, is the recap from the game the Aces barely scraped a win in. Providence has pretty good Chinese. Sort of healthy. Less oily than in Vegas at least.
“Your heartbeat is getting so fucking loud,” Kent says. “Especially on the ice. It’s like you’re trying to burst out of my chest or something.”
“I feel you all the time,” Jack responds. “Don’t need to be on the ice. Right now, right now you feel so peaceful. So relaxed.”
Kent flushes. “I have to focus to separate yours and mine. Just, I don’t know, a lot going on in my head. Things get mixed together.”
Jack shakes his head. “Lucky duck. I can literally tell when you’re jerking off. Heartbeat goes up and down in like, I don’t fucking know, a certain pattern.”
Kent laughs. “No fucking way. Tell me you start getting off then.”
“Usually not in a situation that would allow for it,” Jack says, the corner of his eyes crinkling. Kent wants to lean forward and kiss them. Nothing’s stopping him, so he does.
They’re going to have to experiment with the jerking off thing later.
Jack walks into Kent’s house, a hand in the strap of his duffel. His game day suit still on. Kent doesn’t know what Jack said to his team to get curfew waived for the night, but Kent’s not exactly complaining.
Kit threads through Kent’s legs, and then she goes up to Jack. She whines until he crouches down to pet her, and Kent turns away with a smile.
“I brought her back,” Kent says conversationally as he pulls out two portions of lasagna he prepped a few days before. “She followed me around after, and well. She saved me, too, in her own way.”
When Kent finally looks at Jack, Jack’s staring back.
“Do you,” Jack asks, and then waves at his own heart, “feel her?”
Kent wonders why Jack asks, what it would mean to him if Kent felt Kit, too, not just Jack. Is that something Jack wants? To not be the only other heartbeat in Kent’s chest? Does he think another heartbeat would somehow loosen the hold Jack has on Kent? Does he want that?
Kent shakes his head, pushes away his thoughts. “No, no only you.” Kent pops the glass containers in the oven and pulls out two gatorades. He hesitates before handing blue to Jack. It’s. Well, blue was Zimms’s favorite. Kent isn’t sure if it’s changed, but Jack gets up and takes the proffered color. “I think it’s because I saved you more than once. It goes deeper, what I gave you.”
Jack hums, and idly scratches Kit’s head when she springs up on the counter next to him. Kent’s been trying to get her to stop doing that.
Kent has an album where he saves all the photos Jack takes and sends to him. He likes to scroll through it, like a dweeb. Jack doesn’t have an Instagram, so this way, it’s sort of like he does, Kent scrolling down Jack’s make-believe feed.
Kent still gets a twinge every time he remembers he didn’t know Jack liked photography. Or maybe he didn’t back in the Q, but he does now. Something Jack cultivated in college, like his music taste and his baking abilities and his art knowledge. All things Kent doesn’t have, can’t touch.
It doesn’t matter though, Kent tells himself all the time, clicking through the images.
There’s mostly landscapes. Photos of whatever Jack cooked. A few images of a frozen lake Jack went skating on. His college friends laughing. A painting one of his friends made.
Kent’s eyes flick to the top of the screen when a text from Jack comes through. “Missing you,” it reads. Kent smiles and he goes to respond, clicking open the message.
There’s a photo from Jack in there, too. It’s a picture of Kent, probably in the early morning because Jack can’t ever sleep in, and Kent’s tangled in blankets. His face is turned away from the camera, but his arm stretches back, to where Jack probably was. To where Jack’s heart had probably been. Reaching for Jack and reassurance every night, the same way he always does. The habit unbroken even after eight years apart.
Kent feels Jack's heartbeat fall in right next to his own.
Kent rests his head against Jack’s shoulder. It moves softly with each breath, and Jack’s arm tightens around Kent’s body. Kent’s hand unconsciously moved to rest over Jack’s heart. Kent can feel it strong and solid under his hand and reverberating in his chest.
“Thank you,” Jack says. “For saving me. I don’t think I ever…” Jack trails off. Kent wonders what he’s thinking of, what he’s remembering.
“Yeah,” Kent says instead of asking.
“I’m happy,” Jack says. “Now,” he amends.
Kent’s throat closes up, thinks of those days with Zimms laughing against his body and tugging him into muddy woods. He wonders if it’s wrong that he finds so much joy in them, when Zimms. When Jack looks back on it, he doesn’t see the same thing.
Jack’s hand wraps around Kent’s, squeezes, as if he understands. Jack threads their fingers together, and then brings Kent’s hand to his lips, presses kiss to his knuckles. Kent’s heart aches. Apology accepted, he thinks and squeezes Jack’s hand back, their hearts beating side-by-side in his chest.
and that's a wrap! thank you so much for reading :))