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Donna hunts Joey down after practice. And he means hunts: she corners him pretty damn well considering she’s so tiny Joey could bench press her one-handed, but then, she’s got a whole aura to her, friendly and bubbly hyper-competent yet somehow terrifying.

“Did you get my emails?” Donna asks.

“Um,” Joey says. He recalls seeing a few things from PR recently, but he’s been kind of busy doing stuff like not reading his emails. “I don’t think so?”

“You remember the charity auction’s coming up, right?” Donna asks.

“I —” Joey says. He did not, but now that he’s thinking about it, it is. The auction is actively the worst thing ever. All the dudes who are taken get off easy, just making gift baskets of shit they like and auctioning them off, but the single dudes on the team get branded as ‘eligible bachelors’ and pimped out for charity ‘dates’.

Donna narrows her eyes at him. “You’re doing it,” he says.

“But—” Joey says.

“You’re doing it,” she repeats.

*

Joey should not have to do this. Yes, okay, he is single, and therefore he’s officially on the hook, just like he was last year — and wasn’t that a shitshow, the girl whose totally irresponsible parents bid for her was like maybe eighteen and also seemed to think charity date meant actual date and that she was allowed to be handsy — but the situation has kind of changed.

You’d think if there was any bonus to getting outed — one college ex-boyfriend with a) compromising pictures from back when Joey was young and stupid and not thinking about what might happen if and when he broke into the NHL and b) hard feelings about Joey dumping him for being an asshole (point proven) is all it takes — it’d be that this year he wouldn’t have to do that stupid ‘buy a date with a Scout for charity!’ shit. After the shit he’s taken on the ice since Zach leaked those pics, the shit he’s gotten from so-called fans on twitter, instagram, in fucking person, he deserves at least one silver lining.

But nope. Apparently not.

“Dude, single dudes get drafted for this, you know the rules,” Scratch says when Joey bitches about being strong-armed into it. He doesn’t sound very sympathetic, but then, he has to do it too, and Scratch is very much a ‘misery loves company’ kind of guy. If Joey somehow squirms his way out of it, he wouldn’t put it past Scratch to drag him anyway.

“It’s all single dudes because it gives the women who bid the ridiculous idea that they might bag a hockey player at the end of it,” Joey says. “That doesn’t apply to me anymore, so.”

“Don’t remember there being a rule that only women could bid,” Scratch says. “Maybe you’ll meet a nice boy.”

“Oh, fuck off, Scratch,” Joey says when he waggles his eyebrows.

There’s no getting out of it. He tries, but the media team isn’t budging, and Charity, who heads up the Scouts’ charity foundation — that’s actually her birth name as far as Joey’s aware, so he guesses she was meant for it — gives him big sad eyes and says, “It’s for such a good cause, Joey.”

So Joey guesses he’s doing it for charity. And…Charity.

*

The day of the charity auction Joey puts on a stupid tux, puts in his stupid bridge, because apparently 'teeth are required, Joey', slicks back his hair with a ridiculous amount of gel. He grimaces at himself in the mirror.

“Let’s go, shithead!” Scratch says from outside the bathroom door, and Joey jumps. He didn’t even hear Scratch come in. Hell, Scratch doesn’t even live here. Two floors down, yes, Joey’s actual apartment, fuck no. Joey never should have given him that spare key.

“Looking sharp, Money,” Scratch says when Joey opens the door. “Nice to see you with teeth for once.”

“You look like shit,” Joey says, though he actually cleans up nice when he bothers. Still, Joey can’t tell him that, he’d never let it the fuck go.

“Thanks, buddy,” Scratch says. “Bet my bid’s going to be higher than yours.”

“Probably,” Joey says, then, “Hey, stop!”, when Scratch reaches out to fuck with his hair.

“Joey, what happened to your hair?” is the first thing out of Charity’s mouth when Joey and Scratch run into her at the gala.

“Guess,” Joey says.

“Nick,” she says, all disappointed, and Scratch legit looks down and scuffs his feet. “I can fix it, come on.”

“It’s nice to see you with teeth,” Charity says while she fiddles with his hair backstage.

Joey’s going to get a complex here.

“Okay, perfect,” Charity says. “You’re up after Willy.”

Willy’s not only their leading scorer, but also not hard on the eyes, so following him is probably going to hurt Joey’s ego. And to no one’s surprise, there’s a freaking bidding war for Willy. The only bright spot in Joey’s day so far is how fucking mortified Willy looks about it. He takes pictures.

And then it’s Joey’s turn. Talk about an anticlimax. But then, it’s not like Joey wants to do this anyway. Maybe no one will buy him? That’d be cool. Hurtful, but cool.

The starting bid for Joey is two-fifty, and that seems way too expensive for a third liner, but people start raising anyway — not like, to Willy levels, obviously, but still a ridiculous amount of money for what just amounts to two hours of his attention. The winning bid is from a woman who looks like she’s in her seventies, which is a huge relief. Joey was half worried that he’d get bid on by a woman his age that he’d have to awkwardly inform he’s kind of gay, she may have missed the memo, or, even worse, by some guy who assumes just because Joey’s gay it’d actually be, like, a real date.

It’s not like anyone actually assumes they’re date-dates, Joey figures. Hopes, at least. Getting bid on by a fan isn’t exactly a sound foundation for a relationship. But, then, it’s never a smart idea to overestimate people. You tend to get disappointed. Well, at least a woman in her seventies isn’t going to assume it’s a real date? Like, Joey fucking hopes at least.

The winners are all herded over to meet the players when the bidding’s over, and when Joey gets a closer look at his date-to-be, she’s kind of adorable. She comes up like, halfway up his chest, and she looks so pleased when she sees him, and honestly, this is the best case scenario, the equivalent of taking his grandmother out for the day. Joey might even enjoy it.

“Maggie,” she says. Her handshake is surprisingly firm.

“Joey,” Joey says, then, “Does next Friday evening work for you, Maggie?”

“I’d have to check,” she says, then, “My grandson is gay.”

“Cool,” Joey says weakly, because he thinks he knows what’s coming, and — shit.

“He’s very handsome,” she adds, looking proud, and it’s very sweet? Like, Joey imagines his grandma doing the exact same thing, waving away the four missing teeth as ‘signs of tenacity’ or ‘an endearing quirk’ or something. His grandma is very, very good at phrasing things as flatteringly as possible when it comes to her many flawed grandkids. Joey’s the family pride and joy, which is sad, NHL player or not. He had to keep calling his mom for reminders on how to do his laundry and how to set up auto-pay and how long meat was good for after it was cooked until he was almost through his ELC.

“Probably out of my league then,” Joey says, and she laughs, gets his number and tells him she’ll let him know if her grandson Owen is available Friday, and then wanders off, leaving him to dread a stupid ‘date’ for the rest of the week.

*

It’s probably immature, but Joey refuses to dress up on Friday. He doesn’t dress badly or anything — he might not even get into the restaurant if he did, since from experience it’s kind of stuck up — but he goes with khakis and a sweater instead of one of his game day suits, and he doesn’t put his bridge in. Falsies are for family pictures and actual real life dates, not weird paid ones.

Maggie’s grandson is already there when Joey gets to the reserved table. He’s —

Fuck, he is handsome.

Joey was not expecting that.

“So, uh,” Owen — presumably? — says, half standing. “I’m really sorry — my grandma gets ideas sometimes. And. Meddles, a lot. Like, I thought she’d stop trying to set me up with ‘nice girls’ when I came out to her, but um. Well, obviously you know what happened, so.”

“Hey,” Joey says. “It’s for charity, right? The meddling’s for a good cause, at least?”

“There is that,” Owen says with a rueful half grin.

He has a dimple. This is not fair.

Scratch is probably laughing his ass off somewhere without quite knowing why.

The smile is contagious, and Joey smiles back, then feels self-conscious about it in a way he hasn’t in a while, because Owen is — a better description of him than handsome is smoking hot, and here Joey is, actually toothless. Why didn’t he wear his bridge? That would have been basic courtesy, honestly, even if he wasn’t expecting anything. Not that he is expecting anything, because he’s not. Even if Owen’s hot.

Weird to say when he was actively bid on, but he learns quickly that Owen is actually kind of out of his league. Dude’s not only good-looking, he’s getting his Masters in molecular biology and biochemistry. Joey almost graduated high school late because he flunked math not once but twice, and had to be tutored by one of his teammates just to get the damn credit. And he didn’t do all that much better in science. Frankly it’s amazing they let him into college, for hockey or not.

Owen’s good at dumbing things down for him, though. And not in an offensive way, not ‘I think you’re too stupid to get it’, even though that would totally be true, but ‘I have explained this to laypeople enough to know how to not get glazed eyes’. It’s actually interesting — or, well, it isn’t actually interesting, not the subject itself, but the way he’s interested in it? That’s interesting. He’s interesting, has this way of speaking that Joey thinks would engage him even if he didn’t look like — all that — except he does look like, well. All that. And it is — why isn’t Joey wearing his teeth?

Owen, while hot, and smart, and engaging, is not perfect, and by that Joey means he’s not a hockey fan. He says it apologetically, like he thinks Joey will be offended.

And okay, Joey’s a little offended.

“It’s pretty much all sports, honestly,” Owen says. “My family’s big into hockey and football and — anything, really, but for me, the most I’ll do is maybe watch tennis.”

Tennis.

Tennis.

Who watches tennis over hockey? But now Joey’s wondering if he watches because plays, because he’s lanky, but like in a athletic way, and — stop eye-fucking the charity date, Joseph.

The problem with Owen not liking hockey, other than the obvious, is Joey thinks it makes it even more clear how incredibly out of Joey’s league he is. Because now that Joey can’t use his career as conversational fodder, it quickly becomes very evident that Joey’s hobbies and job are kind of entwined.

‘I play Fortnite a lot against my teammates’ is not an impressive hobby, nor is ‘I kick ass at poker, the guys owe me a couple grand already, and we're not even halfway through the season’. He doesn’t mention either of them, just switches the question to what Owen does in his minimal spare time as a graduate student. Owen does play tennis, it turns out. He also tutors, volunteers at an animal shelter, and bakes. He bakes.

‘I make a million dollars a year playing a game, and it’s suddenly become very clear to me that said game is my entire life’ sounds pretty shitty in comparison.

“When do you sleep?” Joey asks.

Owen grins. Wonderful, even his teeth are nice. “I drink way too much coffee,” he says.

Owen’s nice teeth beg to differ.

It feels like they’ve only been there for twenty minutes when the waitress comes by to clear their plates, ask if they want dessert.

“I will if you will,” Owen says.

Dessert is not in Joey’s in-season diet at all. Refined sugar is not his friend.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Joey says.

Every single bite of Joey’s semifreddo tastes like delicious defeat. He bets whatever Owen bakes would taste better, though.

“I can—” Owen says when the waitress arrives with the bill.

“Dude, charity date, remember?” Joey says. “It’s on the team. Well, our foundation, or whatever.”

Even if it wasn’t on the team, no way a college student can afford this place, and Joey’s not a dick.

“Right,” Owen says. “Thanks for like — I thought this would be excruciatingly awkward, but you were really cool about it.”

“Yeah, same,” Joey says. “Like, about the awkward, but also like — you’re a really cool guy, and I had a really nice time, so that was—”

Shut up, Joey.

“That was cool,” Joey ends feebly.

Joey’s not sure what he expected to cap the date — it’s not a date, stop it — but shaking hands and heading separate ways, while being something he should have expected, and also something he would have wanted going into tonight, the best case scenario, way above some guy expecting his grandma paying hundreds of bucks meant he had auto rights to Joey’s number or like, had paid for some other shit as well, but —

Well, Joey feels kind of let down, scuffing his toe against the sidewalk as he waits for an Uber.

How was the date? Scratch sends with a series of eyes emojis.

Joey looks at it for a minute, torn between ‘awesome’ and ‘awful’, because for some reason both work, then just tucks his phone back in his pocket without answering. Screw Scratch anyway.