‘Are you sure about this, baby?’
John looks at his mom, and wishes Sam was here to hold his hand. He nods. She looks impossibly sad for him.
‘I love him, mom.’
She sighs, and reaches out for his hand. ‘I know, sweetheart. but you’re both so--’
‘Don’t try and say we’re so young. We know what we’re doing.’
Her thumb is running across the ridge of his knuckles.
‘I just want you to be safe, Johnny.’
‘We are, mom. Sam’s not gonna tell anyone.’
She sighs again.
‘He’ll be so far away, baby. This isn’t going to be easy for either of you, if you insist on doing it.’
He looks out of the window. It’s raining, uncharacteristically for June. He hopes it’s not a sign of things to come.
‘I love him,’ he says again. ‘He loves me.’
She leans forward and kisses his forehead, brushing his hair out of his eyes. ‘I believe you, honey. I do.’
‘Then trust me, mom. I’m not gonna ruin this.’
He can still feel her lips on his forehead. ‘Okay, baby,’ she says. ‘Okay.’
In retrospect, Sam should probably have known this would have been a longer conversation than just, ‘I’m gay.’
‘So...’ Hallsy says slowly, like he’s thinking carefully. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
Sam nods. Ryan grins at him brilliantly. ‘Gags. That’s so cool!’
‘What’s his name?’ Ebs asks.
Sam hesitates. ‘John,’ he says, eventually.
Ebs looks like he’s putting things together.
‘Do you love him?’ Hallsy asks. He looks thrilled by the concept.
Sam can’t help himself. He grins, and knows he looks like an idiot. ‘Yeah. Since I was like sixteen.’
Ryan looks like he can’t quite conceive of Sam ever being that young. ‘Can we meet him?’ he asks.
‘...Um,’ Sam says. ‘He’s… not really local. It’s kind of long distance.’
‘Gags,’ Ebs says, carefully. ‘Is your boyfriend John Tavares?’
Sam knew Ebs was the smart one on this team. He wonders, for a brief second, about lying, but he and John have never lied about each other. Never. He nods.
Ryan looks like he’s going to die on the spot. ‘But he’s so cool,’ he says. Sam tries his hardest not to be offended by that.
‘But he lives in New York,’ Hallsy says. ‘That’s like, a million miles away.’
‘Uh,’ Sam says. ‘Yeah.’
‘That’s so far away,’ Hallsy says, looking genuinely distressed. ‘How do you do stuff together?’
‘...Stuff,’ Sam says.
‘Dates!’ Hallsy says. ‘You can’t go on dates ever. And you can’t go to sleep in the same bed and you can’t make him breakfast in bed and kiss him good morning and--’ He’s looking more and more distressed by the second.
‘We talk every night,’ Sam says. ‘And I get to see him in the offseason. We have a house.’
‘I guess that’s a good thing about missing the playoffs,’ Ryan says, thoughtfully. ‘You get five months together.’
‘Way to spin a nine game losing streak,’ Ebs says, but he’s grinning. He punches Sam in the shoulder gently. ‘I can’t believe you didn’t tell us. I thought we were friends, Gags!’
‘Can we meet him?’ Hallsy asks.
‘You’ve already met him,’ Sam reminds him. ‘Like, three times already.’
Hallsy scoffs. ‘That was on the ice, it doesn’t count.’
Sam placates him by saying he’ll ask John when he’s coming to town, and sends a pre-emptive apology text on his way home.
‘Oh my god.’
‘Fuck,’ John says into the hollow of Sam’s throat, before pulling away. He’s very, very glad that his pants are still fastened.
‘Oh my god,’ PK says again, standing in the doorway of the bathroom. ‘John Tavares, you sly dog.’
Sam is shaking with silent laughter, John can feel it.
‘I literally can’t believe this,’ PK says. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Fear of a reaction like this,’ John says, untangling his hands from Sam’s shirt and stepping back. He’s very glad his jeans are loose enough to hide his erection.
‘I’m hurt,’ PK says, pouting. ‘Hurt and appalled.’
Sam makes a move towards the door. ‘I’m gonna let you two talk,’ he says, before making a successful escape. John hates him for abandoning him in his time of need.
(No he doesn’t.)
‘Dude, I didn’t even know you were gay, let alone that you and Sammy were in beautiful gay love with each other. How long have you been hiding this?’
John thinks about it. ‘Six years?’
PK’s jaw literally drops. ‘Johnny.’
‘You never asked,’ John says defensively.
‘I didn’t think there was anything to ask about!’
‘Well… now you know?’ John offers.
PK scowls. John is like ninety percent sure it’s not serious.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you?’ he tries.
PK grins. ‘Forgiven.’ He slings an arm around John’s shoulders. ‘So how does it even work? You guys play each other what, once a season?’
John shrugs. ‘We see each other in the offseason.’
‘Is that enough?’ PK looks genuinely confused.
John spreads his hands. ‘It kinda has to be, dude. What are our options?’
PK thinks about it, looks at John, considering. ‘You really love him, huh?’
John smiles helplessly. ‘I really do, yeah.’
PK punches him in the shoulder. ‘Sap,’ he declares, but he’s smiling right back.
‘I fucking hate him,’ Kaner declares, tinny over the phone. Sam hums in agreement, and hopes he sounds sincere enough. Beside him, John is napping, hand curled around Sam’s bare thigh.
‘Seriously, worst person ever,’ Kaner continues.
‘I know, buddy,’ Sam agrees. ‘What did he do this time?’
‘Ugh. Nothing. Everything.’ There’s a pause. ‘He’s a fucking asshole.’
John stirs, and rolls over, away from Sam. He slides out of bed and pads into the kitchen, shutting the door behind him.
‘What’s up, man?’ Sam asks. ‘Wanna talk about it?’
‘How do you and Tavares do it?’ Kaner asks. Sam pauses.
‘How do we do what?’
‘Fix shit,’ he says eventually. ‘Me and Jonny… we fight.’
‘So do me and John.’
Kaner says nothing for a few moments. ‘But how do you fix it?’
‘By… talking?’ Sam says. ‘Don’t you and Jonny talk about stuff?’
‘We fight,’ Kaner says. ‘Then one of us will go to the other’s apartment and make up with beer and a blowjob.’ He pauses. ‘If we lived further than a couple of blocks away, I don’t know that either of us would make the effort.’ Another pause. ‘I know I wouldn’t, anyway.’
‘Kaner, buddy,’ Sam sighs.
‘We don’t talk,’ Kaner says. ‘And I don’t know how to start.’
‘Kaner--’ Sam starts
‘I don’t get it,’ Kaner interrupts. ‘I don’t get how you’re still together.’
‘We love each other,’ Sam says, quiet, but firm.
‘How is that enough, though?’ Kaner asks.
Sam looks towards the bedroom. He can just barely hear John snoring. ‘It just is,’ he says, calm and quiet and honest.
‘Oh,’ Kaner says.
‘Talk to him,’ Sam says. ‘It’s not hard, I promise.’
Kaner hums. Sam isn’t sure if he’s agreeing or not.
Sam hates Arizona. It’s too hot and too dry and he feels like he’s walking through a vacuum every time he goes outside. It feels like his lungs are shrivelling.
The team is good though. He likes the team. They’re not the Oilers, but they’re good guys.
Shane comes round when he’s moved into his new place, brings a six pack and they have a chat about what Sam can do for the team, and what Shane can do to make things easier on Sam’s transition.
Sam’s doesn’t realise his wedding ring has slipped out from under his shirt until Shane looks at it, frowning. He’d forgotten what it was like playing on a team that didn’t all know.
‘Um,’ he says. ‘I’m married.’
‘Oh. Oh. Um. Congratulations?’ Shane says.
Sam chews at his lower lip and finishes his beer. ‘To a man,’ he says.
Sam isn’t sure what the expression that flashes across Shane’s face is, but he doesn’t think it’s bad. ‘Oh,’ Shane says again. ‘That’s cool. Are you--?’
‘Out to the people that need to know,’ Sam says. ‘My old team. Management here. You. Dubs knows. I’d prefer it if the rest of the team didn’t know yet.’
Shane nods. ‘Of course. Did he… not move with you?’
Sam shakes his head. ‘He lives in New York most of the year.’
Shane pulls a face. ‘When the Jets got moved to Phoenix, Andrea had to stay there for her job for a year. It fucking sucked.’
Sam nods. Shane claps him on the shoulder. ‘Your secret is safe with me. The guys will be fine with it, though. They’re good guys.’
‘I’m sure they are,’ Sam says. ‘But I need to talk with my husband before I tell anyone.’
Shane thinks. ‘It’s another player, isn’t it?’
Sam nods, slowly. ‘So it’s kind of… sensitive.’
‘Of course.’ There’s a pause. Shane opens another couple of beers. ‘I would have thought you’d have Western teams on your no trade list.’
Sam shrugs. ‘Can’t get much further away than Edmonton. I hate playing against him anyway. We do okay apart. It sucks, but. We do okay.’
Shane takes a long pull from his beer. ‘You’re a stronger man than I am, Gagner.’
‘Sam,’ Sam says, taking a pull from his own bottle.
‘Sam,’ Shane says, and clinks his bottle against Sam’s. ‘I’m having a barbeque at my place in a few weeks, to welcome guys back to town. Talk to your husband. Bring him if you want. Or don’t, whatever you guys are comfortable with.’
‘Thanks, man,’ Sam says, ‘Really.’
Shane shrugs. ‘Welcome to the team.’
Nick Leddy is friendly, but painfully quiet.
John’s seen enough trades to know what a player in a new city looks like. Nick Leddy is not that kind of sad.
He’s renting an apartment in Manhattan. John stops by to check up on him. The place is only half furnished, looks like he hasn’t really moved in yet. There are a lot of boxes. One just says B.
‘Captainly check up,’ he says, when Leddy opens the door, wary. ‘I won’t intrude for long, I promise. Just wanted to make sure everything’s going smoothly.’
‘Oh, Leddy says. ‘Okay.’ He gestures at the sofa, and sits in the armchair, curling long legs underneath himself.
They chat aimlessly for a while. Leddy’s learning the city, enjoying the food, excited to start practicing. ‘How long have you been married?’ Leddy asks him all of a sudden.
John starts, and glances down to see his ring half hanging out of his shirt, where he’s undone a couple of buttons in the New York heat. ‘Three years,’ he says.
‘Wow,’ Leddy says. ‘What’s her name?’
John pauses. ‘Sam.’ Leddy nods.
‘We grew up together,’ John offers, suddenly. Leddy nods again, and John goes for it. He’ll have to find out sooner or later, the team loves to rip him for it. ‘He’s pretty great.’
Leddy doesn’t even blink. Just another nod.
‘You have a partner back in Chicago?’ John asks.
‘Yeah,’ Leddy says. ‘Couldn’t really bring him with me. We tried.’
‘I’m sorry,’ John offers.
‘Yeah,’ Leddy says.
‘Sam lives in Arizona,’ John says. Leddy squints at him, like he’s putting something together.
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Wait.’ He pauses again. ‘Kaner has a friend who just got traded to Arizona. I think he’s called Sam. Kaner calls him Samwise.’
‘That would be him,’ John says, with a smirk. Sam hates that dumb nickname.
‘Arizona’s a long way away from Long Island,’ Leddy says.
John shrugs. ‘So’s Chicago. I’ve had four years to get used to it.’
‘It sucks,’ Leddy says, dull.
‘Yup,’ John says. ‘You have the offseason though. It’s not so bad, now that we play each other twice a season.’
Leddy nods again. John pulls out his phone. He got Leddy’s number from front office, likes to have the whole team in his phone for whatever reason. He taps out a text and hits send. Leddy’s phone vibrates from where he’s left it in the kitchen. He glances over.
‘I sent you my address,’ John says. ‘Any time you’re missing your boyfriend, come over, we can get drunk and be lonely and pathetic together. Sound good?’
Leddy laughs at that. ‘Sure, John. Sounds good.’
(John calls Sam when he gets back to his apartment that evening.
‘I miss you,’ he says when Sam picks up, like always.
‘I miss you too,’ Sam says, like always. ‘How are the kids?’
‘Settling in. One of them has a long distance boyfriend that he had to leave behind. We’ve made regular plans to be drunk and embarrassingly sad together once a week.’
‘Sap,’ Sam says, but he’s laughing.
‘You love me,’ John says, teasing.
‘Eh,’ Sam says. ‘You’ll do.’)