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that house was never built for you

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They’re at the breakfast place down the road from where Orlovsky lives when the story breaks.

It starts with both of their phones suddenly blowing up with messages, and Jeff puts his on silent while Orlovsky’s lime-green BlackBerry that the entire team relentlessly mocks him for owning keeps chirping away.

Jeff takes another bite of his eggs and almost chokes on the fucking OJ, of all things, when he reads the first message.

“What the fuck,” he says, and when Orlovsky looks up, they just stare at each other for a moment like they took one too many pucks to the head.

“Shit’s fucked, man,” Orlovsky says eventually, which pretty much sums up this entire clusterfuck.

On Jeff’s screen, the headline blares in huge block letters: JACK ZIMMERMANN WITHDRAWS FROM DRAFT FOLLOWING DRUG OVERDOSE.

“Dude, what the fuck. Is this, like, legit?” Orlovsky asks, still furiously scrolling on his lime-fucking-green phone, like the most obnoxious tool in this city, and they’re in goddamn Vegas.

Jeff scrolls some more, then shrugs, because really, what the fuck else can you actually do when they suddenly announce that the future of hockey, Bad Bob’s wonder kid, is apparently a fucking junkie and just landed himself in rehab, if not worse.

“Looks like it,” he says. “Shit. I bet the GMs are fucking losing it. Probably had, like, a speech prepared and everything. Fuck.”

Orlovsky chews thoughtfully for a moment.

“Yeah, I guess that legacy angle probably won’t cut it anymore.” He takes a sip of his coffee and puts the green abomination unto god and man back in his pocket. “Now it’s all gonna be fresh blood and new talent. But, Jesus. It’s fucked up, what happened to the kid.”

“Yeah,” Jeff says. “It’s bullshit. Hope Zimmermann makes it out okay, gets his shit together. Fuck.”

The thing is, Jeff knows the Zimmermann kid is not the first hockey player in history to get hooked on whatever shit he’s been hooked on—they’re saying coke, but who the fuck knows, really—and he’s certainly not going to be the last, but nothing like this has ever happened before. Not this high-profile, not right before the draft. Not to a son of a hockey legend—not that it even fucking matters in the grand scheme of things, except that it does, because the world is fucked up like that.

Everything about this is fucked up, if Jeff is being totally honest with himself, but also now they know, he guesses. Now the whole world knows.

Kent Parson to the Las Vegas Aces.

It’s not going to happen any other way.

.

He gets a call from Laakkonen as they leave to get back to Orlovsky’s place to fuck around on his PS3, drink their weight in beer and watch the draft.

Laakkonen is back in Finland for the better part of the summer, so Jeff guesses he had the chance to actually finish his morning coffee before he learned that they’d be getting Parson instead of Zimmermann.

“Matts, what’s up, man,” Jeff says, the phone pressed between his cheek and his shoulder as he unlocks his car. “How’s Finland?”

“Fuck Finland, to be honest,” Laakkonen says, his accent a little more pronounced after a few weeks spent at home. Usually, he just sounds like a goddamn Brit. “What the fuck is happening over there? Zimmermann overdosed? The hell?”

Jeff finally manages to unlock the car and gets in, jamming the key into ignition. Orlovsky gets in on the other side.

“Yeah, it’s a good fucking thing they didn’t start making those Zimmermann Aces jerseys, huh?” he says. His mom keeps telling him that his sense of humor is really fucking morbid, but it’s not like he can exactly help it, he always deflects with humor when shit goes down for real.

“Does Dube even know? Or is he back in the woods, communing with nature or whatever the fuck it is that he does in the off-season?” Laakkonen asks through the crackle of static from halfway across the world. “He should probably, like, call Parson after the draft, let him know he’s welcome and all that. Or should we have either Thack or Sasha do that? Is Sasha even in the country right now? Why the fuck did we not name a captain?”

Jeff is this close to putting his forehead against the wheel and just staying like that for a minute or two, or however long it takes to unfuck all of this mess. Probably never gonna happen, though—you can’t un-overdose, can’t unfuck your chances to go first in the draft after you’ve already taken yourself out of the running.

Shit.

The one thought he keeps going back to in his head is that he fucking met Bad Bob in his rookie year at the NHL Awards. Jeff didn’t win jack shit—even though he was up for the Calder—but he still got to talk to Bad Bob at the reception. Bob was really fucking nice to him, and now he’s got this stupid urge to call him, let him know he’s fucking sorry it all went pear-shaped like this, even though he doesn’t even have his number, obviously. But still, the intention is there.

“Yeah, well, tough shit,” he says. “But I’ll try to get Dube, maybe he hasn’t turned his phone off completely. If he can even get any signal in Buttfuck, Nowhere.”

“I think that’s Buttfuck, New Brunswick, actually, but whatever.”

Jeff throws his head back against the seat.

“You’re a fucking asshole, Matts,” he says emphatically, even though it’s goddamn impossible not to be fond of Laakkonen, and it doesn’t come out as annoyed as he intended. “But yeah, I should probably try to call him, get him up to speed. Jax and I are on our way over to his place now, we’re gonna watch the draft together. You gonna be watching, too?”

“At least some of it, yeah,” Laakkonen says. “It ends at some ass o’clock here, but I wanna see Parson get drafted, if nothing else.”

“Yeah,” Jeff says. “That’ll be the thing to see.”

.

They get Thai takeout, the two six-packs of beer they picked up on their way back to Orlovsky’s place already chilling in the fridge.

“So did Dubois even pick up?” Orlovsky asks, leaning against the wall that separates the kitchen from the living room, a bottle of Gatorade in his hand.

“Imagine my shock when he did,” Jeff says from where he’s taken over Orlovsky’s couch, his feet up and his head leaning against the pillows. It’s a good fucking couch, too, not like that shitty piece of furniture Jeff’s mother decided to gift him with and which he now can’t get rid of because of that. “And he already knew, his dad called him after the story first leaked. I mean, he played with Bad Bob on the Habs, so, you know. It’s kinda personal for him, too. Dube said he’d call Parson after the draft.”

“Shit, can you imagine?” Orlovsky says just as the broadcast finally starts, sitting his massive ass on the couch, completely disregarding the fact that Jeff’s legs are right fucking there. “Having to go out there like this? I thought I’d puke my guts out at the draft, and I didn’t have a half-dead best friend somewhere in fucking Quebec City, getting his stomach pumped.”

When the broadcast cuts to Kent Parson after a few minutes, he looks like nothing happened, but Jeff will not be fucking fooled.

They call his name, and no one is surprised, least of all Parson himself.

It’s been a done deal ever since the news broke that Jack Zimmermann got himself admitted for fucking substance abuse. It was never going to go any other way.

When Patrick Cranston goes second overall to the Houston Aeros, it’s almost an afterthought. No one is going to be talking about this after this evening, which sucks, but it’s not like Cranston expected to go second at all, Jeff guesses. Still, it must sting like a motherfucker, because if it were Parson and Zimmermann, the way it was supposed to go, everyone and their mother would be talking about this for years to come.

Jeff wonders, though, if the reality of it stings a little bit for Parson, too, because if he ever wanted to find out if he could even go first, with Jack Zimmermann and the legacy of that name standing right next to him, well, now he’s never gonna know that for sure.

The truth is—the Aces wanted that legacy. They have enough young blood, hungry for winning; what they need is tradition, ties to the best of what hockey has to offer. They’ve been slowly rebuilding after ten years of complete fucking drought that lasted ever since the initial expansion, and they wanted a household name with strong ties to hockey history, and Jack Zimmermann, the son of the hockey legend Bad Bob Zimmermann, was supposed to be that household name. There were some guys who grumbled that a fucking rookie—a famous rookie but a rookie nonetheless—was supposed to become the face of the franchise they’d spent the last three years rebuilding, but in the end, they knew it was going to happen anyway and that they’d probably be better for it.

Well, the fucking joke’s on all of them.

The thing is—it’s not like there’s anything wrong with Parson; the kid has probably more raw talent in his little finger than their entire goddamn roster. He’s incredibly fast, has the softest hands Jeff’s seen in a long, long time, and a mean slapshot that leaves goalies totally powerless to stop it. He’s a goddamn spitfire in a five foot ten package and any team would be fucking lucky to have him, but Jeff knows what the word around the front office has been for the longest time, and Kent Parson never really figured into any of it.

He knows the front office is probably still frantically playing catch-up after this bomb was unexpectedly dropped on them at some ass o’clock in the morning, and they will be ready to welcome Parson the way any first overall draft pick—hell, any draft pick at all—should be welcomed, but for now, they have to completely reorient the projected course of the franchise in a matter of hours.

Jack Zimmermann overdosing on cocaine the night before the draft—the only contingency they didn’t plan for.

They watch as Parson puts on the Aces jersey and shakes hands with the GM, smiles for the camera. He looks sort of pale and his eyes are sunken, like he hasn’t slept at all, which, hell, maybe he hasn’t. Jeff wouldn’t blame him, considering.

They interview him after he leaves the stage, and it’s all the usual bullshit—how happy he is to be here, how happy he is to be going to such a great franchise as the Las Vegas Aces (yeah, right), how lucky he feels and how grateful for the opportunity.

“Shit, the guy’s tough as nails,” Orlovsky comments and whistles, impressed. “Like nothing even happened, man. Like nothing even happened at all. That’s cold.”

“Yeah.” Jeff shrugs, then looks at Orlovsky. “Kinda too perfect, don’t you think?”

On the tv, Kent Parson is still smiling for the cameras. The longer Jeff looks at the smile, the more it starts to look like a grimace.

.

When Jeff shakes hands with Kent Parson for the first time, it’s less than twenty-four hours before the start of training camp and in person, Kent looks just like any other rookie, not the second coming the hockey world has been waiting for—overwhelmed but fronting like a pro.

Jeff is all too familiar with the feeling, still remembers his own rookie year, the way his heart wanted to beat its way out of his body through his fucking throat.

Just fake it till you make it, he wants to tell Parson, but Jeff has a feeling that he already knows.

“Hey, man, nice to meet you,” he says instead, and when Parson shakes his hand, his grip is firm and sure. “Welcome to Vegas. Good to have you here.”

“Nice to meet you, too.” Kent grins. “Let’s do this thing, yeah?”

If there’s one thing Jeff knows, it’s this: they’re definitely going to try.