You had always assumed his detour to college was just that: a detour. Not anymore, now you know better.
You remember that night when you think about his loyalty to his team: the hard look in his eyes when he told you to leave, picking them over you. There was the brief vindication when you lashed out, which was quickly overwhelmed by guilt.
He signs with the Falconers and it feels like someone stabbed you in the gut. You go out that night, drinking to forget. Drinking to drown out the noise in your own head and the voices saying you'll never be good enough. Not for him.
His face is all over magazines again: The Hockey Prodigy Returns. The Hockey Prodigy takes the Eastern Conference by storm. The Hockey Prodigy tells all about his ass workout routine.
You're suddenly old news - you don't know if you care or not.
(That's a lie. You do care. You liked being number one, even if that makes you arrogant.)
You ignore it and you play your best - or the best you can manage when you're hungover most days.
Your manager is worried about you. So is your coach. You don't hear from your mother but there's nothing new about that; she's busy. You're not making headlines so for once she’s got no reason to worry.
The Aces make it through to the cup on a wildcard spot. It’s the worst you've done in the conferences since your first year in the NHL.
Coach Mason warns you that if you keep this up then they're not gonna let you play anymore, certainly not on first line.
It's an empty threat, and both of you know it. You're their best player.
Meanwhile, Zimmermann is making headlines: he's on a point streak of 18, and gaining. He'll have your record by the end of his season.
You have an alert on your phone so you don't miss any of his interviews You're on the road, sitting at the back of the bus by yourself on your way to the conference finals when your cell buzzes. You click it: the reporters have caught Jack leaving the rink.
He's at ease in front of the camera in a way he never used to be; not when you knew him. His voice sends you back to when you were seventeen and happy. If only for a little while.
The camera pans and you catch a glimpse of him . You know what Eric Bittle looks like, even in passing, you've stalked his Instagram enough after the shit he pulled at the party to recognise his stature and that golden blond hair.
You have no right to be furious, but you are; it churns in your gut like acid. He's replaced you with a smaller, blonder knockoff. Eric smiles at Jack and it's so wholesome, happy and pure that you can't look at it; it burns like staring at the sun.
You go out that night, ditching the team the second you drop your bags in the hotel lobby. They look at you with disappointment but you can't bring yourself to care. You disappoint a lot of people.
You can be pretty anonymous, especially outside of Las Vegas. No one’s out in Chicago looking for you. It's risky: always has been risky to be yourself in the NHL, and you don't know if your teammates are still in the dark or if they know and just don't care. You send a Google search for a gay bar.
Generally, it's reasonably safe in gay bars. No one assumes they'd see a closeted NHL star out in a club. It's hiding in plain sight. You don't wear your cap; that'd be too much of a give away.
The place you go is called Hydrate. You're not sure if it's trying to be ironic or what but the last thing you're planning on feeling when you leave is hydrated.
Hydrate is like any other generic gay club you've been to. Its got the crappy strobe lighting, the sticky floors and shirtless guys but you're not a classy man. You dance with some strangers, buy some drinks, do some shots, same as always. The room is swimming and your limbs feel all too lose when some boy pulls you towards the bathroom and into a stall, his mouth pressed against your pulse. The bathroom lights are all too bright in comparison to the dance floor. He's tall and dark haired but his eyes are brown and there's a gap between his teeth. You force yourself to focus how dark his eyes are.
"Do you watch sport?" You slur as he mouths a path down your neck, hands pushed up your shirt. He pulls away, blinking owlishly at you.
"Sports? Anything?" You press. You need to know if he's going to go home and write about this on his blog.
"Oh, uh football, sometimes. With my dad mostly."
It's a strong upstate New York accent, which makes you wonder what he's doing so far west. You don't have anything to say about football; it's a boring sport. Instead you push your lips against his, tugging his bottom lip between your teeth and biting down.
Neither of you have any doubts as to why you're there, what you want from one another. The boy gives an unremarkable and sloppy blow job but he doesn't pull off when you're about to come, so props for that.
You give him a handjob, probably less than he was hoping for but the bathroom floor is filthy, and you're not about to get down on your knees for some stranger. He comes over his stomach and shirt and you leave him while he cleans up, heading back to the dance floor.
You never asked for his name.
Someone else buys you a drink and you think it's only polite to drink it. There's a voice in the back of your head saying that you should go home. You've had enough. You have a match tomorrow.
You don't go home though. Instead, you dance, you drink and you even end up smoking some random twink's cigarettes in the smoking area while he grinds in your lap before cumming in his pants.
The club turns on its lights and turns off its music at around four. You can see the surprise in everyone's face when it happens, but you're not sure why. You all knew this moment was on its way.
The only people in left in the club are far too drunk to attempt a hookup: yourself included, so instead you head out into the brisk Chicago air, flagging down a cab.
You only realize how far gone you are when you step out into the cold air; you’re You realise how drunk you are when the air hits you. Far too drunk. There's nothing you can do at this point, you can't un-drink those last few shots. Tomorrow is gonna hurt like hell and you've got a fucking playoff game- but at least it's match number three. You've got two in the bag already - you can lose this one, and you’ll still make it to the cup.
The cab driver doesn't seem particularly happy to have you in his cab. He keeps reminding you that if you vomit you'll have to pay the $100 fine. You could buy him a new fucking car for all the difference it would make to your bank balance. You own three houses and a Lamborghini.
The taxi driver doesn't seem to care about your Lamborghini. He just rolls his eyes at you in the rear view mirror and looks back to the road.
You pull your cell from your pocket and open up your contacts. Zimmermann's name is there in your favourites below your mother and above your coach. You've never even texted him on this phone. It's may still be dark in Chicago but it must be daybreak by now on the east coast. You call.
That's not Jack's voice.
"Hey? Who's there?"
The knot of anxiety in your gut is overwhelming now, you wanna throw up, run, hide. You didn't know that they were-
"Sorry," you say hastily, before hanging up the phone. There's a minute of silence, and you watch Jack’s name flash back up on your screen before hitting the reject call button. You do it three times before Eric stops calling. You let out the breath you've been holding, shoving your cell back into your pocket.
The cab driver pulls up outside your hotel so you pull a hundred out your wallet and give it to him. It's not like you need the cash, and he obviously does if he's picking up drunks from a gay bar at four in the morning.
You can't remember getting up to your room, how you get through the lobby even though your hotel is fancy and you're covered in glitter, but you make it to your door. It's one of those stupid key card locks and you struggle long enough that eventually Liam, your teammate, pulls it open from the other side. He’s standing in his boxers looking at you like you’re scum. He's probably right, all things considered.
"Fucking hell, Parse, what are you doing?"
Messing up. Throwing away your life. Letting people down.
You lurch past Liam, stumbling into the room. "Lay off me," you say, or at least you try, but the words stumble over one another when you open your mouth. You've got one shoulder against the wall, heading towards your bed.
You fall on top of your comforter and kick off your shoes before you worm your way under the blankets. Liam's shouting at you now, but you're exhausted so you tune it out, curling up tighter in the sheets until you hear the door slam shut.
You're asleep before he comes back.
The world feels like it's screaming at you when you wake up the next morning. You've never gotten off lightly when it comes to hangovers, not since you turned twenty and suddenly god seemed to decide that you'd had enough, you had too many party years already and now it was time to suffer.
You're in your boxers and in your own hotel bed, but you can't remember getting there or getting undressed. There's a full glass of water on your bedside table, Liam's not in his bed, it's bright out. You've definitely missed morning practice.
You force yourself not to care, you can't spare the thoughts on anything not when your head is pounding at the slightest movement. Your stomach is twisting.
No. God no. You don't want too move. You can't .
You hold off till the point that you can't anymore, and suddenly you're flying out of bed, lurching for the bathroom. You barely make it in time and end up vomiting up last night's drinks all over the toilet and onto the floor. You're gonna have to tip big now. Probably write an apology note as well for the poor cleaner who gets assigned to your room.
Your vomit tastes like tequila which almost makes you throw up all over again.
You lay down on the floor just incase you feel like you're gonna throw up again. It's cool with is soothing. You can see chunks of your own vomit next to your face, but you can't even bring yourself to be disgusted anymore. The bathroom light is bright overhead, but so long as you close your eyes and don't move you feel a bit like you're not going to die. The floor is keeping you steady, keeping the world from spinning too badly.
You hear the door slam, and crack open one eye. Liam and Coach Mason are standing in the doorway.
"Fucking hell, Liam, what time did he come in at last night?"
"Like, five ish? I don't know, I just heard him scratching at the door, he kept trying to open it with a members card to some strip club back in Vegas."
You groan, waving a hand at the vultures standing in your doorway. "Go 'way."
" Criss ," Coach Mason curses. His accent reminds you of Jack. You want to vomit again. "Liam, go get the Doc, tell him to bring a banana bag."
Liam does as he's told, and Coach Mason kneels down so that he's at eye level with you. "Come on, Parson, look at me."
It's an order from your Coach, so you do, even though the bright lights make your head pound and your stomach twist.
"You need to get your shit together. If you ever do this again before a match, I will not hesitate to have you thrown out or traded, I don't care which. You are not jeopardising my reputation, or this club’s reputation."
He should be nicer to you, you think. You already feel like shit. You nod slightly.
"Are you gonna throw up again?"
You're honestly not sure, it's probably fifty/fifty at this point, but Coach Mason doesn't seem like he'd accept that answer. You shake your head slightly, then push yourself up and into a sitting position. Your limbs are shaky. "What time is it?"
God your throat is hoarse as well, you fucking smoked last night. You're a disaster, you can just tell that's gonna wreck your throat for the next few days.
"Twelve.You need to get your shit together. You're going on the ice in seven hours."
The shock must show on your face, if Coach Mason's laugh is anything to go by. The thought of getting up off the bathroom floor has you filled with dread and you're expected to be on the ice later?
Coach just stands up, then looks at you, waiting for you to follow suit. You do, then head towards your bed. You pull off your shirt which is splattered with your own sick and tossing it towards the dirty laundry corner of your room.
You lie back down on your bed, just as the team doctor arrives. He gives you a slightly pitying look. The coach explains to him that you're an idiot. You don't disagree with him; you are an idiot with a self destruct button that you keep hitting but yet nothing happens, the world continues to turn around you.
The doctor stabs you a couple times in the arm before he lands a vein for your IV. It's not the first time you've had a banana bag; they're not some miracle cure but they take the edge off and quite frankly, you feel like you’re dying. You'd take anything if someone said it'd make you feel better.
Liam doesn't come back as you curl up in the foetal position, but some cleaners from the hotel do. You mumble an apology, but you don't have the energy to help or get your wallet for a tip. You'll leave a tip when you check out.
You're exhausted, you usually are when you're hungover. The pain killers have taken off the edge and the banana bag means you're not dying of thirst, but nothing can take away that bone deep exhaustion of getting to bed at five thirty in the fucking morning.
You fall asleep for a little while, waking when the doctor arrives back to take out your IV. Coach Mason and Liam are nowhere to be seen.
The team doc sits down on Liam's bed opposite you, you can hear the creak of the bedsprings, "Kent, you can't keep going like this."
You'd roll over if you could, but that would be too much effort. Instead you ignore him, staring past him at the window.
"I know, Kent, okay? I know you like boys, I know-"
"Shut up," you say, screwing your eyes closed, huffing a breath from your nose. "You need to just shut up, you don't know what you're fucking talking about, you don't-"
"Kent, I'm worried, you need to get some help, you need to talk to someone about this-"
"I don't need shit, okay? I can look after myself, always have." You push yourself up into a sitting position, your head doesn't throb with the movement anymore. "See? Fine."
The doc's eyes are blue, far far too blue and he won't stop looking at you with those damn blue eyes, concern evident. He can't be that much older than you, really, maybe twenty eight tops. "Kent-"
"It's Parson. Not Kent. Parson. You're not my friend, you don't get to call me that."
"Parson," the Doc tries, his voice steady. "You're worrying the GM's, and quite frankly your alcohol consumption is affecting your ability to play. In my professional opinion you would benefit from therapy-"
You bark out a laugh, "Therapy? What fucking good would that do? Oh yeah, talking to some stranger about how I'm not able to come out the closet is really going to help. What a brilliant suggestion." You swing your legs off the bed, "I'm going for a shower, doc, don't let the door hit you on the way out."
The bathroom reeks of bleach, which is probably for the best, considering how much you vomited earlier. You adjust the shower as hot as it will go, shake off your boxers and step under the spray. You hear the bedroom door slam shut.
You force yourself not to think about it. You have a match to win.
You drop your gaze to the locker room floor that night as you get changed. No one talks to you; you know what they're thinking.
What a waste of talent.
What a mistake.
There's definitely talks of trading you, while they still can get someone good. Before you completely throw away all your worth or your talent.
You ignore the whispers. You have a match to play.
The Blackhawks are on their home ice, and you can feel it; the energy they have when they come out onto the ice, unlike the previous matches.
If you were up to it, you'd try harder, but as it is you play a sub par, shitty match.
In the third period you’re 2:1 down, when you take an elbow to the gut from some goon. It hits you right in the solar plexus and you vomit onto the ice almost instantly, half down the back of the douche who hit you.
They stop the match, clear the ice, then start again in the blink of an eye. The D-man who hit you is in the sin bin. You score while the Blackhawks are one man down.
Time runs out while you're tied at 2:2, then Liam scores in overtime. The team pretty much carries him off the rink. You trail behind and dodge the press on your way out.
Your hangover is an ugly, two day affair, and you still feel the edges of it when you play another match the next day, but it's not like you haven't played through worse. You lose 3:1.
No one speaks to you on the bus back to Las Vegas.
There's a break day before the next match, thank god, so you can rest your weary limbs. Coach Mason has arranged an optional skate that afternoon which you know he wants you to attend-but he can't do anything if you chose not to.
You veg out in front of the TV watching the trashiest Netflix romcoms that you can find. You eat only popcorn and Pringles; nothing green, nothing healthy.
It's the best day you can remember, and that realisation crushes you.
This is meant to be the prime of your life.
You're living your dream.
You go to bed before nine, set your phone to do not disturb and sleep through till nine the next day when you're alarm goes off.
You miss the alerts.
You miss the phone calls.
You miss the leak when it happens, and so when you wake up you're suddenly in the middle of the storm.
Your phone is eerily silent while you open up some tabloid trash article with shaking fingers. All you can hear your blood pounding in your ears as you scroll down the photographs of you. It's gonna kill your mom that she had to find out like this. You're an awful son, in addition to being an awful person.
The silence seems to drag, until it doesn't and then all too soon it's over and suddenly your phone is ringing. It's your manager.
You pick up.
"I'm coming in and I'm using the spare key; you better be decent, Kent."
The phone goes dead before you get a chance to reply. You hear the key turning in your lock; your apartment is only a studio. You'd rented yourself a fuck-off penthouse when you first got your wage from the Aces, but it had been too empty, the silence oppressive and suffocating.
So instead you live in the most expensive studio that you can find. One wall is made of floor to ceiling windows; you've had a lot of sex against that. Fond memories.
You glance up when the door pushes open to reveal your manager, Leanne. She’s a hard woman; never showing you a lick of sympathy in all the years that you've known her. Right now though, she's looking at you like you might break at any moment.
Maybe you will, in a while, but right now nothing seems to be hitting you. You know you should be feeling something; panic, relief, anything.
But you don't, you feel numb.
You blink at Leanne, who busies herself in your kitchenette without a word and starts to make a pot of coffee. You look back at the article open on the screen.
There's no arguing with these pictures; god whoever took them must've been stalking you all night. There's close up photos of you making out with at least three dudes, then one of you standing outside the club, right underneath the sign lit up in neon. What a great example for the gay community you're going to be.
The comments are not kind. People have drawn conclusions about your sub par performance against the Blackhawks and the dates on the photos.
Your mom texts you. You don't open it. You don't need that right now.
Leanne sits down on the edge of your bed and holds out a coffee too you. "Kid," she says, a sigh in her voice. You can't bring yourself to look her in the eyes. "You don't make it easy for yourself."
"You can trade me," Parse spits out. "I won't mind I mean, I'll understand."
"We don't want to do that, Parse, you're our golden goose," she says. "What matters to us is that you're well enough to come back for another season and bring us home another cup."
Hockey; that's all that matters about you at the end of the day. That's all you're good for.
"We can release a statement, but I doubt we can bury this, the pictures are too clear. Not to mention the rumours about you and Zimmermann."
You nod. You've read the articles. There's no hiding this.
Leanne purses her lips. "If you don't mind me asking-"
You do mind. You mind a lot. Your private life is up for public consumption and you don't want to give away any more of it.
"-Were you... and Zimmerman a... thing?"
"We fucked," you say harshly, cutting through the hand wavy bullshit. Leanne blushes. It's probably the first time you've ever seen her blush. You dread to guess what she's thinking. "We were teenagers, of course we screwed a bit, but that does not leave this room, okay?"
"I mean it, Leanne, not even to the coaches."
"I promise, Kent."
You feel sick to your stomach. A part of you wants to to tell her, tell someone about when you and Jack were you&jack , about the late nights you spent together, talking till the morning break, the fond way he used to smooth down your hair, the way you kissed him when no one was watching.
But you don't, because you owe Jack that much. You owe him his privacy, his space to come out on his own.
"Okay, well, if any of the team uh, says anything, let someone know, otherwise we'll make a statement this afternoon before the match but, Kent?"
"It's not going to be easy."
You nod. You knew this. That's why you were in the closet.
You end up watching the sports news while you eat your breakfast, which is obviously plastered with your face. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a theory.
Whenever one segment ends you swap channels to another. There's always someone talking about you somewhere.
It eventually blurs into one incomprehensible homophobic blob in your head. You can't distinguish any of the presenters from each other. You’re pretty sure that there's at least four of them called Jim.
The only one that sticks out is a presenter called Johnson, he's on some shitty news channel that you wouldn't even be watching if your face wasn't all over it.
"This is obviously a ridiculous breach of privacy," Johnson starts. "But in terms of plot it was inevitable. Maybe we can finally have some Pimms interactions now that Kent is out, or maybe some character growth and resolution? Who knows. Well, I mean, other than me."
Johnson passes the attention back to another newsreader who is looking as confused as you feel. At least you're not alone in that feeling. You make a note to yourself to tune into that channel again.
No one talks to you or about you at training. You don't know if that's better. You do your job, and wait until everyone is finished before you shower.
The match is brutal. You win, but only just. You get checked more in that game than you ever have before, and they’re dirty checks. You're glad you're wearing a mouth guard 'cause otherwise you would've lost a tooth after one particularly bad hip check that sends you flying into the boards face first. The guy gets a minor penalty for it which makes you want to cuss out the ref, but you know you'd be thrown off in a heartbeat. Instead you bite your tongue until you can taste blood.
You're through to the cup finals. A part of you just wants it all to end.
You've got a few days, waiting as you watch the Eastern finals unfold. It's the Falconers V. the Caps. at 3 matches to 3. You don't think you've seen quite a tight match in years.
You don't know who you want to win until Jack scores the winning goal. The camera zooms in on his face as his teammates pile in on him. He looks so earnestly happy.
God. You wish the Caps had won.
You've got another five whole days between the Falconers last match and the beginning of the finals. Coach is working you hard, training pretty much every day, as well as weights.
At least when you fall into your bed at night you're so exhausted that you actually sleep, you don't lay awake thinking of him.
Time drags for you, until it doesn't and you're suddenly standing on the ice, surrounded by your teammates waiting for the puck to drop.
You can barely keep your head on straight, not when Jack's this close to you, not when he's got this intense expression on your face and god you used to play with him.
You don't know how you got here.
The whistle blows. The game starts. You take possession.
You've been bracing yourself for another match like the last one, with dirty checks, and whispers slurs, but the Falconer's checks are nothing but clean towards you.
They win the match, 6-2. You can't find it in yourself to mind, even as your teammates grumble around you.
You're on home turf, the crowds were all expecting you to bring home the gold.
It's only one match, your coach tells you all, later in the locker room, it doesn't mean you're gonna lose this.
"Yeah," Liam huffs. "If Parson could stop making heart eyes at Zimmermann long enough to score a goal, then-"
You're up and on your feet in an instant, grabbing Liam by his jersey and pulling him up to his feet, slamming him into his locker like some high school bully. "You wanna say that again? Fuck off Liam, you don't know what you're talking about."
Liam pushes you away. "I know exactly what I'm talking about. I've always known, it was fine when your.... perversions weren't' interfering with your play but now-"
You punch him before he can finish the sentence, sending his head recoiling into the lockers, and a dull thud echoing around the room. Liam gets back up, pulling his fist back and throwing it towards your face. You duck. He misses. You come back up with an uppercut to his chin. At your height you've learnt how to throw a decent punch.
Liam's got maybe twenty pounds on you and at least three inches, but you've got blinding rage behind your punches. You get in two or three good ones before your teammates come to their senses and pull you off him.
You're panting, and you can feel blood trickling from your nose but it doesn't hurt. Liam's fallen back onto the bench, one hand shoved under his nose to stem the bleeding. You can see the purple swelling under his eye as well. That's going to be a shiner.
He's swaying slightly, the coach lurches to catch him as he leans forward, just in time to get splattered with Liam's vomit.
" Tabarnak ," Coach Mason curses. "You've probably given him a concussion, Kent. Can someone get the doctor? Parson, go home. You're not playing on Wednesday."
You force yourself to keep your chin up when you walk out of the locker room, daring everyone to say something. You're definitely getting traded after this. What’s more to lose anyway?
No one bites.
When you step out of from the locker room you end up surrounded by the press. You were going to leave, avoid the cameras and the interviews but after what just happened your blood is still boiling, adrenalin pumping through your veins.
"Parson! Parse, do you have anything to say about your loss today?"
"Kent, What do you say to the rumours that you and Zimmerman are having an affair, and that made you throw the match?"
"Parson, do you have any comments about the rumours of you having a substance abuse problem?"
There's still dried blood under your nose, and you're not sure if your eye's swelling up yet. You grit your teeth and square your shoulders like you're steeling yourself for another fight. You look directly at the press crowd gathered around you.
"Yeah, I've got some comments," You snarl into the mic shoved into your face. "You want to know what's been up with my performance lately? Well, maybe it would be a little easier for me to play my best if I hadn't been outed against my will days before the playoffs? Maybe, just maybe , if I didn't have to deal with all of you vultures scouring my every move on social media, trying to figure out if I like to take it up the ass or if I like to give it.
"You can all go fuck yourselves. Need I remind you, I didn't come out, I was outed and there's a reason that no one has come out so far. The homophobia I've had to deal with in the past week is fucking astounding and you all should be ashamed of yourselves. I'm a real person, you absolute fuckwits."
You know the minute you stop speaking that you're going to get absolutely reamed by PR, but it doesn't stop you from grinning, ear to ear at the shocked faces surrounding you. You turn your back on them all, pushing through the crowd and heading from the exit. You're almost at the door, the room is still silent, when you stop and throw over your shoulder; "Oh and just to put the rumour mill to rest; I switch pitch."
If you could drop a mic at that you would have, but instead you walk out of the rink with your head held high.
The sun hits your face when you step out, and it's momentarily blinding. The first thing you hear is the birds, cawing overhead, then the noise of the rabble surrounding you kicks in, wiping the smirk off your face.
You ignore the yelling of more press and the picketers with awful signs while you head to your car. It's time to go home. Enough disruption for one day.
Your interview goes viral, which is surprising considering that when they aired it on TV it was an indecipherable mess of censorship noises. You call your mom and warn her to ignore the calls of anyone she doesn't know, because the press are awful and she's not the most savvy at PR. She asks if you want her to come over for the last match of the season.
You don't. You don't want her to see you lose and you definitely don't want her to see the signs that are still picketing your matches. You don't want her to risk getting arrested because you know your mom. She'd fight the entire audience just to make them stop yelling at you.
You send her some flowers. You'll visit once the season is over.
The press is not kind to you, obviously, since you called them scum to their faces and ended with some explicit descriptions of your sexual preferences. You've earned yourself no favours. They call it a meltdown, they say you're cracking under the pressure, that you're probably on drugs.
You wish it was a meltdown, but you've never felt quite so free since you signed at eighteen. It doesn't feel like a mistake.
Coach Mason calls you, trying to make you come for training, but you ignore him. You're not playing in the next match, so you can take the day off. He suspended you, after all and he's probably trying to trade you away: you don't owe him anything.
The Falconer's PR department gets dragged into it, because of the insinuations about you and Jack. You expect them to throw you to the wolves; that's what you're press team would have done if the roles had been switched.
That doesn't happen though. The Falconer's GM, a woman called Georgia steps up to the to the podium and releases a statement about your treatment. It's a ruthless condemnation of not only the press in this situation, but the so called hockey 'fans' who have been picketing your games. She promises that anyone with homophobic signs will be escorted from the building and banned when they're on their home ice.
It winds back to Jack, obviously, because they're his team; that's who they're protecting.
"-We prioritise our players’ health over everything else, that is public record. Jack Zimmermann should not be a part of this media circus. Jack is a private man with a history of anxiety and we ask that you all stop involving him in a story that is not his.
"Finally, we wish Kent Parson the best in this difficult time, and hope that he has the support he needs."
You flick over the channel to somewhere else someone is talking shit about you. You don't deserve the nice comments.
You watch the match that evening from the comfort of your own couch with a bottle of vodka for company. Coach Mason offers you some tickets, but you decline, you can't face the publicity. You don't think you'd get away with going to a bar at this point; your face has been plastered over every news outlet for the last week, and you're on home turf.
You're pretty tipsy by the time the third period starts. You're being trounced; obviously. You're sat of your couch getting drunk on your own and Liam's out with his concussion, that's two of their first line. None of the commentators seem surprised that you lose, but that you lose 9-1 is pretty awful.
You curl up on your couch and troll twitter after the match.
Jack Zimmerman - @zimboni - 1 hr
Looking forward to beating the Aces on my home turf! - Hoping to see @KPuurson back on the ice Friday.
You stare at the tweet for a while, imagining the smirk he must've had when he typed that. He'd goading you.
You're sitting, looking at your phone while sports commentators on the TV discuss in the background why your team's falling apart. It's you. You're the reason your team's falling apart, you're their captain. You're meant to be leading them.
Well, if Jack wants to see you back on the ice, then that's what he's going to get. You put down the bottle of vodka and head to the kitchen, pouring a glass of water.
You're slightly hungover when you get on the bus the next day, and you haven’t showered so you probably stink of vodka, but you go anyway. No one says anything to you as you slump to the back of the bus.
The playoff beard is starting to itch. It's scraggly, patchy and a bit gross. You can't wait to shave it off; you hate playoff beards.
Benefits of recently being ousted seem to be your own room, since Liam must've requested not to share with you anymore. You can't really blame him for that, not after everything you've done.
Still, the two of you have shared a room for years.
You lay in your bed in your boxers and you download Grindr , you've got nothing to lose anymore. You put a shirtless picture of you up that includes your face and swipe away. It's like a game; how far can you push the PR before they kick you from the team.
It's not healthy. You're meant to be turning over a new leaf.
You don't chat to anyone but you do end up jerking off to some of the profile pictures, in what is probably one of the saddest orgasms you've ever had.
You clean the cum off of your stomach with your boxers before you slide under the sheets and go to bed at a reasonable time.
Today was a bit of a false start; tomorrow you'll show them. You'll show them you can be gay and trounce them all at hockey.
You set an alarm for half past seven the next day; it sounds like hell when it goes off. You've been a player on the Aces since you drafted at eighteen and you're twenty six now. The coaches know you don't wake up before nine at best.
But you're trying to be better, and morning people generally seem to have their shit together, so you put on your work out gear and go on a run. You don't know Providence; you haven't been before, but it's mostly built on a grid, so it's easy enough to find your way back to the hotel. You're pretty sure some paps caught photos of you, but you don't really care, it's not like you've not been photographed doing worse, and to be honest some photos of you outside before noon exercising might do wonders for your reputation.
You Instagram a photo of the river. The surrounding area is a bit industrial, not really Instagram worthy- but the water is shining in the morning light.
After that you pocket your phone again and ignore the comments. You've had an influx of followers since you were outed, but you've also had an abundance of terrible comments on the most random photos. It'll be like a selfie with your mom and there'll be sixty people in the comments calling you a disgusting fag.
Everyone looks surprised when you turn up for breakfast, still sweaty and in your running gear. You have granola and low fat yoghurt, with some black tea and eat in silence at the end of the table.
Liam is glaring daggers at you. You ignore him.
His eye is purple; it makes you a little smug.
After that the day passes in a bit of a flurry. Since you've resurfaced the Coaches call PR who accost you in the lobby to discuss your conduct. You've already had to sit out a match, and it's the finals so they can't really do anything more than call you an idiot. You've heard it all before.
They take away your twitter password, but they leave you your Instagram, like that makes any sense. What can you do on twitter in 140 characters that would be worse than possibly instagramming gay porn?
"You've got... a history, on twitter," Shonda says, quite possibly reading your mind. "Your Instagram is great, you've always used that appropriately, and all the pictures of your cat really do generate a lot of good buzz for the team, but Kent, we've called you up on three occasions for getting into fights with random strangers on twitter."
"Yeah, because they were being assholes," you huff, folding your arms across your chest. Shonda fixes you with a look. "Fine, the passwords is Zimmsisadick123 all one word, capital zee."
"Remind me to discuss password safety with you at some point," Shonda frowns, scrawling down the password. "Text me or email me what you want to tweet and I'll post it for you. After this has all... died down a bit, I'll give it back to you.”
You nod, "Can I go?"
"Are there any... other accounts that we should be aware of?" she asks you, with a pointed glare. You blush, you know exactly what she's talking about.
"I'll delete it," you promise. "I was just bored-"
"It's fine, Kent, but we’ve asked you guys not to have dating profiles. Grindr is no exception."
You can still feel the heat in your cheeks but you force yourself to meet Shonda's eyes. "How'd you guys find it? I mean, which of the PR team is trolling through Grindr?"
It's a joke, to lighten the mood, but you're also curious. Shonda rolls her eyes at you, "I'm not at liberty to divulge that. Delete the profile, Parson."
You nod, getting up to your feet, "Anything else?"
"Nope, but I think Mason was looking for you."
Great. Just fucking great.
You're barely five steps out the door when Mason springs up from where he's been lurking. "Parson. My office, now."
"We're in Providence; you don't have an office." You're being facetious, you know it, and Coach Mason does not seem particularly impressed.
"My room, whatever , you know what I mean, Parson, I am not in the mood."
You follow him, you've no idea where his room is. Obviously. There's a joke you want to make, about him ordering you to his room, but you bite your tongue. It would be crass, out of place.
Fair enough, when you get to his room there is a desk and couch in the middle of the room; it's more of a suite than your own room. Leanne is already there, sitting with a ringbinder on her lap.
"Take a seat, Parson," Coach Mason says, softly, giving you a pat on the shoulder.
You do. You feel sick to your stomach. You thought you'd at least get to complete the finals before you were traded.
"Parson, I'm sure you're not surprised by this meeting," Leanne says as he sits down. "Do you want some coffee?"
You shake your head, knotting your hands in your lap. "No, thanks."
"Your behaviour and your play the last few weeks, even before the photo leak, has been erratic at best," Coach says, his tone harsh. "In lieu of what we know now certain things make more sense, but we still need to stress to you how unacceptable that was. Also, the fact you kept this all to yourself, rather than coming to us with it, well, it was insulting. We've been with you from the beginning, Parson. I would've thought that would've counted for something.”
You nod stiffly at him. You don't know how to explain that you didn't want this to happen. You didn't want to come out, you didn't want to be the face of the LGBT+ movement in hockey, you just wanted to play the game.
"Now I'm not asking because I like to gossip," Coach Mason starts again, leaning forward on his forearms, "I'm asking because we need to know for the team: do you have a history with Jack Zimmermann?"
You feel some sort of relief that Leanne hasn't blabbed your secrets to Coach Mason, but it's short lived. God why does it matter what you did with Jack when you were teens?
Maybe you're being traded to Providence. The thought makes you feel sick, you can't go there and be a part of that team and watch Zimms as he's happy and healthy without you.
You should be honest. Part of turning it around is honesty. "Yes. We did. Years ago though."
"Will it affect your ability to play?" Coach Mason asks.
If you say no they're going to trade you to Providence. If you say yes you're gonna be traded God knows where. Some western team with no chance of winning the cup.
You're moving on.
You shake your head. "No. No I can play just..."
"Yeah?" Coach Mason asks softly.
"I don't want to be traded to Providence. I know you guys don't owe me anything at this point but I'm asking you, please-"
"Whoa, whoa, Kent what are you talking about?" Leanne interrupts holding up her hands.
"You guys trading me?" You frown. "You are... Trading me, right? I mean I wouldn't blame you, I've brought nothing but bad press-"
"And four Stanley cups," Coach Mason says. "Parse. You're our best player, we're not about to fire you for the backlash of being gay. What kind of team do you think we are?"
"I mean," you look at your hands; you're still shaking. "I was more thinking it would be for the punching out a teammate and getting hammered the night before the Stanley Cup Finals Match."
"Ex-teammate," Coach Mason says. You jerk your head up, blinking owlishly at him. "We traded him this morning, he's on his way to the Bruins. We got Diaz from them; it was a decent trade. We needed another strong left winger."
"You... you traded Liam."
"Yes, after breakfast," Coach Mason says easily. "I was willing to give him another chance after Monday when perhaps I shouldn't have. I'd hoped it was just frustration, but there were some things said after you left breakfast this morning. I can't have that conduct. That being said, Parson, you can't go punching out teammates you have a disagreement with."
You nod at him. You're still on the team. You still get to play. "I know I shouldn't have-"
"You're right, you shouldn't have, so I'll trust it won't happen again. You come to me or to Leanne next time, and tell us if someone is saying shit about you. We can't do anything about the other teams, but we can certainly stop our own from pulling this shit."
"So... so I can play?"
"Parse," Leanne says, leaning over to face him. "You'd better. We're dying out there without you."
Diaz got on the bus down from Boston to meet you all before the match, but he's pretty much benched for this game. You don't have the time to have a full practice with him on any of the lines and no one knows how to work with him yet.
You keep to yourself in the locker room, as per usual since the leak; you don't want anyone claiming that you stare too long. You can hear the chanting through the walls, echoing around the locker room. You're in Providence, on Jack's home turf.
And you're going to trounce him.
You're all heading towards the ice when one of the older guys, Michael, pats you on the shoulder, grabbing your attention.
"Take care, Parse, and let me know if any of the team gives you any gip. You can't get any more of a rep for punching people out."
You grin, giving him a salute. "Thanks."
"It was a good punch though, kid," Michael adds. He's only three years older than you. You probably need to stop referring to him as one of the older guys in your head; you're definitely considered one of the old ones on the team by this point.
"Whatever you say, grandpa."
The chill of the rink is the first thing that hits you when you step out onto the ice, followed by the cheer of the crowd.
When you move out and take your places on the ice you spot him with ease. Obviously. He's all you can look at, laughing and joking with his teammates. They look so happy with each other.
You set your face. No one is going to accuse you of playing anything less than your best tonight.
You tune out the national anthem, your pulse hammering in your throat while you force yourself not to look towards Jack, instead looking out to the audience.
Eric's there, sat behind the Falconer's players bench with a sign held over his head proclaiming Zimmermann's #1!!! . God, those two are going to be outed next if they're not careful. You wonder how the world can't see it, the look in Jack's eyes whenever he's around.
It's the way he used to look at you, if only for a moment.
The anthem is finally over-you're allowed to skate away into your respective line ups. You're standing across from Jack, and God, you forgot how tall he is.
He looks at you. He grins.
You grin back.
The both of you take your positions. The puck drops and it's almost a dance; the way the both of you flow around each other. The puck's hammering between the both of you.
He gets it back but you steal it with the crowd roaring in your ears. Jack's eyes meet yours, and-
It's like you're both young again.