The Aces have one rule. Kent Parson is not allowed to speak to Beau Engels without a supervising, responsible adult in the room.
It’s a rule that Kent Parson breaks with alarming regularity but he does have the tendency to trust too easily.
Beau starts his job as a beat reporter for the Aces in January and the first time he asks a question is in the media scrum after a 4-1 victory over the Schooners in February. Kent is startled when he looks over and sees Beau’s familiar, pale eyes looking at him intently, his stupid fucking digital recorder held out at arm’s length as he asks Kent whether he’s happy with the defensive aspect of his game. Never mind that Kent was plus two for the game and has bruises on his thighs from blocking shots, including a rocket from Cal.
“Not going easy on me, huh?” he asks and Beau’s small smile says it all. Kent pretends like he doesn't notice that Beau's arm is shaking slightly.
Afterwards, Kent asks Beau if he wants to get dinner, to catch up, and Beau says that he shouldn’t, and then, the next time, he says that he can’t, and then, finally and flatly, that he won’t.
Kent tries not to take it to heart. He texts Angel. Your brother hates me :(((((((.
Cal loves you, she sends back, the following morning. Except when you obstruct his inexorable march to another Norris nom.
Kent can’t help laughing but it doesn’t actually help. Not Cal. Cal and I are totes bros. BEAU tho.
Angel texts back pretty quickly. Beau doesn’t like anyone much these days. Don’t take it personally.
Kent frowns and scrolls through his phone for Beau’s number before he realises he doesn’t have it.
ANGEL send me your bro’s digits.
Are your intentions pure, Kenny? Also DIGITS wtf
Angel, because she’s all that is pure and good in the world, sends Beau’s number to Kent.
Kent thinks for about eight seconds before he taps out a text to Beau. Yo Engels.
He adds in some emojis for good effect and hits send. That ought to do it.
Who is this???
Oh. Right. Parse.
There’s a pause. A really, really long pause. One might almost call it an interval, or a geological age, during which nations could rise and fall. Kent watches Kit’s tail twitching.
Kent blinks at his phone. He’s not sure he’s ever met someone so underwhelmed by him as Beau Engels.
The Keys To The Playoffs
One Stanley Cup in Parson’s seven seasons at the Aces is not a good return for a guy touted as the savior of American hockey. First of all, they have to make the playoffs and that’s not a foregone conclusion. Picking up easy points against teams with infamously poor defensive records is not as valuable a contribution as some solid defence and hard work.
Future top line for Team USA, Beau’s dad used to say, till Cal drifted back to defence and Beau was catapulted through a windshield.
There’s a framed photograph in Beau’s bedroom back home and whenever he visits, for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or his mom’s birthday, he makes sure it’s face down on his dresser. Twenty years later, the memory still aches.
He supposes that there are other men and women who’ve had their great loves taken away from them, all in one go. An injury, a car crash, the weight of the world and the end of the world. He was sixteen. At least he was young, they said. At least he would heal.
Avoiding hockey has never been an option. Not when Cal was drafted in the third round and now captain of the Schooners, and not when Angel decided to be a goaltender and everything her brothers weren’t.
Beau is still finding his way around Las Vegas but, despite the size of the city, the hockey community is still small and it shouldn’t surprise him when he ends up in the same diner as Parson.
The diner is full and Beau’s got a booth to himself. It’s probably pretty obvious, the way Beau’s shoulders slump when Parson shows himself over and slides onto the seat opposite Beau, that he’d rather be alone. Parson sweet-talks the waitress for a few minutes and Beau figures Parson must be a regular here because he hands over his menu with the immortal words: “I’ll have my usual, thanks, Stacey.”
“I don’t know,” says Beau, hesitantly and after a long moment of looking at Parson, “If I’m even allowed to talk to you anymore.”
“We didn’t talk for years,” says Parson. He’s not looking at Beau. He’s looking out the window at the packed parking lot and the optimistic crowd, waiting for their tables. “I don’t make the rules.”
Beau clenches his fist. “Yeah, well. You were busy ruling the Q with Zimmermann. I was busy learning to walk again.”
Parson flinches. “I didn’t know,” he says. “I didn’t hear till the summer that you’d even been in an accident. Mom wasn’t talking to me much and Cal was in the NHL. I didn’t know.”
“That’s okay,” says Beau, because it really, really is. He picks up the sugar shaker and dumps too much into his coffee. “Why wasn’t your mom talking to you?”
“Well,” says Parson, with a shrug. “I think she thought I was ditching my family for the Zimmermanns.”
“Fuck, you don’t pull any punches, Engels.” Parson looks at Beau. “Is this off the record?”
Beau tries to smile. “Sure. I don’t have anything to write with, anyway.”
“I’m sure Stacey could lend you her pen and pad.”
Beau ducks his head and he can feel his cheeks burning; this is what is to be untrusted and untrustworthy. “You don’t have to — We don’t have to talk.”
“Jesus fuck, that’s not what I— Look. When we’re not at the rink or whatever, can we just, I don’t know— Be normal?”
“Sure,” says Beau. “Let’s approximate normal for a while. Do you know how many people have taken your photo since you walked in here?”
“Do you know how little I care about that?”
Beau chews on his lower lip for a while. “I guess if I always photographed as well as you, I’d be the same.”
Parson stares at him for a moment before letting out a bark of laughter. “Did you just make a joke?” He holds his hand to his chest. “My god, there you are.”
Beau frowns and tilts his head to the side. Parson’s looking at him with an oddly serious expression. “It’s been a long fucking time since I’ve seen you, Beau.”
“I’ve been right here,” says Beau. He feels a little uncomfortable and shifts a little in his seat, the cracked faux leather creaking under him.
“I guess you have.” Parson sips his water, without looking away from Beau. “Why do you never come to dinner with me?”
Beau looks down at his hands and resists the urge to pick at his thumbnail. “You’re the only reason I got this job,” he says, after a moment. “They knew that I— that I grew up with you—” He shrugs. “Do you know how hard it is to get a writing job right out of school? I should be getting their coffee orders, you know? Being shouted at in the office for not knowing that Mr Carruthers takes one sugar or whatever. But because of who I— because of who I was—”
“Who you are,” says Parson, with surprising vehemence. “You didn’t get the job because of me or Cal.”
“I did,” says Beau. “A little, anyway.” His final dissertation in school was about hockey and the use of statistics in the media to obfuscate the reality of intangibles. No one can predict luck but they sure like to pretend they can. Beau took more pleasure than he should have deconstructing the works of experts and, more than once, his supervisor told him to be less gleeful about it.
Their breakfast arrives and it turns out that Parson’s ‘usual’ is a bowl of oatmeal, a mountain of scrambled eggs and a stack of wholewheat toast. He thanks Stacey, who smiles at him and squeezes his shoulder before he turns away.
“You come here often?” asks Beau before he freezes, mid-chew, as he realises that sounds like the worst come-on ever. To judge from Kent’s tiny smile, he thinks so, too.
“Every day we’ve got a home game,” says Parson, reaching for the salt. “It’s tradition.”
Some people would call a hockey player’s tradition superstition but Beau just nods. “It’s good.”
“Even better with company,” says Parson and Beau decides to revise his assessment of worst come-on ever.
Breakfast is enjoyable and Parson is expansive and trusting and Beau doesn’t feel like a reporter, even once. He has to remind himself that Parson is his job, not his friend. He has to remind him that Parson is dating Angel. He has to remind himself that it’s okay that Parson is much closer with Beau’s siblings than Beau is.
“You gonna go see your girl?” asks Jeff, who’s playing his PSP and somehow lounging upside down on the couch in Kent’s room.
“Nah,” says Kent. “Saw her and her parents after the game last night.”
“What about your mom?”
“She’s visiting her sister in Arkansas.”
Jeff sets his PSP to the side. Kent looks away but he knows that Jeff is looking at him speculatively. “Your mom isn’t a big hockey fan, is she?”
Kent could lie, he supposes, but the compulsion doesn’t last long. “Yeah, it’s not really her thing but it’s totally okay.” He cranes his neck to look towards the window. It looks like it’s stopped snowing. “Hey, I’m gonna go stretch my legs, yeah.”
“Don’t slip out there, buddy,” says Jeff, picking up his PSP again.
“I’ll have you know I’m a goddamned professional ice hockey player,” says Kent, pulling on his coat. He’s still got his game day suit on, though it’s rumpled now, and he has no idea where his tie is.
“I know,” says Jeff. “I’ve seen you skate.”
“Fuck you, asshole,” says Kent, laughing. “You better be gone when I get back.”
“Sorry, bud. Shucks says your room is where the party is.”
Kent closes the door behind him and heads for the elevator. When he gets in, he’s almost brought up short by Beau. Kent didn’t know Beau was staying here.
“It’s stopped snowing,” Kent says.
“Yeah,” says Beau, looking like a startled rabbit. He’s got a Seattle Sounders beanie pulled down over his ears and Kent vaguely remembers something about Cal being friends with some of the team.
“I’m going for a walk,” Kent says.
“Okay,” says Beau.
Beau blinks at him. “Okay,” he says, after a moment. “I’ll try not to slow you down.”
Kent forgets, sometimes, how awkwardly Beau walks now, with a noticeable limp and he wonders if it hurts, still. He doesn’t think he can ask.
They walk in silence for a while. The wind is strong until they turn a corner onto the next street, off Lexington. Manhattan is no more or less busy than usual and they walk close beside each other, arms brushing occasionally, though Kent can’t really feel it through the layers of coats.
“Where are we going?” asks Kent, as they cross Third Avenue.
Beau laughs, and it’s a pleasant, low chuckle. “I was following you.”
Kent stops and puts his hands on his hips. “It’s okay. I’ve got this. I’ve totally got this. Oh, wait, I know. There’s an Irish pub on 51st. Let’s go there.”
“Anyone would think you were a local,” says Beau, easily. His cheeks are red with the cold and his lips are chapped and Kent tears his eyes away.
“Right? A Nevada boy like me, walking around like he owns the place.”
After a moment, Kent realises that Beau is whistling something, though it mostly gets snatched away by the competing wind as they lower their heads to walk down Third. He’s delighted when he realises that it’s You’re So Vain. He nudges Beau, deliberately, this time and Beau nudges back.
It’s only when they’ve gone down the steps into the pub, Beau holding the bannister carefully, and ordered a pint of something dark and Irish each that it occurs to Kent even to ask about Beau’s family.
“Hey, how come you’re not visiting the fam?”
Beau’s shoulders hunch immediately. “Well, the cancelled flight was kinda last minute and I wanted to be sure I could get to Newark. Didn’t want to, you know, bother them.”
Honestly, it surprises Kent because he always figured that Beau’s mom and dad liked it when their kids bothered them. They always seem so proud of all three of their kids though Kent knows they don’t see Beau often. He’s pretty sure they’d drive him to Newark from Long Island if that’s what it took.
“Fair enough,” is all Kent can think to say. “So, instead, you decided to come for a drink with me, huh?”
“Well,” says Beau. “I didn’t have any other plans, you know?” He looks down at his pint. “You’re not seeing Angel?”
Kent frowns a little. “I saw her last night.”
“I saw the pictures,” Beau says. “You guys were trending on Twitter for a while. No one can decide what your smushname should be but Parsel is winning.”
“Isn’t that from Harry Potter?” asks Kent, wrinkling up his nose.
“Kinda,” says Beau. “A lot of people really don’t like you and they think you’re too good for my sister.”
“They’re not wrong,” says Kent.
“My dad likes you,” says Beau. “And I guess Angel must, too.”
“Eh,” says Kent. “She likes me enough.”
The Aces Make The Playoffs
In order for the Aces to progress, they’re going to need their goaltender to stay fit and their captain to be a little less selfish.
He shouldn’t be able to afford this gym but his membership was a present from Cal, with a side of guilt-tripping about what his physical therapist in New York would say if she knew that he was slacking off.
He’s late this morning; it’s after ten and getting out of bed was difficult, almost as bad as it was after the accident. It happens, sometimes, that he’s exhausted and resentful of having to simulate a functional human being.
Beau is listening to his iPod and catching up on his Twitter feed on his tablet while he’s on the bike and he doesn’t realise Kent is in front of him till Kent waves his hand in front of Beau’s eyes. Beau blinks and slows down. He tugs his earbuds out and he’s painfully aware of how sweaty and how out of breath he is.
“Parson,” he says, after a moment. He can’t quite look Kent in the eye, preferring instead to look at his hair which is reaching new heights of inexplicability.
“The guys say you write this shit about me ‘cause you’re Angel’s big brother but we both know that’s not true.”
Beau avoids answering by dragging his towel down over his face. When he looks again, Parson is looking at his arm and Beau tries very hard not to flinch.
“I don’t get it, Beau. I’ve got your brother and your sister texting me to ask what I’ve done to you to make you so cranky. Oh. And they both say to call them.” Parson’s expression is quite pleasant and friendly. “Which is kinda weird, right?”
Beau is grateful that he can blame exercise for the redness of his face. “They— they’re super busy. I don’t want—”
“To bother them?” asks Parson. He leans in and grips Beau’s upper arm. “I’m pretty sure they want to hear from you, Beau. “C’mon. I’m going for a swim to cool down. You should come.”
Beau is horrified at the thought of Parson seeing the rest of his scars so he just shakes his head. “N-no. I should finish this circuit.”
Parson looks at him for a moment. “‘kay. I’ll see you in the restaurant in an hour for lunch.”
Beau is left watching Parson as he walks away and he feels more bewildered than before, especially when he realises that Parson touched his right arm. He takes his time, finishing his workout and taking a longer shower than usual, and when he walks into the restaurant, on the top floor, Parson is waiting for him, lounging on a couch in the atrium.
“There he is,” says Parson, bounding to his feet. His hair is wet and some of the spray hits Beau in the face. “Knew you weren’t going to stand me up.”
“I thought about it,” says Beau and he’s joking, really. He’s too puzzled by Parson to have thought of just ducking out.
“Your table is ready, Mr Parson.”
“Awesome,” says Parson. “I love this place.”
They follow the hostess through the restaurant to a table by the window, with a view over the arena. It’s not a pretty view, exactly, and there are giant video screens either side of the entrance, playing images of the Las Vegas Aces on a continuous loop, with Parson featuring prominently.
“I see why you like coming here,” says Beau, tearing his gaze away from video Parse to look at the real thing. It’s almost charming that Parson is blushing.
“What’s going on, Beau?” asks Parson. He’s looking at Beau so intently that Beau is pinned to his chair; he can’t even squirm.
“I— what?” Beau grips his menu, tightly. “Is this about what I write—?”
“No,” says Parson. “Well, yes. Kinda. I mean.” He waves his hand. “It’s nothing I haven’t heard, like, every year since we won the Cup but the difference is, I know you don’t mean it.”
Beau blinks. “What?”
“You’re a hockey writer, Beau, but most of ‘em don’t know hockey like you do. Oh, hi. Yeah, uh. I’ll have the linguini, thanks, and keep the water coming.”
Beau looks up at the waitress. “I’ll have the— I’ll have the same?” She smiles at him and winks at Parson and walks away. She’s pretty but Parson doesn’t seem to have noticed because he’s looking intently at Beau again.
“Why am I here, Parson?” asks Beau, quietly. “I don’t know— I don’t know what you want. I mean. You don’t have to be nice to me because of Cal and Angel.”
“Fuck, Beau. I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of being nice before but if I am it’s not because of your brother and sister.”
“They’re your best friend and your girlfriend.”
Parson looks confused. “I mean, sure, that’s the official party line.”
“You’re kind of an asshole, you know that?”
“Okay, I’ve been accused of that often enough.” Parson is visibly frustrated. “They miss you, you know that, right?”
Beau swallows thickly and, to his horror, his vision swims a bit. He drags his forearm over his eyes. “They shouldn’t,” he says. They’ve got you now, he doesn’t say. His throat feels tight. Everything feels tight; his eyelids, his skin and his clothes. He pushes his chair back as he stands up abruptly. “I gotta go, Parson. I gotta—”
He doesn’t look back.
He’s still in his car, parked at his apartment, when his gym bag vibrates. He fumbles it open and pulls out his phone. Without looking at the screen, he answers it.
“Engels,” he says, a bit hoarsely.
“That’s no way to talk to your big brother,” says Cal. “But given that you never talk to me, I’ll take it.”
“Cal, it’s not a good time —”
“Bullshit,” says Cal. “I just talked to Kenny so I know you blew off lunch. You got something to eat at home, yeah?”
“Cal, I’m not a kid.”
“You’re still my kid brother. I’m gonna come down for Game One, okay? No, don’t fucking say anything. My season’s been over for weeks and I haven’t seen you since Christmas. I’ll email you my flight details.”
“Did— did Parson tell you to check up on me?”
“Kenny’s worried about you. So are the rest of us. Angel’s birthday’s next week.”
“I know that,” says Beau. He knows that he’d probably forget but he’s got reminders set up on his phone. “Look, I gotta go get lunch. Email me about your flight, yeah?”
“Will do,” says Cal. “Love you, Beau.”
Beau’s quiet in the post-game media scrum and when all the reporters have gone, and Kent’s made himself presentable, he goes out of the locker room, where Cal and Angel are chatting with Maria Popescu.
“Bro,” says Cal, pulling Kent in for a bone-crushing hug. “Nice game. Early bid for the Conn Smythe, huh?”
“Shit,” says Kent, into Cal’s shoulder. “Don’t let your brother hear you say that.”
Cal snorts. “We try not to say that shit in front of him, don’t worry.”
Kent hugs Angel and presses a kiss to her hair. “Where is Beau, anyway?”
“He said he had to finish his story and post it,” says Angel.
“He’s coming for dinner though, right?”
“Wouldn’t count on it, Kenny,” says Cal, who drapes an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “I think he’s getting worse.”
“I wish he’d come home,” says Angel, twisting her hair around her fingers. “Even for, like, a weekend.”
“It’s nice having him here,” says Kent and then he looks between their very sceptical faces. “I mean it! I don’t care what he writes. Someone’s gonna say it, you know?”
“But it doesn’t have to be our brother,” says Angel. “I just. I don’t get it. He loves—”
“He loves hockey,” says Cal, quickly.
“Yeah,” says Angel. “Like. So much.”
Kent feels like he’s missed a step. “Maybe if I text him?”
“Hey! Parse’s girl!” Shucks bounds out of the locker room. “You our good luck charm or something!”
“Maybe I’m your good luck charm,” says Cal.
Shucks tilts his head to the side. “No way. Too ugly.”
Kent pulls his phone out of his pocket. Come to dinner. 8pm, Gallagher’s, as soon as you’re done? Please?
“Okay, Shucks. Fuck off back to your own family. I gotta take these kids for food.”
“So generous,” says Shucks, grinning. “Even if every restaurant gives you free dinner for that second goal.”
The restaurant isn’t far from the arena and Kent is genuinely not expecting Beau to show, though he asks their server to leave the fourth place setting where it is.
“Always the optimist, Kenny?”
It pays off when the time comes to order dessert and Kent sees the restaurant door opening. He stands up so Beau can see them.
“Good game tonight,” Beau says, shaking Kent’s hand before Kent can go in for the bro-hug. Beau sits down between Kent and Cal.
“We’re just getting dessert,” says Angel, brightly. She turns the full force of her smile towards Beau who looks startled but smiles back, tentatively. Cal leans over and wraps his arm around Beau, pulling him close. It’s a bit jarring to see how small Beau looks next to his brother but Cal is an actual giant who eats opposition forwards for lunch.
“Glad you made it, Beaufort,” says Cal, a little gruffly. He doesn’t move his arm until their desserts come.
His mom is in town for the first game and he can hear her banging around in the kitchen. He’s not like Tyler Seguin, dependent on his mom for daily egg sandwiches, but it’s pretty great when she comes to visit. She doesn’t visit that often. It’s true what Kent said to Jeff in New York; she’s really not a hockey fan.
Any minute now, Kent’s going to get off his sun-lounger and go shower and think some more about how much he wants to beat the Falconers. The NHL.com pundits are predicting a win for the Aces but Kent’s pretty sure that’s the kiss of death. Not that he’s superstitious or anything.
He stands up and stretches and a lot of joints pop, which is pretty disconcerting, even at this end of the season. He should text AJ to sort out a massage after morning skate tomorrow.
When he heads into the kitchen, theoretically to ask his mom if he can help with anything, she pats his cheek. “You’re too skinny, Kenny. I made you a shake.”
“You’re the best, Mom,” he says, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. His mom is, by any measure, tiny and birdlike. He sometimes wonders how she manages to keep an entire classroom of third graders in check on a regular basis but then he remembers that she can be kind of terrifying. Even Shucks manages to rein in his potty mouth around Kent’s mom.
She puts his hands on his cheeks and scrutinises him. “Don’t be nervous, baby.”
“I’m not—” Kent cuts himself off with a sigh. “Okay. Maybe a little.”
“I’m sorry I can’t stay for the game,” she says.
“It’s okay,” says Kent. It is okay, mostly. It’s bad timing that Sally is on leave and her disinterest in hockey, which far outstrips their mom’s and pretty much borders on antipathy, means that she won’t come to a single game, even if it’s the Stanley Cup Final.
Kent knows that their mom prefers Sally. He doesn’t think that she loves Sally more or anything but Sally’s in the Army, like their father was, and Sally knew their father, who was killed before Kent was even born. Sally’s never been that interested in Kent or his career.
Sometimes, Kent thinks his sister doesn’t like him very much. Sometimes, he knows exactly how she feels.
He’s walking through the back corridors of the Vegas arena when he sees Kent, talking to Gisele, who’s another of the local beat reporters. She’s taller than Kent and has always been kind to Beau.
“Giving extra interviews?” asks Beau, politely.
“Yeah, Kent. Can’t play favourites. You should give Beau here a soundbite too, you know?”
Beau laughs, dutifully, because he knows Gisele means well.
He really doesn’t see it coming, not when Kent is usually so measured with what he says.
“Why the long and scowly face, Parse?” asks Hammer.
Kent bites his lip and says nothing.
“You didn’t. Parse. One rule, Parse. We gave you one rule.”
They walk towards the exit and, waiting just outside, blinking like a ginger Celtic giant in the Nevada sunshine, is Nail. He looks between Hammer and Kent.
“No. Parse, you didn’t.”
Kent’s not even going to ask what freakish D-man telepathy is going on here as Nail pulls his phone out of his pocket.
“He’s trending, isn’t he?” asks Hammer.
“You know it.”
It’s not Kent’s fault that he leads a complicated life and it’s definitely not his fault that his defences around Beau Engels seem to have crumbled so completely. The entire conversation was on the record.
“Show me,” says Kent, holding out his hand for Nail’s phone. He looks at the screen. “Well,” he says. “Fuck me. That sounds even worse than when I said it.”
Hammer tilts his head to the side. With his shaggy white-blonde hair and ginger beard, he looks like a hipster viking. “I don’t see how it could sound better.”
“It’s one thing to, uhm, imply that the Falcs are lucky to be in the Final but —”
“—to outright say we’re gonna sweep them. Shit, son. That’s some hubris right there.”
“It gets worse. Shit, you kiss your girlfriend with that mouth?”
Kent looks between Hammer and Nail. “I hate you both.”
“Not as much as Beau Engels and, oh, right, most of the NWHL and the entire Falcs fanbase hate you.”
“And you should probably text your girl, Parse.”
Kent really really wants to ignore his phone when he gets home but he knows better than to try to hide from Paul or from his mother, who’s polishing a set of wine glasses he didn’t know he had, while fixing him with the most disapproving glare ever inflicted on mankind.
He sits down at the breakfast bar and scrolls through his texts. Eighteen of them are from Paul. Four are from Angel because of course she’d think this is hilarious. The team’s WhatsApp group is blowing up.
This is all your brother’s fault, he sends to Angel.
He hits Paul’s speed dial and closes his eyes, waiting for the eruption.
“Parson. Good of you to call. Also, what the actual fucking fuck? You’re a goddamned Lady Byng finalist and you come out with this absolute horse shit? What happened to you, you dumb fuck? You used to be so good with the media.”
“By ‘good’, you mean ‘boring’, don’t you?”
“Yes. You never said boo to a goose,” says Paul. “You were my favourite client. Jesus fuck, Kent, what were you thinking? Fuck, I guess we’re just lucky you didn’t say something homophobic while you were at it. We’re going to have to do some serious fucking PR.” Paul pauses. “And Kent?”
“You’d better fucking sweep the Falcs and then you’re gonna go to the next Narragansett Bucks game and cheer on Ms Engels and respect the hell out of those fine players, you hear me?”
More Goose than Iceman
There are some who’ll say that this is gamesmanship in its purest form and others who’ll say that Parson’s going to get himself into some serious trouble. It’s possible Paron’s trying to distract from his poor post-season statistics, which have faltered since the first round, but, from now on, he’d do well to do his talking on the ice.
The game ends, three goals to two, and Pops all but stands on his head to keep the Falcs out in the dying seconds. Kent should text Zimms, more than the apology he sent earlier for what he said, but it’s easier to keep Jack at arm’s length during the series.
“So,” says Beau, after the game, with his fucking stupid recorder. “Is a sweep still on the cards?”
Kent smiles at him, all teeth. “We’ve got to win three more games,” he says. “That’s the reality.”
Sometimes, it feels like he’s back in the schoolyard and the other reporters are a ring of kids, standing around Kent and Beau, chanting fight fight fight. Of course, none of them know that Kent and Beau were always on the same side, back then.
After the reporters leave the room, Shucks comes over and swats Kent upside the head. “No talking to the bad man anymore, Kenny, okay? Okay. Fucken idiot.”
“He’s not a bad man.” Kent rubs the back of his head and scowls at Shucks. He regrets giving him the MVP helmet after the game, even if he deserved it.
Beau pulls the earbud out of his ear and twists slightly to see who’s sitting next to him. The hum of the airplane and the dots of glowing blue around the cabin, from various tablets and phones, have become a depressingly familiar sight in his life.
“Matt,” he says before he rubs his face wearily. “Yeah. That’s right.”
Matt nods at him, once, and there’s something considering in his expression that unsettles Beau. Matt gets up to leave and Beau is just about to put his earbud back in when Melissa sits down next to him.
“He smells blood on the water, that one,” she says.
Melissa is an incredibly gifted photographer and very knowledgeable about hockey and she’s also very observant which can be deeply unnerving.
“You and Parson,” she says, slowly.
Beau shrugs. He knows that he was given this job because of his history and, well, because he turned down the Schooners job for obvious reasons. “You’d think he’d be used to me by now,” is all he can think to say.
Parson is one game closer to being right about the sweep when the Aces beat the Falconers in OT in Game 3. It looks, briefly, like the Falconers are going to steal it. Parson misses most of the third period through injury, following a slash by Alexei Mashkov. Beau knows that there’s no way that anyone will find out how serious the injury is, because of the infuriating tendency to disclose nothing during playoffs. The Aces cling to their one goal lead, despite a concerted effort by the Falconers and Popescu is definitely making a strong case for the Conn Smythe.
As the media scrum around Parson disperses, he catches Beau’s eye.
“Nothing to say today, Engels?” he asks, rubbing the back of his neck with a towel.
Beau forces a smile. “Take care of that, uh, upper body injury, Parson,” he says. He catches sight of Parson’s surprised expression as he turns away.
There was a time when Beau thought that this was the braver choice; instead of hiding from hockey, he seeks it out and his name is on bylines and, sometimes, his analysis is pondered by the great and the good.
He thinks maybe he was wrong. He thinks maybe he should have walked away from hockey a long time ago, when he learned that he was never going to play again. It’s not that it hurts, being in the locker room, or being in the press box, or flying from coast to coast in pursuit of genius, and in pursuit of a genius. No, no, that doesn’t hurt. It’s the wary expressions on the faces of men who might have been his teammates or his rivals and it’s the way Kent Parson has started looking at him like he’s a stranger.
Beau does not think of the framed photograph in his bedroom back home. (He fell over soon after it was taken; he does not think of the careful hands that lifted him back to his feet.)
He’s a cat, thrown amongst the pigeons, by his editors because his words are sharp, like blades.
His sister’s not talking to him and his brother is mad at him and he’s not sure what his parents think because he hasn’t been able to answer their calls without his throat closing up as soon as he hears his mother’s concerned Beau, honey, it’s going to be okay—
All he can do is keep writing, till the end of the playoffs and then hand in his notice and find something else to write about and somewhere else to live.
After practice the next day, Beau files a story with injury updates and projected lines, and then he gets on a bus to Newport. The journey isn’t particularly long and he follows his feet towards a wharf, where there are shops and cafes and a stand selling fresh fruit juice.
He buys a cookie and some juice and finds a free bench where he sits for a while and breathes in the salty sea air. It’s quiet here, with only pockets of tourists about. He figures people are more likely to talk about boats than pucks and that’s pretty refreshing.
Beau blinks and looks up to see his sister staring at him. She’s with some friends but she waves them away as she comes over to him. Beau is not expecting her to thump his arm but she does. It’s pretty light as thumps go but she manages to hit something tender, some cluster of nerves too close to his scarred skin. He bites down on a shout but he can’t hide the tears springing to his eyes.
“Oh, shit, Beau, I’m so sorry!” Angel sits down next to him. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t thinking. I was just so mad.”
Beau shakes his head. “Hey, hey. It’s okay.” He excavates a smile from somewhere. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear before, kid.”
“You should come to one of my games,” she says.
“I should,” says Beau. “I really should.”
After a moment, she asks the inevitable. “Why did you print that, about Kenny?”
Beau could shrug but he knows why he did it. “It wasn’t off the record but I guess— I couldn’t let it go. I thought— I don’t know. I thought that maybe the team would kick up more of a fuss that I’d written it. That maybe I’d be reassigned or something.”
“Really?” asks Angel, flatly. “You really didn’t foresee an interview like that getting, like, all the hits?”
“I didn’t think they’d go for Parson.”
“Oh, please. Rich white guy says something fucking stupid and you didn’t think it’d be a big deal in this day and age?”
“At least. Uhm. At least he apologised?”
“Yeah. There’s gonna be a big game in the fall. NHL and NWHL players to raise money for Kenny’s children’s charity. It’ll be great. Maybe you can write nice things about it.”
Beau waits for a moment before he manages to find the courage to say it. “I’m quitting, Angel. I can’t write about hockey anymore. It’s too— It hurts too much.”
“Beau,” says Angel, breathing out slowly. Her eyes are wide and she pushes her hair back behind her ears. It’s almost as pale as Beau’s hair; he likes how it makes them look like biological siblings. Carefully, she wraps her arms around him and she’s so gentle as she lays her head on his shoulder. It reminds him, a little, of the times she’d come and visit him in hospital.
After a few moments, because Angel abhors silence, she says, “Who are you here with?”
“N-no one,” says Beau.
Angel raises her head. “You didn’t come with friends?”
“I don’t have— I don’t. No,” says Beau. “Just me.”
“Well, then you’d better come meet my teammates, huh? We won’t talk about hockey, I promise.”
Beau exhales, relieved. “Sure thing, Angel. Sounds good.”
He thinks that, maybe, Parson is lucky to have her.
In the line-up afterwards, he hugs Zimms and, more importantly, Zimms hugs back.
“Good game,” says Zimms. His eyes are red-rimmed.
“You too, buddy,” says Kent. “Same time next year, yeah?”
“We’ll kick your asses.”
“That better be a promise, Zimms.” Kent touches his forehead to Zimms’, which is only possible because Zimms has the decency to bend down, and then he’s moving down the line to shake Tater’s hand and duck his hopefully-playful swipe.
Kent’s mom didn’t make it, because Sally’s still on leave and Nevada is a long way away, even though Kent tried to book flights for both of them, promising Sally that she didn’t have to come to the game. Angel’s there, though, with both her parents. Cal’s on holiday in the Seychelles with his girlfriend because his loyalty to Kent doesn’t extend this deep into the post-season.
Parson leads Aces to Victory
With Alexei Mashkov’s poor discipline giving the Aces two power-plays in the first period, the Falconers didn’t help themselves but that’s not to take away from a solid performance from a worthy championship team.
“C’mon,” says Angel. “You’re not a member of the press anymore and Kenny loves—”
“Hockey,” says their dad loudly. “Kenny sure does love his hockey. But it’s not for everyone, Beau.”
They’re sitting in a rental car, outside the gate of Kent’s vast house in a vast development on the edge of town, waiting to be buzzed in to the party that’s apparently been going on since the game ended last night.
Since the game ended, Beau’s parents have gone to great lengths to tell him regularly how proud they are of him and how he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His mom also asked if he’d consider seeing a therapist again and Beau promised to think about it, at least.
Beau sticks kind of close to his parents until Andrei Shuksin sees him.
“Hey! It’s that guy! Getting Parse into trouble. I like you. Parse needs shaking up. Very boring. Come get a drink with me. I tell you all the gossip.”
“I’m— I’m not a journalist anymore.”
“Even better! Now I can tell you all the things and you give me embarrassing stories about baby Parse! Come here. Call me Shucks, everyone else does!”
It’s a long time before Beau actually lays eyes on Parson because all of his teammates seem to want to talk to Beau. They mostly want childhood stories about Parson which pretty much drives home to Beau how much this team adores their captain.
“I don’t get it,” says Beau, after a while. He’s maybe had a few too many beers. “Why you guys even talk to me, after what I wrote.”
“Parse likes you,” says Laurent (call me Horse) Chevalier. “I mean, he’s pretty fucking trusting and probably not the best judge of people but he kept talking to you even when we told him not to so we figured it was, like, bros before journalistic integrity or whatever.”
“I don’t think that makes any sense.”
“Parse never makes sense.”
“What don’t I do?”
“Speak of the devil!” says Chevalier. “I’ve been keeping your bro company.”
“Well, fuck,” says Parson, cheerfully. He’s wearing soaking wet swimming trunks that are the most hideous pink Beau has ever seen. “Actually, make that fuck off.” He makes grabby hands in Beau’s direction. “I wanna talk to him.”
“Well, he’s not a journalist anymore so I guess you can say whatever fucking idiotic things cross your mind now, Parse.”
Chevalier heaves himself up off the couch and Parson throws himself down, leaning against Beau.
“You’re here,” says Parson and he sounds happy about it.
“Yes,” says Beau. “Angel said it was okay.”
“I told Angel to make sure you came.” Parson looks very solemn. “I like you a whole lot, Beau. I’m glad you came back.”
“I didn’t go anywhere,” says Beau, mystified.
“I know,” says Parson. “But you tried. And now you’re back.”
He puts his arm around Beau’s shoulders and lets out a sigh. “Come see the cup I won. It’s really big and it’s usually really shiny but Hammer put coleslaw in it.”
Beau can’t help laughing though he’s confused when Parson puts his arm around his waist and keeps him anchored tight against his side. Beau knows he’s a bit drunk and that’s the only reason he turns towards Parson, tucking his face against Parson’s throat and breathing in for a moment. It’s been a while since someone who wasn’t family hung onto him like this, but thinking of Parson as being anything but family doesn’t seem quite right.
“Where’s Angel?” he asks, after he’s been appropriately appreciative of the Stanley Cup, which is standing on a table beside the swimming pool.
“She left with your parents, like, half an hour ago.”
Beau frowns. “Oh, okay.” He lets Parson lead him by the hand, back into the house and down a long corridor. He blinks when he realises that they’re in another living room, with a huge couch and a massive television, where it’s quiet and there are candles placed on most flat surfaces.
He’s not expecting Parson to kiss him and he kisses back, for a moment, before he pushes him away. Parson’s hurt expression makes no sense.
“Shit, Beau. I’m sorry. I thought— shit, I thought we— “
Beau shakes his head. “No, I— It’s me. I—”
“I had a thing for you,” says Beau. “I mean. Yeah, I didn’t know what it was, I guess. I was always so jealous of Cal getting to play with you. I was always too young.” He smiles a little and it looks sad. Kent’s not sure if Beau knows how to smile any other way, anymore, and that’s a tragic thought itself. Beau used to be golden and now he’s silver, and harsh, like ice.
“You’re not too young,” says Kent. “You’re older than Angel.”
Beau’s smile twists into a smirk. “Right. And how’s it going, leading on my sister like that?”
Kent feels cold. “It’s not— It’s not like that. Don’t you— Didn’t she tell you?”
Beau looks confused. “Tell me what?”
“We’re not— It was never— I’m gay, Engels.” Kent is bewildered. He knows that Cal knows about things with Angel; they laughed about it at the All-Star Game. It never occurred to him that Beau didn’t know that much, at least. “Your sister knows. She offered to come to the NHL Awards with me last year after Zimms came out because I wasn’t— I wasn’t ready.”
Beau shoves his hands in his pockets. “There was a rule in our house. I think it was meant to be a joke but—” he says, slowly. An ugly, deep flush rises in his cheeks. “‘Don’t tell Beau anything you don’t want the world to know.’ Didn’t you know, Parson? I can’t be trusted.”
Kent frowns. “But— They’re so proud of you. Angel’s literally got print-outs of your stories in a folder because she doesn’t trust the internet not to, like, lose them.”
Beau looks sick. Kent thinks he might actually be shaking and he doesn’t know how close he can get to Beau; he doesn’t know how close he’s allowed to be. Beau isn’t a kid, falling over on the ice more often than he stayed upright. He probably doesn’t want or need Kent to reach out to him.
“She never said,” Beau finally says. “None of them have ever said—” His lower lip juts out for a moment, a briefly pensive and gloriously expressive pout. Kent wants to kiss it. “I don’t play hockey. I can’t. My entire right side aches when it’s cold. What use am I?”
Kent’s throat is dry. This is not his place; he’s pretty sure that Cal and Angel would be horrified if they knew how little their brother thought of himself or how little he believes they think of him. He capitulates, then, and reaches for Beau and pulls him in close. Beau isn’t small, exactly. He’s taller than Kent but he’s not strong the way hockey players are strong. He doesn’t resist and Kent wonders how long it’s been since someone gathered Beau into their arms.
“You keep me on my toes,” Kent says, after a while. “You don’t make it easy for me—”
“‘m sorry,” Beau starts.
“No,” says Kent. “Don’t you dare fucking apologise. I need it. I need someone like you around.”
“I missed you,” Beau says. His words are muffled by Kent’s shirt but he can still hear Beau. “Cal went to the Q, and then you did, too. I thought I was going to follow.”
“So did I,” said Kent. It’s true; he always figured Beau would catch up with them. He always figured there was a certain inevitability to what Mr Engels said and that he and Cal and Beau would play for their country. He didn’t put much thought into it though, and when he reached the Q, his head was turned by Jack Zimmermann and all that possibility. “Come to my Cup day,” he says, impulsively.
Beau stiffens in his arms. “Are you sure you want me there?” he asks.
“You’re family,” says Kent. “Of course I want you there.” He doesn’t say that his flesh-and-blood family will likely be disinterested and that he’s learned his lesson about sharing such victories with Zimms and that’s when he hasn’t just beaten his team. Beau shifts slightly in his arms and his face is pressed against Kent’s neck and it sends a shuddering shiver down Kent’s spine. “It’s time to come home, Beau.”
Kent lifts his hand and strokes Beau’s hair, which is short and spiky. “Come home,” he says, again, and there’s a strange kind of bravery in the way he crooks his finger under Beau’s chin and guides his head up. Kent studies him for a moment and how Beau’s clear, pale eyes widen with uncertainty. Kent ducks his head and he knows that he’s never been good at hiding his intentions and he looks at Beau’s full lips and he sighs and closes the scant space between them.
Beau is still, at first, and their lips are barely touching. Beau’s hand tightens on Kent’s shoulder and he’s not pushing Kent away; he’s pulling himself closer and the kiss stays soft and sweet for any number of thunderous heartbeats.
“Your teammates—” says Beau, after he pulls back.
Kent feels dazed. “They like you. They just think I’m an idiot around you. They know to stay the hell away from this end of the house. Come here.” He kisses Beau again, and it’s short and firm.
“Your girlfriend is my sister,” says Beau, but his eyes are sparkling.
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” says Kent. “It’s all hearsay.”
“But you’re childhood sweethearts,” says Beau, and now he’s just being an asshole. Kent laughs.
“No,” he says. “Wrong sweetheart.”
Beau moves so that his head is on Kent’s shoulder and Kent whines because it’s not a position conducive to making out. “I need a little time,” Beau says, softly. “It’s — Fuck. It’s been a lot. Today.”
“Will you stay with me?”
“Okay,” says Beau. “Okay.”
“Can I kiss you?” asks Kent.
“Yes,” says Beau and he almost loses his breath when Kent rolls onto his back, pulling Beau on top of him.
“Good,” says Kent. “That’s so good.”
Beau trembles as Kent runs his hands up Beau’s arms and his own hands are resting on Kent’s chest. He dips his head and Kent tilts his own head up to kiss Beau, long and slow and devastatingly sweet.
Beau feels dizzy with it. Kent’s fingers are gentle; Beau imagines that he can almost feel each whorl and imperfection of Kent’s fingerprints on his back as Kent moves his hands, in long slow strokes down Beau’s spine.
Soon, their kisses become a little deeper, a little hungrier and a little more desperate. Beau is startled when he realises that he’s moaning quietly into Kent’s mouth and it’s even more surprising to realise that Kent is moaning too.
He freezes when Kent’s fingers tangle in the hem of his t-shirt and Kent starts to tug his shirt up.
“Are you okay?” asks Kent, gently, his eyes searching Beau’s face.
“It’s just. It’s not pretty,” says Beau. “There are scars. A lot of scars.”
“I share a locker room with Horse,” says Kent. “I know all about ‘not pretty’.”
So carefully, Kent rolls them over so that Beau is lying on his back. “You want to tell me about them?”
“I went through the windshield,” says Beau, quietly, his voice cracking. Cal was driving and it was snowy. Beau had just gotten into the car and hadn’t even buckled his seatbelt when Cal pulled out. This guy in a pick-up truck drove right across the junction. Broke the red. “It was already mostly shattered I guess, so I went straight through. The other guy’s engine was hot and I. Well. I broke a lot of bones down my right side and there are some burns, too. It’s really— it’s really ugly.” Beau feels anxious, his breathing coming fast.
“No, it’s not,” says Kent. He places his hand on Beau’s chest. “You’re not. You’re fucking beautiful, okay?”
Beau nods, not because he agrees, but because Kent is so painfully earnest. He lets Kent peel his shirt up and he gasps when Kent’s lips and his hands start roaming over Beau’s chest and abdomen, gently.
Kent pulls off his own shirt, and his shorts, and tugs Beau’s shorts down, too, and he doesn’t seem to mind that there are scars here, too, down the outside of Beau’s thigh and twisting over his knee. Kent kisses that knee and that thigh, and then he rests his chin on Beau’s hip and looks up at him.
“Can I blow you?”
Beau’s mouth drops open. “Please,” he says. He has to blink to keep his eyes from glazing over as Kent drags his lips up the side of Beau’s cock before he licks around the head. Beau lets out an embarrassingly high-pitched whimper as Kent wraps his hand around the base of his cock and swallows him down. Beau tries not to move his hips too much but it’s hard to keep from rocking up into Kent’s mouth and Beau buries his hands in the bedsheets beside him, clenching his fists as his back arches and he presses his head back into the pillows beneath him.
He’s dimly aware of sighing, over and over, how good Kent is, how good he feels, and he knows he’s not quiet when he comes. He forces his eyes open just as Kent pulls off, closing his eyes as Beau spills over his lips, and chin, and face.
“Fuck,” says Beau, unable to look away. “That’s so— Fuck, you’re so hot.” Kent opens his eyes and his smile is devilish. He licks Beau’s come from his lips and drags himself up the bed, supporting his weight on one elbow as he jerks himself off. Beau’s barely able to form coherent thought and coordinated movement is certainly beyond him but he bites his lip and doesn’t look away from Kent’s eyes until Kent comes too, in spurts, over Beau’s stomach.
Kent lowers himself, shakily, to lie beside Beau and Beau kisses him, tasting his come on Kent’s lips.
“Fuck,” says Kent, who’s evidently as articulate as Beau in moments like this.
They lie together for a while, Beau’s fingers moving up and down Kent’s arm of their own accord as they exchange lazy kisses.
“What happens now?” asks Beau.
“I was thinking we could shower,” says Kent.
Beau laughs and rubs his face against Kent’s chest. “I mean— I mean. I think I still need time. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, besides, uh—” He gestures at Kent.
“Besides an NHL player?”
Beau feels himself turning red.
“Hey,” says Kent, dragging a finger down Beau’s cheek. “Hey. There’s no rush. I’m here. I mean. I’ll be in Long Island for my Cup day in July but— I’m here for this. For you. For— for us.”
“I’m not who I was,” says Beau.
“Neither am I,” says Kent. “I like who you are. I mean. I want to get to know you some more.”
“You are literally stuck to me right now, Kent,” says Beau, trying to fight the urge just to giggle at the absurdity that Kent could know him any better.
“So, how about that shower?”
“No recorder?” asks Kent.
“Nope. I sold it on Ebay.”
“No phone?” asks Kent.
“Don’t be barbaric,” says Beau, shoving his hands in his pockets. “It’s the twenty-first century.” He looks around, and there’s nothing judgemental as he takes in Kent’s mom’s backyard. “So.”
“Yeah,” says Kent. He smiles at Beau. This has been the weirdest fucking courtship ever but he knows that it’s been worth it; it's been worth the years of estrangement and the fumbling towards togetherness. The Conn Smythe is on his mom's kitchen table and the Stanley Cup on a picnic table nearby and this is the pinnacle of hockey achievement and Kent can't look away from Beau Engels.
“This is a Cup Day, huh?”
Kent feels bad, for a moment, knowing that Beau will never have this for himself but Beau is smiling. “This is a Cup Day. You wanna spend it with me?”
Beau comes closer and holds out his hand. Kent takes it, tangling their fingers together.
“I’d love to,” says Beau.