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Cliff's Edge

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Alexei gives his shirt collar a tug and rings the bell. From inside there’s a bang, a yell of “Kit!” and then scuffling. Alexei blinks. The door opens.

The man that stands before him is nearly a foot shorter than Alexei, blonde, and wearing a white button-up with what looks like fried rice all over the front.

Alexei is flabbergasted, but still a professional. “Kent Parson?”

The man--Kent Parson--rubs between his eyes and groans. “Yeah. Come on in, you’re right on time.” He steps back and waves Alexei in. Alexei closes the door behind him and watches Kent head back into his kitchen, where a Chinese takeout box has exploded on the tiled floor. An overly fluffy cat is chowing down.

“Kit, no,” Kent scolds, though it’s more of a sigh. To Alexei he calls, “Make yourself comfortable, I gotta...” He waves vaguely at the mess and grabs a wad of paper towels.

Alexei is in formal wear, as requested (slacks, button-up, and dress jacket, but no tie, the shirt blue and the suit tan) but he comes over to help.

“You don’t have to,” Kent says as Alexei squats to help him wipe up fried rice.

“Go change,” Alexei says, nodding at Kent’s dirtied shirt. “I can clean.”

Kent chuckles and stands. “Fine. Just don’t get anything on your clothes,” he says, looking Alexei up and down. “You won’t fit any of mine.” He leaves Alexei alone in his stainless steel, over-done kitchen, with just the mess and Kent’s cat for company. Alexei wipes up the rice and gently nudges the cat out of the way to get at the bit she--he?--is eating.

“Don’t eat that, you get fat,” Alexei says to the cat, who, up close, is a little roly-poly. “Hm. More fat.” He shoves the dirtied paper towel into the carton and looks around for a trash can.

When Kent returns, wearing a fresh shirt, pants, and jacket, Alexei is wiping up the last of the soy sauce stains from the tile.

“Thanks,” Kent says. He checks his watch. “Fuck.”

Alexei tosses the last of the paper towels and goes to wash his hands in the sink. “Are we late?”

“No. Well. Fashionably late. Which I wanted, but.” Tugging at his shirt collar--which is buttoned all the way up to the neck and looks uncomfortably tight--he falls back against one of the counters. “It’s a high school reunion. You know that, right?”

Alexei nods. “You told agency. They tell me.” He has the basic details; they wouldn’t send him in blind. He also knows who Kent Parson is, although he hadn’t needed a client write-up to tell him that. Alexei had played hockey all his life, had even been up for the NHL draft--until a busted knee and some torn ligaments had ended any hope of a hockey career. He’d gotten to America on his own, worked a laundry list of odd jobs before landing this one.

Escort services to the rich and famous were ridiculously selective about who they hired. Moreover, they were selective about who they sent to WHOM. Kent Parson was the first celebrity whose career Alexei actually cared about, but he was not Alexei’s first rodeo with the rich and famous. Not by a long shot.

This would, however, be his first time escorting someone to a high school reunion.

“Right,” Kent was saying. “Well. Guess we’d better...” He heads for the door. Alexei follows him, stepping outside the apartment and waiting for Kent to lock up.

They take the elevator to the basement floor, where an underground garage houses an array of expensive cars. Kent clicks his keys into the dim light, and a flashy red sports car chirps in response.

“Is nice car,” Alexei says, climbing into the passenger side. Kent hits the driver’s seat with a thump and slams his door shut a little harder than necessary.

“Thanks.” He cracks a grin, twisting the key in the ignition and shifting gears to reverse. “I actually hate driving. I thought if I was gonna do it, I was damn well going to get a nice car.”

“May as well enjoy it.”

“Exactly.” Kent pulls out of the parking spot and a few minutes later they exit the garage.

Alexei slides his fingertips across the leather seat; it’s soft and plush and warm, like skin. He rubs his hand across it and thinks Kent might be thinking the same thing when his grey eyes catch on the motion beside him.

“I like I can feel engine purr.” His thumb draws sensual circles on the edge of this seat. “Can feel through my clothes in my skin.”

Kent is watching the road but he is also watching Alexei, small flicks of his gaze there and back. At the next red light, Kent says, “I know what you’re doing. But you don’t have to. It’s just this dinner, and the party after, and maybe getting me home if I get too drunk. It doesn’t even have to be a full boyfriend experience. I just need a date. A warm body next to me.”

Kent Parson is gorgeous and Alexei would blow him in the back seat of this car if he asked. But he’s not. Alexei says, “All right. I understand.” And because Kent’s knuckles are still white on the wheel, he ventures, “Just want help you relax. You are tense. Is reunion, not 2010 Stanley Finals shootout, yes? No pressure.”

The laughter that bubbles out of Kent seems to take him by surprise. There’s a bit of red on his cheeks when he actually, finally looks at Alexei. “So you do know your shit. I wondered.” The light turns green. Kent accelerates the car, switching lanes as he goes. “Did you Google me first, or are you a fan?”

“Of hockey, or of Aces?”

“Do I have to dignify that with an answer?”

Alexei settles back in his seat, folding his hands in his lap. “You are playing Providence Falconers next month in preseason, yes? We will wipe floor with you.”

Kent’s laughter comes on the heels of a groan of despair. “Of fucking course you’re a Falconers fan. Get the fuck out of my car.”

“We are on highway, I think I wait.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Kent says, still laughing, and it makes Alexei laugh, too. “A Falconers fan as my dinner date. Of fucking course.” He blows out a breath. “You know, it occurs to me as of literally right now that I’m a jackass. I never asked for your name.”

“Is all right. My name is Alexei Mashkov. You can call me Alexei.”

“Be kinda weird to call my dinner date ‘Mr. Mashkov,’” Kent agrees, and Alexei watches him bite his lip and squint vaguely into the distance, like he’s concentrating on a memory he can’t quite get to coalesce. Eventually he shakes it off. “You can call me Kent.”

“Or Kenny?”

A shadow passes over Kent’s face. “Prefer if you didn’t.”

“I understand. Kent, then.”


Five minutes later, they’re approaching a posh restaurant on the edge of the city. Kent pulls the car up to the curb half a block away, letting the engine idle while he flexes his hands on the wheel and draws two deep, measured breaths.

“Maybe is my imagination, but I think you don’t want to go,” Alexei offers.

“Give the man prize.” Kent’s voice has an edge that it didn’t have before. He draws another measured breath, loses control of it halfway through, and abruptly falls forward to thunk his head on the steering wheel. “Fuck.”

Alexei licks his lips, hesitating. Kent Parson is, first and foremost, the best hockey player the league has seen since Gretzky. He’s the youngest person ever to receive the C from his team, marketably handsome, gregarious, and intelligent, both on camera and on the ice.

He’s also the first NHL player in history to come out publicly as gay.

Alexei remembers watching the press conference secondhand on an unofficial account on Youtube, crammed in a bathroom stall at the train station because he couldn’t wait until he got home. He’d read the headlines scrolling through the NHL feeds and couldn’t believe it. He remembers clearly how poised Kent had looked. How confident he’d been at the mic, how honest he’d been with his answers to the press and how politely firm he’d been in response to questions that he shouldn’t have dignified a response.

Alexei remembers that Kent on TV, and reconciles it with this Kent, hunched over the steering wheel of his expensive sports car outside a restaurant in Manhattan trying to calm himself down enough to face the people he want to high school with.

“We don’t have to go.”

Kent makes a muffled, inquiring sound.

“We don’t have to go,” Alexei repeats. “To dinner. To party. To any of it. No one knows you are here. Just skip reunion.”

“That’s called being a chickenshit,” Kent says, still talking to the steering wheel.

“Kent, fuck reunion. You have man in car with you who will blow you in back seat right now, if you ask. Let you fuck my face and come on it, if you ask. Because you paid me? No. Because even though sometimes you are rat who make cheap shots on goalies, you are first NHL player who come out, and not chickenshit.”

Kent’s ears have gone red. He picks his head off the steering wheel to stare at Alexei. The rest of his face is quickly matching his ears.

“You play very beautiful hockey,” Alexei confesses.

Kent stares at him for a very long time. Eventually he swallows--still red--and declares, “Hope you like steak. We’re going to that fucking reunion.”