“So, hypothetically speaking, if I asked you to help me bury a dead body, no questions asked, would you?”
This was the last thing Jeff had expected to hear when he’d reached out for the phone on his nightstand and answered it on autopilot. His sleep-addled brain tried to wrap itself around the question but all that came out was a confused, “What?” He wasn’t even sure who was calling until he squinted at the name on the phone screen. “Parse, what the hell?”
“Like, it doesn’t even have to be buried,” Kent said casually. “Just help me find a way to get rid of the body, you know? How obvious would a big bonfire be in Vegas?”
“Are you in trouble?” Jeff demanded as the gravity of the situation suddenly hit him all at once. “What happened?” He was already getting out of his bed in full panic as a million scenarios started racing through his head. Kent hit someone with his car? Someone broke into Kent’s house and he was defending himself? Someone tried to kidnap Kit and Kent snapped?
“Well, the sister just stabbed her brother because she found out he’d stolen all her savings and now she’s calling up the other brother to help her bury the body in the backyard. And I know later that she gets caught because I’m, like, a whole season behind, but it really made me think about how I need someone to back me up if I ever needed that, you know.”
“What?” Jeff hissed. It took him longer than he should have to realize what Kent was talking about. Although, to be fair, he’d just been woken up. “Are you watching Precinct 10 again?” he exclaimed as he glanced at his bedside alarm clock. “Parse, it’s one in the fucking morning!”
“I know,” Kent replied. “But I need to know if you’re my person!”
“How drunk are you right now?”
“I haven’t touched anything. But, hey, listen, I’ve been really thinking about this. Max has the moral compass of a saint. Carl would rat me out as soon as police pressured him. Jimmers has a family. Scraps won’t answer his phone. So, that leaves you.”
“Parse, I’m hanging up now.”
“Oh, hey, there’s Property Sisters on in twenty minutes,” Kent said distractedly, not even listening anymore.
Jeff ended the call and tossed the phone back on his nightstand before flopping back and trying to go back to sleep.
It had been not quite a week after the Aces had been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the last time Jeff had seen Kent had been at locker cleanouts. Kent had given the usual, canned responses about how it wasn’t their year and they’d come back better the next season, but everyone knew that Kent had taken the loss hard.
Jeff had been disappointed too. The whole team was, of course, but that was hockey. You were going to lose more than you won, as his mother would say.
After addressing the team and doing his required captainly duties, Kent had gone radio silent afterwards, which wasn’t surprising because everyone needed a breather from each other, but it was unlike Kent’s usual mothering self. The only reason anyone knew he was still alive during those five days was because he was still posting pictures of Kit on social media.
After tossing and turning for a bit, Jeff grabbed his phone to text Kent.
Jeff: you still awake
Jeff: Want company?
Kent texted back with a smiley face and two thumbs up emojis.
Jeff threw back the covers and pulled on the shirt and the soft, stretched hoodie from years of wear that he’d tossed on the chair by the door.
Part of him was a little annoyed at being woken up by Kent in the middle of the night, but the other part of him was secretly glad that Kent had called him. Over the years, Jeff had learned that Kent didn’t ask for help, at least, not in any way that made sense, and if Kent was calling tonight, there was a more substantial reason than just wanting to ask about burying dead bodies.
Conveniently, Good Burger was open 24 hours, and not that far from Kent’s place. Jeff went through the drive-through and ordered too many items that would be usually off his diet, but since they were done for the season, Jeff figured he could afford to cheat a little bit. The greasy smell of fast food made his mouth water, but he resisted the urge to snack on the drive there.
He pulled up in Kent’s driveway, and though the rest of the neighbours had darkened houses, there was a dim glow coming from one of Kent’s windows. Balancing the drinks and takeout bags while slamming the door shut with his hip took a bit of maneuvering, but he managed to make it to the front door. He clumsily ran his elbow into the doorbell button and when Kent took too long, Jeff made sure to ring it again three times in a row, just to be annoying.
When Kent finally opened the door, he looked comfortably rumpled in a T-shirt and Batman pyjama bottoms. “Swoops! You’re here to help me bury that body?” His easy smile held no trace of the tense defeat from the last time Jeff had seen him, but he knew from past experience that Kent was a chameleon when it came to hiding his emotions.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jeff said with a roll of his eyes. “Say it a little louder and one of the neighbours will call the cops on us.”
“Nah, they love me too much.” Kent grinned as his eyes dropped down at the Good Burger bags. “What did you bring me?” He made grabby hands at the bags.
“Who said this is for you?”
“Rude,” Kent said as he moved aside to let Jeff in. “I open my home to you. The least you could do is provide sustenance.”
“That’s an awfully big word for a hockey player.”
“I heard it in a movie,” Kent said with a laugh.
Kent had the TV paused in the living room and Jeff didn’t hesitate to set the drink cups on the coffee table and sit back on one end of the sectional couch.
Kit was nowhere in sight, which meant she was probably sleeping in one of the upstairs bedrooms because she usually came out to investigate visitors to the home.
Kent settled back in his spot where the rumpled blanket was pooled. “I have missed Good Burger so much,” Kent said as he dove into the bag to pull out one of the paper-wrapped burgers.
“That one has pickles in it.”
“Ugh.” Kent wrinkled his nose, rewrapped it, and tossed the offending burger at Jeff before pulling out a second one that was clearly labelled as pickle-free for himself. “That is disgusting, man.”
“Says the guy who likes pineapple on pizza.”
“Hey! Hawaiian pizza is the best and just because you don’t have the taste buds to appreciate it doesn’t mean you get to chirp me about it.”
Jeff rolled his eyes and leaned over to steal a handful of fries from Kent’s container.
“Hey!” Kent exclaimed as he moved his fries closer to himself.
“Hay is for horses,” Jeff responded automatically before he laughed. “My mom says that,” he explained. “She’s a teacher.”
Kent laughed and threw a fry at Jeff that hit him on the chin. “Sure, Swoops.”
Jeff wiped the grease off of his face and mock-glared at Kent. “Don’t start anything you can’t finish.”
“I swear, Jefferson Troy, if you start a food fight in my house, you will regret it.” Kent already had his arm raised and armed with a handful of french fries.
“That’s not my name, Kenneth ,” Jeff replied. He also stuck out his tongue because he was that immature.
Kent threw the fries anyways. Honestly, Jeff didn’t know what else he was expecting. “Sucks for you,” Jeff said as he picked up the fry on his hoodie and sticking it in his mouth. “Fewer fries for you now.”
Jeff barely had time to react before Kent lunged at Jeff, effectively knocking his own container over and probably crushing the bags of food in the process. Kent took advantage of Jeff’s surprise to climb on top of him, straddling his thighs while they fought for dominance. Jeff tried to fight him one-handed while he held his fries above his head, just out of Kent’s reach. Kent grabbed Jeff’s wrist and pinned him to the couch while grabbing at the container.
The sudden realization of their positions made Jeff freeze immediately, though Kent didn’t notice at first and continued to writhe on top of him. A sharp movement right against his dick made Jeff gasp sharply. He needed to get out from under there or things were about to get really awkward really fast.
In one last lunge, Kent grabbed the fries, and he reeled back in triumph to his end of the couch. His knees were drawn up as he grinned at Jeff. “Ha!” he cried before running his tongue and slobbering all over them. “Eat that now!”
Jeff was breathing heavily when he said, “You win,” without meeting Kent’s eyes.
“You bet I did!”
“I need the bathroom,” Jeff said quickly as darted out of the living room and down the familiar hallway towards the first-floor bathroom.
Once inside, Jeff took several deep breaths to bring himself back, methodically washing his hands and muttering to himself that he needed to hold it together. His unhelpful brain reminded him that he’d had a dream like this once.
Jeff bit the inside of his mouth as he mentally shook himself. Now was definitely not a good time for those thoughts. He splashed water on his face for good measure before taking a deep breath and staring at himself in the mirror. Nothing like that was going to happen, he reminded himself, no matter how many embarrassing fantasies he had of Kent.
When he’d calmed down enough to come back, Kent was eating a semi-squished burger while watching a documentary on what looked like some sort of speckled bird. “Sorry about your fries,” Kent said, glancing up at Jeff.
“Sorry about your floor,” Jeff replied, eyeing the fries that had ended up on the hardwood during their wrestling match.
Kent shrugged. “Don’t worry too much about it.”
Jeff picked up the leftover fries and dumped them into one of the empty burger wrappers sitting on the coffee table. He made a mental note to toss it in the garbage later before Kit had a chance to get to it. He didn’t know if cats would eat french fries left out in the open, but he figured it was better to be safe than leaving Kent with a potentially sick cat.
Kent wordlessly passed over his own fries to Jeff. They’d gone cold and Jeff made a face, but he ate them anyway. They were quiet as they watched their show, letting the soothing tones of the British narrator describe the mother bird caring for her eggs only to have a badger-like animal come to carry off the babies later on. Kent made a discontented noise that had Jeff glancing over at him.
“I hate it when they get eaten,” Kent said. He was snuggled up in his blanket with only his head visible.
“It’s nature,” Jeff replied.
“I know, but it still sucks.”
“Want to watch something different?” Jeff offered. He searched for the remote but couldn’t find it. Kent must still have it under his blanket.
“Nah, I want to get to the part with the lynxes.”
Jeff tried to stay awake, but his eyes grew heavy and, at some point, he must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, Kent was gently shaking him awake.
“Come on, if you sleep like that any longer like that, you’ll mess up your back,” Kent said. He was standing over Jeff with a soft expression. When Jeff sat up, a blanket slid off of him and he realized it was the same blanket that Kent had had on himself earlier.
Jeff rubbed his eyes. “I guess I’d better get going. What time is it?”
“It’s late. You should stay.”
“Yeah, sounds good,” Jeff replied. He’d stayed over at Kent’s before. It wasn’t uncommon for a group of guys from the team to come over to Kent’s place, play video games, and pass out in one of Kent’s rooms after having one too many drinks.
Kent looked hesitant, though. “I don’t have sheets on the guest beds.”
He shrugged. “Jimmers and Gump stayed over last week. Washed the sheets, but I guess I just haven’t gotten around to putting them back on.”
“I can put them on. It’ll take me, like, two seconds.” Jeff paused for a moment as he considered that Kent’s invitation was just him trying to be polite. “Or, I can go.”
“No, no,” Kent said quickly. “Stay, dude. Just sleep in my bed. We can share.”
Jeff wondered if he was still actually dreaming. “Uh, are you sure?”
“Look, it’s nearly three and we’re both falling asleep. Just take the offer. It’s not like you haven’t fallen asleep on my shoulder on the bus.”
Jeff was too tired to argue and having to drive back home right now did not sound appealing to him. “Okay,” he said.
Wordlessly, Jeff followed Kent upstairs to the last room at the end of the hall. Once in there, Jeff felt self-conscious and awkward. He usually slept in his boxers, but that was probably not appropriate, given the context.
“Which side do you want?” Kent asked. His back was turned to Jeff as he stripped off his t-shirt. Even with the dim lamp being the source of light, Jeff could clearly see the planes of muscles shifting and moving as he put on a new shirt.
Jeff swallowed hard before saying, “Doesn’t matter. I just want to sleep.”
Kent took the side farthest away from the door. Jeff hesitated for a second more before taking off his hoodie, but kept his own t-shirt and sweats. He could smell the faint freshness of the laundry detergent as he slid in between the sheets.
He closed his eyes, but whether it was the unfamiliarity of the room or the tension he was still holding his body, he couldn’t drift off. He eventually gave up and rolled over onto his back to stare at the ceiling for a while. His eyes had gotten used to the darkness and when he looked over at Kent, he could see the outline of Kent’s hair on his pillowcase.
Neither of them were asleep.
Kent’s breathing pattern was too regular and too quiet. Having roomed with him for years, Jeff could always tell when Kent was really sleeping or faking it.
Jeff continued to lay in the dark as he toyed with the idea of saying something. There was something about the near pitch-black of the room and the late hour that made it feel like a confessional.
“Hey, Parse?” Jeff whispered.
For a moment, Kent didn’t answer. Finally, he said, “Yeah?”
“I would help you bury a dead body, if you called me.”
In the darkness, Jeff could sense the grin on Kent’s face. He rolled over so that he was facing Jeff. “Me too,” he said back.
They didn’t say anything else after that.
An unpleasant sensation woke Jeff up the next morning, and when he moved his leg, the tickling followed him. He scooted his leg twice more before he finally cracked an eye open in mild irritation. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it certainly was not a cat sitting at the end of the bed, licking at the exposed leg he’d thrown out from under the covers last night.
“Stop,” he groaned as he moved his leg back under the comforter. He rolled over, burritoing himself in hopes that he would be left alone. Kit, however, was undeterred and carefully stomped her way to the head of the bed. He kept his eyes closed even as she sniffed at the back of his hair and chirped gently for attention. When he refused to acknowledge her, she flopped down, gently reclining against him.
Jeff rubbed his cheek on the cool fabric of the pillowcase in comfortable contentment, ready to sink back into sleep before he caught a faint, familiar scent. It took him a moment before recognizing it as Kent’s shampoo, and when Jeff opened his eyes a second time, he looked around in confusion.
He sat up, noting that Kent’s half of the bed was empty as he rubbed the dried drool from the side of his chin. He hoped that he hadn’t done anything awkward, like cuddle up to Kent while they were sleeping because Jeff had a tendency to sleep “like an octopus”, as his mom had described once. Kit meowed irately at him for moving and dislodging her from her comfortable position but a quick scratch under her chin quickly placated her.
When Jeff finally came downstairs feeling considerably more awake, Kent had already spread much of the contents of his refrigerator on the counters. His back was turned to the doorway Jeff hovered for a moment, unsure of whether he should say goodbye quickly and head out or if he should investigate what Kent was doing.
“Morning,” Jeff finally said.
“Hey, man. Finally up?” Kent said with a quick glance in his direction.
“Yeah, no thanks to your cat.” As if on cue, Kit appeared in the kitchen, looking at Kent and the blender suspiciously.
“She woke me up an hour ago. You sleep like the dead,” Kent snorted. He turned back to the green sludge he was pouring out of the glass pitcher before handing the glass to Jeff. “Here, drink this.
The smoothie didn’t taste as bad as it looked. “What’s in this?” Jeff asked.
“A bit of this and that,” Kent replied, which meant it really could be anything. “Drink up. We’re going for a run.”
“Run?” Jeff wasn’t sure if he’d heard him correctly. Jeff had assumed that Kent would want his own space and Jeff would go back to his own place.
“Yeah, drink up,” he repeated.
Jeff looked down at the rumpled clothes he’d worn since last night. “I’m not really dressed for a run.”
“It’s cool. You can borrow my stuff.” Kent downed his own glass before rinsing the glass and putting it in the dishwasher. He bent down to pick up Kit who was now sitting at Kent’s feet, meowing for him to look at her.
Jeff laughed. With the four-inch height difference, there was unlikely there was anything in Kent’s closet that would fit actually him. “Right. Because your shirts wouldn’t be crop tops on me.”
“You’re not that much taller than I am.” Kent snorted in reply. “There’s probably something oversized in my closet and would fit a sasquatch like you.”
“You want me to go look?”
“Sure,” Kent said. “Actually, let me clean up first. I’ll come with you.”
Kent’s closet was a mess, which considering how detail-oriented he was when it came to packing his bags when they were on the road, this was a surprise.
“How do you find anything in this?”
“I’m going through stuff in here, okay? It’s a work in progress,” Kent said as he rummaged through a corner of hangers. “Here,” he said emerging, tossing something at Jeff.
Jeff held out the shirt before realizing it looked familiar. “Is this mine?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kent said. He threw a second article of clothing at Jeff.
“These shorts are definitely mine. I’ve been looking for them, you fucker. When did you steal my clothes?”
“I don’t know. You throw your shit around the room when we’re on roadies. Shit sometimes ends up in my stuff. I can’t keep track of things!”
“What else do you have in here that’s mine?” Jeff said determined to go through the drawer that he had seen Kent pull the shorts out of.
“Get out of my closet,” Kent said, lightly shoving Jeff until they were out. He closed the door firmly behind him. “Go change,” he said with his hands still holding onto the doorknob behind him like he was fully expecting Jeff to try and get back into the closet. Jeff chalked it up to Kent being weird, so he didn’t put much fight and went to the bathroom down the hall.
It was still early enough that it wasn’t too hot out yet, and they kept a leisurely pace around the neighbourhood. It was nice, to simply put it. Clearly, the people living there either didn’t know who Kent was or didn’t care because they weren’t stopped for autographs or pictures at all. Along the way, they passed other runners and early pet owners who were out with their dogs.
They jogged around the block before taking a park trail that eventually curved around and took them back to where they’d started. They were two streets from Kent’s house when Kent suddenly said, “Race you home!” before taking an unfair head start.
“Hey!” Jeff cried as he ran faster.
“Hay is for horses,” Kent cried over his shoulder, throwing Jeff’s words from last night back at him.
Kent had the burst of speed, but Jeff had the stamina and managed to squeak in the victory. “I win! You’re making me bacon,” he said breathlessly before slapping Kent’s sweaty back and heading to the bathroom.
“You don’t deserve bacon,” Kent called back.
After Jeff had showered, he was back in the clothes he’d worn over to Kent’s place last night. He figured they were mostly clean anyways, and well, he’d leave after he’d had breakfast. He was pleased to see that Kent had actually pulled the bacon from the freezer for him, and they were sitting on a plate in the kitchen, waiting for him.
“Shit, you’re spoiling me,” Jeff said as he grabbed a piece that was still too hot for him.
“Don’t get used to it,” Kent said as he dished up scrambled eggs.
“I always knew I was your favourite,” Jeff said. He took a bite before pausing to look accusingly at Kent. “This is turkey bacon.”
“That was not what you said last night when you were grabbing at my fries,” he snorted.
“Potatoes are technically vegetables.”
“I don’t think it counts when it’s had the shit deep fried out of it.”
The corners of Kent’s lips quirked up, but he didn’t say anything in reply. On the floor, Kit meowed at him, probably wanting them to share their food or because she wanted attention, and she wanted it now when it was most inconvenient.
Jeff shuffled around her to get the cartons of orange juice out of the fridge. There was regular OJ for himself and, because Kent was a giant weirdo, orange juice with extra pulp for Kent. He considered drinking straight from the carton just to see what Kent would do, but it was full and chances were that he was going to end up pouring juice all over his face if he tried that.
They ate sitting on the couch with their feet propped on the coffee table while watching home improvement reruns. Occasionally, one of them would make a comment about the decor choices or the paint shade.
“I can’t believe they just got rid of that fireplace,” Kent lamented. “It was beautiful.”
“Are you kidding me? It was ugly as fuck.”
“They could have fixed it up! Replaced some of the brick and given it a new mantle.”
“The room looks nicer without it,” Jeff said as he speared a piece of egg onto his fork.
“That fireplace had character. The house looks too modern now.”
Jeff raised an eyebrow at Kent. “I don’t know if you’ve looked around, Parser, but you live in a pretty modern house. You even had that really uncomfortable, black couch until I made you get rid of it,” he pointed out.
Kent’s former couch had been more style over comfort. It was the kind of furniture that looked good on the pages of magazines, but was actually impractical in reality. Kent had admitted that his designer had chosen the sleek piece when he’d first bought the place, and he’d never bothered really use it. It wasn’t until Jeff finally dragged him to a real furniture store that Kent finally got his sectional.
“Yeah, but if this place had come with the original brick fireplace, I would have kept it.” At this point, Kent had slid onto the floor and was currently sitting cross-legged while Kit was half on his lap, trying to decide if she wanted to sit on him or go explore somewhere else.
“So, you’re saying a fireplace would make or break a house for you?
“Fireplaces are cool!” Kent protested. “You turn them on when it’s cold at night, dim the lights a little, smooth music playing in the background, maybe some hot chocolate with the little marshmallows.”
“Dim the lights?” Jeff laughed. “Shit, you’re secretly a romantic, aren’t you?”
Kent turned to look at him. “Maybe, I am,” he said with a smirk that made Jeff’s breath involuntarily catch in his chest.
Once again, he was he was reminded how screwed he was when it came to Kent Parson.
A lot of the team had already cleared out. There weren’t a lot of guys that stayed in Vegas year round, and after their last team dinner at an upscale steakhouse, everyone pretty much took that as their okay to go.
Jeff hung around for a while longer, mostly because he was delaying having to pack up and partly because he didn’t really feel the same excitement towards heading back home as he did the previous years. He wasn’t sure of the reason why, but maybe it was part of getting older and wanting to feel more settled, or maybe because Donbrook now seemed too small and stifling because he’d spent so much time in Vegas the rest of the time.
Whatever the reason, Jeff was looking for excuses to procrastinate. So, when Kent texted the group to get together to watch Game 7 at one of the bars that the team frequented, Jeff didn’t even hesitate to say he would be there.
Kent was already at the bar with a beer in front of him when Jeff arrived. Kent looked good, as always, and even though he was in a dark shirt, his unruly, blond hair was easy to spot in the dimness of the room. It wasn’t long until the others came trickling in one by one.
None of them had more than a couple of drinks each by the time the third period came around. There was a sort of tenseness to everyone as they watched, knowing how close they came to the Cup this year. The game was rough from both sides, and just when it seemed like the Schooners would pull ahead, the Falconers would come back to tie the game again.
Zimmermann had a goal in the second period that was assisted by Fitzgerald. After that, the Schooners goalie, Imbruglia, was pulled and replaced by Boucher. It was an intense, high-stakes game - everything you would expect from a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final when everything was on the line.
A penalty call for Mashkov with seven minutes left in the period had him spitting and cursing in rapid-fire Russian while the refs led him to the penalty box. He hit his stick against the bench and shouted something else that they couldn’t hear, but Scraps must have been able to read his lips because he snorted.
Jeff could relate to being pissed off and stuck in the penalty box, but for now, he was hoping the Schooners could use their power play advantage to break the tie. Unfortunately, the Falconer’s goalie stopped all four shots on goal and Mashkov was out of the box the second his time was done.
At this point in the game and in the series, it could go either way, and while the Schooners had acquired Henry Hayden as first overall pick from the draft, the Falconers had dominated the Eastern conference with Jack Zimmermann. Part of Jeff hoped the Schooners would win, if only because he’d gotten a couple of nasty checks from Mashkov on the ice, and the impression of the team had left him a bad taste in his mouth.
For a while, he and Carl traded comments on the plays, especially when St. Martin’s backhander was challenged by the Schooners coach which led to the officials disallowing the goal because of goalie interference. There were loud boos from the crowd as the camera showed angry fans in white and blue protesting the decision.
“That should have been a good goal,” Jeff said as the slow-motion replays were shown from two more angles. Shitty calls like this, especially this late into the game, were always infuriating.
“Too close to goalie,” Scrappy chimed in.
An icing call was made and Fitzgerald won the faceoff. He quickly passed the puck to his teammate. He circled around behind the net, but was cornered by two Schooners defensemen. For several seconds, the puck was trapped between skates and pushing hockey sticks, but Fitzgerald managed to get it free and sent it across the ice to where Zimmermann was waiting. He made his shot, but it ended up being wide of the net.
The turning point in the game finally came when Mashkov knocked the puck loose from Grayson and saucered it over Zimmermann. He took another shot, and the puck went sailing past Boucher’s glove and into the net. The buzzer went off and the Falconers fans in the arena went absolutely wild with cheering.
Now, with a one-goal lead, the atmosphere in the entire Dunkin Donuts Center had changed, and it was palpable, even to Jeff who was just watching in a bar several thousand miles away. The tension had shifted from gut-turning uncertainty to a hesitant hope that the Falconers would be able to keep the delicate one-goal lead.
With less than a minute left, the Schooners decided to pull their goalie, leaving it empty as their last, final attempt to even the score again. The net sat open and awning, making Jeff feel anxious as the Falconers shot the puck across the ice. Schooners had possession of the puck, and their passes were practiced and sharp as they advanced towards the Falconer’s net.
The Falconers were ready though, and their defence was tight. They made sure to block and intercept at every time so that the Schooners never really had a clear shot of the net. They were getting increasingly frustrated as time trickled down to mere seconds, and when Robinson sent the puck far enough down the ice that was too far to get in time, everyone knew it was over before the clock had even hit zero. Gloves and sticks were being dropped as the Falconers all swarmed each other at center ice in raucous hugs and cheering.
The Falconers had won the Stanley Cup.
Carl booed the television which earned them glares from people sitting in the booths, but none of the Aces cared too much. The bartender gave them a warning glance, but they were regulars and unlikely to get thrown out unless someone wanted to start a fight.
Kent had stopped watching the screen since Zimmermann’s last goal had gone in. Instead, he was staring intently at the glass of melting ice in front of him while he traced the rim with his index finger. His expensive watch caught flashes of the light as his hand and wrist moved in hypnotic circles that Jeff couldn’t look away from.
Jeff felt a shiver run down his back that he blamed on the too-cold air conditioning.
He forced his eyes back to the screen where the Falconers were celebrating. Some of the players had been torn away from the group and were now being forced to do quick interviews on ice while still breathless and euphoric from their triumph.
After awarding the MVP award to Zimmermann, they finally brought out the Stanley Cup in all of its silver glory. Seeing that, Jeff could admit that he felt more than a twinge of jealousy.
Kent still hadn’t said a word. His elbows were propped up on the counter in a casual position, but Jeff knew Kent was anything but relaxed at the moment.
“Shit, hoist it up right,” Carl snorted.
Jeff felt a little flare of satisfaction as he watched Zimmermann stumble for a moment, almost dropping the cup. “Hah… Look, he just realized how heavy it is,” he said, hoping that mocking Zimmermann would make Kent feel a little bit better.
“Man,” Carl continued, “Back when we won. Oh god, I do not remember the next 6 or 7 hours. You ever go blackout with falling asleep? Suddenly, the sun is up, and you’re just right there? It was like locker room and then it was morning. Like no time or anything. Shit.”
“That’s a shame, eh? You’re supposed to remember it,” Jeff chirped.
“Fuck you, Troy. I remember everything.”
Jeff shook the urge to facepalm. “You just said--literally, you just.”
Kent looked over with a small smirk. “Hey, Carl, you even get a shift in the cup game?”
They laughed as Carl responded with, “Fuck you, boys.”
Scraps had left the stool beside Jeff in favor of talking quietly to Kent. He wasn’t laughing. Instead, he looked worried as he nudged Kent. Jeff could barely make out their conversation. “Uhhhh, hey, Parser, you see this?”
“It’s on the screen, Scraps,” Kent said evenly.
“Naw, look, it’s all over social…” he said, shoving his phone towards Kent.
Kent took the phone curiously, but then he gripped the phone as the artificial light from the screen lit up his rapidly widening eyes. They all crowded around Kent, and at first, it wasn’t anything unusual, just everyone skating around yelling in excitement. But then, they watched as the tiny version of Jack Zimmermann leaned down to kiss another boy right in front of everyone.
Jeff’s stomach dropped as he watched the video clip and his heart began to beat so fast that for a moment, he was sure that everyone around him could hear it. Part of him was relieved, though he wasn’t really sure of the exact reason why. That he wasn’t the only gay guy in the NHL? That he wouldn’t be the first one out?
Dimly, he was aware that Carl started to spout shit from his mouth. “Ohhhhh, so he’s gay or whatever? Jesus Christ. You know, why can’t Zimmermann do anything fuckin’ regular.”
“Come on, Carl,” Jeff said in an attempt to shut him up.
“Pft, relax. Did I say something wrong?” Carl continued. “I’m saying, there’s always something with him. Prolly why it took him so long to figure out the league. Oh! Oh, bet he’s real excited ‘bout that parade, eh?” He broke off, laughing at his own joke.
Jeff glanced at worriedly Kent’s tense shoulders, unsure of what to say next. Kent’d had the phone for several minutes, letting Zimmermann’s kiss automatically replay itself every time the video came to an end. Finally, he slid Scraps’ phone back over to him in without a word
“Hey, you played with Zimmermann before, right? Did he ever, you know…” Carl broke off with a raised eyebrow and Jeff had to hold himself back from throwing a punch.
“Fuck off, Carl.”
“What? I’m just asking,” Carl said as if he had any right to be offended.
“I gotta go,” Kent said without preamble as he got up and left.
“Jesus,” Carl said, watching Kent’s retreating form. “What crawled up his ass and died?”
Scraps and Jeff glared at him, but Carl seemed to be as dense as a rock when it came to social cues. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Jeff demanded.
“What? I didn’t say anything--” Carl sputtered defensively.
“No,” Scraps interrupted. “You shut up. Shut up now.”
The rest of the night was effectively ruined for everyone. Carl was pouting because no one shared his stupid opinions, and Jeff and Scraps just wanted to get out of there.
In the Uber on the way home, Jeff typed out several messages before second-guessing himself and deleting them again. He felt shaky and unsure, like he was a teenager again and he couldn’t make the dread in his stomach stop every time he thought about what was going happen next in his life. There was just this big unknown and he thought it was going to eat him alive.
At eighteen, he hadn’t known anything other than the fact that he’d wanted to play hockey, but the niggling voice at the back of his head had kept chanting all his insecurities on repeat. What if he wasn’t good enough? What if no team wanted him? What if he failed?
It was the same feeling now, having watched Zimmermann announce himself to the whole world with that kiss, but it was mixed in with several, swirling emotions that Jeff could barely identify with his head full of questions at the moment. However, what was absolutely clear was the deep and painful want that made his heart ache.
Maybe, Jeff thought, one day, he would be able to do that too, kiss another guy and not worry about what was going to happen next.
It was a dangerous hope.
Three days later, Jeff knocked on Kent’s front door, and unsurprisingly, no one answered it. He tried the doorbell too, alternating between ringing and knocking in hopes that it would annoy Kent into opening the door. On the other side, he could hear Kit meowing and scratching at the door.
Jeff had an emergency key for Kent’s place for the odd times that he needed to check up on Kit or when Kent accidentally locked him out. He thumbed the key and considered using it, but in the end, he pocketed it and was just about to leave when he heard the bolt unlocking.
Kent looked like he’d just woken up even though it was the afternoon. Kit was cradled in his arms as he squinted at Jeff in sleepy curiosity. “Yeah?”
Jeff shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans.“You haven’t been answering my texts,” he said.
Both of them were silent for a moment before Kent wordlessly disappeared back into his house. He left the door ajar and Jeff took that as an invitation to come in too. Kent had gone upstairs, hopefully, to shower, while Jeff looked around at the dirty dishes and empty beer cans that littered the kitchen.
He’d just finished putting the last of the recycling and garbage into the bins when Kent appeared again, clean-shaven and looking less like he’d just crawled out of the gutter. His eyes were still dark and tired as he watched Jeff rinse and dry his hands.
“Are you okay?” Jeff said, breaking the silence. He saw the moment Kent’s expression changed, a quirk of his eyebrows, a pasted-on smile, but Jeff interrupted. “And don’t lie to me either. I can tell when you’re bullshitting me.”
Kent was quietly thoughtful for a moment, but then answered, “They’ve been calling. They want interviews or a comment. My agent’s been flooded with requests.”
Jeff nodded. In the wake of Zimmermann’s Stanley Cup kiss, this was not unexpected. Jeff had gotten a few phone calls and messages, though mostly from his own family and some friends, the few who knew about his sexuality and been excited about it and what it could mean for Jeff in the future.
Kent hadn’t answered Jeff’s question, not really, but he didn’t want to push it. Whatever state Kent was in, it felt fragile. Instead, he offered, “Breakfast?”
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Kent said, the relief tangible in his voice.
After they’d eaten and loaded up the dishwasher, Kent suggested a movie and Jeff had gone along with the idea. They argued half-heartedly over which one they wanted to watch, but they eventually compromised and settled on a classic film about a ragtag group of children who were coached by an embittered, former hockey player. Jeff remembered watching the VHS tape repeatedly as a kid, and wearing it down so much that parts of the movie became unwatchable.
“Don’t let me fall asleep,” Kent said as they watched the intro scene.
“I’ll kick you if you do,” he promised.
They didn’t say much during the movie, but Jeff didn’t mind. There was something comforting about having another person around. As the credits and end song played, Jeff checked the time on his phone and was surprised to find it was later than he’d expected.
“I should go. I still have to finish packing up tonight. I have my flight tomorrow morning”
“You’re headed home?” Kent asked, turning his head. “Like Canada home?”
“Yeah, I’ve been putting it off for a little bit, but I think it’s time.”
Kent didn’t say anything. He’d turned back to the TV, and Jeff wasn’t sure if this was his cue to get up and leave or stay for another five minutes.
“You could come visit me,” he found himself saying.
Kent looked over. “Really?” he said dryly.
“If you wanted. I mean, it’s a nice place to get away from Vegas for a while.” Then, he quickly added, “We have the Harvest Fest that’s at the end of the August, and every year, there’s this farm that sets up a corn maze.”
This time Jeff got the raised eyebrow. “Corn mazes, huh? That’s what gets you excited?”
“You knew when you met me that I’m just a simple country boy,” Jeff laughed.
“Do you go cow tipping in your free time too or have movies lied to me my whole life?”
“Guess you’ll have to come see to find out.”
Kent shook his head, probably at whatever ridiculous image he had in his head of Jeff out in the country wilderness.
It only made Jeff laugh harder.
Home was strange.
It wasn’t quite home the way he remembered it to be anymore. Everything got a little older and a little more faded each year he came back, no matter how familiar the streets and the buildings were.
Donbrook was tiny compared to Las Vegas, with just enough people for a couple of schools, a 7-Eleven and a few grocery store options. There was not much to do there, and if Jeff wanted to go see a movie or go the mall, he’d have to drive out to the city. Despite that, he’d loved growing up in a small town as a kid. There was always a sense of closeness and community with the people he’d known most of his life that he didn’t realize he’d missed until he’d moved away.
For the first while, Jeff hung around his parents’ place. There were perks of being back home. His mom’s lasagna was still the best thing that Jeff had ever tasted. His dad had even gone all out and made him his favourite double fudge brownies on the night he was back. They were happy he was home, but with all four of their children grown up and moved out, they had their own regular routines and busy lives too.
Jeff was old enough to feel like he needed some space from his parents after a couple of days. A few years back, Jeff had bought his own house, a small two-storey across town that he’d been returning to it every summer in the offseason when the charm of living in his parent’s house wore off.
His brother, Ryan, dropped in to visit often as well. He’d invited Jeff to stay with over with him and Taylor, but the new baby had recently gotten the flu and Jeff didn’t want to catch anything nor did he want to accidentally spread anything that would compromise her immune system.
They spent the first week casually hanging out and catching up on all the people they had known in high school and all the other small town gossip that Jeff had missed while was away. It was strange to think that people he’d grown up with were already onto the next stage of their lives: married and having kids. Jeff felt like he was barely old enough to do anything.
It didn’t take long for Jeff to adjust back to living in a small town. Life was slow and predictable, and honestly, he lived for the long summer days when the air would be perfumed from the neighbour’s lilac bushes and the quiet, occasional passing of a car on the street would be the only sounds. In the evenings, he liked to sit on the deck and maybe read or just watch the sky slowly turn from wispy pinks to deep blues.
It was almost enough to distract him from his real problems.
“Hey,” Kent’s voice said. There was some background noise like he was somewhere busy. “What’s up? How are you?”
“Good,” Jeff said. “Uh, you?” He was in the middle of chopping carrots for his soup, and when his phone had rung. He’d half expected it to be one of his parents calling to ask if he was going to his third-grade teacher’s retirement party even though he’d already told them twice he would be there.
“Oh, just great, you know,” Kent said before he finally got the real reason he was calling. “So, uh, I’m at the airport right now and I’m going to need a ride since I don’t know where you live.
“Parse, I’m in Canada right now,” Jeff said slowly. He put down the knife and wiped his hand on a towel.
“Yeah, I know,” Kent said in a duh tone. “I’d just call a taxi, but it turns out Donbrook is farther out than I realized. Or, I guess I could get a rental car and drive out too.”
“Where are you?”
“I told you, I’m at the airport.”
“Wait, Calgary airport?” Jeff asked in surprise.
“What are you doing in Calgary!?”
There was an uncomfortable silence and when Kent finally spoke again, his voice sounded smaller. “You said-- you mentioned I should stop by, and you know, the corn mazes.”
Jeff hadn’t exactly forgotten about the invitation, but he never thought Kent would actually take him up on his offer. They were friends during the season, but they never actually hung out during summers.
He could feel his skin prickle with nervousness. He wasn’t prepared to have any visitors, but he couldn’t tell Kent to leave either. “Okay, yeah. No, that’s great. It’s great you’re here,” he rambled. “Just, uh, stay there. I’m going to come get you, but it’s over an hour to get to Calgary from Donbrook.” He was already grabbing his keys and putting on his shoes.
“Oh, I know. I looked it up.”
“If I get a speeding ticket, you’re paying for it,” Jeff snorted.
“Worth it. I’ll see you soon.”
Almost two hours later, Jeff finally got to the airport.
Kent was waiting outside out the doors of the international flights bay, wearing sunglasses and black hat, neither of which were great disguises.
“Sorry, traffic was a bitch to get through,” Jeff said as he helped Kent get the suitcase into the trunk.
“Thanks for coming to get me,” Kent said with a tired smile. The rest of his expression was unreadable.
“You okay?” Jeff asked when they were in the car and back on the road again.
“Never better,” Kent said as he leaned forward to turn the volume on the radio up.
“I don’t really have a guest bedroom,” Jeff said apologetically when they got home. It wasn’t a big house to start with, and his extra rooms were currently either being used for storage or had his work out equipment in it. “The couch does fold out, though.”
He resisted the urge to cross his arms to hide his uneasiness. He wasn’t sure why he felt so off-kilter, and he chalked it up to never having any of his Aces teammates visit him in his hometown before.
Kent, for the most part, didn’t say much, but he did stop in Jeff’s living room. “You have a fireplace,” he said.
“Yeah,” Jeff said. “It came with the house.”
“Good.” Kent turned to look at him. “Don’t get rid of it.”
“Oh, right, you and fireplaces,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the house”
The tour was quick. The upstairs wasn’t very big either. There was a landing at the top of the stairs that his mom had helped him decorate and make into a classy sitting area that Jeff had never used. Down the short hallway was a third empty room, and then Jeff’s bedroom with the ensuite bathroom.
“This is my room,” Jeff said, pointing to the closed door.
“You’re not going to show me?” Kent asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I wasn’t expecting company.”
“What do you have in there? A dead body?” Kent opened it before Jeff could protest.
“Don’t judge me,” he said weakly, cringing at the sight of his of unmade bed and the clothes that were currently thrown on haphazardly around the room.
Kent didn’t seem to care about the mess as he eyed the bed. “We can both fit on that.”
“Uh,” Jeff said, momentarily puzzled. “In here? With me?”
“No offence, but I’m not sleeping on a couch.”
“Er, I could sleep on the couch, then. You can have the bed.”
Kent gave Jeff a look. “Come on, Swoops. It’s not like we’ve never shared before and couches suck to sleep on, no matter how comfortable they are.”
Swoops could have offered to buy Kent a new bed. Hell, he could drive back to Calgary, get a mattress set, and probably be back before dinner. But Kent’s expression was determined and when Kent had his mind set on something, there was no use talking him out of it.
“Fine, but you better not hog the covers.”
“I’ve put up with your snoring. That’s way worse,” Kent teased.
“That’s a lie. I never snore,” Jeff snorted.
“Now, that’s a lie right there,” he said with a grin.
Jeff swallowed hard and hoped that this wasn’t something he would come to regret.
Kent was charming as hell to Jeff’s parents.
Jeff had known that Kent could be charismatic when he wanted to be, but there was a difference between knowing and actually seeing it happen in front of him. His parents were practically eating out of Kent’s hand by the time supper was over.
Even Bolt, his parent’s grumpy Shar Pei, liked Kent enough to stare adoringly at him all throughout dinner.
“You have a such a lovely home, Mr. and Mrs. Troy. Are you sure I can’t help you with the dishes?”
“No, we’ve got it under control,” his mom said, shooing Kent out of the kitchen. “Jeffy, why don’t you show him your old room upstairs?”
“Jeffy?” Kent snickered on the stairs.
“Shut up,” he muttered, though he could feel his ears turn warm.
Kent peered around his old, childhood room curiously, taking it all in until his gaze landed on a faded, hockey poster that Jeff had put up when he was ten.
“Montreal fan, huh?”
“Nah, just a Bad Bob fan. I had the poster of him when he played for Pittsburgh too, but my brother stole it at some point.”
He gave a non-committal hum before taking a running leap and landing on the middle of Jeff’s creaky, old bed. “Not bad,” he said, sitting up to bounce on the mattress experimentally. “It’s noisy though.”
Jeff shrugged,but Kent was already off the bed and heading towards Jeff’s closet.
“Snoopy,” Jeff said, but he didn’t stop Kent. He leaned against the door frame, watching Kent go through his stuff. He made a mental note to clean out some of the things in this room and either move it out to his place or donate it. His parents would probably appreciate having an extra room they could use instead of having it filled with Jeff’s junk.
“I remember when these were in style,” Kent said, pulling out a shirt that Jeff couldn’t believe he’d worn in his youth. “I think I had one like it.” He put it back and pulled out another fashion relic to laugh and mock Jeff for.
“Have you seen enough,” Jeff eventually said.
“I’m just trying to understand you, Jeffy,” Kent said sweetly before laughing and giving Jeff a playful shove. “Yes, I’m done. I didn’t know teenage-you was such a fashion icon. You should bring the studded belts back.”
“Please stop,” he groaned in embarrassment.
He’d had no plans to bring Kent around to his parent’s house, but Ryan had stopped by yesterday afternoon and had seen Kent which meant that he was ratting him out to their parents. Naturally, his mother called him and had invited him and his “guest” over for supper. She’d made it clear that saying no was not an option.
“Alright, I’ve got all the blackmail material I need,” Kent said. “Let’s head back to your place.”
On the way out, Jeff’s mother smiled at him and kissed his cheek. His dad told him he was proud, and Jeff couldn’t figure out why they were acting that way until his little sister called him a little later.
“What’s this about you bringing a guy home?” Gabby demanded. “How come I wasn’t there?”
“I didn’t bring anyone home. It’s just Kent Parson. He’s visiting. You’ve all met him before.”
“There has never been just a just with Kent Parson,” she said. “You’re in way too deep when it comes to him.”
“That,” Jeff sputtered, “is not true and also none of your business.”
“And besides, Gabby said, “Why is he visiting? He never visits. No one ever visits. You can’t blame mom and dad for getting a little excited when you bring home a real, live boy.”
“I am not talking to you about this, and how did you even find out so fast?”
“I have my spies,” she said, not missing a beat. “Also, Ryan texted me.”
“Ryan needs to mind his own fucking business.”
“Ryan is bored. Right now, all he’s doing is taking care of a pooping and screaming baby. You’re the most exciting thing in his life. Also, he texted Chad too, so expect a message from him at some point.”
Gabby wasn’t there to see Jeff roll his eyes. His brothers and sister needed other things to occupy their time with that didn’t include Jeff’s dating life. Thankfully, the topic of conversation moved on to other subjects, but before he was able to end the call, Gabby quietly said, “Hey, Jeff?”
“Jack Zimmermann kissed his boyfriend in front of thousands of people.”
A coil of dread settled in the pit of Jeff’s stomach at where this was headed. “Yeah, I saw that.”
“If you wanted to do that with your boyfriend, you know we’d support that.”
Jeff paused to consider his answer. “I know,” he finally said. Then, with a self-deprecating laugh, he added, “I need the boyfriend first though.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said haltingly. “He’s my best friend and my captain and there’s too much at stake.”
“He kissed you though. That’s got to mean something.”
Jeff closed his eyes as the swell of emotion he’d been trying to hold back seem to break and engulf him.
The kiss from a little over a year ago.
They’d all been drunk at a bar in Houston and on an adrenaline high from a victory against the Aeros. Jeff had gone to the bathroom and when he’d come back out, Kent was there in the cramped and tiny hallway, waiting for him. His memory was a bit fuzzy and he wasn’t sure who kissed who first, but it had ended with Jeff pinning Kent to the wall and grinding up against him while they’d kissed desperately.
The next day though, Kent had sent Jeff a text. soooooo drunk last night hahaha what even happened
Disappointed, Jeff had written back, i don’t remember.
Kent hadn’t exactly specified how long he’d planned on staying, and Jeff didn’t ask. He didn’t want to get used to this because he knew that when Kent did decide to leave, the house was going to feel lonely without him. If he wasn’t so deep in denial, Jeff would have to admit that part of the reason he left Las Vegas every year was to escape his stupid and ever-present crush on his best friend.
Except, now Kent was here, and there was no escaping any of it.
By the fourth day, Jeff woke up with Kent pressed against his back, and not just lightly touching because Kent had rolled into his space either. Kent had thrown his arm around Jeff’s waist and their legs had, somehow, gotten entwined in the middle of the night. He could feel the tip of Kent’s noise on his neck and the puffs of warm air every time he exhaled.
Jeff’s first thought was that this was nice and all he wanted to do was stay in bed all day, wrapped up in Kent, but as the rest of his brain came online, he was immediately slammed with guilt. Kent was asleep and didn’t know what he was doing, and Jeff was taking advantage.
He closed his eyes and for half a second longer, and he let himself pretend that this was all real before bringing himself back to reality. Slowly, he extricated himself from the tangle of limbs, thankful that Kent was a heavy sleeper.
On the road, it was usually Jeff who would be awake first in their hotel room, and Kent who would sleep through all three of his alarms before Jeff would have to throw something at him before they missed breakfast.
In the morning light, Kent’s hair gleamed like a dishevelled, messy halo in contrast to the navy pillowcase. He was snoring lightly and drooling a little bit where his mouth was half-open. It was endearingly cute, and Jeff wanted smooth his fingers over Kent’s hair. He had to leave the room before he did something stupid, like climb back into bed with him.
Jeff went for a run, even going an extra mile than he usually did to try and clear the anxiety that seemed be building up in his chest.
His mind kept drifting back to Gabby’s words from last night. He regretted telling her about his kiss with Kent, but at the time, he had been sad and Gabby just happened to be the first one who called him during his vulnerable state. At least, she kept it to herself. If it had been Chad, he would have called a family meeting to discuss everything. Ryan would have probably flown down to Vegas and punched Kent in the face.
The run did little to actually quiet the thoughts in his head, but by the time he got back, at least everything felt a little more manageable. Kent was still asleep so Jeff ate by himself and stuck the extra plate of food for Kent in the fridge.
His bookshelf was sparse, and most of the books on there were discards from the library or books that he’d bought during previous summers that he’d never gotten around to reading. He pulled one out at random and headed out to his deck.
A little while later, when Kent had finally woken up on his own accord, he came out, waving his phone. “Hey, look at what my sister sent me,”
It was a picture of Kit sitting in the grass with a two-year-old who had food smeared all over the bottom half of her face. “She’s adorable,” he said, passing the phone back to Kent.
“My niece,” he said proudly. “Kit’s with them while I’m here.”
“Looks like she’s having a good time.”
“They’re spoiling Kit, for sure,” he agreed
They spent the bulk of the morning on the deck in the sun. Now that Kent was outside with him, Jeff’s book was suddenly a lot less interesting. Kent was content to do whatever it was he was doing on his phone while Jeff continued to read, or rather, tried to read.
“Hey, Swoops,” Kent asked.
“Mhmm?” Jeff answered without taking his eyes off the page.
“What are you reading?”
“Wow, you’re funny,” Kent said sarcastically. He waited a minute before asking, “What’s your book about?”
“A detective who goes back to the town he grew up because there’s been a string of murders and his wildcard of a sister just showed up.”
Kent dropped his head back onto his patio lounge chair with a faint thump. Out the corner of Jeff’s eye, he could see Kent playing with his phone, flipping it over and over on his chest, but not actually using it. He opened his mouth and Jeff heard the intake of air like he was about to say something, but then he stopped and said nothing.
Jeff’s book was still open but he wasn’t reading anymore. Finally, he slipped his bookmark in and shut the covers. He was about to ask Kent if he wanted to go find something else to do together, video games, or if Kent was feeling more adventurous, maybe they could go fishing today, but Kent cut in.
“You haven’t asked why I’m here.”
Jeff hadn’t expected that question and his shoulders automatically stiffened. “I thought you were here to visit me,” he said, keeping his tone light.
“I am, but…”
“You’re here for the corn maze, I knew it! You don’t really care about me at all,” Jeff joked, but when Kent didn’t return his smile, Jeff started to feel a dreaded sense of unease.
“Jeff, I have to tell you something.”
“Okay,” he said slowly even though Jeff was not okay at all. He didn’t like serious conversations and he liked them even less when he didn’t know where they were headed.
Kent blew out a breath, and Jeff realized he was probably even more nervous than Jeff, at this point. “I realized a lot of things in the last couple of weeks, and um, some of it, I needed to get away from, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be alone, you know?” He glanced over at Jeff before looking down at his own hands.
“Yeah, I get it. You can stay as long as you want--”
“I actually came here to talk to you,” Kent continued, like he’d rehearsed his speech and couldn’t stop for Jeff to interject. “I needed to talk to you. In person.”
“What about?” Jeff asked suspiciously.
“I used to be in love with Jack,” Kent blurted, refusing to meet Jeff’s eyes. Instead, he was staring intently at something off in the distance now.
The declaration took Jeff aback and he found himself speechless. His mind immediately came to the conclusion that Kent knew, that Jeff hadn’t been as subtle as he thought with his feelings about Kent, and now, this was Kent letting him down easy. Hearing Kent admitting to being in love with someone else hurt, and out of self-preservation, he tried to ignore the stabbing pain in his chest.
“That’s uh-- that’s.” Jeff couldn’t even get the words out to lie. He was two seconds away from walking away from this conversation.
“I was so in love with him, but it was just me. He never felt the same,” Kent continued with a hollow laugh. “And when he kissed his boyfriend when they’d won the Cup, I felt…”
“Pissed off?” Jeff ventured.
Kent finally looked at Jeff. His eyes were full of raw emotion that Jeff could already hear in his voice. “...I didn’t feel anything,” he finished. “I thought I’d be angrier, but I wasn’t, and I couldn’t understand why.”
There was only silence between them before Kent quietly said, “And then you came over that one day, remember? We had breakfast and watched a movie, and I was so happy, so fucking happy, all because you were there.
“It got me thinking, and I can’t believe I didn’t realize it sooner, but I like you. I really like you,” Kent said firmly. “I think I might be even at the “love” end of the spectrum. You make me so happy. You make everything better. It’s always been you, and if I that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.” Kent paused to bite his bottom lip before taking a deep breath.
Jeff felt frozen as he tried to take in everything he’d just heard. A small traitorous part of his brain kept saying that this wasn’t possible, but the other part of him wanted to laugh and cry and thank the universe for making this happen.
“But, I need you to tell me that we’ll never happen because I need to hear that. I need it, Jeff,” Kent cut in again. “Otherwise, I’m going to keep hanging on like I did with Jack and I’m just so tired of that. So, please tell me, tell me I’m delusional and that I need to fuck off.”
“What?” Jeff’s head was spinning. “Why would I do that?”
“I know you pretended to not remember the kiss from last year when we were in Texas. It’s okay.”
“Wait, what?” Jeff yelled as he processed Kent’s words. “You think I’m the one who pretended?”
“You literally texted me and said you didn’t remember,” he accused.
“Yeah, only because you said you were too drunk the night before and had to ask me what happened.”
Kent made an irritated noise. “I gave you an out because I didn’t want you to be uncomfortable, and you took it!”
“No, I only said that because I was following your lead!”
There was a brief staring contest between the two of them with Jeff breathing heavily. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Kent finally asked in exasperation.
“Because I thought you were the one who wanted to ignore it!”
There was another pause.
“Fuck,” Kent said as he dropped his head into his hands. “I think we fucked up.” He looked up at Jeff miserably.
“Wow, you think?” Jeff before tossing the book he was still holding aside to move on to Kent’s chair. Then, softly, he asked “Did you mean it? You love me?”
“I do,” Kent said with a bittersweet smile.
Whatever eloquent declaration Jeff had planned completely left his head and the only thing he was left with was, “Me too.”
There was a beat, and then a surprised, “Really?”
“Yes, you dumb ass. I like you to the point where I think I love you. It must be love if I put up with you.”
Kent made a sound that was a cross between a gurgle and disbelieving grunt, but his face was lighting with the bright smile that Jeff had seen so many times over the years. It was the smile that lit up everything in Jeff.
Just like last year, Jeff wasn’t sure who moved first, but the most important part was they were kissing, and this time, they knew it was real.
“That one looks like a hockey stick.”
Jeff squinted at where Kent was pointing. “It’s literally a line of stars.”
“Yeah, that’s the handle,” he said. “And that one over there looks like a hockey puck.”
“Okay, I’m pretty sure they don’t have hockey-themed constellations,” Jeff said, poking Kent gently. “It’s all based on characters from Greek myths.”
“Yeah, and all the Greeks looked up at a bunch of dots and made shit up. Why can’t I do the same?”
“You can do whatever you want,” Jeff said as he tucked himself in closer.
It had been hot during the day, but now that it was night, the air had taken on a chill that had Jeff shivering under the thin blanket they’d spread over them. At least Kent was a nice heat source. Currently, Jeff’s head was pillowed on Kent’s shoulders while Kent’s arm was wrapped around Jeff’s torso for maximum warmth and contact.
“Whatever I want, huh?” Jeff couldn’t see Kent’s face in the dark, but he could hear the self-satisfied smirk in his voice.
“Pretty sure the fireworks don’t begin for another ten minutes.”
“We’re also in the cargo bed of my dad’s truck. Do you want to take it back to him tomorrow and have to explain the mysterious stains?”
Kent laughed and Jeff could feel his whole body shaking. “You’re great at killing the mood,” he teased.
“It’s a talent.” Jeff surged up and kissed the underside of Kent’s jaw. “I’ll make it up to you later,” he promised.
“Actually,” Kent said, rolling over and pressing Jeff down. He pressed a line light, ticklish kisses along the line of his throat. “You can make it up to me right now.”
By the time the fireworks actually started, Jeff and Kent had already stopped paying attention.