One October morning, Patrick leaves the house in the pre-sunrise gloom of 7 AM in late autumn and finds a thin layer of snow on the ground outside. He gets the ice scraper out of the garage and sets to clearing off the car, removing the thin layer of frost from the windows and brushing the snow off the roof, his warm breath visible in the chilly temperatures as he works.
It's that time of year again.
"No. Absolutely not."
"Just consider it. They're hand-carved maple, very traditional, they actually fit in really well with the store brand if you think about it."
"We will not have these...sticks on display at the front of the store."
"And they're not nearly as breakable as the mass-produced composite ones from Canadian Tire."
"Oh my god, that's the actual term?"
"Yes, David. The actual term is hockey stick."
"And is that tape? You want us to sell items that have to be held together with this poor excuse for decorative adhesive? What kind of message does that send?"
"The tape is for grip. Here, let me show you--."
"No. Nope. No. I don't even want to know."
Patrick bought a snowblower and three bags of salt for the store back in July after attending a conference on insurance liability that left him seeing potential lawsuits absolutely everywhere. He was the only customer in the singular aisle of the seasonal section that hadn't been converted to a display on air conditioners, patio furniture, or cottage life.
He's thankful for his past preparation now, because it means he doesn't have to make a supply run before opening the store. The snow will probably melt before lunch time but he salts the sidewalk anyways to avoid a freeze-thaw cycle consuming their annual deductible. His phone buzzes twice in quick succession just as he finishes, setting the rest of the bag down behind a shelving unit just inside the stockroom where it will be easily accessible if needed.
TED: You played AA goalie right?
TED: Still got your gear?
"David, what...what is that you're wearing?"
"It's a hockey sweater."
"I thought you'd like it!"
"Don't get me wrong, I'm very impressed, just -- are you sure that's the team you want to support?"
"This is a team sweater?"
"Oh my god."
"I mean, I've never been a fan of any team in particular. I lived in New York for awhile, so I guess I could support Brooklyn--."
"Doesn't have a team."
"The Yankees, then."
"Do you like the sweater or not?"
"I can't believe I married a Habs fan."
On the third consecutive day of overnight temperatures below freezing, the town council sends Bob down to the lake with a drill and a ruler to test the ice thickness. The measurement comes back borderline at 9 cm, and common sense wins out over the innate urge to get out on the ice.
David still preemptively exiles Patrick's hockey bag to the mud room attached to the garage, where it is easily accessible but out of sight and more importantly, smell.
A handful of cars are already present when Patrick pulls into the parking lot closest to the lake. Two spaces over he spots Ted getting out of his own vehicle, wearing a toque with a pompom on top which manages to make him look even more like an excitable golden retriever than normal. Patrick ducks his head to hide a smile when he sees it, already picturing David's commentary on the matter. The real thing is still several hours away yet; David agreed to come watch the hockey tournament, not to get up early and help set up.
Patrick turns off the car and pops the trunk. He inherited his old hockey equipment from his parents the day he and David closed on the house. Following ongoing negotiations, Patrick secured half of the garage for storage of his sports equipment in exchange for David being granted exclusive use of the closet in the guest bedroom. His old gear comes in handy on days like this, when they have the people but not the infrastructure for a casual outdoor tournament. Patrick's got dozens of old sticks going back years that serve as a de facto Canadian growth chart, a full set of goalie gear, and two or three spare helmets.
"David still in bed?" Ted asks, coming over to help unload.
"It's eight o'clock."
"Alexis is too."
Even with two of them, it still takes several trips to carry all of the gear down the wooden steps to the waterfront. There's a few benches set up along the snow bank for players to put on their equipment and store their stuff. He claims one of them for Cafe Tropical and starts putting on his skates.
Naturally formed ice is rougher than rink ice and harder on a skate's edge, but there's something beautifully authentic about it. For a kid that grew up playing shinny on the pond behind his house, Patrick feels right at home when he steps out onto the frozen lake and pushes off with his dominant foot, gliding along the ice. Ted tosses him a shovel and they make quick work of clearing a patch of ice for gameplay.
David shows up shortly after their first game against Elmcrest Dental with Stevie and Alexis in tow, bundled up tight in a puffy coat with one of the knit scarves from the store wrapped several times around his neck. Patrick skates over to greet him, pulling off one of his gloves and stuffing it in his pocket so he can wrap a warm hand around the back of David's neck, tucking it under the scarf and pulling him in close for a kiss. "Thanks for coming."
"Ew, David," Alexis says. "He's all sweaty."
"Fuck off, Alexis," David says, quite pleasantly. His hands drop to Patrick's waist to stabilize him, and with the added height of his skates, Patrick finds himself looking down at his husband for the first time in his memory. He can see the moment when David realizes it too, the muscles in his jaw working as he tries and fails to suppress a smile.
"So I have a favour to ask."
"Ask me anything."
"Gwen has to leave after lunch, turns out her friend planned a surprise weekend getaway. We're short one player."
"Ask me anything else."
"It'll be fine, I promise. We're playing five on five, and there's a mix of skill levels on each team. We have the lunch hour to practice skating and basic puck handling."
"Basic puck handling? You are literally wearing a cage to protect your face from flying projectiles. That sounds like it requires advanced puck handling."
"There are no boards so we're playing non contact, no one's going to check you."
"Check me? What kind of sport is this? I'm a married man, no one should be checking me--."
"-- no, it's not -- I mean, you're right, no one should be -- forget it. Will you play?"
"Your incentives need some work. Last time you bribed me with a barbeque."
"The teenagers who stole from the store put a team together."
"...give me the stick."
Ronnie decides that kicking Patrick's ass on the ice is more satisfying than winning due to a forfeit, and helps him scrounge up a pair of skates in David's size over the first ten minutes of the lunch break.
Patrick can't believe he's never thought about teaching David how to skate before. David loves winter, if only for the freedom it gives him to explore the full depths of his sweater collection. For his own part, Patrick has always believed the best way to get through the cold is to embrace it fully rather than hiding away inside, meaning hockey and toboganning and snowball fights.
When Patrick returns to the bench where he left David to start shedding layers, he finds that his husband has already found a pair of skates. There's something different about their appearance that he attributes to David's particular style requirements, taking a moment to appreciate that even here David has managed to find a way to bend the universe around his will rather than the other way around. It isn't until he kneels down beside David to help him lace the skates up that he realizes what's off about them. "These are figure skates," he says gently. "See the longer blade and toe pick? They're a little harder to stop on, not great for beginners. I've got a pair of hockey skates right here if you want those instead, they might be better to learn on."
David's lip twitches, and he looks almost -- amused? "I was thinking about trying a triple axel."
"That's a pretty complicated move." Patrick glances back at the pile of spare pads lying on the nearest snow bank, wishing he had thought to bring a pair of snowpants for extra padding.
David's lip twitches again. "A classic, though."
"Let's just get you up first, yeah?" Patrick removes the skate guards protecting the blades and sets them to the side, examining the edge. "Nice and sharp. These look great, where did you find them?"
"Oh, you know. Just lying around." Patrick gets to his feet and into a brace position in front of David, ready to keep him balanced as he manuveurs him into a standing position.
"Okay, so you want to keep your knees bent and your weight on the balls of your feet. Push off with your foot, but don't lift it -- slide, don't step. I'm right here if you need me, I won't let you fall."
"Like this?" David takes his first step onto the ice and pushes off confidently, gliding forward in a wide circle that brings him face-to-face with Patrick again.
"...yeah. Exactly like that, actually."
"I would like to dedicate this one to a very special someone in my life. Patrick Brewer."
Patrick's jaw drops.
David skates further out onto the ice, carving out a few circles in wide, lazy arcs to warm up before getting into position. One foot lifts just slightly so that the toe pick digs into the ice, bringing him to a distinct stop.
"There he is. Can't miss him."
And then he's off. David keeps eye contact with Patrick as he skates backward, one leg crossing over the other, picking up speed with each contact of skate on ice. The last thing Patrick sees is the look of affection on his face before he curves away, turning the momentum into airtime as he lifts off, pulling his arms in tight to his chest to keep the rotational speed up as he completes one full turn and then lands on one foot, the motion fluid.
Patrick can feel his face doing complicated things without his consent. He wonders if this is what open mic night must have been like for David, a long distance public display of affection he couldn't control if he tried.
David does a casual lap of the ice, beginning to build an audience from some of the other players. He loops past Patrick once more, speeding up again. This time he turns the momentum into something different on the jump, his right leg lifting high to make a neat right angle with his left. Simultaneously, his torso bends forward at the hip as a counterweight, so that he forms a T-shape overall. He spins like that for two rotations and then brings his knee in to grab the toe, the spins getting faster as he bends his leg and lowers himself close to the surface of the ice. Eventually he puts the second foot down again and glides outwards from the move, slow and steady, circling the perimeter of the space he's carved out for this little performance once more.
"Wow, David's pretty good, isn't he?"
"Don't bother. Pretty sure Patrick can't hear you right now."
On the next lap, David presses his palms together above his head. He brings them down slowly as he spins and then throws them both out to one side, each movement precise and controlled. As he completes the turn and changes direction he brings his arms back to center of mass again and pulls them down with his fingers spread wide in a gesture that Patrick would know anywhere, something David does in conversation unconsciously approximately a dozen times a day. Now that he's looking for it, Patrick recognizes something of David's usual physicality in the routine. He's always known David to talk with his hands, but now he is beginning to wonder about the chronology of cause and effect here.
David does another two laps of the rink, adding in a jump here and a spin there. Just when Patrick thinks the routine is coming to an end, David skates past him one more time, passing close enough for Patrick to reach out and touch the stubble on his chin, picking up even more speed than before. He lifts off from the ice once more and spins neatly, landing for just the briefest of seconds before he is airborne again and repeating the move. He glides out of the landing on one foot and slows to a stop, digging the toe pick into the ice once more.
Patrick's mouth is dry.
"Okay," Ronnie says. "Give me the skates back, he can't play for your team anymore."
David's clear comfort on skates is balanced out by his clear discomfort holding a hockey stick, and Patrick means to spend the last ten minutes of the lunch break doing some basic puck handling, but there are more -- pressing matters to take care of.
A well-timed goal from Ted ties the game at a score of two apiece.
Ted accepts a string of high fives from the sidelines and then circles back to the net where Patrick's playing goalie, turning his back to the game to block Patrick's view of the rest of the players. "Dude. Get your head in the game."
"What?" Patrick asks.
"We have a chance at winning this, but not if you keep staring at David."
"I'm not staring at David," Patrick protests, and Ted raises an eyebrow. He claps Patrick on the shoulder once and then skates away to take the face-off.
Okay, so maybe Patrick's performance as goalie has deteriorated since David's lunch time display. Patrick just finds himself enormously charmed by the entire concept of reluctant hockey player David, the fluidity of his skating juxtaposted with his clumsiness in keeping the stick on the ice. It is distracting. David's been called for a high-sticking penalty twice already, and that is with Roland as a referee shamelessly biased in their favour.
"David!" Patrick calls out to him, just before Roland can drop the puck to start play again. The other team yells a protest but David breaks formation to skate over anyways. Patrick glares at the teens briefly before looking back to David, whose face is broadcasting nothing but genuine curiosity.
"I didn't want to tell you this, but I think I have to."
"Is now really the time?"
"When they were in the store one day, I overheard them saying they didn't like your sweater."
"Look, I know what you're trying to do here."
"And what's that?"
"You think if you can piss me off, it'll be like the baseball. Nice try, but you and I both know that success isn't likely to repeat itself."
Patrick shrugs his shoulders, a more difficult feat than normal given the nature of goalie pads. It was worth a shot. "I guess I am a little obvious, huh?"
When David gets back into position, Patrick waits about thirty seconds before shouting, "They said it was derivative!"
Later, Ronnie's team will go on to win the tournament overall.
It won't matter, because the only Patrick will remember about the tournament itself is David's clumsy slapshot bouncing off the post and rebounding past the red line straight into the back of the net. The game winning goal.
"You said you couldn't skate."
"I said I couldn't play hockey. I never said I couldn't skate."