November 2019 / @ New Jersey Devils
I get one practice with the guys before we’re back on a plane heading to New Jersey.
“You don’t mind if I have a friend come by the room tonight, do you? Just for a little while,” I ask Sid as the team bus is pulling up to the Prudential Center.
“That’s fine,” he replies easily. “Friend from here?”
“Not from here, no. He plays for the Devils. We went to school together in New York a while ago.”
“So you did go to high school!” Tanger exclaims from the row behind us.
“Uh,” I say stupidly. “Yeah. Duh.”
“It’s just that no one really knows where you came from, man,” Sam pipes up from across the aisle. “All the information about you starts after college.”
“I went to high school,” is all I say in response, which is rather cryptic, but oh well. There isn’t much explanation I can give aside from the truth.
The game itself is quite uneventful. I catch an assist on a Rust goal during a change in the second period. It’s quickly answered by a goal from Gusev, though. We end the third tied one-one, tear through an unsuccessful overtime, and end up in a shootout. That drags on, as well, so much so that Sully puts me out. I miss, which sucks. Dumo ends up giving us the win.
“Your friend like food?” Geno asks on the bus ride back to the hotel.
“Invite to dinner with us,” he says.
“Oh, right. Good idea.”
Jace isn’t entirely thrilled at the idea of being around so many penguins at once, but agrees to meet at the restaurant anyway. He’s a sucker for my sad eyes, which is the exact reason I Facetimed him instead of simply calling.
He shows up a couple minutes after the waitress took our drink orders. It’s only Sid, Tanger, Geno and I in this booth with a couple of rookies in the one behind us, so Jace squeezes onto the side I’m sharing with Geno. Geno thankfully doesn’t seem to mind.
“Bonsoir, petit oiseau,” he greets, poking me on the nose. His hair is still wet from his postgame shower.
“Hi, Jace,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I ordered you an iced tea. Don’t bitch.”
“He speak French, too?” Geno practically groans from my right, scrunching his face up.
Jace starts chattering away with Tanger in the mentioned language. I scan the menu and let him talk until the waitress comes back to give us our drinks and take our orders. I order a steak, big shock, but ask for fries on the side instead of vegetables. Sid gives me a Veteran Captain™ stare and I shrug sheepishly. I think after the last few days that I deserve some damn fries.
“Your knuckles okay after all that?” Jace murmurs after the waitress leaves to fill our orders.
I unclench my left hand and offer it up for him to inspect. The skin of the knuckles are bruised purple from the fight.
“Jeez,” he murmurs.
“Worth it,” I mutter back.
“I know, but—” he begins, but I cut him off.
“Pas ici,” I hiss, silencing him. “Plus tard.”
Tanger and Sid are looking onto the exchange in curiosity, but the topic drops before it can truly start up when Geno thrusts his phone into Sid’s face, cooing about Nikita.
The talk about the fight leaves me tense and fidgety, so I sip at my lemonade and try to calm down. The tiny spikes of adrenaline that jolt through my system every time the topic of Volkov even remotely comes up always leaves me like this. It’s already getting annoying and old.
“D’accord?” Jace whispers into my ear after he must notice the behavior I’m trying to hide.
“Uh huh,” I reply. “Peachy.”
The food comes right on cue, allowing me to avoid any more feelings talk. Jace picks fries off of my plate as I eat even though he teased me for ordering them barely ten minutes ago.
“So, Jace, how was Chris in school?” Sid asks.
“He had more teeth, obviously,” Jace replies, side-eyeing me. I nearly shove him out of the booth in retaliation, honking out a loud laugh.
“Aside from that, we weren’t really friends. Different circles, y’know,” Jace says after we’ve regrouped.
“No? What about hockey?” Tanger pipes up.
“I didn’t play hockey in high school,” I say quietly. “The first real team I played on was in college.”
A stunned silence follows this confession. It sounds impossible, I get it, I shouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today. Something is looking out for me, that’s for sure.
“The more we learn about you, the more questions I have,” Tanger jokes. I shrug, sipping awkwardly at my lemonade.
I finish my steak and check my phone while everyone else finishes up. A text from Chara from an hour ago is on my lock screen.
-tell Jace I say hi!
“Z says hi,” I say, nudging Jace with my elbow.
“Oh, tell him hi back! And that his hit in Carolina last week was wild,” he replies. I grin, typing out his words as he speaks.
“Z?” Geno says, nudging me from the right.
“Chara,” I reply.
“You friends?” he asks, flashing me a goofy smile.
“Yeah,” I reply with a nod. “Most of the guys didn’t like me much, some random call-up from god knows where. He convinced me to take his guest room, though, acted like a total dad the entire time. It was great.”
“He know about trade?” Geno says, tone turning far more serious than before.
“Oh, no,” I reply, shaking my head. “No one knew it was happening.”
“Geez, Geno, put the claws away,” Tanger chides, leaning across the table to swat him playfully on the head.
“What? He fight Bruin day after trade. How I supposed to know who good and who not?” Geno grumbles back.
“I appreciate your concern, G, but it’s all good,” I say, patting him on the shoulder.
We all head back to the hotel shortly after. Geno and Tanger say goodnight before they go back to their own rooms. Sid heads straight for the shower once we get back to our room, which is fine by me because I shower first thing when I get back to the hotel after games because I can’t shower at the arena. I wait until the bathroom door clicks closed before actually relaxing. Finally. A moment alone with Jace.
I kick off my shoes and sit down on the edge of the bed, feet hanging off the side. Jace sits down beside me just as the showers starts up.
“Be serious with me right now,” he murmurs, leaning the line of his side against mine. “Are you okay?”
“Everything happened so fast,” I mumble back, staring down at my feet, “the trade, moving out of Z’s, that fight.”
“I think being in Pittsburgh is gonna be really good for you, Cal,” he says softly.
“I hope so,” I reply, heaving out a tired sigh. “I burnt a bunch of Boston bridges to get here.”
I let myself fall backwards onto the bed, grabbing his arm and pulling him along with me.
“Lay with me,” I mumble.
“Sidney—” he starts.
“Until he comes out,” I concede, trying not to sound like I’m begging.
Here’s the thing about Jace Thomas. I had a huge crush on him in middle school. We had a few classes together then, but I didn’t really see him again until high school. I let that crush go when it became clear that our paths would likely never cross, but the feelings got revived when I got the chance to play actual hockey in college. I couldn’t help it. When I got to play in the AHL, I forced myself to forget about everything but hockey. Staying far away from everything that wasn’t hockey minimized the risk of being outed as who I really am. It was crucial. The thing that happened with Volkov made everything even worse. I had nothing to lose at that point, either tell this kid I haven’t spoken to since high school and hope he doesn’t tell anyone, or run the risk of getting pregnant. Jace kept my secret and surprised me by taking on a protective role in my life, and that’s where we’ve been ever since. It’s not like I suddenly want to hop on his dick or anything, but I have all of these past feelings compounded together that keep jumping out at me. The idea of holding hand or maybe even kissing him has definitely made itself at home in my head.
I curl onto my side towards him, resting a hand on his chest and waiting to see if he’s not into it. He shifts around, sliding his arm so that it’s under my head and turning towards me, as well. He smiles, which helps calm the panicked flutter starting up in my chest.
“Hi,” I mumble.
“Hi,” he says back.
“This is okay, right?”
“Yeah, of course. Why?”
“Cause sometimes I wanna kiss you and I don’t wanna, like, mess everything up with us,” I say back, avoiding his gaze. The admission surprises even me. I’ve never been so forward with any guy before, but if this whole crush situation I’ve had on him for ages has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes I just have to go for it or nothing will ever happen.
“You haven’t messed anything up,” he replies after a beat of silence. “I like you, Callie. I don’t wanna, like start anything where I’m not wanted.”
“Well, I’m into you. I know I’m all, you know, fucked up now because of what…what happened, so, like, sex isn’t really on the table yet, and if that won’t work for you, I totally get it—” I ramble.
“I don’t care about that, Cal, I don’t.”
Tears spring to my eyes unexpectedly. I duck my head down, wiping them away.
“Sorry,” I mumble. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, petit oiseau,” he says, brushing the small bit of bangs that’s managed to grow back after my latest haircut away from my face.
The shower cuts off, the sound breaking the little bubble that’s formed around us. I grab the remote off the nightstand between the two beds and flick the TV on. Jace scoots back so he’s resting against the headboard. I lay back to rest my head against Jace’s thigh. It leaves my neck at an awkward angle, but he’s going to have to leave soon, anyway.
I’m still laying there when Sid joins us in the room.
“I guess I should be heading out, then,” Jace says, sitting up.
I walk him to the door. He wraps me in a tight hug before I can even open the door.
“See you soon, bébé Sid,” he murmurs, stepping back earlier than he would if we were alone.
“Yeah, yeah, diable salope.”
“Did you just call me ‘devil bitch’?” he exclaims.
“Sid told me the word for devil. That’s what you get for teaching me curse words,” I say innocently.
“Oh, yeah? How about I let him know what your college team called you, huh? Maybe I was being too nice whispering it all this time,” he replies, pretending to push past me.
“Hey, no, get the hell outta here,” I say, laughing as I shove him back towards the door.
I shut and lock the door, deadbolt and all, once he’s gone. Sid raises his eyebrows when I get back over to the beds.
“You know I gotta ask for the nickname now,” he says matter-of-factly. “Captain’s duty.”
I groan, falling backwards onto my bed.
“It’s embarrassing,” I mumble.
“You think ‘Sid the Kid’ at 32 isn’t kind of embarrassing?”
“They called me ‘baby Sid’,” I say with a long sigh. “Cause of, you know, I kinda look like you a bit, and all the crazy plays I make sometimes. Oh, and our starting goalie caught me making a peanut butter and jelly before one of our games. I never quite lived that down.”
Sid honks out a laugh like the Canadian goose he is.
“That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard, oh man.”
I groan again. There’s no way the nickname won’t be spread to the whole team at this point. He’s far too entertained not to tell anyone.
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he says as I’m shimmying out of my jeans to get ready for bed. “Rookies usually room with vets and all, you know, and I don’t see you getting sent down anytime soon, so I wanted to offer you one of my guest rooms. I don’t have the family setting, but, the offer stands.”
“Oh, wow,” I say, genuinely surprised. “That sounds great, thanks.”
“It’s about time I took a kid in,” he replies with a shrug.
I go to sleep that night feeling warm on the inside. I seriously figured I’d be holed up in a hotel room until I could figure out a more permanent place to live. Instead I get to live with Sidney Crosby.