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I know that they were heartsick but I need someone to blame
and I know how they blame me. I know what you’d say
you’d tell me it was your fault. I should put all my arrows away
- "Cigarettes & Saints," The Wonder Years

 

Dark wet grass. Clouds above. You'd never know it was summer, which is fitting, Kent thinks. Rows of men in little flat hats, women in pearls all around him. He's never met most of these people, but he suspects Jack doesn't know them that well, either.

Didn't.

There's Mario Lemieux, up near the front.

They're singing in Hebrew, and it takes for-fucking-ever. Kent thinks, crumpling the paper he'd been given, viciously, there's a reason we switched over to having services in the vernacular. Nobody knows Latin anymore. Jack did know Hebrew, though….

Kent remembers him singing in it, one night, when they were all singing kids' songs around a bonfire, pretending they were a boy scout troop instead of a hockey team, some song about a goat. He'd looked like such a dork, concentration all turned inwards, like he was pulling the words out of memory one by one. And then, later, he'd migrated into Kent's lap for once, rather than vice versa. Jordy'd blown a raspberry at them, and Kent had flicked him off easy while Jack had buried his face in Kent's chest, shoulders shaking in what they'd all assumed to be laughter.

 

"Jack Laurent Zimmermann," says a gray-haired old man up on the podium. Who the fuck is this person, Kent thinks. He's not Bob, nor Alicia - though, come to think of it, he does look more than a bit like Bob in the same way that Jack does. Did. If you look past the wrinkles and the sagging cheeks. "… more than just a hockey player," the man - Jack's granddad? - continues. "… Loving son, cousin, nephew, friend…" Boyfriend, Kent thinks. Not that he'd wanted any of you to know that. But he was so sweet, you'd be so surprised if you hadn't ever seen it for yourself. He'd hold me steady when I said that I wanted to just run away from it all, he'd hold me close and tell me that we were both going to be okay, wherever we ended up. I felt so lucky.

I shouldn't have listened, though, should I. Or maybe we wouldn't be here right now. And, oh, Jack -

Fuck, Jack!

"… if it teaches us one thing…"

It's not to teach you anything, Kent thinks, blinking. He's only angry: he doesn't know why there are tears in his eyes. He hasn't given them permission to be there, that's for certain. And Jack's life wasn't for you, any of you, it was for him.

"… addiction is a disease, not a character flaw. And Hashem works in mysterious ways…"

How about hiding your best friend's pills habit, though, from the team, your coach, his parents? How about that? Because there's no chemicals forcing you to do it, it's a decision you make - unless love counts as a chemical. Hormones. But, fuck, I'd do anything for love, but -

 

Kent pushes out of his folding chair, metal legs scraping staccato against the ground, and stumbles out of the row, out of the shade of the canopy that's spread out over the little gathering. It's raining on his head, now - on his neck, mostly, since he's still wearing one of those little hat things. There's dark green grass stretching for acres all around, and stones sticking up out of the ground like - well. Like a graveyard. Or like a forest where little stones grow up. He's stopped next to some sort of raised basin, kind of like an ashtray? Except it's filled with smooth little rocks, not cigarette butts.

He doubles over, holding onto its edge. A funeral would be a horrible time to throw up again.

But he can't do anything, that's the thing. He can't go back in time. He can't even tell Jack, I'm so sorry, Jack, I'm so sorry, I know that you would've hated me forever if I'd told Coach the truth about the times you were 'sick,' but I wish I'd done it anyway, should I have known, it would come to this, could I have known -

He doesn't know what the stones are for, but the way that the edge of the metal bowl holding them bites into his palm feels like some sort of right thing, at least. He has to not throw up, though. The hills that he sees all around look like waves - so just breathe through it - out through your nose, in through your mouth. Steady.

Jack'd taught him that, on his dad's boat.

And he'd used it on Jack, in turn, when Jack had trouble breathing -

The hills blur, double, and resolve themselves again.

Kent looks back to the funeral. It's dissolving, finally, people are standing up - or, no. Half of them are lining up, solemn suits and business formal dresses, a uniform row of black and near-black, by the side of the area where the coffin had been sitting when they all filed in.

Zimms was looking pretty good in the coffin, Kent's gotta hand it to the mortician. And he's somewhat of a connoisseur of Zimms' looks. Admittedly, he didn't have much of an expression, or much color in his cheeks, either, the way he always got when Kent surprised him with a well-timed joke, or a well-timed thrust. But his face was normal, more-or-less: his eyes weren't red, and his face wasn't blue, which is the way Kent thinks he'll always remember Zimms looking, dead. Not moving, not breathing, no pulse, fuck fuck fuck -

The line's progressing along, one person doing something at a time, and Kent figures he'd better get back there. Whatever it is they're doing, there won't be any more chances after right now….

 

Kent attaches himself to the back of the line to, as he cranes his neck to see, throw a shovel-full of dirt on Jack's body. On the coffin, that is, the body's all covered up now. He wonders what they'd do if he jumped in, instead. Drag him out, sure, but what then? He always used to love that dumb Romeo and Juliet song, though he'd fast forward when it came on when he and Jack were sharing the headphones on a long road trip, he didn't want him to guess that he thought about them like that, as if it would've been the worst thing in the world.

"Parson." Kent turns at his name - it's been months, probably, since he's been as effectively anonymous as he's been this afternoon. If not longer. "Glad to see you could make it back after all." Bob looks like a shadow of a person, thin as a paper, like all of his substance has migrated into some fourth dimension. He's pale with dark hollows under his eyes, his cheekbones. Jack'd looked a bit like this when they'd lost the league championship before rebounding to win the Mem Cup, but Bob is even worse. Understandably.

"Least I could do, since you did manage to invite me," Kent bites out. He knows Bob and Alicia hate him now. They must. They, more than anyone, more than all the 'Dynamic Duo Drug Death' headline writers that work the Hockey Canada beat all put together, have all the knowledge and reason they'd need to know exactly how much to, and why.

"What are you -?" Bob half-asks. The line moves along behind Kent's back, a slow shuffle. He steps fully out of it so as not to obstruct other peoples' motion while he continues his conversation with Bob. "Are you seriously going to make a scene? Here? Now?"

"Well, I wasn't," Kent says. "But since you mentioned it." He feels naked, exposed, nerves frayed, like a cable where the insulation's come off and the individual strands of wire are bending and abrading against each other. Each carrying its own burden of electricity. Do Not Touch.

"Never mind," Bob says. He shakes his head, and starts to turn away.

Quick as lightning, Kent's hand reaches out to grab him. Quick as nerves: quicker, though, than thought. Bob turns around. Kent's still staring at his own hand now falling off of Bob's upper arm. Like father, like son, there are so many snapshot images.

"What?"

"I just - " Need to tell you something. Ask you something. Before you go away, for good, and I don't have the chance ever again. "I'm sorry."

Rock would have more give to it, would be more forgiving than Bob's face looks right now. "For the drugs? Or for the lying? Or is there something else that we don't know about, still?"

You don't know how I loved him, Kent thinks, but I wouldn't apologize for that, even if you made me. His nails bite into the insides of his fits, bitten-down, jagged-edged, asking him if he wants to reconsider. Maybe. The specifics of 'how,' definitely. "I'm so sorry that I didn't get help for him, sir. I didn't know - " Kent's voice breaks, emotion tearing through it, through him like a rip that unravels a weave, but he soldiers on. "I don't know how it got that bad. In his head. And I don't know what I could've done, but, something - " Kent's bawling his eyes out, now, but it's not that that keeps him from continuing any further. Rather, he doesn't have anything more in him to say.

"I wish you'd come to me," Bob says, and with the remorseful-but-stern expression on his face, it's just like literally anything an adult's ever caught Kent at something and given him a dressing down. Since he can remember, since he started playing hockey in preschool, at the very least. This man's a coach and a teacher, too, even if not professionally, and Kent's anger flares again.

"D'you know why he didn't come to you?" he says. "Are you sure you wanna know? Because Jack was so fucked up about you, man. Every time we lost, that was what worried him, more than anything, what you'd have to say. And his panic attacks! Yeah, he knew that you knew, the same way he knew you knew we were fucking. But he was still so terrified that you'd find out how many there were, or how bad they were getting, and tell him that he should be better than that."

"I never would've. Said anything like that." Bad Bob's pulled out a handkerchief from his suit pocket to blot his eyes, and Kent thinks, good, it was about time. "He was my son. I loved him. I would've always loved him, no matter what."

"Good to know that now, asshole," Kent snarls. He doesn't know where all this is even coming from, except that it's all at least half true. "Cause he always used to tell me that you didn't really approve of us, or of him, and from what I can see, he wasn't wrong." Come drying on their stomachs, lying side by side, windows open to the early summer breeze. Jack grossly doodling with a finger on Kent's exposed skin, as he talked, not looking at his face. "It's not that he doesn't approve of gay people, he just wants something that'd be easier for me. I think. Like he keeps asking me about whether I like girls or not, and - "

"Do you?" Somehow Kent'd never asked before. 'Somehow,' ha. But they hadn't talked much about what they were doing together till the season was over, and it was almost time for it to end.

Jack huffed out a breath. "I think they're pretty, sometimes. But I like you. And he dragged his finger into the hollow of Kent's navel, leaned over, not to kiss Kent, that was just a feint and distraction, but to get more fingers into the action on his belly, and then the afternoon had degenerated into a tickle fight that's one of the purely happiest of Kent's memories.

"I don't know what I ever did to make him - or you - feel that," Bob protests. Before Kent's decided in what direction to elaborate, Alicia slips herself in, under Bob's arm, with a very fake smile on her face.

She looks goddamn perfect. Poised, like a column, in a pleated shift dress that looks like it belongs on a Greek marble statue. Of course, she is a model.

"Oh, Kent," she says. "There you are. There's a gathering at the house now, if you'd like to come."

People are filing away from the grave site, after all, standing around in knots near their cars, or getting in and driving off. The line Kent had joined before he started talking to Bob has completely disappeared. He's lost his chance to throw a shovelful of dirt in Jack's grave, apparently.

"Oh. Thank you," he says. "But no thanks. I don't think there's anything there for me anymore." Just Jack's room, he supposes. He wonders if the posters are still up. If anyone else could imagine the look of sheer horror hybridized with hilarity that Jack's face had worn when he'd asked if they doubled as inspiration porn and jerkoff porn. If the old shirts and jerseys he'd left there, himself, have been disposed of, yet, and if so how and where.

"Kent," Alicia says. "It's an invitation, that's all. And we're still there." She looks like she's about to cry - again - too, her eyes are a pale shade of red, somehow lovely like eyeshadow, and he hasn't even said anything. Damn.

"Yeah, I know that. And, so?" The worst thing about these little flat hats is that he can't fidget with his snapback band and his hair, the way he normally would.

Alicia smoothes her hands over the upper part of Bob's back, and - must be silent couples communication - he and Jack never had that - except on the ice, where it counted - Bob speaks. "I think what Alicia's trying to say is that we're not just trying to invite you out of the goodness of our hearts. We'd really like to talk to you, maybe not now, but sometime - "

"Why?" bursts out of Kent, uncontrolled.

Alicia takes back up the thread from her husband, perfectly unruffled. "Because you knew him. And we knew him, too, and we loved him, but." She sighs. "We didn't know all of him, and we'd like to know more about the parts we didn't know." Her smile's watery. Teeth as even a double row as her pearls, but the wateriness, that part they all must know too well, nowadays.

"And maybe we can help you, too," Bob says, resting a large hand on Kent's shoulder. "We all miss him. Maybe we should do it together." His hand isn't half as heavy as Kent would've been expecting, if he'd been expecting any such thing as a touch.

"I loved him, too," he says, surprising himself. And he's not sure who moves first, Bob or Alicia - not him, he hasn't moved, but suddenly he's enfolded in a hug from both sides. A huddle.

'We wondered' - and 'I knew you did' - and more hugs, and Alicia saying, as she withdraws, "Stop by sometime, okay?"

Kent nods. It's difficult to speak, but he forces an, "Okay. I will," out of a throat that feels like it's filled with rocks. Maybe not at the funeral… party? It feels wrong. Though it's nothing unusual, he supposes. As much as he's loved Bob and Alicia, letting go of their three-party hug just makes him want to scream out, to the whole universe at large, Where's Jack? He was supposed to be here.

Where's Jack, indeed. Six feet under, as soon as the gravedigger crew finish moving the dirt all back where it came from. Kent can lie down on the dark wet grass, and spoil his draft day suit, as if it wasn't already spoiled by the memory of the day, as if that wasn't why he wore it here in the first place, and cry, and even beat his fists on the ground if he wants, and make enough of a spectacle of himself that some straggling guest could take a picture and post it to the hockey boards to be recirculated as a horribly inappropriate reaction image for years to come.

But Jack's still gone, he's still dead, there's no sugar coating it, and whatever Kent does, yell or pray or beg or fight, he won't be coming back.