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i think i was blind before i met you

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Eric Bittle had never thought his life would come to this. His plan had been to finish high school avoiding confrontation, going to college and getting a degree in nutrition sciences. He hadn’t thought about what he’d do with that title, but he’d guessed he would figure it out eventually. Instead of that, Eric had found out that he could make money from his little vlogging channel on YouTube. Like, actual, salary kind of money. It had been a game changer. He’d started putting more time and effort into his videos, investing in better cameras and microphones so his videos would be better quality and get more views. This had all started at the end of his junior year. By the time he was a senior, Eric’s Baking Tips had 150.000 subscribers and was growing every day. He’d started getting sponsorship offers, each one better than the last.

 

He ended up ditching college and joining all his savings to rent an apartment a few minutes away from his parents’ house, mainly because of the comfort that his home town gave him, instead of his parents. The place was tiny, but the natural light was incredible and the kitchen had lots of counter space. Without having to worry about his parents walking into the kitchen and accidentally interrupting him while filming, as he had to do before, Eric became more confident and let more of his personality shine through. Eric’s channel grew more and more, and two years after moving out from home he had over half a million subscribers.

 

“Hey y’all! Today I’ll be showing you how to make my little cousin’s favorite: chocolate fudge cupcakes!”

 

Video-Eric trailed off for a few seconds, thinking about how to continue the introduction. Eric sighed, going back and cutting out the awkward pause. He replayed the part a couple of times to make sure it was perfect. Editing had never been his favorite part, the process too repetitive and long for him. He always ended up getting distracted by his phone chiming with notifications: a text from his friends, a new comment on a video, or a reply to his tweets.

 

He was editing out a little batter spill - there can be no mistakes, this needs to look easy - when his phone chimed twice, and then after a few seconds started blowing up. Eric looked at it, stranged, and pressed the home button to see what it was all about. The notifications were rolling in so quickly that the first one had been dragged to the bottom. After a few seconds of scrolling - what in the Hell caused hundreds of notifications in just a few seconds? - he found the culprit.

 

TheKVP90 is now a subscriber.

 

TheKVP90 left a comment: loved the brownie recipe! think you can adjust it to fit an athlete’s diet?

 

Eric stared at the comment for a minute, confused. It didn’t look too out of the ordinary, so he didn’t know why it had gotten so much attention. He moved his laptop away from him, sitting cross legged on his couch. He tapped on the user’s icon, trying to get a better look. The person’s channel had no videos, only the usual “Favorites” and “Liked” playlists, though for some reason he had thousands of subscribers. He shook his head and exited out of the channel. Focus, Eric, focus. He’d lost enough time already, he had to get back to editing.

 


 

Eric went over the day’s to-do list in his head, willing himself not to forget about anything.

 

Buy almonds and good chocolate, record the brownie baking video, finish editing yesterday’s video, pay the bills.

 

He’d noticed that he went through periods when he had too much energy and nowhere to channel it, so he’d decided to take advantage of that and make a lot of videos in advance. He hoped it would be enough to cover the periods when he couldn’t move without exhausting himself. Eric bought all the ingredients he needed on autopilot. He liked going to the grocery store every day instead of buying in bulk, and that meant he knew the store’s layout like the back of his hand. Once he was back home, he made quick work of setting up his camera and lights and started recording.

 

“Good morning!” He said, turning up all his cheerfulness, “Today’s recipe will be quick and easy brownies for all of y’all who don’t have much time to spare.”

 

He narrated all the steps as he did them, because he’d never liked doing voice-overs.

 

“Now you pour the melted chocolate onto the-”

 

Ding

 

“Who is texting me? I’m busy!” He said, not bothering to check his phone.

 

“Okay, you pour the-”

 

Ding

 

“Good Lord, leave me alone!” He laughed.

 

Ding

Ding

Ding

 

“Guess I better check it,” he thought out loud, wiping his hands on a tea towel and grabbing his phone from the counter. It was still chiming with notifications, and it didn’t seem to stop.

 

When he pressed the home button, his eyes widened.

 

2.745 users left a comment on your video.

18.346 new subscribers.

 

“Woah,” he said, disbelieving. Usually when he got a lot of activity on his channel it was because he’d just posted a new video, but it had been a few days since the last one. It hadn’t been anything controversial, either, so he didn’t know what was going on. He scrolled to the bottom of his notifications and found what had started it all.

 

TheKVP90 left a comment: this recipe is amazing. you’re the best.

 

Eric recognized the username from the last time something like this had happened. He still didn’t know what all the fuss was about, who was this person that attracted so much attention? Not that he was complaining, having nearly 2000 new subscribers in a few minutes was no easy task and he was achieving it without having to do a thing. Even though Eric usually only replied to those comments asking for help or advice, he decided to reply to this one. It couldn’t hurt to be nice to someone who was helping his channel grow, could it?

 

EricsBakingTips: @TheKVP90 thanks! i’m glad the recipe worked for you (^_^)

 

He hadn’t even finished putting the phone down when the notifications started pouring in again. His curiosity itched to find out what the deal was, but he forced himself to turn his phone off, wash his hands and go back to cooking. That’s when he realised that he had left the camera recording for 10 minutes, probably draining the battery and filling up the memory card with useless footage.

 

Focus, Eric, focus.

 

“So! We pour the melted chocolate into the dry ingredient mix…”

 

The notifications would have to wait.

 


 

For a whole week, the comments on Eric’s videos had been variations of the same thing:

 

Can you make this according to an athlete’s diet?

 

I can’t eat so much butter! My coach would kill me!

 

Is there any way to change this so my nutritionist would accept it?

 

He didn’t know where they’d come from, but all those athletes were driving him insane. His figure skating days were long over, thank you very much, so he didn’t want to worry about diets and nutritionists. He suspected that it was that user’s fault, TheKVP90, the one who’d made his phone go nuts. He didn’t really want to do it, but he guessed he’d have to make his viewers happy. Instead of following his plan, he decided to record a few athlete-safe recipes and post them immediately. Maybe that way he’d satisfy their needs and then he’d go back to baking with too much butter and sugar.

 

It was no easy task; he wanted the recipes to be both nutritious and simple. Lord knows Coach’s boys were never too great in the kitchen. He spent hours googling healthy alternatives to many ingredients, groaning when he realised how many things he’d have to change. He even called a nutritionist to make sure everything he planned to say was alright, because he didn’t want to be the cause of any food poisonings. He recorded both videos in one go: blueberry protein muffins and a high-protein pumpkin pie with an almond crust. It was difficult and tiring, but he was damn proud of them. If they don’t like these videos I’ll permanently block them. All of them.

 

He posted the first video the next day. As usual, he wrote the entire recipe in the description, but this time he added a little extra message.

 

I hope @TheKVP90 likes this! I’m open for any new suggestions, let me know your ideas (^_^)

There’s more to come, so stay tuned for next week!

 

He wasn’t sure if the person was even going to read the description. Hell, maybe they wouldn’t even watch the video, but he guessed it was worth the shot. Eric may not be a fan of protein-filled cupcakes, but at the end of the day it’s the viewers who need to enjoy the videos.

 


 

The response wasn’t immediate, but it was intense.

 

It took a couple of hours for the comments to start rolling in, more time than usual, but when they did, they didn’t seem to stop. They flooded in one right after the other, battling to be first. Eric didn’t even have time to read them, let alone reply to them, before another one appeared. He was stoked. The video was getting much more attention than usual, even more than his last two semi-viral ones. More and more people were subscribing to his channel, and Eric’s smile grew with the number. This would mean more views, more likes, more money in his bank account to invest in kitchen appliances and a better camera, and more opportunities for sponsorships with important brands. He could already see himself with a million subscribers. A whole, entire million people, Eric! He’d never been so happy.

 

He suddenly got the impulse to text his mama, his mood dampening at the thought. It doesn’t matter, he tried to convince himself, if she doesn’t want to accept me for who I am then she doesn’t deserve to see me thrive.

 

It had been a bit over a year since he’d come out to his parents, getting the opposite reaction than he’d expected. Coach had been alright, saying that he’d known for a while but never wanted it to be true. “I guess I’ll have to get used to it, son”. His mother’s reaction had been horrible. Eric had expected her to be completely cool with it, or reluctant but accepting at the very least. Instead, she got angry. So angry, in a way that he’d never seen before. She yelled at him ugly words he didn’t even want to think about. Eric was glad he’d decided to come out over Skype because he was sure that otherwise she’d have thrown things at him.

 

He took a deep breath, willing those thoughts to go away. She. Doesn’t. Deserve. You.

 

Looking back at his phone, he found a text notification amidst all the comments and new subscribers.

 

Eliii: Eric!!!! Your YouTube channel is on the newspaper!! In the sports section!!!!

 

Eric smiled at his friend’s excitement; he’d been that way since they’d met during their junior year in high school, when they had bonded over their baby faces, love for figure skating and fear of anyone taller than them. It was that fear that ended up making Eric quit figure skating, when a whole team of very tall, very muscular football players threatened to beat him up if he kept “dancing like a fag”. Sometimes he missed skating, but quitting had made him focus more on baking, which had led to this situation.

 

He re-read the text, until it dawned on him. His channel was on the newspaper. His channel was on the newspaper.

 

He rushed to open his laptop, googling his channel’s name to see what came up. Right there, in the top results, was the best headline he’d ever read:

 

Wand guilt-free protein treats for after your run? EricsBakingTips is here to help.

 

A grin took over Eric’s face, and he couldn’t contain a squeal. All his hard work was finally paying off, his YouTube channel was on an actual, real-life newspaper! Where thousands of people could see it! No wonder he was getting so many new subscribers, people in the baking scene already knew about him, but now a whole new group of people were discovering what he could do. He would have to keep changing recipes to make them healthier and protein-filled, but it would be so, so worth it.

 

He threw himself onto his couch, hid his face into the cushion and squealed.

 

It was finally happening.

 


 

The next few weeks flew by amidst trying out new recipes until they were perfect, recording, editing and uploading. Eric still posted his usual videos, but now they were separated by the “healthier” ones. His channel kept growing steadily, and soon he was nearing his million subscriber mark. He was checking his email, where he had a lot of new and exciting sponsorship offers, when his phone started ringing in his hand. It was an unknown number, which made him feel a bit iffy, but he answered anyway.

 

A professional-sounding voice greeted him from the other end of the line, “Good afternoon, is this Eric Bittle?”

 

“Yes, who is this?” He asked, confused.

 

“My name’s Julia Sanchez, I’m the PR manager for the Las Vegas Aces ice hockey team.”

 

Eric furrowed his brows, confused. The woman represented a hockey team ? He couldn’t imagine why she was calling him. He’d never been interested in team sports, and being from Georgia didn’t really call for ice hockey.

 

“The reason why I’m calling,” she continued, “is because the team loves your videos, and we thought it would be fun to have you meet them and teach them to bake something. It would help promote you and the team.”

 

“Wait, wait,” he said, “you mean hockey players watch my videos? The ones where I bake? And wear a flowery apron?”

 

On the other line, the woman laughed. “Yeah! Don’t let them know I told you, but they binge-watched all of them just yesterday.”

 

Eric thought she might be joking, but her tone didn’t seem to be implying that.

 

“So,” Julia began, “do you want to visit Vegas?”

 

Still quite in shock, Eric arranged all the details with her. They agreed that he’d be flying out in two weeks, filming one video for the team’s web page and one for his channel and then flying back. It would only take two days, but they were offering him to stay at the hotel for a whole week. Who would turn down such an offer?

 

He said goodbye and hung up with a smile, his heart hammering inside his chest. This would be perfect. It would give him so much publicity in front of a new audience, apart from the fact that he’d get to meet hockey players. He might not be into sports, but he knew that hockey players were famous for the size of their… assets . Eric could only hope that the men wouldn’t feel uncomfortable because of him. He was out and proud, and his mannerisms were those of a stereotypical gay guy. It didn’t bother him, but he knew team sports tended to be quite homophobic. He hoped he wouldn’t have to relive that awful night he’d spent locked inside a supply closet because of his father’s players.

 

Wanting to know more about the hockey team he was going to meet, he started googling them. After a few hours he knew the whole team’s faces and could remember some of their names. He’d also read some of the latest news, and it seemed like the Aces were doing pretty well in the season. Many articles mentioned that one of the players, Parson, had an ongoing rivalry with some other guy called Zimmermann, but it was sort of vague. Eric wasn’t interested in the drama anyway, so he turned off his laptop and set it in the coffee table.

 

He unlocked his phone -which was still buzzing with notifications every few seconds-, and called Elijah.

 

“Hey there!” He greeted, his excitement evident as usual.

 

“Hiya!” Eric said, a smile growing on his face. “I’m just calling to chat, what’s up?”

 

Elijah laughed, being quick to start filling Eric in on all the gossip that was going down in his family group chat. Eric felt his shoulders release the tension he didn’t know they were holding. His subscriber count rising so fast had made him sort of self conscious of everything he did, but now, listening to his best friend’s familiar voice, he was finally calm again. He waited for Elijah to finish explaining how his uncle had made his mother mad, before saying, “So, you’ll never guess who called me today.”

 

“If you say Beyoncè I will scream,” Elijah replied with no hesitation.

 

Eric laughed. “Nope, that still hasn’t happened. A PR manager for a hockey team called me.”

 

“A hockey team? ” said Elijah, clearly as surprised as Eric himself had been.

 

“A hockey team. She invited me to Vegas to film some videos with them,” he explained.

 

“Why, though?” Elijah asked. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing opportunity for you, but what are they getting from it?”

 

“I’m not too sure, actually,” Eric frowned, “I guess it’s a publicity thing? Or maybe they just need something different for their web page.”

 

“Is it just me or does it seem kind of strange?”

 

“Yeah,” Eric replied, “I’ll still be going to Las Vegas for free so I’m not too mad about it,” he laughed.

 

“Yes!” Elijah exclaimed, his excitement returning to his voice, “You have to tell me everything that happens. Oh! You should buy souvenirs! I want the most cliché touristy ones.”

 

Eric laughed again, they kept chatting for a few minutes and then said their goodbyes. He sighed contentedly. Even though Elijah lived far away -he’d moved to California to work as a dance teacher-, they had always kept in touch. They never went more than three days without calling each other, and they were constantly texting and snapchatting. Elijah had been Eric’s best friend for years, and he couldn’t imagine life without him. Maybe if he got a bit of extra money from YouTube he would splurge on a trip to California; he hadn’t seen him in months.

 

While he made dinner, his mind was swriling with doubts about the trip and ideas for the future. Would the team like him? Would it be super awkward? What if Julia didn’t like the videos they made? What if they got angry and made him pay for his hotel room? He definitely did not have enough money for a 7-night stay at a 5-star hotel. Maybe if he planned a whole meal to film, that would be a good idea. He could figure out how to make dessert, lunch, dinner and snacks according to the players’ diet in the easiest way possible. He’d have to ask for their diet plans, though.

 

Eric was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost burned his chicken steak. Calm down, Bittle, he thought to himself, the trip is in two weeks, there’s plenty of time.

 

While he ate he fantasized about Las Vegas, imagining hundreds of different scenarios that could happen but probably wouldn’t. When he finally went to sleep, he did it with a smile on his face.

 


 

The days went by in a blur of testing new recipes, pre-recording and editing videos, and before Eric knew it, it was the day before his trip to Las Vegas. And he still hadn’t packed.

 

He scrambled around his apartment, trying to remember all the baking equipment that he would need. Julia had offered him the rink’s kitchen, but he doubted it had a stand mixer and 4 different sized pie tins. Once he thought he had everything, he began the process of attempting to fit all his baking supplies and clothes into his only suitcase. It took over an hour of arranging, rearranging, squeezing and sitting on the suitcase, but he finally managed to get it closed. He sighed, looking at the clothes he’d had to take out to make more room for the tins. He was lucky that the Aces were going to lend him a camera and lights, because otherwise he’d have to live a week with only one outfit.

 

That night he barely slept, too excited to lay still for more than a few minutes. He tossed and turned, scrolled through twitter and replied to comments on his videos, and before he knew it morning had come. He took his time showering, belting out his favorite songs and making sure his hair was extra conditioned. He prepared a big breakfast to use up all the perishable ingredients he had in the fridge, and called an Uber while he ate. He didn’t want to give himself much chance to be late.

 

Carrying his suitcase to the street was a hassle -his building didn’t have an elevator and his apartment was three flights up the stairs-, but Eric didn’t even care. He was just too happy to let anything bother him. The whole ride to the airport he spent chattering with the driver about the weather in Las Vegas, Beyoncè, and baking. The driver probably had no idea of what Eric was talking about, but he was nice enough not to comment on it. He was bouncing on his toes all throughout the process of checking in and security, a huge grin splitting his face. Many people gave him weird looks, but he just didn’t care. He was going to Las Vegas, he was going to meet some hot hockey players, and his channel would grow because of it. There was nothing about the situation that could make him stop smiling.

 

Eric had a 5-hour flight ahead of him, which mean a lot of time sitting still and doing nothing. He bought a crossword puzzle book to keep himself busy, but it proved useless after the first 30 minutes of the flight. He just had so much energy, he couldn’t focus on anything. He decided to listen to music while he triple-checked all his recipes, both for the Las Vegas videos and for the ones he’d record once he got back home. He was bouncing his leg while he did so, probably annoying the people sitting next to him because of course he’d get a middle seat in a sort of long flight.

 

The same song was playing on his earphones for the third time when the plane started the landing process, and Eric’s heart began to beat wildly. This is it, he thought, I’m in Las Vegas!

 

He went through baggage claim and towards the man waiting with a sign with his name on it, and he felt as if he were floating. They walked outside and stopped outside a shiny black car. The man opened the trunk and lifted Eric’s suitcase into it. Honestly, Eric had never felt so special. All of this was for him. For him , that small gay boy from Madison with one friend and no family, who spent too much time baking. He hopped onto the passenger seat and the driver did as well, starting the car and driving off. He stared out the window as the city passed by, buildings and tourists blending together. The car turned into a hotel garage, and Eric’s eyes widened with surprise. It was a Hilton, 5-star hotel. His shocked expression didn’t leave his face through the check in process, nor when he entered his (huge, bright, expensive ) room.

 

He closed the door behind himself and walked closer to his bed, rolling his suitcase behind him. He set it beside the bed and jumped onto the bed, bouncing a couple of times and landing face down. He felt the soft comforter enveloping him, soothing. He realized that was the first time he’d calmed down since he’d started packing, and exhaustion started to set in. Even though it was barely the afternoon, it wasn’t long until he was fast asleep.

 

He was awakened by an obnoxious noise, and it took him a few seconds to realize it was his ringtone. He lifted his torso from the comfortable bed, stretching out an arm towards his phone, which he’d tossed on his bed before falling asleep. He could see on the screen that Julia was the one calling him; he had saved her number just in case he got lost in the city. He sat up in an attempt to wake himself up a bit, answering his phone.

 

“Hello?” he mumbled, still groggy from jet lag and his nap.

 

“Eric! It’s Julia. Listen, I know we agreed to do the videos on Sunday, but some of the guys can’t make it and we really want to do some photoshoots with you and the team, so it would be great if you could come to the rink on Friday instead.” She spoke so fast that Eric wondered if she had breathed once during all of it. It took his muddy brain a few seconds to process it, though once he did he was wide awake.

 

“Wait, on Friday? You mean tomorrow?!”

 

“Yeah!” Julia laughed, “Don’t sound so scared, the guys don’t bite. It would really help me out, though, do you think you can make it?”

 

Damnit , Eric thought. He’d been hoping to take a tour of the city on Friday, and maybe buy some baking supplies while he was there.

 

“I guess I can make it, yeah. Same time?” he agreed.

 

Julia squealed with delight. “Yup! Same time. I’ll text you the address and directions right away, alright?”

 

“Okay! You take care, now, y’hear?”

 

“See you soon!” Julia hung up right after she said that, leaving Eric with a strange feeling inside his chest.

 

It wasn’t like he didn’t trust her; she’d made herself seem pretty trustworthy during the few phone calls they’d had, but he was still scared. Julia had assured him that the hockey players would be nice and that they’d love him. That was the same thing everyone had said about the football players during his highschool years. “Oh, they’re so nice!” “What do you mean they hate you? That’s nonsense.” “There’s no reason for you to avoid them, honey!”

 

That hadn’t worked out that well for him, now had it?

 

He shook his head to clear his mind of those thoughts. He had to be professional and he supposed they would be as well. If they didn’t like him, they could just keep it to themselves or make fun of him once he wasn’t in the room. Also, he doubted they would actually try to do something to him when there was a camera in the room, ready to share anything they did to the entire world.

 

He yawned and stretched, hearing a satisfying pop in his back. He’d fallen asleep with his feet hanging out the side of the bed, still in his shirt and jeans. The pants were digging into his hips uncomfortably and there was a crick in his neck. Maybe taking a nap that was hadn’t been the best idea. Only then did Eric realize that the light coming in through the window wasn’t sunlight, but city lights. Twilight had come and gone and he hadn’t even noticed.

 

He unpacked his suitcase into his room’s wardrobe and proceeded to take a shower, washing off all the grime from the flight and the nap. Feeling fresh, he decided to go downstairs and see if the restaurant was already offering dinner. He hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, being too full with energy to eat during the flight without fear of throwing up.

 

Eric hopped down the stairs, humming subconsciously. When he got to the first floor he saw a blonde man staring at him a bit funny, but he paid him no mind. Instead, he turned his attention towards the restaurant, where there was a sign announcing they were about to start dinner service. He smiled triumphantly and went to get a table.

 

The food was as good as hotel food can be, but for Eric’s empty stomach it was like paradise. He was tempted to order apple pie for dessert just to pride himself in how much better his recipe was. He’d never understood why some people considered dining alone to be boring or sad. He had fun with his inner monologue, rating every aspect of the meal and people-watching.

 

Once he was satisfied he asked the waiter to add it to his hotel room’s bill, rejoicing in the fact that the hockey team was going to pay for it. He chose to use the stairs instead of the elevator again, because he still had too much energy in his system. He thought he could feel eyes on him. It wasn’t unusual, many people tended to stare at the small guy in bright clothes that’s singing or hopping around.

 

It used to bother him that his behavior attracted so much attention, ashamed of being different. After he’d moved out from his parents’ house he’d learned to love that part of himself, and now he knew that people stared because they also wanted to be brave enough to be noticeable.

 

When he was back in his room, he forced himself to change into his pyjamas and go to bed even though he wasn’t tired at all. There was a long, exciting day in front of him.

 


 

The alarm on his phone went off way too early to be considered normal.

 

The sun had barely brushed the horizon, a pinkish hue staining the whole sky. Eric could have looked out the window forever, but he knew he had woken up at that ungodly hour for a reason. With fake determination, he jumped off the bed and headed straight for the shower. His movements were sloppy because he’d slept barely five hours, causing him to drop the tiny hotel shampoo bottles more times than he could count. After showering he spent a good half-hour styling his hair. He was about to meet and record himself around a bunch of hot athletes, so he wanted to look his best.

 

When he was happy with the results he put his arms down, rolling his shoulders to alleviate the tension that had built there. He looked at his reflection in the mirror dead in the eye and took a deep breath.

 

“You can do this,” he told himself, “You will charm them, they will like you and the videos will be great. Your viewers will love them. Everything will be okay.”

 

He breathed deeply again.

 

“Everything will be okay.”

 

His phone dinged with a message letting him know that his driver was waiting outside, so he rushed to get his suitcase -filled with his baking stuff- and he was out the door in just seconds. This time he chose to take the elevator, scared to dent his pie tins by rolling the suitcase down the stairs. He waved at the receptionist as he power walked through the lobby and out the door. The driver was the same person who had driven him from the airport, so Eric greeted him kindly and got into the passenger seat. He made small talk with the driver, and in no time the car was pulling into a parking lot in front of a huge building.

 

He got off the car and grabbed his things, walking up to what he assumed was the front door. He smiled when he saw Julia walking towards him while on the phone with an apparently very angry person.

 

“Yes, sir, I understand that it’s a problem, but-” she waited for a few seconds while the person on the other end of the line shouted at her, motioning for Eric to follow her. “Alright, I will let my team know. Yes, sir. Goodbye, sir.”

 

Eric giggled at the expression on her face when she hung up, making her look back at him.

 

“Bosses, am I right?” she laughed.

 

They went down a hallway and then turned right until they were facing a set of doors that was unmistakably a locker room, judging by the loud conversations coming from it. Julia didn’t even stop to knock or announce her presence, pushing one of the doors open and walking in as if she owned the place. Eric followed shily after her.

 

All the research and mind-prep Eric had done could not have prepared him for that moment.

 

A dozen pairs of eyes focused on him as the conversations died down. Eric had assumed that the men were going to be athletic, but the people in front of him were on a whole different level. For some reason most of them were changing clothes, even though Julia had told him that they were off season. The toned, strong bodies practically begged for Eric’s attention, but he forced himself not to look. He didn’t want to come off as that creepy gay guy. He cleared his throat.

 

“Hi y’all! I’m Eric, nice to meet you!” he said with a smile.

 

With that, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Everyone instantly smiled, a chorus of ‘hi’s sounding around the room.

 

Southern charm never fails , he thought, smug.

 

Julia clapped her hands to get the men’s attention. “Alright! Guys, this is Eric Bittle, the baker from YouTube. Remember that he’s here to record a couple of videos with you?”

 

A few ‘Yeah’s sounded out around the room, most of the players just nodding silently. The expression on their faces made it seem as if they were children and Julia was scolding them.

 

“Good. Eric, this is the team. Introduce yourselves, please,” she continued.

 

One by one, the players chanted off their names.

 

“Jeff”

 

“Mark”

 

“Tony”

 

They were going too quickly for Eric to remember them all, except for the last guy, who winked before saying, “I’m Kent, what’s up?”

 

Eric giggled, sort of surprised by the wink. “I’m good, thank you. Nice to meet all of you! I’m excited to be here.”

 

A man dressed in all black with a headset walked through the door. He informed them that they were done setting up the cameras and lighting for the videos and was out the door in a second. Eric raised his eyebrows at this.

 

“Okay, then,” Julia started, “You guys know what you have to do. The ones that will be on the video, come with me. Eric, follow me.”

 

Only three players came with Julia and them to where they were going to film; the first guy who had introduced himself, who Eric remembered was called Jeff, the last guy, Kent, who had winked at him, and another man whose name he could not remember. Jeff was tall and a bit lanky, with short brown hair. He was playfully bumping into Kent as they walked. Kent was Eric’s height, which surprised him a little bit. He didn’t know it was possible to be a professional in a violent team sport like hockey being so small. His hair was mostly covered by a snapback, but a few blond locks of hair were peeking from underneath. The unnamed man was tall and had broad shoulders, a mop of brown wavy hair covering his eyes and bouncing with his every step. If Eric saw this guy on street, he probably would need to clear a path to let him pass, he was so big.

 

Eric was quickly separated from the three players and sent to a different room where they steam-ironed his shirt and put a little bit of makeup on him. He was glad that they were letting him keep his clothes and his hairstyle, because he wanted the videos to come out authentic. He had seen many youtubers who got opportunities like this one and they tried to act and look different to fit in with the brand, and it only ever ended up in them losing part of their original audience, who watched them for their personality over their content. The last thing Eric wanted was to lose those loyal viewers that had followed his journey and allowed him to be there in Las Vegas.

 

When the make up artist was done, he was led back into the room. He could see that the three players had changed into matching Aces t-shirts and were struggling against the people trying to put a bit of makeup on their faces. Eric giggled. They actually looked like little children.

 

The players’ eyes snapped to him, making him blush like a deer caught in headlights. He saw Kent smirk at him for a split second before they were called to start recording.

 

Eric took a deep breath and closed his eyes before releasing it with a deep sigh. He needed to calm down if he wanted the videos to be natural and authentic. He straightened his back and walked towards the kitchen where they had set up his baking tins. He stood in the center of the countertop, waiting for the cameramen to give him the OK to start. Julia had told him to do the video for his own channel first so that he was more comfortable, and the video for the Aces’ website would go afterwards when he had warmed up to the guys.

 

“Dude, what the hell is this hook?” whispered Jeff, pointing at the attachment for the stand mixer.

 

“I don’t know, bro. Does it look like I’ve baked?” answered the tall man next to him. Damn, Eric should have paid more attention.

 

“It’s for kneading dough,” said Kent with a teasing look in his eye. If the few minutes Eric had seen him were anything to go by, it seemed like Kent was always teasing, winking and smirking. He couldn’t say that he minded.

 

The camera gave a thumbs up and Eric waited for the men either side of him to straighten up before beginning.

 

“Hey y’all!” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kent and Jeff exchanging an amused look after hearing his accent come out. It didn’t seem malicious, though, which was a relief. “Today’s video will be a little bit different than what you’re used to. As you can tell, I’m joined by some strangers! Care to introduce yourselves, gentlemen?”

 

The tall guy went first. “I’m Mark Jones, and I play defense for the Las Vegas Aces.”

 

Well, Eric thought, at least I know his name now.

 

“Cool,” Jeff said dismissively. “I’m Jeff Troy, but people call me Swoops for some reason. I’m a defenseman for the Aces as well.”

 

Eric laughed while Mark tried to look offended by Swoops’ antics.

 

“I’m Kent Parson, I’m the center for the Aces, and I’m the only one here apart from Eric who has used an oven in his life. This should be fun.” He smirked when he said that, raising an eyebrow at Eric while the other two guys pretended to be physically wounded by Kent’s words. Eric laughed, and he could feel himself blush. It wasn’t his fault, alright? It wasn’t every day that a hot hockey player basically flirted with him. He looked back towards the camera and clapped his hands once.

 

“So! I prepared an easy recipe for today, and it’s one that both you guys and your nutritionist will love.”

 

The recording of the first video went just as Eric had planned. The pie turned out amazing, and it was hilarious to watch the big, muscular hockey players struggle to weave the lattice. The guys were teasing each other throughout the video, competing about who was faster and who was better at everything. Kent hadn’t been lying when he’d said that he was the only one with experience, Mark didn’t even know what a whisk was. Also, Kent was pretty good at baking in general. He rolled out the pie dough in a way Eric had taught in one of his videos.

 

Maybe the whole team has watched my videos like Julia said, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kent Parson had tried some of the recipes out.

 

The thought made him all giddy. Not only did it seem like Kent actually, genuinely liked his content, he had also been sort of flirting with Eric during filming. He knew he should be realistic; it wasn’t very likely that an athlete in a sport as homophobic and violent as ice hockey was into men. It was even less likely that a hockey player was into him , but he couldn’t help it. Kent’s smirks, winks and comments seemed flirty, and Eric thought he could see some type of honesty behind them. He wasn’t sure if the spark in Kent’s eye was mirth or the sign of a crush. He couldn’t help but feel hopeful. Man, he hadn’t been on a date in a long time. He had to get himself under control.

 

When Julia came back in the room -Eric had never seen her leave, but she was fast and silent so he wasn’t surprised-, she informed them that they were going to have an hour-long break to have lunch. Afterwards, they’d record the videos for the Aces’ website.

 

“Can we have pie for lunch?” asked Mark, followed by hums of agreement from both Jeff and Kent.

 

“Nope. The photographer is trying to get some shots now, and she’ll also want to take some pictures when the other recipes are done. They’re for Twitter and stuff,” Julia said. “Off you go, now! You only have an hour! Time is ticking!”

 

She ushered them out with her hands, immediately rushing off to Lord knew where. Mark and Jeff were fast to leave, disappearing somewhere in the maze of hallways and leaving Kent and Eric behind. Eric suddenly felt lost. Kent would probably want to follow his teammates, and then he’d be left alone.

 

Lord, this is just like high school.

 

“Hey, Eric,” Kent said from beside him, “I know a place that’s not too far away from here, they sell amazing Chinese food. Wanna come?” The sentence was, of course, paired with a smirk. Apparently it was impossible to talk to Kent Parson without seeing him smirk.

 

“Um- Yeah! That’d be great,” Eric answered.

 

With that, Kent led him out of the rink, onto the parking lot and towards a very flashy sports car. He let out a low whistle in appreciation. Now, Eric didn’t know too much about cars, but he recognised an expensive car when he saw one. He saw Kent glance towards him, clearly enjoying his surprise.

 

The drive to the restaurant wasn’t long, but it seemed endless to Eric. Not in a bad way, though. Kent seemed to have made it his personal mission to charm him. He was trying not to get his hopes up; he didn’t want to get a crush on a straight guy, but every time Kent looked at him while singing along to some cheesy pop song, he couldn’t help but blush. It felt like his heart skipped a beat a billion times while he was in the car, and Eric was feeling increasingly stupid.

 

He doesn’t like you, and he won’t like you. He’s straight, and even if he wasn’t, he’s out of your league.

 

He kept repeating his inner monologue all throughout their lunch, basically screaming it inside his head every time Kent made his heart flutter. Somehow he managed to make Eric’s life seem super interesting, with all the questions he was asking about it. He didn’t even seem to be doing it just to fill the silence either, he looked genuinely interested in what Eric had to say. He was fascinated by his stories of his figure skating years, wanting to know all about the competitions. He also talked a bit about himself, though he didn’t share much. Apparently he had a younger sister, and he’d lived in New York all his life until he started traveling because of hockey. He didn’t let Eric ask much, throwing his questions right back at him and asking for anecdotes, fears, goals and dreams. After they had ordered dessert, Eric had to go to the toilet to compose himself.

 

You aren’t attracted to Kent Parson. You don’t think he’s cute. You won’t get a crush on him.

 

He stared at the reflection in the dirty mirror, willing it to make the words magically become true. He splashed some water on his face, being careful not to mess up his hair. He dabbed his face dry with a cheap paper towel and took one last deep breath before going back to their booth.

 

Their desserts were in doggy bags on the table, and Kent was reading something on his phone, a frown clouding his face. He looked up when Eric slid onto his seat.

 

“Hey! So, uh… Swoops and Mark are already back at the rink, so we should get going if we don’t want to make Julia mad. And trust me, we don’t,” He said. Judging by the expression on his face, he was actually scared of making her angry. Eric wasn’t sure why he found that so endearing.

 

“Okay, should I ask for the check?”

 

Kent laughed, making Eric furrow his eyebrows in confusion. “Don’t worry about it, I already got it,” he said, chill as ever.

 

“Oh! Alright. How much do I owe you, then?”

 

Kent laughed once again. Eric didn’t understand what was so funny, and he started feeling slightly self conscious.

 

“Honestly, don’t worry about it. I invited you, here, so it’s on me.”

 

“Uh- Okay, if you’re sure I guess it’s alright.” It wasn’t alright, it was feeling too much like a date, and Eric’s brain could not take it. “I feel bad making you pay for me, though.”

 

“You can pay for me next time, if that’s what you want.” Kent ended his sentence with a wink, and Eric’s heart was practically showing through his shirt, it was beating so wildly.

 

Damn boys and their stupid pretty faces. How dare they.

 

Outwardly, he just rolled his eyes in response, but the smile overcoming his face told Kent that he wasn’t annoyed in the slightest. They made their way back to the rink, desserts in tow, chatting and joking all the way. Eric didn’t think he’d had such a good time for a long while.

 

Damn Kent Parson and your stupid pretty face. How dare you.

 


 

While they recorded the other videos, Eric was much more comfortable. Julia had been right, recording his own video first had been an amazing idea. The Aces had asked Eric to make a recipe video, and then one challenging Kent, Jeff and Mark to a healthy-pie-eating contest. Mark won by a landslide, but it was hilarious watching Jeff and Kent compete for second place. Kent finished his pie before Jeff, and didn’t stop bragging even after they’d all taken off their makeup and the Aces had changed into their regular street clothes.

 

Eric said goodbye to them, and was about to call an Uber when Kent offered to drive him.

 

“Oh, Lord, you’re too kind. I can’t say no to riding in that beautiful car of yours,” Eric giggled.

 

He thought he saw a blush making its way up Kent’s face, but the man in question was walking towards the parking lot before he could do a double take. He probably hadn’t been blushing, though. It wouldn’t make sense for him to blush. Blushing would mean that he cared about what Eric thought of his car, and that meant that he cared about what Eric thought of him. Wouldn’t it? Maybe he was overanalyzing the situation. Maybe he was blushing because he was embarrassed. Yeah, that could be it. It made more sense than him actually caring about Eric’s opinion. They hadn’t even known each other for 24 hours, it would be stupid for Kent to care. For any of them to care.

 

Right?

 

Lord, he was definitely overanalyzing everything.

 

He shook his head in an attempt to clear it of his anxious thoughts, jogging to catch up with Kent. They both got in the car and Eric typed in his hotel’s address into Kent’s GPS, because apparently the guy had been living in the city for years but he didn’t know his way around yet. Kent also managed to get them lost, even with the GPS telling him what to do every five seconds. Eric spent the entire drive laughing at Kent and rolling his eyes. He was just too endearing, Eric couldn’t handle it.

 

They finally made it to the hotel, and only when Kent didn’t switch off the ignition did he remember that that was the last time he’d be seeing the hockey player. He felt as if there was a huge weight pressing on his chest. In only a few hours Kent had completely charmed Eric, and unfortunately he could tell that he was crushing on the guy.

 

He thanked Kent and said goodbye to him, grabbing his suitcase from the trunk of the car and going into the hotel, mentally scolding himself the entire time. Crushing on straight men never turned out well, especially if the guy was a hockey player, and probably 5 times stronger than Eric. Suddenly he was glad that he wouldn’t be seeing Kent again, because he was sure that if he found out about his crush he wouldn’t be happy at all.

 

He went up to his room hoping to lay down and take a nap, though he realized after a while of tossing and turning in his bed that it wasn’t going to happen. He just had too much going on in his head. He decided to take advantage of the last hours before the sunset and go for a swim in the hotel’s pool. He changed into his swimming trunks and thanked the Lord that the hotel provided small sunscreen bottles. He couldn’t afford to get sunburnt when his job was to appear on camera.

 

When he got to the pool area he was surprised to see he was the only one there. It was strange, in a hotel as big as that one. He left his things on the side of the pool, far enough so that the water wouldn’t soak them, before jumping in.

 

The water enveloped him, calming. He allowed his body to sink to the bottom and drown all his senses. He focused on the faint sound of the water filter, time slowing down around him. He stayed there until his lungs felt like they were about to burst, and then he pushed at the pool’s floor to float above the surface of the water. He started doing laps while he allowed his mind to wander.

 

He thought about YouTube, and how it had helped him mature. He’d had to grow a thick skin because of the hate, but he had also learned to communicate much more effectively, and his self confidence had gone through the roof. His train of thought went by his parents, though he forcibly stopped it before he could make himself feel sad. They didn’t deserve a second of his time, not even in thoughts. He thought about Las Vegas, and how much the opportunity with the Aces would benefit his career. Finally he thought about Kent. He wondered how it was possible that in barely a few hours the man had wormed his way into his brain, settling there with no intention of leaving.

 

He cursed himself for what seemed like the billionth time that day. He couldn’t get crushes on straight men, he should have known better by then. Besides, this man in particular was famous, and they were never going to meet again. What’s the point of having a crush on someone you’ll see once? Eric was certain it would only lead to heartache.

 

His arm strokes became increasingly more intense as he got angrier at himself. The whole situation was just stupid. It was like being in high school all over again, pining after guys who would never give him the time of day.

 

He reached the edge of the pool once again and stopped to catch his breath, carding a hand through his hair to lift it from his eyes. He rested his forearms on the edge and laid his head on them. The whole situation had left him both physically and mentally exhausted. He’d hoped that swimming would clear his mind a little bit, but it had only managed to make his frustration level go off the charts.

 

Lifting himself from the pool, he laid out his towel and lay on top of it. If swimming wouldn’t help him, he was going to sunbathe. He grabbed his phone and started catching up on Twitter, where he hadn’t been very active because of the trip and Julia moving the date up. His followers had definitely noticed; usually he spent most of his day on the platform.

 

@EricsBakingTips: sorry I’ve been away, guys! I’ll make up for it, something exciting is coming soon. get ready!

 

He instantly got dozens of replies, and he spent a few minutes reading through them. He laughed out loud at some of them, mostly the ones speculating what was the surprise. Some said he was collabing with Beyoncè, and another one thought he was introducing dog food into his next recipe, for some reason. He replied back to a few of them, being careful not to give anything away.

 

When he looked back up, the sun was setting and the wind was starting to pick up, so he grabbed all his things and went up to his room. He showered to get all the chlorine off his body, and stopped for a second to take a selfie in the fogged-up bathroom mirror. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, but he looked good, so he posted it to his Instagram. It was a bit sexier than the ones he usually posted, what with him being shirtless and flexing his abs to make himself appear a bit slimmer.

 

He then put the phone down for a few minutes while he brushed his teeth and put on his pyjamas, already looking forward to sleeping after the long, tiring day. He still had five days left to enjoy the hotel and the city, so he was probably going to go sightseeing the next day. He’d find time somewhere to buy more baking supplies, he was sure. He lay on the bed, burrowing into the covers. Taking his phone from where he’d left it on his bedside table, he started checking the likes in the photo he’d posted, skimming over all the users. His eyes were drawn to a username that seemed familiar.

 

@TheKVP90

 

Huh.

 

That seemed like the user who had made his YouTube channel blow up. His brows furrowed in confusion. Why hadn’t he noticed them before? He tapped on the username to see if they had any information on their Instagram profile, remembering that they didn’t have any on their YouTube page.

 

Once the profile loaded, Eric gasped.

 

No, this can’t be right , he thought

 

He checked over and over again, and he came to the conclusion that what he was seeing was real.

 

@TheKVP90

Kent Parson

Forward for the Las Vegas Aces #90

 

Kent Parson, the hockey player, had liked his selfie. This meant that Kent Parson, the hockey player, was the user who had subscribed to his channel, commented on his videos, made him blow up with new subscribers, got him to travel to Las Vegas, looked him up on Instagram, and liked his selfie.

 

Oh. My. God.

 

Eric squealed, hands coming up to his cheeks. Butterflies were going crazy inside his tummy, a blush covering his face. He burrowed his face onto his pillow, feeling too giddy to stay still. Fireworks were going off in his mind, and he felt like the embodiment of spring. He didn’t even know what to do with himself, he had so much energy. This meant that Kent actually cared. He wasn’t there in Las Vegas because of Julia, he was there because of Kent. Maybe, just maybe, all his crushing hadn’t been useless. Maybe he had a shot with Kent.

 

He started going through Kent’s profile, feeling his blush intensifying with every photo, the butterflies in his stomach never calming down. Yup, he was definitely crushing. Hard.

 

Before he could doubt himself, he hit follow, immediately putting his phone on his bedside table as if it were on fire. He squealed once again, beside himself with joy.

 

He fell asleep with a huge smile on his face.

 


 

TheKVP90 followed you back.

 


 

The next day, Eric went through breakfast with only one thing on his mind:

 

Will I see Kent again?

 

The day before he’d thought that that was completely out of the question, though after the previous night’s discovery he wasn’t so sure. Would it look too eager if he messaged Kent on Instagram? He probably got thousands of messages every day, so he wouldn’t even read it. Or maybe he was waiting for Eric to do it, maybe he wanted him to. It seemed a little too rushed, they’d met the day before and he wanted to message him that day, would he look desperate? Though he only had 5 more days in the city, he didn’t want to waste time.

 

The questions didn’t stop running through his mind while he went down to the gym, nor when he had a shower, nor when he had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant.

 

What if Kent just wanted to be friends with Eric? He wasn’t sure if he liked that, he was really into Kent. Was Kent even gay? Or bi? Even if he was, was he interested in him? And if he was interested, Eric was pretty sure that Kent wasn’t out. He definitely would have read about that when he had investigated about the team, he was sure.

 

He heaved a deep sigh. Everything was just too complicated.

 

He decided to just get it over with, opening Instagram, going to his profile and sensing him a message.

 

Hey! I found your profile last night. I was wondering if you wanted to meet up today? You could show me around the touristy spots hahah

 

Just let me know if you’re up for it

 

It’s Eric, by the way

 

He groaned, covering his face with his hands. He was so awkward. He both wanted Kent to answer and didn’t, he was so embarrassed.

 

The rest of the day he spent relaxing at the spa, swimming in the pool and enjoying the comfort of his hotel room, though he kept making excuses to check his phone.

 

What time is it?

 

How hot is it right now?

 

What time is it in Georgia?

 

I should text Elijah.

 

Every time his phone lit up with a notification his heart fluttered, only to drop when he didn’t see a message from Kent. It was honestly getting ridiculous, he couldn’t be so obsessed over the guy when they’d met once. He tried to distract himself with reality TV and Twitter, but it wasn’t really effective. Every few minutes he could feel his mind wandering back to Kent, analyzing the situation over and over again.

 

That’s it. I give up.

 

Disappointed and more than a bit embarrassed, Eric changed into his pyjamas and went to sleep. He’d go out to the city the next day, he decided. He didn’t really want to go alone, but he was sure that the hotel had some pamphlets for guided tours that he could take. If he wasn’t paying for the hotel, he might as well spend a bit of money to know the city.

 

It seemed like only a second had passed when he woke up, though the light coming in through the window told him morning had come. He grabbed his phone to check the time, seeing it was only 7 am. He proceeded to go through his notifications, reading through YouTube comments and Twitter mentions. It was only when he got to Instagram that his heart stopped. He had a few likes and comments on his picture, but that wasn’t what had caught his eye.

 

@TheKVP90 sent you a message.

 

Hands shaking, he opened their conversation, hoping his brain wasn’t playing tricks on him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down. The messages could either be Kent taking him up on his invitation or rejecting him. He was afraid to know which one it was. When he opened his eyes, the messages were there, screaming to be read.

 

Hey Eric, what’s up?

 

Sorry I didn’t see your messages yesterday, I have no idea how I missed them

 

I can take you sightseeing today, if the offer still stands

 

Wait fuck are you even still in the city? sorry man

 

Eric couldn’t stop the grin that broke out across his face.

 

It wasn’t a confession of Kent’s undying love for him, but at least this meant that he wanted to see Eric, at least as friends. He sat up in his bed, that position somehow feeling more appropriate to text his maybe-friend-who-he-liked.

 

Hi Kent!

 

Yes, I’m still in the city and the offer still stands.

 

Tell me where you want to meet and I’ll see you there!

 

Not even ten seconds had passed when read appeared below his messages.

 

Fuck fuck fuck he’s online, he’s going to answer sooner than I expected, I’m not emotionally prepared for this, fuck.

 

He exited out of the app, covering his face with his hands. He seriously needed to get his shit together, especially now that he was going to see Kent. If he couldn’t even talk to him through an app, how would he stop himself from internally combusting when they talked face to face? It just wasn’t happening. Taking a deep breath -it seemed it was the only thing he did these days-, he opened the app again, ready to face Kent’s messages like an adult, Eric.

 

Don’t be stupid, I’m picking you up

 

Be ready at 10

 

Lord, this was happening, wasn’t it? Eric immediately jumped up from the bed and into the bathroom to take a shower. He made sure to give some extra love to his hair and use the scented shower gel the hotel provided. Y’know, just in case.

 

He spent well over ten minutes just staring at the clothes in the wardrobe, having no idea of what to wear. They were going to do touristy stuff, so he should wear something comfortable, but he didn’t want to look underdressed. Kent was probably going to pick him up in that amazing car of his, so it would be very  easy to look underdressed there. But what if he was overdressed? He couldn’t just walk around Las Vegas in a suit. He gasped, his eyes widening. What if this was a date ? Was it? Kent hadn’t said anything about it being a date, but Eric couldn’t help but wonder -or hope- that it was.

 

He was being stupid, he knew that, but he felt like a child with his first crush. He was too giddy and all he wanted was to impress Kent. He wanted to get to know him better, find out why he was so reserved about his life, find out his favorite movies and series and songs and colors and animals and-

 

Calm down. You barely know him. You need to relax.

 

He decided to just grab a short sleeved shirt and thin jeans, both casual and appropriate for the weather. He went downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant to grab some breakfast. He was careful not to eat too much, because he was expecting to eat a bunch of junk food while he was out. Before he knew it, it was 10 o’clock and Kent had messaged him announcing that he was waiting outside.

 

When Eric stepped outside, he found Kent leaning on the outside of his flashy car, wearing a grey polo shirt, jeans and sunglasses. Of course, he was smirking. When he saw him approaching, Kent got into the driver’s seat and switched on the engine.

 

“Ready to experience Vegas?” He asked.

 

Eric laughed. “Does that mean we’re going to get drunk in a casino and then make Elvis marry us?”

 

Kent threw his head back and let out a guffaw, and Eric wished he could see the way his eyes twinkled when he laughed. Yup, he was definitely too obsessed with the guy.

 

“Nah, Julia would kill you and then me,” Kent answered.

 

They pulled out of the parking lot and into the street, listening to the radio and discussing their theories about the true meanings of the lyrics. Eric didn’t watch where they were going, too caught up in the music to care and trusting Kent enough to take him somewhere fun. One thing kept popping up in his head, though. Kent had made no comments about his suggestion to get married. Normally straight guys would become defensive, or just say that they weren’t interested if they were good allies. But Kent hadn’t said anything. It was a bit of a stretch, but it filled Eric’s heart with hope.

 

The car slowed down, and Eric looked at Kent with confusion.

 

“You see that hotel there? The one with the red lights?”

 

Eric nodded, still confused.

 

“That’s where Swoops got drunk for the first time,” Kent began, laughter in his voice, “I mean shitfaced drunk. He ran straight into a paparazzi and was on TMZ. It was his closest brush with fame.”

 

“Oh my God,” Eric laughed, a hand clutching at his chest. “Poor guy! That must have been so embarrassing.”

 

Kent just laughed along and continued driving for a couple seconds before slowing down again.

 

“Here is where Mark got shitfaced and appeared on TMZ,” He drove a little bit more, “And here is where our goalie Moze got shitfaced.”

 

Eric laughed again, stunned. “Looks like the only thing you can do on the strip is get drunk and appear on TV, huh?” He asked.

 

Kent laughed again, nodding. “Moze’s was worse, though. He cheated on his girlfriend and she found out because of TMZ.”

 

“Oh, Lord,” Eric said, covering his face with his hands. “I can’t imagine being that girl, bless her.”

 

They drove all along the strip, slowing down every few seconds for Kent to point out a place or tell an anecdote. Apparently the whole team had managed to get in trouble somewhere in the strip, which didn’t really surprise Eric.

 

Kent pulled into a McDonald’s drive through and they ordered ice creams -which Eric insisted on paying, of course- and then he kept driving just a bit more until they reached a nearly-empty parking lot, where he stopped.

 

They both ate their ice creams in comfortable silence for a while until Kent started speaking.

 

“The problem with this city,” He said, a bit more serious now than he’d been the entire ride, “Is that the only attractions are casinos or bars or the Mob Museum . There aren’t any of those nice things that regular cities have, like corner coffee shops and quiet bookshops.” He seemed sort of bitter about it.

 

“What do you do when you’re not playing hockey or training, then?” Eric asked.

 

“I used to go back home to New York, but I haven’t done that in a while.” He suddenly looked sad.

 

“Oh,” For some reason Eric started feeling worried for Kent. “And why is that?”

 

Kent took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. It was clear that it wasn’t easy for him to talk about this, so Eric didn’t rush him.

 

“My mother isn’t very… accepting, let’s say. We don’t get along that well.” His voice was quiet and soft, no trace of the flirtatious, smug tone he’d had since Eric had met him. “I used to go and visit my sister, but now she’s in college and she’s almost never at home, so I just haven’t found a reason to go back.”

 

Eric waited a few seconds in case Kent had something else to say, but it seemed like he was done.

 

“Your mother isn’t accepting of what?” He asked, frowning. He couldn’t imagine anyone disapproving of a successful hockey player son.

 

Kent’s face contorted into a troubled expression, a nervous blush covering his cheeks. He noticed that Kent’s hands were shaking. Okay, now he was worried.

 

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to!” He rushed to say. “I overstepped,I’m sorry.”

 

“No, no,” Kent said, “It’s alright. I want to tell you.”

 

He took another deep breath, and Eric could feel his heart breaking a little bit when he heard his breath shaking.

 

“I’m not exactly… Um, straight. So. She doesn’t really like that.”

 

He looked back at Eric, and his face showed how open and vulnerable he was being. Eric didn’t know what to say, afraid to scare him off. He didn’t know if he was the first person Kent had come out to, so he tried to hide his excitement at his crush being not-straight.

 

Now’s not the time to think about that, Eric, he thought to himself. The guy looks scared to death. Say something.

 

“Well, she’s missing out on spending time with her amazing son, so it’s her loss.” He stared at his lap and furrowed his brows, “My parents did the same thing, so I know how you feel. It sucks, but you don’t need her to be successful and happy, you know?”

 

“Yeah,” Kent said, his voice nearly a whisper, “It still feels like shit, though.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

They were both quiet for a moment, finishing their ice creams, unsure how to continue. It wasn’t actually awkward, but Eric felt how important the conversation had been for Kent. It didn’t hurt him to talk about his parents -he’d had enough time to mourn them-, but he was sure Kent didn’t feel the same way.

 

“So…” Eric began, softly, “You said your sister’s in college?”

 

When a smile broke out in Kent’s face, he knew he’d said the right thing. They spent the next half hour talking about Kent’s sister -Ingrid, he’d said warmly-, laughing at Kent’s anecdotes of when they were kids and comparing them to Eric’s young life as an only child.

 

“I’m sick of sitting here,” Kent said abruptly. “Let’s go walk somewhere.”

 

He opened his door and jumped out, Eric following behind him.

 

“Where are we going?” He asked, nearly having to run to catch up to Kent’s brisk pace.

 

“Let’s just walk along the strip, the sun’s about to set so you’ll get to see all the lights.” Eric finally caught up to him, a little bit out of breath. He was not in shape, and he couldn’t keep up with Mr. Hockey Player. Kent realised that, slowing his pace a little bit. “Honestly, the light shows here are famous for a reason. It’s really worth it,” He continued.

 

“I can’t doubt the Vegas expert, now can I?” Eric giggled.

 

Turns out, Kent was right.

 

Eric stared, mesmerized, at all the lights from the various hotels, casinos and bars. The bright colors and neon signs contrasted with the soft pinks and oranges from the sunset, practically looking like a painting. He realized that he’d been standing in the middle of the sidewalk, frozen, for a few minutes. He looked towards Kent, only to find him smiling fondly at him.

 

“Cool, huh?” He asked. He wasn’t teasing Eric, he sounded completely genuine.

 

“Yeah,” Eric breathed. He spent a bit more time appreciating the view, before they continued walking. They talked about nothing and everything at the same time, like you would with a friend you’ve known your whole life. It really didn’t seem like they had only known each other for two days, they got along so well.

 

When they got tired they turned back and made their way to Kent’s car and he drove Eric back to his hotel. Eric made sure to thank him around a billion times for driving him and showing him around the city, before saying goodbye and going up to his hotel room. His legs ached because he’d been standing and walking for a few hours and he was exhausted, but he couldn’t find it in him to care. Not only had he had an amazing time with Kent, he’d also gotten to know him much better. His hopeless crush wasn’t hopeless anymore, now it had a fraction of a chance at actually being reciprocal.

 

He was settling into bed when his phone alerted him that he had a notification. He unlocked it, burrowing into the soft comforter. His heart fluttered when he saw that Kent had tagged him in a photo, a smile making its way onto his face. When he opened the photo, his heart practically stopped. There he was, standing in the middle of the strip, a soft smile on his face and a hand running through his hair. The neon lights reflected on his face and the sunset gave him a subtle pink hue. It was a candid shot, one that Eric hadn’t realized Kent had taken. He looked happy, relaxed, like his life was perfect. The caption only made Eric’s smile widen.

 

Showed my new best friend around town, I think he likes it here.

 

He didn’t comment on the picture, unsure of what he could say that wouldn’t let everyone know he was crushing on the guy. He just liked it, hoping that Kent would magically know that he’d loved it.

 

It wasn’t easy to fall asleep that night, the whole day replaying on his mind a billion times. He still couldn’t believe that Kent had trusted him enough to come out to him. When he finally was able to sleep, he did it with a smile on his face.

 


 

 

 

The next day he woke up later than he had expected, so he missed the hotel’s breakfast. Grumbling under his breath, he looked up the closest supermarket to his hotel, walking down there and buying himself a cheap sandwich and a granola bar. He went back to his room and ate them while he checked his social media and caught Elijah up to everything that had happened, laughing at his enthusiasm.

 

From: Eliii

OMG!!!!!! Is he hotter in person than in the pictures I may or may not have googled???

 

From: Eliii

Also does he smirk like that in real life?? Because my gay ass would DIE

 

Eric described Kent to Elijah, being careful only to say the things that he was sure Kent would have been comfortable saying. He didn’t even hint at Kent being not-straight; if he had been so nervous to tell Eric, he definitely wouldn’t appreciate him telling someone he didn’t know.

 

Eventually Elijah had to leave to teach a class, so Eric decided to go out looking for baking bargains. He called an Uber to get to the nearest mall; he could have walked but his legs still felt a bit sore from the day before. He’d already bought a heart-shaped cake tin when he saw a huge mirror outside a jewelry store, so he took a mirror selfie and posted it to his Instagram story. Barely five minutes had passed when Kent messaged him.

 

Are you at the mall on your own?

 

When Eric replied that yes, he was in fact alone at the mall, Kent’s response was immediate.

 

Don’t leave, I’ll join you

 

That message was followed by a winky emoji, which Eric tried -and failed- to write off as just friendly.

 

He didn’t really know how to answer to that, so he just didn’t. He practically squealed with delight when he saw that there was a second baking supply store at the mall, power walking straight towards it.

 

The baking tins and spatulas and molds seemed to be calling out to him. There were flower-shaped measuring cups, wiggly rotary cutters for fancy lattices, and fondant cutters of all shapes. He’d never used fondant, but he needed the butterfly shaped cutters. He side-eyed the aisle where they sold premade icing and fondant, going straight to the next one.

 

If you can’t make your own icing, don’t call yourself a baker, he thought indignantly.

 

There, right at the beginning of the aisle, was the most perfect cake leveller he’d ever seen. It looked incredibly high quality, sturdy and sharp. The price point reflected that, of course, but it would be worth it if he used it enough, right? Yeah, he didn’t usually level cakes -that’s what cake decorators did, and he wasn’t one-, but it’s never too late to learn a new skill. Also, he could make a new series on his channel where he-

 

“Thought I’d find you here,” Said a voice behind him.

 

Eric jumped and turned around, wide eyed, to find himself face to face with the one and only Kent Parson.

 

“Dear Lord, Kent,” He said, putting a hand over his chest in an attempt to slow his heart down. “You can’t sneak up on a guy like that! You scared me half to death!”

 

Kent laughed softly, before reaching behind Eric’s shoulder and grabbing the cake leveller. Eric was about to ask him what he was doing when Kent turned around and left the aisle, leaving him standing there. Confused, as he always seemed to be around Kent, he went after him. He found him waiting at the cash register queue, looking casual as ever.

 

“Uh- Kent?” Eric called. The man in question looked towards him, face expressionless. “What are you doing?”

 

Kent’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m buying you this thing,” He turned the leveller in his hands, looking at it strangely, “Whatever it’s supposed to be. It’s obvious that you want it.”

 

“Gimme that!” Eric said, snatching it from Kent’s hands. “You don’t need to buy me anything.” Kent seemed ready to protest, so he continued, “Plus, it’s incredibly overpriced. I don’t need a fancy one, I could buy one at Walmart if I wanted to.”

 

Kent looked conflicted as if he wasn’t sure whether he should believe him or not.

 

“Leave it, Kent, honestly. I’m just gonna get a cake tin and then we can go have lunch, how does that sound?”

 

He looked happy with that, and they both went separate ways; Eric to get the cake tin and Kent to put the cake leveller back where it should be.

 

Eric paid and left the store, checking his phone while he waited for Kent. Once he got there, they made their way towards the food court. They chatted a bit, but it was clear to Eric that Kent wasn’t as comfortable as he’d been the day before. He could tell by the way he was constantly looking around the room that he wasn’t comfortable with being at the mall, with so many people there. He didn’t know if Kent didn’t want to be recognized or if he just didn’t like crowds, but he only saw him relax when they already had their food and found a free table.

 

Kent’s posture became more relaxed, though he was still talking in near whisper tones and looking around constantly. It was as if he didn’t want to be there, and even though he’d invited himself to join Eric, he was probably regretting it.

 

Eric suggested that they leave right after they finished their food, he couldn’t stand to see Kent so preoccupied anymore. Kent offered him a ride, and he happily realized he didn’t feel bad for accepting it. He was already so comfortable around Kent, he didn’t feel the need to do all that fake-denying-help that his Southern manners usually forced him to.

 

It was only when they arrived at the hotel that Eric got a little nervous. They were just sitting there inside the car, the air tense. As if something important was about to happen. That’s when Eric knew that he didn’t want to spend the rest of the day alone in a hotel room. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted Kent to be there.

 

He turned to face Kent, worrying on his lip. “Would you like to- Um…” He stammered, a blush rising on his cheeks, “Do you want to come up to my room? We can watch TV or something.”

 

After the words left his mouth he felt sort of stupid. Kent probably had things to do. Plus, what if he just didn’t want to? He didn’t want Kent to feel obligated to join him out of pity or something.

 

“You can say no, though! It’s really okay,” he finished.

 

Kent chuckled, not even turning to look at him. “Don’t look so nervous, Eric. I’d love to.”

 

He opened his door and stepped out, so Eric grabbed his shopping bag and went after him. They went into the hotel, Eric greeting the woman at the front desk before going up to his room.

 

He had to admit, it was more than a little awkward. The elevator ride had them just staring at each other, wishing for it to be over. When they went to his room they realised that there was only one chair, and Eric didn’t know where or how he should sit. Kent was very obviously uncomfortable but trying to act casual. Eric grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, flipping through channels trying to find something interesting. He settled on some random sitcom with canned laughter tracks.

 

Kent stood up and Eric’s mind started to freak out, his heart beating wildly in his chest.

 

Is he leaving? I shouldn’t even have invited him, he clearly doesn’t want to be here. You’re so stupid, he probably felt too awkward to say no and now he regrets it. Way to go, Eric.

 

His self-deprecating train of thought was derailed by Kent taking off his shoes and sitting on the bed next to Eric.

 

Very, very close to Eric.

 

Now his heart was racing for an entirely different reason, but he much preferred it this way. They watched a few episodes, laughing more at the terrible acting than the actual jokes. He didn’t know when or how, but at some point they’d changed positions so that Kent’s arm was around him, hand resting on his clothed hip. Eric’s back was leaning on Kent’s chest, and he could feel the rise and fall of his chest every time he breathed or laughed. Eric felt all warm, and it wasn’t only because of Kent’s body heat. He didn’t know what he and Kent were doing; whether Kent was interested in the same way that he was, but he wasn’t exactly complaining.

 

His train of thought was interrupted by his phone incessantly buzzing with a string of texts from Elijah. He unlocked his phone to check them, laughing as Elijah texted him an entire story about one of his student’s moms. His smile only grew bigger with every new text, and it didn’t seem like they were going to stop any time soon. They were filled with exclamation points, emojis and words in full caps. It was a representation of the way Elijah spoke -always loud, always fast, always passionate-, so it made sense to Eric.

 

He felt the bed shift and the warmth behind him leave, and he turned to see Kent putting some space between them before settling back down. There was a little furrow in his brow that he kept trying to relax, only for it to come back a few seconds later.

 

“Hey,” Eric said quietly, “Is everything alright?”

 

“Yup,” Kent said without turning his head to look at him, “I just don’t want to eavesdrop on your conversation with your boyfriend.”

 

Eric couldn’t help the guffaw that escaped his mouth, throwing his head back. “Oh, God, no. Elijah’s not my boyfriend, we’d be horrible together.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah, he’s been my best friend for ever but we can’t stand living in the same space for more than a couple of hours. We’re just too similar.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Eric looked at Kent’s face, a smirk forming when he saw what was happening. Kent was blushing. Kent Parson, the famously smooth, calm and collected stud, was blushing . He knew this had to mean something. People don’t get all awkward when they find out other people are in relationships. It couldn’t be because Elijah was a guy, either, because Kent himself wasn’t straight, so. It had to actually mean something. Eric had to check. He had to know if he was reading things correctly, if Kent was interested in him.

 

“Come cuddle me again, you’re warm.”

 

Kent went with no hesitation.

 


 

 

The next morning Eric woke up enveloped in warmth, the sunlight bathing his face and the comforter hugging his body. Only it wasn’t just the comforter hugging him. He turned in Kent’s arms to face him, finding him still sound asleep. His eyelids were twitching, and Eric could tell he was dreaming. He took a moment to just look at Kent, drinking in all the details. His stubble was starting to grow in, his eyebrows had a few stray brown hairs, there was a small cluster of freckles in between his nose and his right eye, he had a white spot on his cheek, and his brows furrowed while he slept.

 

Eric allowed his eyes to close, resting his forehead on the crook of Kent’s shoulder. Even though he didn’t want to, his mind made him remember the only bad thing about his stay in Vegas: he had to go back home. The next morning he would be at the airport about to board a flight away from the city. Away from Kent. He wanted to stay there, right in that moment, for the rest of his life. He knew it was impossible; they both had their jobs and lives, and they hadn’t even exchanged phone numbers. Who knew if Kent wanted something long-term with him? Eric knew he did, it didn’t matter to him that they’d just met, he already knew. Eric hadn’t told Kent that he knew he was the one who had commented on his videos, either. Not that it would change much between them, but he was curious to know if it had been Kent who had gotten him that opportunity.

 

Could it have been him?

 

A hand started moving on his back, softly caressing him. He took a deep breath, letting the air take all his rushing thoughts with it as it left his body.

 

The night before they had stayed up into the early hours just talking. It seemed like they could spend days talking about nothing and never get bored of it. Eric found Kent so intriguing, so mesmerizing. He kept seeing new hidden bits of him with every moment, learning to recognize his tells. The face he made when he was thinking, the roll of his shoulder while he talked about his family, the way he couldn’t stop absentmindedly messing with his hair, all little things that made Kent so much more real.

 

Kent’s arms tightened around him as he hummed, slowly waking. Eric just waited patiently, not wanting to rush a single moment.

 

Nothing had happened, really. They hadn’t kissed, hadn’t had sex, they’d just cuddled. When Kent had stood up to leave, Eric asked him to stay the night, half expecting him to say no and half hoping he would say yes. They had fallen asleep quickly, both tired from their day.

 

A kiss on top of his head made Eric burrow his face deeper into Kent’s shoulder, butterflies exploding in his stomach. He didn’t think he would ever get used to Kent’s casual shows of affection. He still felt like a schoolboy with his first crush; young, inexperienced and wildly excited about everything that happened.

 

They both stayed in that position for a while, too comfortable to move. Kent then got up to use the bathroom, and it was only after he got back that Eric spoke.

 

“I was thinkin’,” he began, his Southern accent more prominent because he’d just woken up, “You never told me it was you who left those comments on my videos. I only figured it out because your Instagram username is the same, and your comments sort of made my channel blow up.”

 

Kent started rubbing his forearm, another nervous tic Eric had picked up on.

 

“Yeah, I- Uh, I wasn’t sure how you would react, really.”

 

“Why? Did you think I’d be mad or somethin’?”

 

“No! It’s not that, I just…” He pursed his lips and combed a hand through his hair. “I wanted to get to know you. As a person. And I was afraid that if I told you right away then you’d think I only cared about your videos and we would only talk about that, you know? I want to know real-life Eric, not YouTube Eric.”

 

Eric couldn’t stop the smile that broke on his face, not that he’d wanted to.

 

“Aw, honey, that’s so sweet!”

 

He only realized the pet name had slipped out when Kent’s face blossomed with a deep blush, a small smile curving his lips.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” He said, sitting cross-legged on the bed.

 

Eric sat up, because it felt like the right thing to do. There was a weird tension between them, one that he didn’t know how to describe. They both gradually inched forward until their knees were touching.

 

Kent leaned in and suddenly their lips were touching and they were kissing. It was soft and warm and everything Eric had ever wanted, even with their morning breaths. He dared to put one hand on the back of Kent’s neck to hold him close, and apparently that was all the indication that Kent needed. He grabbed Eric’s hips and pulled him closer, closer, closer, until he was straddling his lap. The kiss wasn’t fast; it was slow and filled with all the feelings in their hearts that they both felt it was too soon to express.

 

Eric’s brain was only thinking about Kent and his hair and his face and his lips and his tongue, his intoxicating touch overwhelming his senses.

 

They pulled away, breathing deeply. Eric didn’t open his eyes, wasn’t brave enough to do so. Kent’s hands lifted from his hips to cup his jaw, thumb stroking his cheek tenderly.

 

“Hey.” Eric felt his breath on his face, they were so close. “Was that okay? Are you okay?”

 

Eric took a deep breath, his heartbeat still erratic in his ears. “Yeah, I’ve just never…”

 

He didn’t finish his sentence, but he didn’t have to. Kent hugged him and just held him close, filling Eric’s insides with warmth. He had never felt so appreciated in his life, like he was actually important to someone. He started caressing the back of Kent’s head, willing him to understand how thankful he was to be there with him.

 

They eventually separated, both still blushing and smiling. Kent went to take a shower and Eric turned on the TV while he waited, though he wasn’t paying attention to it. He took out his phone and in under ten seconds he had texted Elijah.

 

To: Eliii

I kissed a boy

 

From: Eliii

OMG!!!!!

 

From: Eliii

Who was it????

 

From: Eliii

Is he cute??

 

From: Eliii

When do I get to meet him???

 

From: Eliii

I’m so happy for you!!!!!

 

Eric laughed. He was so damn happy about Kent, so Elijah supporting him only made him feel better.

 

To: Eliii

I can’t tell you because he’s not out, but I’ll ask him if it’s okay

 

To: Eliii

He is SO cute, you have no idea

 

The bathroom door opened and Kent stepped out, so Eric stood up to take a shower as well. When he was about to walk into the bathroom Kent’s hand shot out and grabbed his waist, pulling him close and kissing him slowly. Eric sighed into the kiss, loving how it already felt natural to kiss him.

 

Kent pulled away after a few seconds, smiling at him and letting him into the bathroom before sitting at the edge of the bed. Eric showered, and as he did the only thing on his mind was Kent. Everything was so overwhelming, it had happened so quickly. It was hard to understand that they had only met 5 days before. It seemed to Eric like they’d known each other for months and months.

 

He finished showering and got dressed, not even bothering to do something with his hair. He opened the door and let the steam out, stopping when Kent sat up straight. Kent looked worried, and the hand rubbing his forearm told Eric he was also nervous.

 

“Julia just called me,” Kent began, voice soft. “She scheduled me some interviews for today and I need to leave now if I want to get there on time.”

 

Eric’s heart dropped. Of course nothing this perfect would last. Kent was going to leave and focus on his very important job and leave Eric behind all alone. Not that he could blame him, he knew hockey was important and Kent played a big role on his team. It still felt like the whole fantasy world he had built up in his head was dying, though.

 

“Aw, don’t look at me like that!” Kent pleaded, a guilty expression on his face. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah? We’ll meet somewhere and have some ice cream.”

 

“No, we can’t.” Eric said, staring at the floor with a furrow in his brows.

 

“What? Why?”

 

Eric didn’t answer for a moment, knowing that after the words were out of his mouth there was a chance that he’d never see Kent again. He didn’t want that to happen. He took a deep breath.

 

“I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

 

Kent looked shocked, as if he had only then remembered that Eric wasn’t from Las Vegas, that he had a life back in Georgia that he couldn’t leave behind.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Can’t we meet up before that? Have breakfast?”

 

Eric shook his head slowly, trying to convey through his eyes how much he hated this.

 

“I have to be at the airport at 5,” he answered. “I’m sorry, Kent.”

 

Kent didn’t reply, standing up and hugging Eric as if it was the last time he’d see him.

 

That’s because it’s the last time he’ll see you, Eric, he thought to himself.

 

He hugged back, burrowing his face in the crook of his neck and wishing that what they had didn’t have to end before it had even begun.

 

With one last kiss and a “Goodbye”, Kent was gone.

 

Forever.

 

That night Eric fell asleep with tear tracks on his cheeks.

 


 

 

At 3 am Eric was gathering his belongings from around his hotel room. He was almost finished when he saw a shopping bag on the table, one that he didn’t remember putting there. Inside he found the super expensive cake leveller that he’d seen at the mall, with a note attached to it.

 

I know you told me not to buy it, please don’t be mad.

My number is 702-528-6702

Text me ;)

PS: Would it be completely ludicrous if I told you I’ve bought a plane ticket to Georgia? See you next month <3

 

Somehow, Eric had a good feeling about what was to come.