Jamie’s not sure where he missed the boat on the whole sex thing. He’s pretty sure it was somewhere in between starting high school and getting to the NHL—that somewhere, in that stretch of years, something was supposed to happen. He’s not really sure how it was supposed to happen: something about crowded parties, lots of alcohol, a girl putting her hand down his pants. Or maybe he was supposed to date someone, take her out in his parents’ car and get it on in the backseat in an empty field somewhere. He’s not sure. It just never—the pieces never came together.
It’s not that he doesn’t like girls. He’s known he does, ever since he sat next to Lindsay Eckhart in junior-year Poli Sci class. She had a curly black ponytail and a habit of cracking her gum and answering back to the teacher so that everyone in the room laughed with her. They were study partners, and Lindsay sat with him and his friends at lunch sometimes, and Jamie came away from conversations with her dizzy with the feeling he got when she met his eyes.
From the way she looked back at him, he thought maybe she felt it, too. He would lie awake at night that year feeling the possibility bubble under his skin like soda water. It took him until the spring to find the courage to talk to her about it, and when he did, stumbling over the words and just barely getting them out, she got a look on her face that made him wish he hadn’t.
“Sorry if I made you think,” she began, and Jamie wanted to die, wanted to crush his body into a little ball of nothing so that he couldn’t feel anything at all.
So that was the first time. When he thinks back on it, it’s just a haze of pain over the whole second half of junior year: she said they could still be friends, and Jamie said yes, of course yes, but it turned out he couldn’t. He couldn’t even sit next to her at lunch without fumbling his milk carton and stuttering half his words, and he got a C instead of a B in Poli Sci because he couldn’t focus on studying when she was sitting there. He convinced his friends to let her and her date into their limo for junior prom, even though they didn’t really fit, and then he spent the whole evening watching them slow dance and feeling miserable.
Then Jordie came home for the summer, watched him mope for two days straight, and told him he needed to get laid. He even had some suggestions on how to do it—but Jamie couldn’t imagine putting his hands on anyone’s body but Lindsay’s. Not that he’d ever done that with her, but the idea of doing it with anyone else was unthinkable.
By the time school started in the fall the feeling had faded a little, into a dull pain behind his breastbone when he thought about it for too long. That was when he should have gone up to girls at parties, probably, gotten a little bit of experience. But dancing with other girls didn’t have the same charge as it did when he thought about dancing with her: thoughts of her were all warm with golden light, and the girls in front of him were clouded and dim. They didn’t brighten, even when the light around Lindsay began to fade.
After a while he started thinking maybe Lindsay was it for him—that what he felt for her was so strong that it wiped out any possibility of anyone else. He was even kind of glad, like maybe it proved that his love for her was real and special, even while he ached for a real person to touch.
Then he met Melanie.
He was twenty-one by then, on the Stars and working so hard to earn his place that he wasn’t thinking about girls and sex and dating. He barely had time to miss home, let alone things he’d never had. His teammates sometimes went out to bars and clubs but Jamie usually needed the sleep. He went to team stuff, though, barbecues and dinners and shit, and that was where he met Melanie.
She was a teammate’s girlfriend. Jamie had known her for a while in a casual way, but he’d never paid much attention to her. Then one day another WAG said something kind of mean about Melanie’s outfit and Melanie made a self-deprecating joke that made Jamie snort salsa out his nose. She caught his eye afterward, a bright grin on her face, and he thought, Oh.
She had wavy hair with bright highlights and little wispy tendrils that came loose around her face. Her eyes changed color when she smiled. The curve of her shoulder and neck in her workout gear made a perfect S.
Jamie tortured himself for weeks with the fantasy that something might happen. Like, they would be at a team event, and maybe they’d both hang back a little until the others had moved on, and she would step close to him and whisper. Touch his wrist. Lean her body in close to his and run her hand up his side and wake up all the nerves that had been asleep for way too long. It always had to be her, making the first move in his fantasies, because he couldn’t be the one to do anything—couldn’t do that to a teammate—but if she did it first it would be okay, it would mean that she didn’t really love Alex, and then he could taste her mouth and press his body against hers and…
Well, it was hard to carry the fantasy much farther than that, because what was he going to do, start secretly having sex with his teammate’s girlfriend? Even if she and Alex broke up, Jamie couldn’t date her. Then she’d be a teammate’s ex. But by that point in the fantasy he’d usually already come, so.
He jerked off to thoughts of her for weeks and felt terrible about it every time. At first he tried to make them about a faceless woman, because jerking off to real people felt weird even when it wasn’t betraying a teammate, but Melanie’s face would always creep into things and he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t think about anything but her.
It got to the point where he felt sick about her all the time and started having trouble eating. His stomach was in a constant state of nervous excitement that didn’t mix well with food. He thought he could fix it by avoiding her at team gatherings, but by the end of the evening he always gave in and gravitated towards her, towards her easy laughter and bright smile. Then he went home and jerked off in a bed that was too big and cold around him and felt twisted up inside and empty and desperate.
No one ever found out. Jordie wasn’t on the Stars at that point, or he would have noticed in a heartbeat. But Jamie hadn’t really found his footing with the team yet, and the others just seemed to think he was being quieter than usual. The trainers told him to eat more protein. And Jamie was alone with his suffocating want and the memory of how Melanie’s hand had touched his one time when she’d handed him a beer.
He doesn’t know how he would have gotten over her, except that Alex got traded to the Blues. In a burst of self-destructive desperation, Jamie asked Melanie out to coffee to say goodbye, and they had a perfectly nice conversation where she told funny stories about her movers and asked about the shot she remembered he was having trouble with and Jamie wondered if there was any non-offensive way to ask to kiss her just once. Most people would be willing to do that, right? Give someone a pity kiss?
He didn’t ask. They finished their coffee and walked outside, and he gave her a hug that was maybe a shade too long and too tight, and then she was waving goodbye and heading toward her car and out of his life.
It took six months before Jamie could fall asleep at night without thinking of her. After that he tried to get out more—drink with teammates, dance with girls at clubs and shit. But none of the girls he danced with made him feel anything like he had with Melanie. And what was he going to do, take them back to his place and explain fumblingly that he didn’t know what he was doing—that he, an NHL star solidly in his twenties, had never even kissed a girl? He’d missed the window when it was okay not to know what he was doing. By this point, the only thing he could do was hold on tight and hope no one noticed.
“So we’re going to fuck, right,” Brenden says when they’re out one night after a game—just Jamie and Brenden and Jordie and Tyler; no one else had wanted to go, but Jamie’s the captain now, and it’s important that he go to things. “Only she wants to do some porn fantasy thing first, where I’m, like, a plumber who shows up to fix her sink or whatever—”
“Right, right,” Tyler says, waving his hand, like this is nothing new for him.
“And then when we finally get to it, she keeps talking about my wrench,” Brenden says. “Like, ‘Stick your wrench in me.’ ‘Fuck me with that wrench.’ ‘God, your wrench is so big.’”
By this point, Tyler’s doubled over with giggles. Tyler’s only been in Dallas a couple of months, but Jamie’s already used to the way he gives himself over to it, like he’s nothing in that moment but laughter. “Maybe she wanted you to use the actual wrench,” Tyler says.
“We were in a hotel room, dude. We didn’t have an actual wrench,” Brenden says. “Anyway, so I think, maybe if I get her to come more quickly, she’ll shut up about it—”
“Did it work?” Tyler asks.
Brenden gives him a dead-eyed stare. “It was wrench talk for a solid twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes?” Jordie asks with an eyebrow raised, while Tyler dissolves into laughter again.
“Well, it’s not like I was timing it,” Brenden says. “I was too busy wrenching her.”
Jamie’s laughing, but he’s taking mental notes, too. Twenty minutes is too long; it comes off exaggerated—
Tyler wipes tears from his eyes and slaps Jamie on the back. Jamie’s hoping the story is done and they’ll change the subject, but Tyler says, “I don’t know, man. Still not as bad as the girl who bit me.”
“Biting’s not all bad,” Jordie says with a little leer, which, ew. Jamie doesn’t need to know that about his brother.
“It is when she’s giving you a blow job,” Tyler says.
“Oh shit,” Brenden says, his face going all shocked.
“Yeah, she’s all, ‘You look so delicious. I wonder if you taste as good as you look?’” Tyler says. “And I’m like, okay, she’s going to swallow, awesome, but then she gets her teeth around me and—”
“Holy fuck,” Jordie says. Brenden cracks up again, and Jamie laughs, too, even though he’s wincing at the same time. He doesn’t have to have had a mouth on his dick to know how bad that would be.
“I swear. I couldn’t move my legs for like ten minutes,” Tyler says. “I’m lying there, hoping my dick doesn’t fall off or bleed out or something, and she keeps going, ‘Are you all right? Do you want me to start again?’ And I’m like, no, fuck, anything but that, except somehow she takes ‘anything’ as me wanting her to finger me—”
Brenden howls, and Jamie makes a face. “TMI, dude,” Jordie says.
“So what happened?” Brenden asks.
“Well, I say no to the fingering, obviously,” Tyler says. “And then she asks—get this—she asks if I’ll eat her out.”
“Did you?” Jamie asks.
“Fuck no,” Tyler says, giggling. “I’m like, no, maybe if you’d asked me ten minutes ago when my legs still worked. So then she—she—”
“What?” Brenden gasps through his laughter.
Tyler’s laughing almost too hard to continue. “She says that’s okay, she’ll just sit on my face!”
That sends him and Brenden into gales of laughter again. Jordie’s doing his “silly children” thing, where he shakes his head and pretends he doesn’t find them amusing but can’t quite hold back his smile. Jamie chuckles what he hopes is the right amount.
The laughter finally turns into little gasping breaths, and Tyler raises his head and looks at Jamie and asks the question Jamie’s been dreading for the past ten minutes. “How about you, captain? Worst sexual experience.”
Jamie knew this was coming, but that doesn’t help with the flutter of panic in his gut. “Come on,” he manages to say, “like I’m going to talk about that with my brother here.”
“Aw, Jamie,” Tyler says, giving him the big eyes. “Come on, please? We told you ours.”
“I can leave,” Jordie says with a wry look.
“Dude, no, stay here and tell us yours instead,” Brenden says.
“Um, I don’t want to hear that, either,” Jamie says, which is true.
Jordie leans back and folds his arms behind his head. “Don’t worry. You guys can’t handle my worst sexual experience.”
Tyler’s eyes light up. “Can so.”
“Come on, dude, fair’s fair,” Brenden says.
Jordie grins. “Let’s just say…not everyone involved was human.”
“Dude,” Jamie says in horror. Tyler and Brenden look suitably impressed.
Jamie decides it’s time to go to the bar for another drink.
Tyler follows him. Jamie likes Tyler a lot, but he isn’t thrilled about having him follow him right now. “You’re quiet tonight,” Tyler says.
“I’m always quiet,” Jamie says.
“I know, you should talk more,” Tyler says. “Give us your captainly wisdom.”
“I don’t think my captainly wisdom has a lot to do with my worst hookups,” Jamie says.
“You could talk about your best hookups instead,” Tyler says, smirking and slouching against the bar.
People are looking at him. There are always eyes on Tyler: women, even men sometimes. Jamie goes back and forth on how aware of it Tyler is. “Maybe you should go out there and get some more stories to tell,” Jamie says, nudging Tyler’s shoulder toward the dance floor.
Tyler slides his eyes speculatively over the room and then back to Jamie. “Maybe we should get you some stories instead.”
It’s not the first time Tyler’s suggested something like that. Jamie tries to take it the way Tyler means it, as Tyler being nice to a guy he’s becoming friends with, not a thing meant to make Jamie’s palms sweat and the room feel more crowded.
“How about her?” Tyler gestures to a woman farther down the bar the bar—a woman who’s so far out of Jamie’s league she couldn’t find it with a telescope. Jamie just stares at Tyler. “What?” Tyler asks.
“Have you seen her?” Jamie asks.
“What, you don’t like her?” Tyler asks.
“No, she just—she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model,” Jamie says.
“And I don’t,” Jamie says, and he knows something’s wrong with that as soon as he says it, but it’s too late: Tyler’s already giggling.
“Dude, if you looked like a Victoria’s Secret model, I’d totally watch the two of you hook up,” Tyler says when he stops for breath.
Jamie flushes. He doesn’t think anyone’s likely to be able to tell in the darkness of the bar, but he feels the heat of it.
“Why’s Jamie looking like a Victoria’s Secret model?” Jordie asks. He and Brenden have come up to them at the bar.
Brenden narrows his eyes at Jamie. “He’d need some major support,” he says, and the conversation turns to what kind of lingerie Jamie would need to wear in his appearance in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Which is embarrassing, but not in the same way, so Jamie can laugh it off.
Tyler does pick up later that night, this gorgeous tiny blond girl in a sparkly dress, and Jamie thinks, yeah, that seems about right.
Jamie was a little skeptical when Tyler was first traded, but he came around on him pretty fast. Tyler’s killer on the ice, raises everyone’s game, and off the ice he’s friendly and silly and charming and fun. Jamie wouldn’t have any complaints, except for the thing where Tyler talks about sex more than anyone Jamie’s ever met. And Jamie’s a professional hockey player.
“Man, you are totally lying,” Cody says one night, when they’re out at a bar after a win over San Jose. “No way did you do it in an IKEA showroom.”
“I swear!” Tyler says, laughing. “She said the closet thingy didn’t look very sturdy, and I said, well, there’s one way to test it…”
“What were you even doing with a girl at IKEA?” Daley asks.
“She was my neighbor. She needed help moving stuff,” Tyler says.
“If that’s what they’re calling it these days,” Jordie says, and Daley laughs and slaps him on the back.
Jamie tries to imagine it: going somewhere with a woman he’s friendly with, just casually suggesting sex in an IKEA closet. He can actually see it a lot better than he can imagine having sex with any of the women in the bar. He would know her, at least. But it still seems impossible.
Cody shakes his head. “Okay, I’ve been missing out.”
And then, the turn that conversations take way too often these days: “How about you, Jameson?” Tyler asks. “Weirdest place?”
Jamie forces a laugh. His stomach freezes up a little, but the bar is dark and maybe no one will notice how uncomfortable he is. “Don’t you want to use your imagination?”
A chorus of oohs from the guys, like he’s just issued a challenge, and Tyler’s eyes go wide and delighted. Jordie tips his head back and laughs. “By that, he means he’s only ever had sex in a bed, looking soulfully into a woman’s eyes.”
“Missionary’s a classic for a reason,” Jamie says, and they’re all laughing and crowing at him too much to notice that his smile is pasted on over the empty feeling clawing its way up his windpipe.
“Come on, missionary?” Tyler asks, making a skeptical face. “You gotta at least like doggy style, man.”
What’s the difference? Jamie half-wants to ask—but that’s not the real question, anyway. He knows the difference between missionary and doggy style. What he doesn’t know is how they feel: whether it feels different on your dick, or if it just changes things to have your partner facing you or on her back or on her side or whatever. What it feels like to have someone naked with you, no barriers, wanting you desperately.
He tries to imagine it later that night, when he lies down and slips his hand inside his shorts. Fucking into a girl while she’s lying on her back, her boobs firm and round with their hard little nipples pointing up at him. That sounds pretty good, in theory. Then tries to imagine fucking her while she’s on her hands and knees, tries to see which one feels hotter. But he can’t really imagine the way the angle or whatever would feel, and anyway, it all feels too unbelievable to be really hot. Who is this woman, and why does she want him? Can she tell he doesn’t know what he’s doing?
He switches it to Tyler in his head, and—he knows he shouldn’t, it’s creepy to think about a teammate like that, but it’s instantly better: he can totally imagine Tyler and this anonymous girl being hot for each other. The way people look at Tyler—yeah, this woman has been getting wet for him all night. Tyler sees the way she’s looking, and it makes his cock hard, ready to slide into her wet folds. And then—because Tyler knows how to do this, because Tyler’s done it dozens and dozens of times—they’re fucking. Tyler’s screwing his face up and slamming into her, sweat standing out on his brow while she cries out underneath him.
It doesn’t matter what position Jamie imagines it in. It’s hot no matter what.
That should probably have been a clue. But Tyler talks about sex all the time—of course Jamie thinks about him and sex together. And Jamie’s not having sex, which means he thinks about it a lot. It’s easy to tell himself that’s all it is. Even when they go to Detroit, and Tyler starts making out with a girl in the corner of the bar, and Jamie watches a little too long for it to be curiosity.
He goes back to his room that night and feels emptier than he has in a while. It’s not that he wanted to be making out with that girl—but he wants to be making out with someone. Touching someone. He wants there to be someone he wants to touch.
“Do you think Tyler hooks up too much?” he asks Jordie when they get home.
Jordie looks at him for a minute. “Define ‘too much.’”
“I just—do you think it’s safe?” Jamie asks. “He doesn’t know these girls.”
“I’ve hooked up with girls I don’t know,” Jordie says.
“But what if they like. Take his picture and sell it or whatever?”
“I’m sure he has a pile of NDAs he carries around,” Jordie says, rolling his eyes.
Jamie’s never actually considered that possibility. “Do you have a pile of NDAs you carry around?”
“I’ve never been as famous as Tyler,” Jordie says. And then adds, pointedly: “Or you.”
Oh. Shit. He shouldn’t have said that—he’s usually better at not exposing himself with questions like that. He doesn’t know if Jordie knows or not; he kind of hopes Jordie figures Jamie got his first time over with sometime between Jamie leaving home and Jordie joining him in Texas. “Uh, maybe I should start carrying one, huh?” he says weakly.
“If you want to,” Jordie says, neutrally.
Shit. Jamie ducks his head. “I just—I think Tyler should be careful, is all.”
“Uh-huh,” Jordie says, still in that neutral tone, and Jamie leaves the room before he can say anything else dumb.
When Jamie does finally figure it out, it’s a couple of days later, during a game. They’re in Calgary, and Jamie’s already been thinking about what will happen after the game: whether Tyler will hook up if they go out, or if Jamie can get him to hang out, either at their table or somewhere in the hotel if they all stay in. But then they start playing and he’s just thinking about the game—and the game is going really, really well.
It’s one of those games where he feels like he and Tyler are connected with a thread: Jamie assists on Tyler’s first two goals, and Tyler assists on Jamie’s goal, and it’s like everything they touch turns to victory green. Tyler’s staring hard and focused in the face-off circle, and Jamie feels like they can charge through every barrier Calgary puts up, and when Tyler knocks in his third goal of the night Jamie lifts him off the ice in the celly.
Calgary starts fighting back pretty hard in the third, but it’s too little, too late. It’s 6-3 with less than five minutes left. And then—Calgary’s getting sloppy, taking dumb penalties—Jamie passes to Tyler on the power play, and Tyler snipes it in right past Rama.
Jamie jumps up like he’s been electrified and Tyler’s there, smashing into him, before Jamie can even look for him. “Four goals!” Jamie shouts. He’s never even—four goals. “You fucking beauty!”
“Thanks to you,” Tyler says, gripping him hard, and Jamie lost his glove somewhere in the last ten seconds, and when he goes to hug Tyler back his bare hand ends up on Tyler’s neck, where the ends of his hair are curling damply, and—
Oh, he thinks. Oh.
He’s too dazed to remember the rest of the celly. They calm down pretty fast after that anyway—not good manners to brag about a goal when the other team’s losing that badly. But still, four goals for Tyler, six points for Jamie: the whole team is flying high. Jamie lets himself get swept up in it.
It’s such a good night. Even with the annoyingness of being in Calgary, a city that cares about hockey and just saw their team get demolished—it’s not Toronto or Edmonton; they can still go out without risking their lives. They end up having the kind of night that Jamie would normally feel it’s his captainly duty to put a stop to. But they don’t have another game for four days, and the guys keep buying him and Tyler drinks, and Jamie isn’t gonna say no.
The drinks make him lean against Tyler’s side when they’re slumped in a booth. He can feel the closeness buzzing through him like the alcohol. Tyler’s all lit up tonight, laughing and happy, and Jamie wants to touch the light. Wants to put his hands all over it. He doesn’t, but his thinks about it. Follows Tyler when he gets up to go to the dance floor. No girls tonight: just the team, dancing and making idiots of themselves. “Just team tonight,” Jamie says, reaching clumsily for Tyler’s shoulder, happy when he feels the firmness of muscle beneath his fingers. Tyler laughs and says, “Whatever you say, bro,” and Jamie sticks close and doesn’t let himself think about what any of this means.
He wakes up the next morning with a headache and the feeling that nothing that happened the night before was real.
The goals were real; he knows that. The celebrating was real. But the way he felt about it, the way his body hummed every time Tyler was close, that wasn’t real. That doesn’t even make any sense. Jamie’s not…he doesn’t…
He thinks of Tyler’s head pressed against his pads, Jamie’s hand on the back of his neck, and his stomach flips giddily.
No. He’s not…he wasn’t gonna do it again. The next time he fell for someone it was gonna be better. Not like Melanie. He’s not gonna do that to himself again. It’s not real. He just got caught up in the game.
Jamie gets out of bed and puts himself in the shower and packs his stuff up all neatly and goes downstairs to the team breakfast buffet. He fills a plate with eggs, and Tyler’s not in the room yet, and it doesn’t mean anything that Jamie notices. He was thinking about Tyler this morning. Of course he notices. That’s all it is.
Tyler’s still not there when Jamie sits down with Jordie and Fidds. It’s kind of hard to eat, but that’s normal the morning after drinking like that, and Jordie and Fidds tease him a little about his hangover. “Yeah, a six-point hangover,” Jamie says, and they grin and Jordie starts to say something else and that’s when Tyler comes in.
Jamie remembers this feeling from Melanie. From Lindsay, in the school cafeteria. The way they’d walk into a room and he’d be physically incapable of focusing his attention on anything else. He doesn’t know what Jordie’s saying; he can only watch Tyler come in. Even when he turns his eyes back to his food he’s not aware of anything but Tyler.
Tyler needs to come sit with them. It would be better if he didn’t, obviously, and there’s a small corner of Jamie’s mind that’s aware of that. But most of him is busy wanting with everything he has for Tyler to come sit with them.
Tyler comes to sit them. He slides into the chair next to Jamie, and his eyes are smiling when they brush Jamie’s face, and his knee is warm where it brushes Jamie’s leg, and Jamie can’t remember what to do with his knife and fork.
“Shit, we shouldn’t have drunk so much last night,” Tyler says, grinning.
“No kidding,” Jordie says dryly. “Jamie here’s been a zombie all breakfast.”
Tyler laughs, eyes going to Jordie, and Jamie’s jealous. He wants Tyler’s eyes on him. Then Tyler does turn his eyes on him, making that amused face that crinkles up his eyes and nose, and Jamie rides that eye contact for a full thirty seconds before he wants more. Wants Tyler not to look at anyone else.
Fuck. What is even wrong with him? He must just think—he got stuck on the idea, and—and he wanted someone to like, so—
Tyler’s telling the story of how he couldn’t find his key card this morning, how he finally found it in his toiletry case. Jamie’s laughing, helpless not to.
“You know, you don’t actually have to turn those in,” Fidds says. “They don’t really keep track. They’re like two cents each.”
“Shit, really?” Tyler laughs. “I’ve been killing myself over them for like three years. I can’t believe no one told me.”
“Hazing,” Jamie says, which doesn’t really make sense, but now Tyler’s laughing with him, specifically, and that’s all he wants. All he needs.
Shit. Jamie is so screwed.