In June, this far north, it’s still light out by the time they’re ready for the ceremony. The sky is lavender, shading to violet in the east, and the air is thick with the sweet green and flowering smell of early summer, the deep, heady scent of pine.
Jack stands in the doorway of his parents’ summer “cabin,” a few meters from where two blocks of four chairs are assembled around a short aisle: Kent’s mom and sister and Jeff Troy and Duncan Scarpetti on Kent’s side, Alicia and Bob and Shitty and Lardo on Jack’s. Bob’s seat is empty. He’s standing beneath the chuppah, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet and looking at his notes. He’s never been much of a public speaker.
Kent comes to stand beside Jack then, and touches his arm lightly, just above the elbow. Jack smiles down at him.
“You’re late,” says Jack.
“No, I’m not,” says Kent. He smooths down his hair, grimacing. “And I was trying to fix - you know.”
His cowlick springs back up. Jack grins and smooths the cowlick back himself, watches with satisfaction as it springs back up immediately.
“You don’t need to fix it,” he tells Kent.
He touches Kent’s collar lightly and looks him over. They’ve been kept apart all day, for no reason that really makes sense except that hockey players are the most superstitious people Jack’s ever met. Though, to be fair, he doesn’t really know many people who aren’t hockey players. Kent’s suit is dark blue, his shirt soft and white, open at the collar, and Jack can see the divot of his collarbones. Jack thinks Kent’s eyes must be the same color as the sky, that same deepening, twilit hue.
Shitty must spot them lingering at the doorway, because the music starts to play. Kent straightens up and takes a deep breath, closing his eyes for a second. Even this early into summer, he has freckles on the delicate skin of his eyelids. Jack likes Kent’s freckles, marks as they are of everywhere the light has touched him.
Jack touches Kent’s shoulder, the small of his back, his hip. Kent opens his eyes and elbows him, smiling.
“Still think we should have walked out to the Rimouski fight song,” says Kent.
Jack laughs, touches Kent’s fingers, and Kent grabs his hand. It’s a short walk to the aisle, a shorter walk down. When they reach the end, Kent, for a second, seems reluctant to let go of Jack’s hand, but then he does, and they face each other.
The music fades, and in the silence it leaves, the chirruping frogs that live in the pond just beyond the tree line thrum like an orchestra warming up.
Bob clears his throat.
“Right,” he says. “Well, folks, thank you for coming. You may be seated. Um. I don’t need to tell you why we’re all here. These two - ”
He seems to lose his sense of self-consciousness for a second and smiles fondly at Jack and Kent.
“You two. You’ve come a long way. I remember - the first time Jack called home when he was up at Rimouski, I remember he said to me and Alicia, ‘There’s this kid on my team, Kent Parson, and he’s good.’”
Bob leaves out what Jack said next, half ego and half desperate need for assurance: “Almost as good as me.”
Kent laughs softly, and he glances at Jack, his eyes dimpled at the corners, like he can guess the part Bob’s leaving out, like he doesn’t mind.
“You’ve both made me - made us all - very proud,” says Bob. He looks at the index cards in his hands and laughs ruefully. “Though that’s not actually what I wrote down to say, ha. Ehrm. The two of you, well, I don’t think anyone here is surprised that you’re still making history together. But we’re not here to talk about hockey, eh?”
Troy and Shitty both laugh dutifully, and Jack hears Alicia sigh in fond exasperation, so he laughs, too. Bob grins broadly.
“Come on, old man,” chirps Kent cheerfully. “Let’s get to the good stuff.”
“If you didn’t want an old man reminiscing, you should have asked someone else to officiate,” says Bob, still grinning. But he looks at his index cards again, the line between his eyes crinkling in thought. His voice softens into seriousness.
“But I mean it when I say you two have come a long way. Love isn’t easy, and I think you both know that. It’s work, and it’s sacrifice, and it’s compromise, and it’s forgiveness. But it’s also joy. The joy that comes out of dedication and partnership, out of passion and friendship. Now, the next part I’m required to say by the government. So, listen carefully.”
Jack half-listens as Bob goes through the formalities. He keeps glancing at Kent, who keeps glancing back at him, smiling, looking away. Jack represses a smile of his own and glances up at the chuppah. There’s a Zimmermann Aces jersey and a Parson Falcs jersey both stitched into the fabric. It had been Alicia’s idea, and Jack had thought it was kind of corny at first, but he likes the way it looks now.
“I’ve been researching Jewish wedding customs,” Kent had said over the phone, a couple weeks after Jack had proposed. “And the glass breaking. I like that. We should do that. And the chuppah,” said carefully, like Kent wasn’t sure of the pronunciation but was committed to getting it right.
“Did you just google ‘Jewish wedding customs’?” Jack had asked, amused, missing Kent.
“Yeah, like I said, researching. Is that, like, something you want? Did your parents do any of that?”
“Uh. Some? Maman’s Lutheran, so. They had Papa's rabbi and the Samwell interfaith chaplain there.”
“What about your parents?” Jack had asked over Kent’s bye-week, in bed together while the snow fell in heaps over Providence.
Kent had replied, laughing, “They did it right after boot camp, in some random church in Georgia. They’d known each other like three months.”
“Yeah.” Kent had shrugged, his mouth twisting into a smile. “Sometimes when you know, you know.”
Jack had pushed Kent's hair off his forehead and kissed the bridge of Kent’s noise, laughed when Kent wrinkled his face in response.
“And some of us are a little slower on the uptake.”
“You got there,” said Kent, winding his hands in Jack’s shirt and pulling him down to kiss.
“So,” says Bob, in the present, “without further ado. We are gathered here to join Jack Zimmermann and Kent Parson in the union of marriage. The grooms have each prepared vows that they will now read.”
Kent takes a deep breath and focuses his eyes on Jack.
“I rewrote these this morning. It’s, uh. It’s kind of hard to put into words what this, what you, mean to me. I’ve been in love…” There’s a tremor in Kent’s voice, faint, but there, and Jack understands then why Kent had been so adamant about having a small wedding, understands how hard it is for Kent to strip away his cool exterior, show how he feels.
“I’ve been in love with you for almost half my life, Zimms. And I think I had a crush on you almost from the first moment we met. I thought you were the coolest. You were so serious and genuine about hockey, about everything. It made me want to be at your level. You’ve always challenged me to be a better person, even when you didn’t mean to, even when I didn’t succeed at it.”
“You’re probably the stubbornest person I’ve ever met, and you always do things at your own pace. And I promise to be patient, and to be understanding, and to meet you where you are, and to not ever stop loving you. It’s wild, honestly. That I met you at sixteen and fell in love and that was it. That was game over. That’s the throughline of my life. But I’m happy it is, and I’m happy we got this chance. And I’m so proud of you, Zimms, and I’m so honored to be your partner.”
Jack wants to kiss him there and then, but he settles for squeezing Kent’s hand - he doesn't remember when he started holding it again - and takes a deep breath of his own. Then he says, slowly and carefully:
“I’ve had a lot of second chances in my life. More than I deserve, honestly. But of all those, I’m most grateful I had a second chance with you.”
He runs his thumb over Kent’s knuckles and steadies himself with Kent’s presence.
“Kenny, you’re the most dedicated person I know. I’ve never met anyone as willing to hand themselves over to the people they love, as you are.”
“It makes me a little scared, sometimes,” confesses Jack. “Like maybe you’ve made a mistake.” Kent shakes his head at this, just barely. “Because I don’t think I ever believed I deserved it. You’ve seen me at my worst, and you still loved me. You’re the best teammate I’ve ever had and the best friend. You’re the person who’s always challenged me to do better. And I haven’t always been those things back to you. And I want to spend the rest of my life making that up to. I want to spend the rest of my life as your friend, as your teammate, as your partner, as someone who loves you. I can’t wait.”
“And now,” says Bob. His voice sounds thick. Jack reaches into his pocket and feels the hard, cool shape of Kent's wedding ring. “As you exchange your rings, you promise to share all that the future may bring. May you find life’s joys heightened and its bitterness sweetened. May you be able to stand alone even as you come together, and may we be honored to celebrate with you.”
“Do you, Kent, take Jack to be your husband?”
“I do,” says Kent. He pulls a ring from his own pocket and slides it over Jack’s finger.
“And do you, Jack, take Kent to be your husband?”
“I do,” says Jack, and he slides the ring over Kent’s finger. They're married, thinks Jack, with giddy exhilaration. Married.
“Then gentlemen,” says Bob. “You may now kiss the groom.”
Jack’s not sure who kisses who first. They seem to reach for each other at the same time. He cups Kent’s face and feels where his cheeks are wet. Kent wraps his hands around Jack’s wrists. For the first kiss of their married life together, thinks Jack, it’s pretty good, and Kent seems to glow as they pull away.
“And now the glass breaking,” says Bob, beaming. “Which symbolizes, well, it symbolizes a lot of things, including that relationships are fragile, that we should always remember the bad even when things are good, but also that this is permanent. So may your bond together be as difficult to break as putting a broken glass together would be.”
He lays the glass, wrapped in foil, down between them then, and Kent and Jack step on it together. Jack has to laugh at the expression on Kent’s face: maniacal, delighted. Everyone cheers and there’s a smattering of mazel tovs. Jack kisses Kent again, catching him mid-laugh and the music comes on again, buoyant and joyous. He pulls away to hug his father, and then Bob hugs Kent, and then everyone carries their chair over to the table. There are two already at the head, for Kent and Jack. It’s a little tight; their knees and elbows keep knocking into each other. It’s perfect. Alicia snags Troy and Shitty to bring the food out. There are fairy lights strung overhead, hung dutifully by Scarpetti with Lardo directing. Jack had watched them from the window that afternoon.
“To love, motherfuckers!” says Shitty, standing on his chair and raising his glass. The table laughs, delighted, and Scarpetti smacks his hand against the wood.
The whole table takes turns making short, impromptu speeches. The words pass over Jack in a haze. He keeps looking at Kent, turning Kent’s hand over in his own. There’s food, music, laughter, and eventually Troy wanders over to punch Kent in the shoulder.
“Congratulations, Parser. You’re officially one of the old marrieds now.”
Kent grins and twists the ring around his finger.
“Yeah, but no one else’s WAG got eighty points last season,” he says.
“Ooh, that’s gonna be a fine, I think,” says Scarpetti. He glances at Troy who nods in confirmation, and then nods himself. “Yeah, definitely a fine.”
Jack kisses Kent’s temple and then leaves him to his conversation with Troy and Scarpetti and grabs his camera from Lardo. He’s tempted to immediately check the photos of the ceremony, but he’d rather look at them with Kent for the first time, when they’re alone. He strolls around the edges of the party, taking pictures. He wishes he’d figured this out years ago, how much easier it is to socialize at parties when you have a camera, a way to step into conversations and an easy excuse to keep yourself apart. He snaps a picture of Shitty making Bob and Alicia laugh, and Shitty shakes his head fondly when Jack lowers the camera.
“Dude,” he says. “It’s your fucking wedding. Relax.”
Jack grins. “I am relaxing,” he says. He grabs the empty seat next to Shitty – Lardo’s off talking with Kent's sister – and bumps his shoulder against Shitty.
“Thanks for coming,” he adds. “It means a lot.”
“Like I’d miss this,” says Shitty. “And there’ll still be plenty of fucking slumlords to sue when I get back to Boston.”
“Fighting the good fight,” says Jack. He cradles the camera in his hands and looks out over the party. A few fireflies flicker in the grass where they had the ceremony, the first of the evening.
“It’s too bad the rest of the crew isn’t here,” says Shitty wistfully.
“We’ll have a party later,” says Jack. He watches Kent laugh at something his sister says. And then Kent ducks his head, still smiling, and touches his ring, twists it around his finger. They haven’t decided yet if they’re going to announce the wedding, if they’ll wear their rings over the season.
The media onslaught had been bad enough when Kent came out, then when they announced they were a couple, and that was with the entirety of the Aces’ PR and then Falcs’ PR teams working months of overtime in preparation. Jack likes, for now, that this is a secret, something small and good that he can share with the people dearest to them.
“I’m looking forward to it, man,” says Shitty. He watches Jack watching Kent and then smiles. “I’ll be honest, it’s good to you see this happy.”
“It’s good to be this happy,” says Jack with a shrug, still watching Kent.
It’s not like he hasn’t been before, that there haven’t been moments, whole stretches of time, where he was happy. But it’s never felt quite this sustainable. Not like every day will be like their wedding day, but that all the shit he and Kent have worked through has made them stronger, as individuals, as a team.
“You keep staring,” says Shitty dryly. He nudges Jack. “Maybe you should circle back?”
Jack laughs. “Yeah, maybe.” Kent’s talking to his mom now, and Jack admires, for a moment, the way the string lights, swaying gently in the breeze, keep transforming Kent’s face in shifting patterns of shadow and light.
Shitty coughs discreetly.
“Okay,” says Jack, laughing again. He hands Shitty the camera. “Make sure Lardo gets this?” he asks, and then he walks back over to Kent.
“Sergeant,” says Jack, nodding his head respectfully. Ms. Parson grins at him, eyes crinkling the same way Kent’s do when he’s really, actually pleased about something.
“Private,” she says, nodding back.
“Captain, actually,” says Jack, an old joke between them that’s always made Kent roll his eyes. He just snorts now.
Jack leans over him, wraps his arm around Kent’s shoulders and rests his chin on the top of Kent’s head.
“Can I…?” he jerks his head back to the cabin. Ms. Parson laughs and lifts her wine glass in a toast.
“He’s all yours,” she says.
“I’m right here,” says Kent, with a long-suffering sigh, but the way his eyes cut to Jack, gleaming, means Jack knows he’s joking. He jumps to his feet, drops a kiss onto the top of his mother’s head, who swats at him, and follows Jack inside.
“You know everyone’s leaving tomorrow, right?” says Kent, teasing, on the stairway. “We’ll have the whole place to ourselves. For a week, Zimms.”
“Yeah,” says Jack. He leads Kent up to the den. Scarpetti and Troy are better houseguests than Jack would have guessed; the pullout couch has been tucked back in, and their suitcases are both shoved against the corner.
Kent flings himself onto the couch. He’s lost his jacket, and his sleeves are pushed up. He looks boyish and happy, in the blue dusk of the room.
“Swoops’ll kill me if we bang on the couch right now,” says Kent.
Jack snorts. He squats down beneath his mom’s old record player that she keeps in the room and starts flipping through her records. The sound of laughter and conversations drifts up from the dinner below, warm and indistinct.
“That’s not why I brought you up here,” says Jack.
“No?” says Kent. Jack doesn’t even have to look at him to know what expression Kent is wearing: wicked and bright, eyebrows arched, tip of his tongue sticking out like a snake.
“No,” says Jack. He finds the record he’s looking for -- Elvis in a Hawaiian shirt on the cover -- and wipes the dust carefully off it.
“Are you doing something romantic?” says Kent.
Jack looks at him. He’s sitting on one end of the couch, his right leg curled beneath him and his head propped on his chin as he leans against the armrest. Jack has to put the record down and walk to him. Jack is struck, suddenly, with the memory of the couple of weeks they spent up here the summer before the draft, laughing in every room of the house, and Kent sitting in the same way on the couch.
Being with Kent in the Q had been an experiment in liminal spaces: early morning and late evening, and the truly dead hours of the night, indistinguishable hotel rooms, the backs of vans, the locker room just after the rest of the team had left, right before someone stuck their head back to ask if they were coming, Kent’s fingers on Jack’s wrist while they rode the bus somewhere, the press of their thighs, Kent leaning across to look out the window sometimes, just so Jack could slip his hand beneath Kent’s shirt for an instant and touch his skin there.
And then thirty-four perfect days, between the end and the beginning, neither epilogue nor prologue, but a missing chapter of the book entirely.
And here they are again.
“Yeah,” admits Jack. “I think so.”
“God,” says Kent, with a little smile, a shake of his head. His eyes follow Jack, trail up to his face. He touches his ring again, twisting it around his finger. Jack’s not sure Kent’s entirely conscious that he’s doing it.
“Was really hard not just standing up there and chirping the shit out of you,” says Kent.
“Ha,” says Jack. He cups Kent’s face, and Kent presses his cheek into Jack’s hand, eyes fluttering close for a second. “So you didn’t really think I was cool?”
Kent laughs loudly, his face lifting cleanly with delight.
“I totally thought you were cool,” says Kent, dimpling. “Like, now I know you’re a big fucking weirdo and I’m stuck with you for the rest of our lives. Which I’m ecstatic about, by the way. But when we were kids? Especially at first? You were just - you didn’t want to be cool. Which was cool. All the other guys kept, like, trying to show each other up or be the funniest or the best with the girls or whatever, and you didn’t care. You were there to play hockey. You didn’t care if anyone liked you. And I thought that was cool. I wanted you to like me so bad.”
Jack laughs. It still amazes him how two people can have completely opposite interpretations of the same event. He’s also pretty certain that no one, in his entire life, has ever thought he was cool.
“I thought you were cool, too,” he says honestly.
“Yeah,” says Kent, “but the difference between you and me, Zimms, is that I amcool.”
“Yeah,” says Jack, grinning, giving Kent the point. “You are.”
Kent’s quiet for a moment, then: “I keep thinking, yesterday was twelve years.”
Jack traces his thumb over Kent’s cheekbone. “Yeah,” he says.
Kent doesn’t say anything else. Jack tugs him gently to his feet, and tells him, with his hands clasped around the back of Kent’s neck:
“I like making new memories with you.”
He says it seriously, and Kent’s eyes kind of roll over Jack’s face, like he’s afraid of making eye contact. Then he grimaces.
“I do, too,” he says. “But I don’t want to, like, pretend it never happened.”
“We’re not,” says Jack, after a moment, watching the quick, uncertain flicker of thought in Kent’s eyes. He hesitates. There are practical reasons for why they picked this date, but those weren’t the main reason, at least for Jack. He’s not surprised, exactly, that Kent’s waited so long to ask, though. For obvious reasons, Kent errs more often on silence than questions these days, and it’s something they’ll have to figure out together.
Jack knuckles his face. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking, it’s been this many years since I OD’d, this many years since the draft. But I also spent a lot of time ignoring it. At Samwell. And it doesn’t work that way either. You have to have the good and the bad. Um. And I want to have that with you.” Jack pauses. “I think this was the place I was happiest, but I – it. It was going to end. And that scared me. But now, I don’t know. It’s a new season. We get to try again. We get to learn from it.”
“All right,” says Kent, after a moment. He holds the lapels of Jack’s jacket, then smooths his hands over Jack’s shoulders. He looks pensive. “You ever think about what you’d tell your past self?”
Jack shakes his head, raises his eyebrows.
“I think I’d tell myself to keep going,” says Kent thoughtfully. He smiles then, soft and only for Jack, and holds Jack’s face in his hands.
“I love you, you dumbass,” he says, and he kisses Jack.
Jack laughs softly against his mouth.
“I love you, too, Kenny,” he says, and then he pulls away before Kent can deepen the kiss, goes back to the record. He feels Kent hovering behind him. Kent places his hand softly against Jack’s back. It takes a second for Jack to drop the needle in the right place. And it hisses and scratches for the first few notes, Alicia, as much as he loves her, sometimes a little more committed to the aesthetic than the substance. He wonders what he’d need to get to clean the records properly, if this is even the best kind of record player on the market currently.
“You’re thinking about getting into this,” says Kent in laughing accusation. “Audio shit.”
Jack smiles and turns, as the record smooths out a bit, not as distorted as Jack had worried at first.
“Maybe,” he admits. He gets a lot of satisfaction out of doing something right, about doing it intentionally, doing it well. He gathers Kent close to him and presses his face into Kent’s hair. “Something else to look forward to.”
“Something else to look forward to,” repeats Kent agreeably, his arms loose around Jack’s waist. Jack can hear the smile in his voice. Jack spins them in a slow, wide circle, as the record sings: take my hand, take my whole life, too.
Kent rests his cheek against Jack’s shoulder and says with dreamy softness, “I thought we agreed we weren’t gonna do a first dance.”
“We agreed we weren’t going to do a first dance in front of everyone,” corrects Jack. He smiles against Kent’s hair.
Kent snorts. “Nerd,” he says. Then, “I love this song.”
Jack just hums, and the song, sonorous and sweet and slow, fills the small room with sound. He sways with Kent, no grace to it, just a buoying tenderness. Kent laughs softly and lifts his head from Jack’s shoulder, blinking rapidly like his eyes are wet but smiling through it. Jack kisses him like he has all the time in the world. He does. They do. There’s a way that love is like panic, sometimes, the way it fills his chest and makes it hard to breathe, presses up against his sternum and his ribcage with a solid-feeling pressure. It presses now. It pours out of him, all the love he’s carried and tried to bury and found again.
He was scared of that, once, of loving someone so much it hurt, because it meant the future would only hurt worse. But he’s not scared any more. He’s never felt so sure.
It’s not a long song. Jack keeps Kent against him as the last, lingering note fades, as night comes dropping gently down around them.