There aren’t actually that many number 88s in the whole history of the NHL, let alone at any one given time. So since his retirement, Eric Lindros hasn’t been all that busy. He has a goalie from Tampa who he sees maybe every four months. The kid got married kind of young, but he’s so in love with his wife that all his problems are pretty easy. Iggy came once, during his last year in the league when he was stuck with 88. It was too weird, because Iggy is his Team Canada buddy not some youth who needs advice, so Eric just ended up calling three Sutter 12s on a conference call and going out for a run.
Brent Burns turned up once. All he needed was advice on an engagement ring, and he hasn’t come back since so Eric’s track record is probably pretty good?
Eric is surprised, therefore, when he wakes up and finds a very lanky Bruin in his bed.
“Good morning,” says Eric.
“What is happening,” says the other hockey players, looking around wildly.
“Um, there is this magical thing where sometimes if you are having trouble with some relationship, you go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning with a retired player who wore the same number that you do. My name is Eric Lindros, I wore 88 so I guess you do too?”
“Yes,” says vaguely pirate-esqu hockey player, then he sticks his hand out, “I am Pasta.”
“That’s fun,” says Eric and shakes his hand.
There’s a pause.
“I’m supposed to help you fix your problem, so, um, what’s your problem Pasta?”
“My boyfriend,” says Pasta sadly.
“What about your boyfriend?”
“He cares too much about money and not as much about people,” says Pasta.
“I DO NOT,” yells the other side of Eric’s bed.
William Nylander throws the covers away from his face on the other side of Eric.
“Are you fucking joking with me?” says Pasta.
“I’m not joking, are you joking? Because you know that’s not what we’re arguing about.”
“Well it's what I’m arguing about!” yells Pasta.
“Real quick,” says Eric from between them, “You are…..?”
“William Nylander. Willy,” he side eyes Eric as he says it.
“Cool, good. And you are dating Pasta?”
“His name is David. It was David when I met him and it's going to be David after people stop chanting Pasta in the stands.”
“Important to know, thank you,” says Eric, “But to be clear, you are dating him?”
“Yes,” says Willy.
“Okay, well congratulations,” says Eric, “And you… also wear 88?”
“Yes. I mean how else would I get here?”
“I don’t really know how either of you got here in the first place,” says Eric, “So I can’t say.”
“It must be magic,” says Pasta David.
“That's what everyone keeps telling me, yeah,” says Eric.
“It’s obviously magic,” says Willy.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot you know everything,” yells Pasta.
“Okay you know what? That is not fair.”
“I’m not being fair?”
“I am so done with this, do you know what?”
Eric is pivoting his head to watch this tennis match of anger until Willy gets up onto his knees and starts to lean over with an extended finger to yell at Pasta. Pasta gets up too, and starts to lean in to meet him, and that’s when Eric puts his hands up and pushes them apart.
“Alright, this was a very expensive mattress, so we are going to take whatever this is downstairs,” says Eric, and slowly the two boys separate.
Eric gives them both raisin bran cereal, and turns to make himself some coffee. When he turns back, Willy has silently caught all the raisins on his spoon and is dumping them into Pasta’s bowl. Pasta doesn’t say anything, nor does he look at Willy, but he does immediately stir the extra raisins into his bowl.
“So,” says Eric, “ah, what are you fighting about?”
They both start to talk at the same time.
“He started a fight with EVERYONE in Toronto, but he’s trying to tell me that I’m the one with a fucked up contract….”
“He thinks that all these GMs fighting for their own paychecks are going to look out for him, and he won’t listen to me when I try to tell him he deserves better…”
“Wow, okay,” says Eric, “So it sounds like you guys are coming at this from two different points of view.”
Again, they go off at the same second.
“He doesn’t have a different point of view he just doesn’t trust me…”
“David just doesn’t want to listen to reason, it has nothing to do with…”
They are both so loud.
“Well,” says Eric, “This is clearly something you are both passionate about. We should probably find a way to meet in the middle.”
They must be a pretty good match, thinks Eric, because they will NOT STOP talking at the same time.
“I don’t want him to meet me in the middle I want him to leave me alo…”
“I don’t care if he comes to the middle, I’m still right whether he likes it or n….”
“SHUT UP,” bellows Eric.
Look at that, they go silent in unison too.
Eric moves them into his living room. They stay quiet, but they also shove themselves into the farthest ends of the couch away from each other. Eric goes into his office, off the side of the living room and looks around.
He picks up a wooden hockey stick that’s engraved with some faded words; it was probably given to him to mark some kind of milestone that he can’t remember now. He walks back to look at the two boys very deliberately sitting on opposite ends of the couch.
“This is the talking stick,” says Eric. “One person at a time will hold the talking stick, one person at a time will talk. If either of you try to take it from the other, try to fight, or try to slash each other with the talking stick, you have to go sit in the kitchen for two minutes.”
“Fine,” they both say in unison.
“Pasta David, you start,” says Eric and hands him the stick.
“Okay. Well. Every time I do something, like sign a contract for six and a half million dollars a year, or cut my hair for the team or something, Willy yells at me and tells me I’m not getting enough money or that I’m letting people take advantage of me. Meanwhile, he is making people hate him all over his city for what, less than three million more dollars? People boo you, and I’m supposed to believe what you’re doing is better?”
Willy looks physically pained and holds his hand over for the wooden stick. Pasta looks up at Eric, who nods, and then Pasta hands it over.
“You really think that just because people love you, you’re going to be around and playing forever and you’re not,” says Willy. “You’re going to play for like, ten more years if you don’t get injured too badly or slow down too much, and then you’ll be done. All the money you make is going to have to last you, maybe for the rest of your life if you’re a shit coach or if your head gets messed up. And it won’t matter if you had a fun nickname or if people throw certain things at you when you’re on the ice because you won’t be on the ice. You’ll be a regular person and there won’t be any team doctors, or PR people, or fans who are going to take care of you, so you better have made your fucking money and be taking care of yourself.”
Pasta puts his hand out in a grabby way and instead of taking the stick he just holds onto one end while Willy holds the other.
“And you’re trying to tell me that $40 million is not enough to last me for the rest of my life?”
“You could get more, and you should have! I did,” says Willy, since his hand is also still on the stick.
“But I thought you said the point was to get enough to take care of me for the rest of my life! $40 million will do that! Why should I piss off all the people who like me when that’s enough?” says Pasta.
“It's not enough,” says Willy. “You’re going to get hurt, and miss things for your family, and what’s going to make that easier is not that some people in one city thought you were really cool. What’s going to help is being able to hire people and pay for things so all you have to do is get better.”
“Why are you so sure that I’m going to get hurt, huh? You’re the one who walks into telephone poles because you’re texting,” asks Pasta.
“Everyone gets hurt. I’m going to get hurt too, and all the city of Toronto is going to do about it is write articles about the cap, and I know that. All the city of Boston is going to do is write articles about you, and you don’t,” Willy says definitely.
“I’ve seen guys come back to Boston, okay?” says Pasta. “The people there, they still love Marc Savaad, they took care of Big Papi. I know that you can’t eat cheers, I know that better than you do. But it is still worth something, to be adopted by a city. People will remember you.”
Perhaps Eric should say something to them, perhaps Eric is going to throw up if this conversation gets any closer to home. Who can tell?
“Do you know how many times my brother and sisters and I had cereal for dinner in total silence, under the table with flashlights, because the lights hurt my dad’s head, the smell of anything cooking hurt his head, and because the sound of our voices hurt his head? And he would still have to play,” says Willy quietly.
“Do you know what it's like to know your mom sold all her jewelry to pay for you to play hockey? Do you know what it's like to tell her you’re going to buy her a house and then do it? You talk about $40 million like it is nothing and it makes you sound like an asshole.”
“Okay,” says Eric, and they both snap towards him. “This is where I come in.”
He sits on the coffee table, so they’re a little triangle. He pulls the hockey stick out of where they are both still holding it between them.
“I have done… both of these extremes, in a way,” says Eric. He turns the stick over in his hand.
“I started my career demanding money, because I knew that I was really good and that teams were going to try and tell me I had to earn it when I already deserved it. I got the money; people also hated me. It was really, really hard to come back from people hating me. It's not fun when your own city is suspicious of you.”
Pasta looks triumphantly at Willy. Eric switches the stick to his other hand.
“I also did get hurt a whole bunch. I got concussions that never really got better, and people did turn on me. I had to walk away from some situations, once from a city that I really thought loved me, and I couldn’t have done that without the money. If I had tried to always be this team first guy, team over anything, they would have left me in a hotel room throwing up every time car headlights came through my window to talk shit about my work ethic to the media. But I had the money to walk away.”
Willy looks at Pasta more pleadingly, like he really needs Pasta to believe and understand where Eric is coming from. Eric spends a minute thinking about what it takes to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what hockey does to a body, from the time you can remember, and still decide to do it for yourself anyway. Eric can’t say with any kind of certainty that he would have done everything he did if he knew how he’d come out of it.
“It's a business. The team people, the GMs and stuff, they won’t do you a favor because you took a million dollars less. You have to remember the lock outs, the Ted Lindsey stuff. Or look it up at least. You have to make sure you’ll be good in the end, no one else is going to do that. But,” Eric looks between them, “you can also be a hero. There are very few businesses that make you a hero to a whole city, and part of the fabric and history of a city, part of people's lives. If you can get that, and still be good in the end? Be a hero.”
Both Willy and Pasta are quiet after his little speech, and oh, how Eric longs for the simplicity of deciding between princess cut or marquise cut diamonds.
“I think maybe we’re both right,” says Willy.
“You don’t have the talking stick,” says Pasta with his arms crossed. “You should go to the kitchen.”
“David. Miluji tě. Please listen to me.”
Willy looks at him. Pasta looks straight ahead and refuses eye contact.
“You don’t have the talking stick,” Pasta says again.
Eric takes the hockey stick, uses the flat side of it to lightly poke Pasta in the stomach, and hands the stick to Willy. Pasta looks betrayed.
“I think we’re both right,” says Willy, stick in hand, “I’m sorry that I told you not to care about Boston, because I know that you do and that they care about you. Just please listen to what I say. When we’re old, I don’t want you to not be able to walk because you rushed back injuries playing for contracts, and I don’t want us to leave hockey and not be able to do anything fun.”
Pasta stick his hand out expectantly, and Willy rolls his eyes but hands the dumb wooden hockey stick over.
“I will remember that, if you remember that we are going to retire together, so together we will have millions of dollars and we will know how injuries work, and we will take care of each other. I just want Boston to love me, okay, maybe not like Tom Brady or Big Papi, but enough that I don’t have to buy my own beers. I’m not going to give up anything crazy to get that. You have to start trusting me about that.”
“Oh…” Willy stops and pulls the wooden stick out of Pasta’s hands. “Okay.”
Pasta grabs the stick back.
“Okay?” he says.
Willy leans over and again tugs the stick away from Pasta.
“Okay I trust you,” says Willy.
Pasta takes the stick back.
“Jag älskar dig,” says Pasta.
Willy reaches for the stick again.
It's possible this idea has run its course.
Eric reaches between them again and takes it away from Willy and Pasta before they can keep annoyingly playing tug of war. Willy’s hand is still outstretched, so Pasta grabs it instead of the stick. Eric gently whacks their joined hands with the hockey stick, and sends himself to sit in the kitchen for two minutes.
Eric is a very generous man however, so he loudly announces that he’s going for a run and leaves the house for thirty minutes since they have finished their arguments. When he gets back, they are still on the couch (and still dressed) but they are sitting pressed together in the middle. Eric sits on his coffee table again with his water bottle.
“I have one more question,” he says. Both boys look up at him. “Why do you wear matching numbers? Like is it a thing? Is that what kids are doing now in the league?”
To his surprise, they both blush a little bit.
“I think it's just us,” says Pasta.
“We just started,” says Willy proudly. “I changed my number when I resigned.”
“Why did you do that?”
Willy looks out of the corner of his eye at Pasta.
“Because we probably aren’t doing rings for a few more years,” Willy says.
Pasta tightens his arm around Willy’s stomach. Eric finds that he is suddenly looking forward to possible future visits for the first time. His track record is probably still pretty good, and yes, he is finally at a place where he can talk about checking, captaincy, contracts, and concussions.
But if he has to talk about four Cs with the kids, he’d rather do the 4Cs of diamonds again.