“So I keep wanting to bite AM,” he said on the phone, and he waited for Matty to say something, but all he heard was splashing and then, “Fuck Brady, what the fuck do you think you’re doing? I’m on the fucking phone, asshole.”
“Sorry,” Matt said, “what was that?”
There was a very long moment where he thought about saying something different, something about how great the lake was, or, like, his tan, but he had gone to the trouble of picking up the actual phone and that seemed like it demanded some kind of follow-through. “Auston,” he said.
“I’ve heard of the guy, yeah. 6’ something, built like a brick shithouse. What about him? Is he being a dick?”
If it were the season the answer to that would always be yes, but it was the offseason, where he wasn’t supposed to have to think about Auston Matthews. Except: “I can’t stop thinking about biting him.”
There was a kind of clattering noise and silence and he wanted to believe it was because Brady had just launched a sneak attack but he had a doomed feeling that he had just caused Matthew Tkachuk, who, while far from unflappable, was relatively impervious to the rest of the world, to drop his phone. He had kind of been hoping to hear that it happened to everyone.
He hadn’t planned on becoming a werewolf, but when they told him it was tradition he had been like, oh, okay. He hadn’t seen anything wrong with it, and it had worked out mostly fine. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t like, amazing, either, and anyone who told you it was was lying, but it was fine. Being in the woods alone at night was kind of great, sometimes.
The summer kept going on and he kept thinking of Auston and wanting to bite him. It was like, he couldn’t settle or anything. He was having a good summer; he was with his boys, at the lake, the water was awesome, and something inside him kept pacing, twisting and turning itself around. It was the full moon and he told everyone he wasn’t feeling well and laughed off the jokes about it being that time of the month and there was one perfect moment when he was out in a field he had cut through a hundred, a thousand, a million times before but in the night and in the moonlight and in his other body it felt like a place that had never existed before tonight, like anything could happen and then an owl startled him and when he woke up in the morning he was lying on the floor of his living room his phone was lying next to him with a text from Patty saying, “Hope you feel better, champ.” To which he wrote back, “Thanks, dad,” but the point was he tried to remember how it felt in the field, how it felt to think that the world was an undiscovered country, and when training camp started up and people asked how his summer with he said, “Great,” with a lot of fucking verve. Maybe he meant it. Who could know?
Matt texted him a couple of times, memes where a creature was biting something else, text across the bottom, all caps, “This u???” Sometimes the pictures were cute and sometimes they were kind of horrifying, sometimes there was blood or visible guts showing. Usually he texted back, “F U” and usually it devolved into sexting. Matthew Tkachuk was not the hottest guy Mitch knew, but Mitch had been looking at his dick for a long time and there was something comforting about it, almost cozy.
“People keep telling me that you want to bite my boyfriend,” Freddie said. They were only two games into the season and they had lost both of those games, even though the night before Mitch had blocked a shot and scored a goal.
“Jesus, Fred, why don’t you just shout it out at the Eaton Center?” It would have been nice to have this conversation somewhere other than the bus. It would have been nice not to have this conversation at all, actually. When Freddie had sat down next to him Mitch had been kind of psyched; he had kind of thought Freddie might want to congratulate him on his blocked shot. Or his goal. Mitch wasn’t picky. Freddie had been being weird with Mitch recently. Well, maybe it made sense under the circumstances.
“Do I need to be worried about this?”
“I don’t know, Fred. That sounds like a you-and-Auston question.” Mitch would have liked to be able to tell Freddie that it had been a summer impulse, that it was long gone. But it wasn’t. It was something in his jaws; he could almost feel it. Only with Auston, not with anybody else, not even with people he liked more, like Holler. He thought about lying, but that seemed like a bad idea. He didn’t think Freddie could actually read minds, but you could never be too careful with goalies.
“Oh,” Freddie said, “trust me, it’s not.” He smiled at Mitch. It was kind of a mean smile. “It’s a you-problem.”
“Look,” Mitch said, suddenly feeling a little desperate, “it’s not a sex thing. I swear.” It kind of pissed him off to have to say it. He had had sex with Auston first, before Freddie was even in the picture, back when Freddie was just a large and stoic part of the landscape. It had been bad. Mitch had told Auston that they shouldn’t do it again. Auston didn’t really have facial expressions, but something in the corner of his eyes had looked like disappointment, and Mitch had kind of expected that at some point they would get drunk and give it another shot. Only, like, two weeks later Fred had been putting on the full court press, and that was that. Mitch wasn’t 100 percent sure, but he was pretty sure that meant he would have been well within his rights to have it be a sex thing. But it wasn’t.
“Okay,” Freddie said, and he was visibly thinking about it. “Okay. I get that. But I’m not sure Nazem Kadri gets that. And I’m a little tired of the phone calls.”
“Wait,” Mitch said, “what the fuck?”
“Matthew,” Mitch said, “how many people did you tell?”
“Tell about what?” Matt said. Two phone calls in four months was two too many. Mitch was only ever texting after this.
“You know,” he hissed down the phone line. Nobody else was in his apartment, but it still felt like something he shouldn’t say aloud.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” Matt said, and even if Freddie hadn’t confronted Mitch, Mitch would have known that Matt was lying from his tone of voice. It was the voice someone lying in a sitcom would use; you could almost hear the laugh track in the background.
“I think the least you can do, Matthew, is be honest with me about it. If you’re going to betray my confidences like that.” He was kind of proud of himself for not saying anything more than that. Wasn’t that one of the tips for interrogation? Don’t rush in to say things. But he wasn’t sure how long to let the silence go on for, and in the end he just hung up.
It was easy, lying awake, to imagine all the people that Matt might have told. Mitch probably wouldn’t be worrying about it like this if they had won even a single playoff round last summer, but they hadn’t and here he was. There were so many people in the world. Some of them would think it was funny; some of them would be grossed out. Some of them might not have known that werewolves were a real thing before this.
He texted Naz who obviously already knew that werewolves were a real thing. It took him a couple of tries to get it right. “LOL,” Naz wrote back. It was a shitty response, but it was better than silence.
He was playing COD with Auston and he was for sure not going to bring it up except there he was, saying, “Is Fred really mad at me?” Saying it while knowing full well Auston was the worst person to say those kinds of things to. If Auston had ever had any impulses to comfort, he fucking drilled them out of himself the same way he worked on his shot over the summer. Each year it seemed like he came back even smoother and harder; each year he came back a better hockey player. Sometimes Mitch wondered if Auston was like that with Freddie too or if they were just, like, super-soft together. He didn’t wonder it often, just sometimes when he saw couples in commercials on tv where they were dancing or some shit like that when they put away the groceries. Auston had been kind of soft that time they had sex; he had swiped Mitch’s hair out of his face in this lingering sort of way and he had spent more time kissing Mitch’s collarbone than Mitch had, frankly, wanted. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that Auston was soft with Fred like that. He hadn’t been lying when he told Fred that it wasn’t a sex thing, but he did sometimes wish he could see that softness again, prize it for what it was. Ideally without touching Auston’s dick, or having Auston touch his.
“I don’t think he’s mad,” Auston said. “He just thinks it’s like, disrespectful.” Auston didn’t even pause for a second in the game to say that.
Mitch did good at not talking to Matt. He was kind of proud of himself. Usually he had a hard time following through on things like that, even if he was still angry. And he expected it to be harder with Matt than with other people because Matt knew him. That wasn’t a sex thing, that was a growing up together thing, but it was also a sex thing. Mitch actually started to sit down to think about how much sex he had had with Matt over the years one time when he was thinking about texting Matt, but it was too boring and also it made him a little sad. Matt didn’t reach out and apologize or anything. Matt did send Mitch a picture of his dick with that meme text saying Y U NO LIK ME NO MOR, and there was a moment when Mitch wanted to pretend that was an apology so things could go back to normal, but even the nicest dick pic, and this was pretty nice despite the dumb text, was not an apology.
Mitch’s second-to-last year on the Knights, one of the rookies had said, “No, I’m not going to do that,” when he was told they were going to make him a werewolf. Just like that. Mitch had looked at Max to see what he was going to say. There was part of him that was like, racing to be let off the leash. He didn’t — it was hard, okay, to figure out what impulses were the wolf shit and what impulses were just being human, but either way, he felt something stirring, telling him that this kid was about to be absolutely destroyed and he was going to get to be part of it. But Max just laughed and said, “Okay kid, whatever you want,” and they all carried on like normal. When Mitch got back to his billet he realized that he had accidentally clawed through his jeans, but he didn’t know if that happened before he was given the stand down order or after.
It was just weird, to realize he could have said no. Probably nothing bad would have happened. On the other hand, was that kid in the NHL now? No.
He woke up in the middle of the night realizing something very important about Matthew Tkachuk’s sitcom-liar voice — it hadn’t sounded guilty. Like, at all. And if you bracketed, temporarily, the possibility that Matt was just so grossed out by Mitch’s bitey impulses that he didn’t think he owed Mitch anything in the way of discretion, which, then shouldn’t he have cut it out with the phone sex?, it almost became like a riddle. Who could Matthew have told that he would not feel guilty about telling, even though it had ruined Mitch’s life? (Naz kept sending him dog emoji on his phone, which was like, offensive on multiple levels; Bozie had done some fake howling on the ice the other day, during a scrum around the Leafs end. It had been kind of a mercy that Mitch was too busy to catch Fred’s eye, honestly.)
It was a riddle and it was not, honestly, a very hard riddle if you stopped and thought about the fact that Matt had played with Auston before he had played with Mitch, even, and also the way the NTDP was. Mitch would have felt smart for solving it, except that if he had been smart he would have thought all that through before he picked Matt as his person to confide in. Honestly, though, if he sat down and thought about it, would anybody else have been better? Everybody in hockey knew everybody else in hockey, and he didn’t want to be the guy who, like, told the world that every year most London Knights rookies became werewolves. He wasn’t here for Steve Simmons’s take on werewolves.
Anyway, he texted Matt, “You told Aus didn’t you?” and was unsurprised to get a shrug emoji back. And then, a couple of minutes later, “So can we have sex again?” So that was one mystery solved.
He waited until they were playing video games again to confront Auston about it. It was Auston’s own fault; maybe if he made himself a little less remote Mitch could have had this conversation with him like a normal person. On the other hand, Mitch couldn’t remember the last conversation he had had where he felt like a normal person.
Auston was making fun of Mitch for something and Mitch said, “Yeah, well, at least I didn’t spread gossip about myself and then pretend to be all above it all,” and Auston wasn’t even paying attention, was talking to someone — probably Freddie — in his apartment and then Mitch could hear when the words penetrated the surface because there was this very sharp indrawn breath and whatever animal had been crawling around Mitch’s gut since the offseason got all sleek and satisfied and even bite-ier than it had been, like it saw its prey laid out for it.
“What the fuck,” Auston said. “No, seriously, what the fuck?”
“I know Matt told you. And Matt was the only person I told. So I guess maybe you’d better tell your boyfriend that you’re the reason he’s getting calls from Naz.” Auston didn’t say anything. “Or maybe I’ll tell him for you, how about that?”
“First of all,” Auston said, “fuck you. Second of all, fuck you.”
He didn’t tell Fred. Of course he didn’t tell Fred. He wasn’t a snitch, even though that had been his nickname for a little bit of his rookie season. Mitch-the-Snitch. The guys that had called him that had mostly been guys that he liked. He thought they mostly liked him too. It wasn’t comfortable to think about, especially because Auston had actually been really good about it, had gone in on the guys who had said it, had hauled Mitch with him into all kinds of situations that made it really clear that he trusted Mitch. And it hadn’t just been Auston wanting to have sex with him, because that had mostly been afterwards, after he was already with Freddie. There had been a moment during all of that when Mitch had thought to himself that he and Auston would always be friends, because they had gone through so much stuff and they were still okay.
It turned out, though, that it didn’t work that way. There was, in fact, no amount of stuff you could survive with somebody that would guarantee you stayed friends. And now they weren’t even talking. Were playing on the same line, again, were scoring goals and controlling puck possession and winning games and doing whatever else and then were getting off the ice and retreating to their separate corners of the locker room and that was the way it was. Mitch kind of wanted to write into the Star and tell them that locker room chemistry was all bullshit. They had never played this well together.
“Do you like being a werewolf?” This was Mitch’s life, on the phone with Matthew Tkachuk again, despite all solemn promises and vows otherwise. Maybe the worst thing about all of this was the way that he had actually felt his shoulders relax when Tkachuk picked up. Matthew Tkachuk’s willingness to talk should not have been calming.
“Wow, dude, hitting that midlife crisis lifestyle early,” Matt said. “Nice to talk to you to. Good job keeping your team in contention even though they traded away half of it. Oh wait, that’s me.”
“Look, just answer the question.”
“Yeah,” Matthew said, “it’s great. It’s the fucking best. What could be fucking cooler than ripping shit apart with your claws?” He was being sarcastic, but it was the kind of sarcastic that didn’t tell Mitch anything about what was under the sarcasm, which was unhelpful. He didn’t say that though. “Do you really hate it that much?” Matt said.
Freddie and Auston broke up.
“I’m not talking to you about it,” Willy said as they were leaving practice. Mitch hadn’t even asked, but Willy wasn’t wrong, he had been going to ask. “I’m not taking sides against you, or whatever it is you think is going on, but I’m not talking to you about it.”
“Who said I thought anybody was taking sides?” Mitch said.
Willy just looked at him. Okay, maybe, sue him, it had occurred to him that since he and Aus had stopped talking that there hadn’t been a lot of . . . support forthcoming from the dressing room. But he hadn’t said anything, had he?
Willy said, “Promise me no werewolves and I will not bitch too much about watching them pour top shelf vodka into your Red Bull all night.” It was kind of a nice offer. It was kind of a nice night. Mitch got to hear a million different stories about Kappy’s adventures in Pittsburgh, which were not that interesting except that they made Mitch think Willy had maybe been a little lonely all year, despite his entourage of baby Swedes. As the Uber was pulling up to Mitch’s house, Willy said, “You know, it was the contract stuff that fucked them up. Nothing to do with you.” It was supposed to be comforting, Mitch thought. He couldn’t tell if it was. He woke up in the middle of the night because his teeth had dropped while he was asleep. Bite, bite, bite-bite-bite, the werewolf inside him said.
The week before they went to Calgary, Matt called him. “You going to come over?”
“I don’t know,” Mitch said. “I don’t think there’s time.” It was a lie, but maybe Matt didn’t know that.
“Ok,” Matt said. “I mean, I know that’s a lie, but whatever.”
“Right,” Mitch said. “You know it’s a lie because you called Auston first.”
“No,” Matt said. “Auston called me. About the break-up, or whatever. And then I was like, we should see each other when you’re in Calgary. And then he was like, we could do the night before or we could do the night after because we’re heading to Vegas next, and for whatever reason they’re not keen on giving you guys too much time there.”
“Way to insult me when you’re asking to hang out.”
“Maybe I wasn’t talking about you, Mitchy, maybe I was talking about Jake Muzzin or whatever.”
It wasn’t really fair that Matt could make him laugh so reliably in the middle of Mitch being mad at him. “Anyway,” Mitch said, “sounds to me like you already have plans with AM.”
“No,” Matt said slowly, “because I told him that I had to check what your plans were first. Which I am now doing, and which you are now being a dick about.”
Mitch sat there for a moment on the phone and then realized that, actually, he did want to see Matthew Tkachuk and the current iteration of his fucked-up haircut. “Yeah, okay,” he said.
“Day before or day after?”
“After,” he said.
“Sweet,” Matt said.
Mitch almost just got off the phone after that, but there was something he wanted to say. Or, actually, he didn’t want to say it, but it felt like he had to say it, like he would die if he didn’t say it. He didn’t want to say it because if he was hanging out with Matthew Tkachuk voluntarily he had already kind of given up on being mad at him, and if there weren’t any enforceable consequences and Matty had made it clear that he didn’t feel bad, what was the point of saying things? Mitch had spent so many years being trained out of thinking about pointless things and he had never been as good at it as some guys — as good at it as Auston — but he had been pretty good. Now it had all gone to shit. So there he was, saying to Matthew Tkachuk, of all the fucking people, “Like, I guess it is what it is, and I get why you feel like you had to tell Aus, but you should have at least given me a heads-up, first. That part wasn’t fucking cool.”
“Okay, dude,” Matthew said. An entirely unsatisfactory response and also why Mitch tried to avoid saying things in the first place.
“You want to talk to me about it?” JT said.
“No.” Except he kind of did. “Did they ask you?”
“Ask me what?”
“When you went to London?”
JT looked at him blankly.
“Like, was it not an option because you were the new guy or did you say thanks but no thanks?”
“Like, you know?” Nobody could look blank better than JT; if there were an award for it he would win it every year. “Werewolf shit?”
“Werewolf shit?” JT said, and he looked like legitimately alarmed. “Mitch, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Mitch could feel the color going up his cheeks; he was going to die right here in this nice coffee shop where he was grabbing coffee with his captain after practice. His captain who was now cracking up, fully losing it, guffawing in a super-unattractive fashion, spitting out a little coffee along the way. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” JT was saying, but honestly he didn’t seem to be that sorry given how hard he was still laughing. “Just thought I’d lighten the mood a little bit.”
“Lighten the mood? I thought this was supposed to be a safe space.”
And even though he meant it to come out funny, it must have come out a little realer than he meant, because JT said, “Fuck, I’m sorry.” You could tell he meant it too. Since this whole thing started, maybe since longer than that, nobody had said sorry to Mitch and meant it, and he felt like something was cracking in him, breaking apart, and he kind of wanted to let it break, and kind of was desperate to keep that from happening. “Mitch,” JT said, “I’m really sorry.” Mitch just nodded.
“It’s actually a good question about the werewolf shit,” JT said. “I don’t know. It was just, like, everybody knew I wasn’t there for that long.”
“Did you feel left out?” He wanted to bite his tongue out of his mouth after he asked the question; it wasn’t the sort of thing you said to people.
But JT was captain because he was willing to answer those kinds of questions — or, well, really, he was captain because he was one of the two best players on the team and you didn’t have to worry that he was going to embarrass the team publicly, but willingness to answer those kinds of questions would have been a better reason to make him captain — and he said, “There were already a lot of reasons I was different than everybody. So I guess having one more didn’t seem like that big of a deal. You know?”
They went to Calgary and he went over to Matt’s after the game. He wasn’t sure if he was spending the night, but he brought a change of clothes with him anyway. He was getting fucking old; he was prepared to let Matt make fun of him for being too eager as long as he didn’t have to wear the same underwear tomorrow. He wondered if this was what it was like to be John Tavares all the time. “Hey Cap,” he said in the locker room, and then realized he didn’t know how to put the question into words in any way that was not hideously embarrassing to both of them and had to make up a question about the power play. Making it sound like he potentially had low grade amnesia, but, whatever. Worth it. He caught Auston giving his little Louis V. satchel a couple of looks, and he braced himself, but Aus didn’t say anything. In general, Auston had been looking at Mitch more. It was hard not to connect that to the break-up.
Matt’s house was huge and sick. Matt heated some shit up and they talked about the private chef he shared with some of the guys. They hadn’t talked about if they were going to have sex or not. It had been a while since they had fooled around in person. With other people that would have sent a nervous thread running through the whole thing, a shiver underneath the putting shit in ovens and finding the oven mitts and also something to put the hot dishes on and Matt’s absolute mangling of the cork on the pretty expensive bottle of red wine he opened. But it was just Matt and he had known Matt forever. The first time they had fooled around Mitch had come in his shorts just kissing and Matt had been super serious and sweet about it, had dredged up a handkerchief of all things and had started to give a little speech about, like the honor it was to take Mitch’s virginity and Mitch couldn’t stop laughing, could only barely get out the words to tell Matt that he had the wrong end of the stick. So tonight was fine. Either they would have sex or they wouldn’t; it would be fine either way. In the meantime they were having dinner, and Matt only had to stop himself from talking about the people who had been traded away as if they were still there a couple of times. There was something kind of stiff about Matt in person that hadn’t used to be there, as though he had been broken and put back together. Once again, Mitch could feel words bubbling up in his throat, but this time, thankfully, they were cut off by Matt kissing him.
Mitch woke up in the morning feeling better than he had in months. He stretched luxuriously. Matt’s sheets were sick. “Hey,” he said. Matt grunted, and he shoved him in the shoulder. “Hey, wake up.” Matt made a murky noise that suggested he was listening. “Where did you get your sheets?”
“Wait, you woke me up to ask about my sheets?” Matt said. It came out blurry.
“What, you were hoping for something else?”
“You are so bad at flirting,” Matt said.
The only thing I wanted for this chapter was to find a Leafs player I could realistically envision making fun of what I imagine is the giant ugly McMansion Matthew Tkachuk has in Calgary. And yet, tragically, I could only imagine every single one of them saying, “Sick house, dude.” Even the not yet signed-elsewhere Tyson Barrie.
They went out to dinner, the whole team, the Gazelle and everyone. Auston and Freddie stayed at opposite ends of the table, like planets on some complicated rotation. Auston sat next to Mitch. Mitch couldn’t remember the last time that happened, even when they had been talking. Mitch made a joke, some dumb thing, and Auston laughed at it. It was a good sound, Auston’s laugh.
“I think I’m going to have sex with Auston again,” he told Matt, the next time they were on the phone. “I think it’s going to happen.”
“Oh,” Matt said. He sounded oddly blank about it. “That’s . . . good?”
“Yes,” Mitch said. “It is. It’s good.” He had seen what happened in this world where he didn’t have sex with Auston. It was like one of those old movies, Back To The Future or something. He had been given a glimpse of the bad evil future and now he was being given a chance to fix it. The fact that he didn’t want to have sex with Auston was neither here nor there. “I think,” Mitch said, “that we’re going to be boyfriends.”
“You think that you’re going to be boyfriends?” Matt said.
“Yes. So, you know, probably I’m going to have to stop looking at pictures of your dick. You’re going to have to take me out of that section of your phone. Just as an fyi.” He thought that was a pretty smooth way of segueing into talking about their dicks, a thing that was going to have to stop, after this.
Matt didn’t take the segue though, which was something he was usually very good at it. Instead he said, “What about Freddie?”
“They’re broken up.”
“Yeah, I mean. I guess.” And then Matt said he was busy and got off the phone. Which was bullshit, because Mitch had not gone through what happened with Auston in order to lose one of his oldest friends in a similar fashion, so he called Matt right back. Matt didn’t pick up his phone the first time, or the fifth time, but by the tenth time he did.
“Okay, okay, what?” Matt said. “I told you, I was busy.”
“You’re not allowed to stop being friends with me,” Mitch said. “Just so you know.”
“I’m not going to stop being friends with you. Jesus. Fucking needy bitch.” Matt breathed in. “I really am busy, so I’m signing off. We good?”
And they were.
He wasn’t surprised when Auston caught him after practice and asked him to hang out, although he was a little surprised at the gracelessness of it, how Auston was like, “I’m still mad at you but I can’t be not talking to you and Freddie both. So, lunch?” They went to lunch and they didn’t talk about werewolves or their starting goalie and then Auston asked if he wanted to play video games after and so they went to Auston’s apartment and Auston went to the bathroom and while he was in the bathroom Mitch took his shirt off.
He still didn’t want to have sex with Auston, and it wasn’t just that it had been bad because he knew sex with somebody could get better over time. Look at him and Matt. Just, whatever weird animal thing made him want to bite Auston operated on a reverse polarity around sex. So he didn’t want to have sex with Auston, but the past few years had suggested to him that there was no way to be close to Auston that didn’t involve having sex with Auston and he missed it. He missed it a lot.
Auston came out of his bathroom. “Mitch,” he said, “why is your shirt off?”
Talking seemed like a bad idea, so Mitch just gestured him forward. He would have expected Auston to be better at getting with the program.
“I don’t want to have sex with you,” Auston said. “I want to have sex with my boyfriend.”
“Ex,” Mitch said.
“Fine, okay, my ex-boyfriend,” Auston said. “Thanks for reminding me.” Auston sat down on his couch kind of heavily. He didn’t sit super close to Mitch, but he wasn’t that far away either. Suddenly he looked young and kind of sad. He put his head in his hands. “My ex-boyfriend. Fuck.” Then he lifted his head up. “Wait, you thought I wanted to have sex with you?”
“Well, you know,” Mitch said. He kind of wished his shirt was still on. “I know you felt all . . . whatever about me. Back then. And it seemed like it might not have gone away completely, is all. You know?” It was the most embarrassing thing he had ever had to say, but it was mostly embarrassing for Auston, who probably had not wanted Mitch to know so precisely what he was feeling.
“Oh my god,” Auston said. “Freddie was right. You do think I’m still in love with you. Oh my god.”
He walked over to his window and looked down at the street. Mitch hadn’t realized how hunched up Auston had gotten since the break-up until now, when it was gone from his back. He was so tall. Mitch wished he was that tall.
Auston turned and looked over at Mitch. “Mitchy, we’re going to have a massive fight about a bunch of things in, I would estimate, about three days when I’m done having makeup sex with my boyfriend. But, like, thank you.” He stopped on his way out to drop a kiss onto the top of Mitch’s head. “You need to wash your fucking hair, dude. Especially if you’re trying to get laid. It reeks.” And then he said again, “Seriously, thank you.” As he was halfway out the door he called back, “Don’t be in my apartment when I come back.” Just for that, Mitch stole an expensive bottle of wine out of the rack on his way out.
Mitch had just gotten the cork out of the bottle of wine when the phone rang. It was Matt. He wanted to talk to Matt and he didn’t want to talk to Matt. He was going to get made fun of a lot whenever he talked to Matt, and right now he felt like he had a sunburn, like the skin on his body was too small and too tight. He had done a bad job getting the cork out and little bits of cork were bobbing around in the bottle. He let the phone ring and he poured himself some wine. It tasted fine. It tasted good.
He took the glass of wine, also the rest of the bottle, into his massive bathroom and started the bath running, sat down heavily on the closed toilet. Right when he had gotten in the door he had taken off all of his clothes and put on the expensive robe somebody had gotten him a couple of Christmases ago. He had never worn the robe before, but it had been an urgent impulse, just like biting Auston had been (still was, his teeth insisted), digging through his drawers, looking for this silky burgundy and gold robe that he knew was there, that he was only going to be wearing for the five minutes it took to fill the tub anyway. He was being a cliche, and he didn’t even know why. The phone rang again. He didn’t pick up.
It rang again.
“What?” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Matthew Tkachuk said. Mitch was glad he was already sitting down. Bare minimum, he would have dropped his wine from the shock of it.
“What are you sorry for?”
“For telling Auston you wanted to bite him.”
Mitch didn’t know what to say about that. It wasn’t okay and he hadn’t fully forgiven Matt, so he just let the silence go.
“This is hard,” Matt said.
“You already apologized,” Mitch said. “It’s all downhill from here.”
“No,” Matt said, “it’s the next part that’s hard. I mean, part of why I told Auston is because he was my friend and I wanted him to know, but a lot of it is just that I was jealous and mad.”
“Jealous of what?” The whole idea was baffling. “Do you have a crush on Auston or something? Have you always secretly wanted to make him a werewolf? Oh my god, you totally have.”
“No,” Matt said. “Don’t be a fucking moron.” There was a swallowing noise on the phone. “He would be the worst fucking werewolf anyway.” Mitch wasn’t sure he knew what made a werewolf a good werewolf versus a bad werewolf, aside from killing people, maybe, which he didn’t think Auston would do, although you could never be sure. “Why didn’t you want to bite me?” Matt said, interrupting this train of thought.
“You heard me. I’m not going to fucking say it again.”
“Hey there,” Mitch said, “I thought you were apologizing.”
“Oh my god. You are the worst person in the world. Okay.” Matt made that swallowing noise again. “Why didn’t you want to bite me?”
“Dude,” Mitch said. “Why the fuck would I do that? You’re already a werewolf.”
“Oh,” Matt said. Mitch couldn’t tell what was going on with his voice. It made him think that there was maybe something deeper going on here, like maybe Matthew was treating the biting as a metaphor. Maybe, like Freddie, he thought it was a sex thing. “If I wasn’t already a werewolf would you want to bite me?”
“No,” Mitch said. “I wouldn’t,” and then all of a sudden it occurred to him what Matt was actually asking and he was rushing to fill the silence before Matt could get a hold of the wrong end of the stick. “I wouldn’t because you’re already mine. Like, I hope I wouldn’t ever want to, because I hope I wouldn’t ever feel like you weren’t mine.”
“Oh,” Matt said, and Mitch had a sudden pit-falling feeling that he had fucked everything up and also totally misconstrued the nature of this conversation. “You know,” Matt said, “you’re the only person I have phone sex with.”
“Gee,” Mitch said, “what an honor.”
“You know what I mean, dipshit.”
“I don’t know, do I?”
“Look, just . . . don’t have sex with Auston.”
“Well,” Mitch said, and Matt said, “Oh, fuck me it already happened,” and Mitch said, “No, he turned me down to go try to make up with Freddie,” and then Matt started laughing and Mitch said, “I took off my shirt and everything too,” and Matt said, “Well, that was your first mistake.”
And then of course Mitch said, “You like me shirtless,” and by then the bath was all ready to step into and the conversation devolved, but in a good way.
It was a week later and they were in a hotel room in Ottawa, because nobody wanted to go out in Ottawa and they had agreed that they shouldn’t have this conversation in either of their apartments. “In case it goes sideways,” Auston had said. Which, way to go in with high hopes.
Freddie was sitting on the second bed with his headphones in watching golf on Auston’s iPad. “You know your boyfriend is the most boring man in the world, right?” Mitch said. “Like, they could remake those commercials but with him. It’s a good thing he’s so fucking hot.”
“I am zero percent taking shit from anyone sucking Tkachuk dick,” Auston said.
Mitch didn’t have a good comeback to that so he changed the subject. “Why’s Fred here, anyway? Chaperoning? Making sure I don’t lure you away with my hot bod?”
Freddie took his headphones off. “Fred is here because you guys are idiots and I don’t trust either of you not to fuck it up again.”
“What he said,” Auston said, and gave Mitch his best shit-eating grin.
They sat down cross-legged on the other bed, facing each other. It felt like being young again; it felt good. The only light on in the room was the light by Freddie’s bed, and the the hotel room curtains were drawn close against the night.
“Do we actually have to talk about this?” Mitch said. He felt like they both had enough of a sense of the outlines of what had happened. “Can’t I just, like, apologize or something?”
“I mean, not talking works for me,” Auston said.
Mitch couldn’t tell exactly how much Freddie could hear through the headphones, but either way he put the tablet down and gave them a stern look. Auston giggled. “You’re not cute,” Fred said. It was a little too loud because of the headphones. Auston stuck his tongue out at Fred across the room. Mitch didn’t want to have his heart warmed by it, but he did. “Not cute at all.”
“You know,” Auston said, “if you really want to bite me you can.”
“Really?” Mitch said.
“Like, you matter to me.” The expression on Auston’s face was the sourest thing Mitch had ever seen. “Don’t laugh at me when I’m trying to be serious, asshole.” Mitch tapped Auston on the shin to show that he was sorry, to say, keep going. “And I’m sorry I haven’t been that great about showing it. Freddie kept saying you thought I was in love with you and wanting me to talk to you about it and I kept telling him he was wrong but, like, also I wanted to make sure you knew that I wasn’t. Which, apparently, didn’t work at all.”
“You were in love with me, though, right? Or was I just making that up?” He had had no intention of asking that; he didn’t know why he wanted the question answered. He didn’t think he could look at Auston’s face while Auston tried to answer it either, so he traced patterns into the crunch of the hotel-white duvet color.
“I mean, yeah?” Auston said. “I thought I was. You were my best friend and I thought you were hot.”
“But then you weren’t.”
“Then I wasn’t,” Auston said. “Then I was in love with that asshole over there.”
“Is it weird that I do kind of still want to bite you?” Mitch said.
“Dude,” Auston said, which meant yes, but that he was okay with it. “Does it — like, do I have to become a werewolf, though? Because that sounds kind of annoying.”
It turned out you could bite someone without turning them into a werewolf, although they had to get Matty on FaceTime before they could figure it out. Freddie held Auston’s hand, and Mitch sunk his teeth into the upper arm. Gentle, gentle, hard. Saying, what we are to each other matters. Saying, this is something not to forget. Saying, it may or may not be all right in the end, but here we are right now.