Adam Banks had eyes for only one man.
Of course that man was decked out in layers of padding and the opponent’s colors, his face obscured by the goalie mask, but with how things were going that was just how Adam liked it. He already had two goals and an assist for the game and if he was able to pull off another goal it would be his first hat trick of the season and the third of his career. Which would be a cause for celebration at any time really, but Adam would welcome that sort of attention most of all now.
He was ready for his name to be in a headline that did not include or hinge on the phrase “NHL’S FIRST OPENLY GAY PLAYER”. It was a true statement of course, but Adam didn’t really want to be known for that. He did feel the occasional pang of guilt over the whole thing, because he did realize the magnitude and responsibility but that was mostly hindered by him not taking up the mantle by choice.
Eleven months ago, a hook up had outed him to a semi-major news outlet and the story had spread from there. The betrayal and media storm had sent him into a tailspin and he had not been able to finish the season as strongly as he would have liked.
But if he could pull this off, maybe it would lead to a respite from the prying, the comments and the looks if only for a little while.
It was just him and the goal, he had his eyes on the prize so to speak. He could see the shot, how it would sail past the goalie’s face. It was all perfect, until it wasn’t.
Adam had thought he had achieved a clean breakaway, he thought he was in the clear. But he was proven wrong when the full force of a body slammed into his shoulder and sent him skittering across the ice and as soon as he hit the wall, and the pain spasmed through his right shoulder. He knew instantly that something was wrong.
Suddenly the glory, the escape from what had almost felt like eleven months of hell dissipated just like that.
In retrospect, Adam should not have been surprised to find Charlie at the clinic as he walked out of the exam room. He’d shot Charlie a quick text on the way to the clinic from the arena. He really only had thought of that because he knew Charlie had been at the game (because he was always at the game). He hadn’t really hinted at the location, not because it was a huge secret, but because texting with his left hand was significantly slower so he had been quick and to the point. But of course Charlie had sniffed out exactly where Adam would be and got there as soon Adam had gotten out..
That was Charlie Conway for you.
Adam made his way towards his friend, his right arm secure in a sling.
“What happened, Banksy?”
Adam tried to sound flippant even though on the inside, the prognosis was anything but to Adam.
“Dislocated shoulder,” Adam said.
“How long are you out?” Charlie asked.
“Hopefully just six weeks, but could be as long as three months,” Adam said.
Charlie let out a whistle.
“That sucks,” Charlie said, “But hey, at least it wasn’t a break.”
That was the only mercy Adam could take from the whole thing.
“At least,” Adam said sarcastically.
Charlie reached up and patted Adam’s good shoulder and offered a sympathetic smile.
“Things will turn out,” Charlie said, “You’ll come through, you always do.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about.”
Charlie doesn’t question him on that, at least not right away. Rather he affectionately pulled Adam’s head into him for a warm side embrace. It was a familiar action, one that Adam had long ago lost the will to fight. Only with Charlie would he ever be like this.
He beckoned Adam to follow him to his car. They lapsed into the easy silence that they always fell into at times like this. Adam settled into the front seat of Charlie’s car, and really the only thing accompanying aside from Charlie was the ache in his shoulder, and even worse than that, his thoughts.
Adam never would have guessed that him and Charlie would have ended up in the same city, thousands of miles from where they both grew up, but it had apparently shaken out like that. Adam was here for his professional career, Charlie had arrived to take over a burgeoning Major Juniors team. Luck was definitely in their corner in that regard.
But with everything that had happened over the past year, Adam was grateful that Charlie was around. He hadn’t come out to Charlie prior to the news breaking earlier in the year, and he always worried that that would have led to a rift between them.
His body settled into the rhythm of the road and the ache in his shoulder had dulled (or the painkillers had kicked in) and he finally was able to let his mind wander.
Eleven months ago
Adam’s phone had been buzzing with texts and phone calls nonstop ever since the alert first came up on his phone. A
ADAM BANKS, STAR NHL CENTER, COMES OUT AS GAY the headline read.
“Comes out”, what a joke, he didn’t come out. He was outed by a lover looking to make a quick buck. Adam hoped the guy was disappointed in the payout, it wasn’t like hockey players carried the same sort of currency that football, basketball or hell even baseball players did. Adam hadn’t even thought the guy cared about hockey, but he had been able to glean the basics, Adam's age, his profession profession and it probably just took a Google search from there.
He only responded or even looked at the messages that came from the coaches and the front office. In the initial phone call with the General Manager, he had reiterated the team’s non-discrimination policy and that they were behind him a hundred percent. It was an obvious public relations move. They didn’t want to be the one team or league known to be sidelining or exiling one of the first players in a major team sport to come out.
Adam didn’t really care about that, what he cared about was the giant asterisk that would accompany everything written about him from then on. ADAM BANKS* SETS ANOTHER RECORD (*Also did you know he was gay?!) ADAM BANKS* COMES IN CLUTCH TO WIN THE CUP (*Also did you know that he was the NHL's first openly gay player). It was like he had lost control of any aspect of his life.
His parents had only tried to call once and Adam let it go to voicemail. He had come out to no one in his personal life. His worry about his parents' reaction was cancelled out by the obvious show of support from his former teammates, although he didn’t particularly want to deal with either at the moment. There was a call from his agent, explaining that he was fielding inquiries from the media as well as LGBT related organizations.
Adam felt a little guilt about not really taking up the mantle with pride. He imagined that if a notable player had come out when he was young, how much that would have meant, but even so he couldn’t quite bring himself to relish the role. He didn’t want that role or responsibility. He just wanted to play hockey and live his life.
His wallowing was disturbed by a few hard but familiar knocks at the front door. Adam froze. Through all the events of the day, he’d forgotten about Charlie.
He hadn’t told Charlie.
He hadn’t even gotten the chance to do that. Would he be mad at Adam? Would he take offense that Adam hadn’t told him?
The knocking started again and Adam knew that he would not be able to ignore him, Charlie was not easily deterred from anything he set his mind to, and they were close enough that Adam knew that Charlie would not allow Adam to turn him away. He was super annoying like that.
He slouched over to the door and opened it, bracing for whatever Charlie had in store for him. He was sure it would be deserved.
Charlie stood there, tall, resolute and the same as he always was. It was comforting in a way, Adam’s life had turned upside down in the course of a day but at least Charlie seemed to have remained unaltered.
“Hey,” he said, his voice so soft he almost couldn’t hear the sound of his own voice.
“Is it true?” Charlie asked, the question was direct, but not accusatory. There was probably a touch of concern there that Adam was too weary to pick up on.
“What?” he asked.
“I don’t trust the articles or whatever,” Charlie said, “Is it true?”
“Yes,” he said and then forced himself to say more, if he couldn’t do this with Charlie, then he couldn’t do it with anyone, “All of it.”
“Okay,” Charlie replied, and it was almost as if he was saying something to himself.
Adam was about to ask if he wanted to come in when Charlie moved forward and wrapped his arms around Adam into a warm embrace. Adam was stunned for only a second before he relaxed into Charlie’s touch.
“It’ll be okay,” Charlie said, “You’ll be okay.”
The whole thing had been unexpected, but Adam could only think that as per usual. Charlie had known and given him exactly what he needed.
“Where’d you go?”
Charlie’s question pulled Adam back into the present.
“Just thinking,” Adam replied, no need to bring Charlie down that little memory lane. They hadn’t really talked that much about Charlie’s coming out, except for the fact that every now and again Charlie would ask for the name of the guy who outed him and Adam refused to give in. He didn’t want revenge. He just wanted it all to go away.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Charlie said, “Only six weeks.”
“You know that putting the word ‘only’ in front doesn’t actually make it better, right?” Adam asked.
They pulled into the parking garage where Adam’s apartment was located and Charlie got out first, and quickly went to open the door for Adam who was dawdling. The consideration made him feel even more pathetic.
“Everyone is going to think I am weak,” Adam said, “‘Look how the fag got taken out by a dislocated shoulder’, it isn’t even broken.”
“No one is going to say that,” Charlie said ignoring Adam’s self-derogatory remark as he often did, “you’re getting older, you can’t expect your body to heal the way that it used to back when you’re sixteen. Just relax, get better, and knowing you, when you get back out there you’ll be better than ever.”
Had that pep talk come from anyone other than Charlie Conway, Adam would have dismissed it wholesale. But it was hard for even the coldest person to not be taken in by Charlie’s confidence.
“If you say so,” Adam said.
Charlie leaned in, so close that their foreheads were almost touching, and rested his palm against the back of Adam’s neck. Again, if this had been anyone else.
“I know so,” Charlie said.
He pulled away, just lightly patting Adam’s cheek. “Now come on, I am starving and you need rest.”
The moment broken, Adam grumbled the whole way back to his place, though any resentment and grumpiness was kept somewhat at bay by Charlie’ effusiveness.
Charlie ordered delivery and sort of picked up around Adam’s place while he settled on the couch. He was just going to sleep when the sound of the answering machine on the counter rang out with his mother's voice, soft and almost sickeningly sweet.
Hello sweetie, I am just calling to see whether everything is okay. We watched the game on tv tonight. Are you alright? Your father is really worried about you...[long pause]….does this mean you’ll be coming home for Christmas this year? It has been years since we’ve seen you during the holidays. Also do you know who I ran into and invited over this year? Debra Townsend! You remember her? She was Shelby Townsend’s mother, the two of you used to play together all the time. Shelby is also in town and it would be great if the two of you could meet up. They were such lovely people…..”
Adam groaned and Charlie lifted an eyebrow.
“What was that about?” Charlie asked.
“That is my mother,” Adam said as if that explained everything.
“I know what your mother sounds like,” Charlie replied, “Who is this Shelby person?”
Adam covered his eyes with both hands. Both he and Charlie knew exactly what his mother had been getting at.
“I don’t remember her honestly,” Adam said, “I mean she probably wasn’t lying, but I think we probably were in preschool together and that’s it.”
“It sounds like she’s trying to set you up.”
“She probably is.”
Charlie pursed his lips and stared down at Adam from over the end of the sofa.
“Doesn’t she know that you’re….”
“She knows,” Adam cut him off, “They both know. I just don’t think they accept it yet.”
Charlie patted his foot.
“Yeah, but at least they’re in Minnesota so I don’t have to deal with them,” Adam said.
“You’re not going back for the holidays?” Charlie asked while rearranging Adam’s legs to take his own seat.
“I don’t want to,” Adam said.
“I’d like to,” Charlie said.
Adam stared at him for a moment.
“Nothing’s stopping you,” Adam said, “Isn’t the league about to go on break?”
“It’s not the league that’s keeping me here,” Charlie said and the words finally sank in to Adam.
“You don’t have to stay here on my account,” Adam said.
Charlie looked at him.
“Come back to Minnesota, spend it with me, you’ll see everyone and maybe have to spend a couple of awkward hours with your parents where you’ll have to explain them in the appropriate terms that you prefer dick,” Charlie said and Adam threw a pillow at his head.
“Okay, I’ll go,” Adam said finally after the impromptu pillow fight, “For you.”
It was five days later when what Charlie would later term “The Picture” hit the blogs and eventually made it to a reputable and national gossip site and Adam’s life for the second time that year was turned upside down.
The image was of him and Charlie, obviously taken the night of his injury at the parking garage of his building (Adam had a pretty tough conversation with the property manager about security and who exactly they were letting through the gate). Charlie was leaning in close, hand cupping Adam’s cheek. Neither of their faces were very clear in the photo, but Adam could be identified by the team jacket and his right shoulder in a sling.
“Aw, they’re calling me your lover,” Charlie said when he walked in with a bag of groceries tucked under his arm. He was practically living at Adam’s place ever since the injury, taking care of things around the apartment, cooking. Adam thought Charlie was going a tad overboard, he wasn’t completely helpless, but he didn’t really say anything, because he really liked the company.
“This isn’t funny,” Adam said.
“It’s pretty funny.”
Adam switched off ESPN, which was running a special on all the NFL team’s playoff prospects before getting up to offer to help Charlie put away the groceries. He stopped wearing the sling a couple days ago, though there was still a twinge in his shoulder when he used it too much.
“You only say that because they won’t recognize you,” Adam said.
“Oh I was recognized,” Charlie said.
Adam turned to him, swift and worried.
“By who? Your job?”
Charlie worked with kids; Adam didn’t want Charlie to suffer at his job on Adam’s account. Charlie brushed off that concern.
“No, by the peanut gallery, who do you think recognized us?”
Charlie slid his phone over to Adam, so that Adam could see the countless messages to Charlie from the other Ducks.
“It’s not your fault,” Charlie said, “I think it’s hilarious.”
Adam scrolled through the texts conveying Charlie their astonishment, along with some shows of support and playful ribbing. It didn’t take long for Adam to realize that there was one sentiment that was very much not present in any of their messages.
“Charlie,” Adam said, “They think it’s real.”
Charlie looked over at him.
“They all believe the article. Have you not told them it is one big misunderstanding?”
Charlie took back the phone and gave a quick glance through them.
“Oh, I haven’t gotten around to it,” Charlie said.
Adam swallowed. He didn’t know what to do with Charlie’s nonchalance about the whole situation.
“Charlie, they think you’re gay!”
Charlie stopped and then smiled, almost as if there was a joke.
“Are you telling me there is something wrong with that?”
Adam felt that maybe he was being played. Maybe Charlie was running some long con on him.
“No, but I mean….you’re not,” Adam said again.
“It’s not that big a deal.”
Now there was no way that was true.
“You didn’t leak the photo did you?” Adam asked, he didn’t really think Charlie would have done something like that but the guy was being way too calm about this.
“Of course not! I found out about it the same time as you did,” Charlie said.
They both lapsed into silence for a minute.
“But it isn’t that bad of a thing, is it?” Charlie asked.
Adam turned to him.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, this isn’t that big a story, all things considered. Maybe if everyone got used to seeing you like that they’ll back off. Realize that being gay is no big deal.”
Adam puzzled over Charlie’s words for a moment.
“Are you suggesting we play along and confirm it?” Adam asked.
“I’m not NOT suggesting that,” Charlie said.
The whole idea sounded absolutely insane.
“And maybe this is what your parents need to accept you,” Charlie said, “If they see you with someone, then your mom will stop trying to force some poor girl on you.”
“My mom is not trying to force a girl on me,” Adam said.
“Whatever, I am just saying, there is no need to debunk it right away. Let’s just play it casually and everyone will respond in kind.”
“That’s insane,” Adam said.
“You have a better idea?”
Adam had lost track of what issue they were even trying to solve.
“What’s in it for you?” Adam asked.
“I get to pull one over on Goldberg,” Charlie said, “I owe him for that shit he pulled on me two years ago.”
Adam suspected there was something else, but because he wanted out of this conversation as soon as possible he decided just to placate Charlie's imaginings. The idea of dating, even “pretend” dating Charlie tied some very awkward knots in his stomach.
“Fine, we’ll see how it goes,” Adam said, “But if it gets out of hand….”
“It won’t,” Charlie said, “Trust me.”
Adam almost forgot about Charlie’s wild fake dating scheme after a few days of nothing of any real significance happened. Charlie played coy with their friends and the story of The Picture died down pretty quickly once juicier items for public consumption were made public. His mom hadn’t called him about “Shelby”, she just expressed some delight when he said that he would be coming home for Christmas.
Really he had no excuse, there was no way he was going to be cleared to play prior to the holidays and sitting in his apartment alone with takeout while everyone else he knew was living it up somewhere else was not where he wanted to be at this time of year.
But with the whole thing dying down, Adam thought that there might not be a need for them to go through with this fake relationship charade in any real way. Maybe by the time they went to Minnesota everyone would have forgotten about it.
That was until the week before Christmas, Adam got the call reminding him of the team’s annual Christmas fundraiser for a local children’s hospital. While his injury could keep him off the ice, it couldn’t keep him from a mandatory public relations event.
“I’ll put you down for two,” Marcie, one of the team’s many publicists and media managers, told him, though he just focused on the major details like the date and time and dress code, as well as trying to concoct one last escape plan from the whole thing. She had already told him that he couldn’t write a check in lieu of attendance so he better be there.
She quickly went through a few more details of which Adam absentmindedly took note of and just when he realized what she had said something about the two tickets, she had hung up.
“Fuck,” he said staring at the phone in disbelief.
“What’s wrong?” Charlie asked. Adam hadn’t even heard him come in.
“I have this fundraising thing I have to go to. Apparently, they expect me to bring a date,” Adam said.
“Oh,” Charlie said, “Well that’s not a problem. They obviously mean me.”
That was when Adam remembered the scheme.
“No,” Adam said, “we can’t go to this thing together.”
“Why not?” Charlie asked, “It sounds like fun.”
“We’re not actually dating!” Adam protested.
“No, but people think we are,” Charlie said.
“Adam it’s fine, I’ll go with you,” Charlie said.
“They’ll get pictures of you there, clear ones,” Adam said, “your job will find out.”
“I’m not worried about my job,” Charlie said, “a few of the kids have gay parents. This isn’t the eighties or hell, even the nineties.”
“It’s black tie,” Adam said, one last grasp at trying to avoid the whole thing. It was futile as Charlie just stared at him.
“So? Adam, how many times do I have to tell you to relax. We’ll go, drink on your bosses’ dime, absolutely fail to make any sort of impression and have a good evening,” Charlie said, “it really isn’t that big a deal. You need a date. We are pretending to date, what other solution do you have? You can’t go with someone else. I’d be jealous.”
Adam had no other argument to that and so that was why on the evening of the event he was fidgeting with his black tie in front of the full length mirror in his closet when Charlie strode in, partially decked out in his suit. He carried his jacket on his arm, his black vest was unbuttoned and the black tie hung loosely around his neck. He was clearly freshly shaven, and hair tousled in that way that is supposed to look natural but is actually styled.
He looked good. Real good in fact. Adam was somewhat taken aback by it. A lump formed in his throat, and he had to remind himself that this was Charlie of all people.
“I could use your help,” Charlie said, “you were born into this. I am but a meager imposter.”
Adam stammered for a bit before heading over to his friend. Charlie had laid his jacket down over the top of the sofa and buttoned up the vest. He tilted his head up to allow Adam access to start tying the bow tie. The action brought them incredibly close and Adam found that he was hyper aware of that fact. He gulped and began twisting the small tie through the loops, all the while trying not to stare at the exposed skin at Charlie’s collar. The cologne he wore smelled good, not too strong but not undetectable either.
When he was done and stepped away, Adam was struck by the fact that he didn’t know that a guy could look as good as Charlie did right at that moment.
“Do I have something stuck in my teeth?” Charlie asked and Adam looked up at him, only managing a rather dumb “what” in response.
“You were just staring for a moment,” Charlie said, “that’s not like you.”
“Oh no, I was just—“
“Thinking?” Charlie finished and he smiled, almost to himself, “I know, now let’s go before you think too much and get yourself all flustered. We’re taking your car, because it’s nicer.”
All on the way to the event, Adam couldn’t help but sneak glances Charlie’s way. It wasn’t until Charlie had suggested they pretend to be together that Adam realized that he had somewhat been trying to avoid looking at Charlie that way, but now that the idea had been broached even though it was fake, Adam couldn’t help but notice.
“You keep staring at me,” Charlie said.
“Oh sorry,” Adam said.
“Don’t apologize,” Charlie said.
“I just,” Adam said, “thanks, thanks for doing this.”
Charlie glanced over at him.
“It’s no problem.”
Adam just stared ahead, a little too uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the car. Things became even more uncomfortable when they arrived at the venue and dropped off the car with the valet. Once he got the ticket, Charlie took him by the arm and Adam froze in place.
“We’re here together, remember,” Charlie said.
Adam nodded. He’d agreed. They were here together. Not for real together, but that thought only existed in his head. As far as anyone else knew, Charlie was his actual date.
“Right,” he said, but still didn’t move.
“Adam, it’s okay,” Charlie said, stepping in close, “If you’re having second thoughts….”
Adam was not a coward, and he had agreed to do this, so do this he would.
“No, I just needed a minute,” he said.
Charlie waited patiently for Adam to gather his compuser, and when he was ready he stepped forward and led Charlie into the dance hall where a group of the best dressed who’s who of the city crowded around the mini bars while a string quartet played in the background.
“Can’t believe a hockey team organized this,” Charlie said, “It’s way too classy.”
“It’s an image thing,” Adam said, that was all the explanation that was needed.
They greeted a few of Adam’s teammates. Most of them had met Charlie before but all of them now seemed to give him a sort of second look, especially when Charlie was introduced as his boyfriend.
“Boyfriend”. The word sounded weird in Adam’s own ears. Despite knowing about his sexuality for over a decade now, he had never had a real relationship or had called anyone by that before, and it figures that now the context was that it was fake. He supposed that was sort of sad, but back in college he had been too worried about hockey and wouldn’t have been able to handle a relationship at all and then being in the closet while being pro, well he had never wanted to risk it. But he was no longer in the closet, and Charlie was standing next to him. Smiling, charming the pants and skirts off of every person he met. He talked shop with the players and the coaches, dazzled with stories about the Ducks or about the various kids he’d coached over the years.
Adam let him talk, Charlie was good at this. He’d always been good at this, while Adam had always been awkward and never really in his element when talking to people.
Later, when Charlie had gone off to go to the restroom one of Adam’s teammates, Peter “Petey” Templey, approached him at one of the bars.
“I always knew there was something between the two of you,” Petey said.
“You and that Charlie guy,” Petey said, “you always seemed super close, I am glad that I now know why.”
Adam didn’t have a response to that, rather he just sipped at the cocktail trying to obscure the obvious flush in his cheeks..
“I’ve known him forever,” Adam said, because it was the only true thing that he thought would feel appropriate.
“I am glad you brought him tonight,” Petey said, “We were all worried ever since that you…..”
“Since I was outed,” Adam said.
“Yeah,” Petey said, “I want to apologize on behalf of the rest of the guys, you know. You just seemed to be quiet….”
Adam now felt super like a heel. With everything that had happened, he hadn’t put much thought into how his teammates felt about the whole thing. He’d assumed that like most guys in team sports that they would have been super wary of them, but now he realized that maybe a lot of them were more put off by his own freezing of them out.
“It’s not a problem, you don’t need to apologize,” Adam said, “I’m just not good. I’m not good at that kind of stuff.”
Petey nodded in understanding.
“Understandable, but hey listen, I’m here for you,” Petey said, “and my wife would love to have you and Charlie over some time for dinner.”
“Sure,” was the only thing that Adam could say and Petey was soon pulled by his wife to another conversation.
“Why the hell is the best looking guy alone at the bar in a place like this, looking sad as all get out?”
Adam turned to see Charlie coming up on him.
“Hey,” Adam said.
Charlie nodded his head towards the dance floor, where a few couples were already waltzing.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“Go where?” Adam asked.
“Dancing,” Charlie said, “this is a ball, isn’t that what you do?”
Adam was absolutely dumbstruck.
“Come on,” Charlie said, taking Adam’s hand into his own. It was warm and despite the fear that curled up at the thought of dancing with a guy in front of everyone in the ballroom, he didn’t quite want to let go.
“I’m sick of talking and schmoozing with everyone, they're boring, you're not,” Charlie said, “besides isn’t the point that we need to look like we’re together?”
‘That wasn’t the point’ is what Adam wanted to say but he couldn’t. And just as quick as he found himself in the whole predicament generally, he found himself on the dance floor with Charlie, a hand on his waist, swaying to the music.
“This is ridiculous,” Adam said, and he knew he must have been as red as a tomato.
“What’s ridiculous?” Charlie asked, “Dancing at a ball? They are playing music.”
“Us dancing at a ball,” Adam said.
Charlie turned and looked at everyone around them.
“Most of the people here are already too drunk to care,” Charlie said, “you worry too much.”
"You don't worry enough."
Adam stared at his feet. The feeling of Charlie’s palm on his waist burned into him. He had to focus on something else. Something that would temper whatever was going on in his head at the moment.
“There’s a lot of pretty girls here tonight,” Adam said.
He could see Charlie holding back a laugh.
“What?” Adam said sourly, “I am just saying it is sort of a waste for you to be here with me.”
“Being with you is not a waste,” Charlie said.
“Still, everyone thinks you’re gay.”
“Everyone thinks I’m with you. I haven’t told them how I identify.”
Adam gritted his teeth.
“Will you stop?” Charlie asked, frustration clear in his voice.
“Stop trying to run or worry and just have a good time. That’s what you do on a date.”
Adam let out an involuntary huff at that comment.
“I’ve never done this?”
Charlie looked at him oddly.
“You’ve never done what?”
Adam shrugged his shoulders as much as he could.
“Been on a date, this, everything.”
Charlie looked at him oddly.
“You’ve been on a date,” he said.
Adam shook his head, “No. I haven’t.”
“Back in high school—“ Charlie stopped himself with the obvious realization, “But those didn’t really count did they? Not really.”
“Yeah, so maybe I’m allowed to be a little self-conscious this time,” Adam said.
Charlie said nothing for a long while, just gently swaying to the soft lilts of the music, Adam naturally followed his lead, because following Charlie’s lead was what he did best.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said.
“What are you sorry about?” Adam asked.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there for you,” Charlie said, and his tone was dead serious, no trace of light mocking or joviality that was usually there.
“It’s not—“ Adam started but Charlie cut him off.
“No, I understand, I just wish things could have been better for you,” he said, and it was like the wind had been knocked out of Adam right then. Charlie’s mouth only quirked up slightly and for a singular moment, Adam wished that this was real and not a silly facade of convenience. He wanted to be standing here on the dance floor and that Charlie was his boyfriend.
“Me too,” was all Adam could say in reply.
It suddenly dawned on him that there was another reason why this entire plan of Charlie’s was a mistake.
“You are not resting your head on my shoulder for the whole flight,” Adam said, pushing Charlie’s head off his left shoulder.
“Why, it’s not your bad shoulder,” Charlie said.
“That’s not the point!” Adam said, “the whole reason to go first class is that we both have our own space to ourselves!”
“You’re no fun,” Charlie said, “I should warn your next boyfriend about how stingy you are with affection.”
“If you keep coming into my space you aren’t going to have the chance,” Adam muttered, but he couldn’t help but smile when he caught the look on Charlie’s face. It was too much really and Adam didn’t have the defenses for this. Ever since the gala, the idea and dawning realization of possibly suppressed feelings had become permanently stuck in the back of his mind.
It was the equivalent of Pandora’s box and now Adam had no idea how to push everything back in..
He finally relented and allow Charlie to rest on his shoulder, only giving him a mock warning that he would be dead on the spot if he began to drool. He didn’t want to admit that he enjoyed the contact, and with Charlie sleeping during the flight it allowed Adam his own bout of pretending that maybe this was more than it was.
God what a ridiculous set up he now realized this whole plan was. Him and Charlie were pretending to date and Adam was now very much pretending that they were real. He was pretty sure people saw doctors for this sort of thing.
It’s just because the two of you are so close, he told himself, It doesn’t mean you’re in love.
Adam could not make heads or tails over the course of the entire flight to Minnesota of how he was feeling or how this whole thing would play out. It was possible that what he felt was just something fleeting and would disappear as soon as the whole thing was over.
Which would be sooner than Adam wanted to admit that he would like.
The flight seemed to go on forever while also only lasting a hot minute. The whole gathering their luggage and getting the rental car passed by in a blur. It was early evening by the time they pulled up on Connie and Guy’s house. The Ducks reunion had become something of a tradition ever since they graduated high school even though Adam hadn’t been able to attend one since college. It always happened on the 23rd and Connie and Guy always hosted. .
They were among the last to arrive and everyone came up on them as soon as they walked through the front door.
“Hey Spazway!” Jesse called from the back of the hall, “Why didn’t you tell us you played for the home team?”
“Maybe because you’d blab it to the whole world given a chance,” Charlie shot back as he shrugged off his jacket. Adam hung behind, only handing Connie the bottle of wine they had bought at the airport. Just as Charlie predicted, all the attention was locked on him as opposed to Adam.
“We were so glad you could make it,” Connie said to him while the rest of the Ducks were ribbing Charlie over his “secret”.
Adam looked over at her for a moment.
“I mean, I am not glad about your injury, but it hasn’t been the same without you,” she said.
Adam scratched at the back of his head, he felt a swell of guilt pass through him. He should have been better at keeping in touch, he mostly communicated via Charlie for a lot of the time.
“Sorry about that,” Adam said, “I should try to be better.”
Connie shook her head.
“No, I understand, if I lived with Charlie, I would go through him too,” she said.
Adam didn’t bother to correct her about the fact that him and Charlie didn’t actually live together. It was true, although Charlie had always seemed to be around even before Adam’s injury.
“Yeah, but I still should be better,” Adam said, “I just got caught up—“
“We all understand,” Connie said, “and you were always shy. I mean if I didn’t know any better, I would say that Charlie followed you to make sure that you would still be connected.”
Adam wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but she quickly ushered him over to where the rest of the group was in the living room, still laughing at Charlie.
"So which one of you takes it up the butt?" Goldberg asked which elicited a groan from everyone present.
"I don't, Goldie, you tell me," Charlie shot back, while hi-fiving Guy behind him.
“Man, who bet that these two would end up together?” Jesse asked once he realized Adam and Connie had rejoined the larger group.
“Not me,” Goldberg said, “Although given how co-dependent the two of them always were, we all should have seen it coming.”
There was a round of agreement at that, and Adam realized that there might be good reason for their friends not to suspect that the whole thing was a facade. He’d never thought that much about how him and Charlie came off to other people, it was just how they were, but now seeing it through the others eyes, Adam almost felt like he had been hoodwinked.
Him and Charlie were just friends. They had always been just friends, but maybe they had never really acted like just friends. Had there always been something more? Not on Charlie’s part, Adam was sure, but possibly on his?
Throughout the evening as everyone laughed and sang and drank together, Adam found himself watching Charlie. He was trying to put a pin in what exactly was going on. Because the way he was with Charlie was different. He always felt freer, more open even when he was with the other Ducks who were pretty much his closest extended family.
God, how embarrassing would it be if he had had feelings for Charlie this whole time? Adam could only conclude that it would be super embarrassing.
Time always passed quickly when everyone was together, and it was late when they packed up to head to Charlie’s for the evening. Adam was shifting on his jacket when Connie beckoned to him excitedly.
“Adam! You’re under the mistletoe!” she said and everyone in the foyer turned to look at him.
“I’ll move,” Adam said, somewhat embarrassed by the attention. There was no reason for everyone to fall for a silly holiday tradition, could they?
“It’s the rules,” Averman piped up, “we all know what mistletoe means.”
Adam was about to protest again when Charlie stepped through the crowd and walked up to Adam. Their eyes met briefly before Charlie leaned in and pressed his lips to Adam’s, chaste but firm. Adam stood still through the whole thing not quite processing what was happening, just that Charlie seemed to be everywhere, and his entire nervous system felt like he’d been struck by lightning. When they parted, there was a brief moment, it only lasted a second, where Charlie’s eyes met his and there was a private understanding between them. Adam opened his mouth to form Charlie’s name on his lips but nothing happened and Charlie turned to the rest of the group who was staring at them agog.
“Okay, you losers happy now?” Charlie asked.
“No,” Goldberg said, “But I’m never happy.”
Charlie waved him off and the group turned to goad Goldberg for his self-sustained “misery”.
Adam just stood there, the phrase Charlie kissed me, repeated over and over in his head.
Charlie’s mom and stepfather, Jim, were already asleep when they got there. Ms. Conway had left the light in the foyer on when they walked through, along with a note about how the sheets were all made up and they would seem them in the morning.
Adam had originally made his way for the guest room but Charlie stopped him.
“We’re together, remember?” Charlie reminded him, “We can’t sleep in separate rooms.”
Adam wanted to remind Charlie that they weren’t really together, and ask if it didn’t matter, but he was also too tired from the plane ride and the Ducks reunion to really argue, especially when they were trying to not wake up the rest of the household.
“Fine,” he said and made his way into Charlie’s old room, which didn’t look like it had changed much since high school.
“Do you want me to sleep on the floor?” Adam asked.
Charlie looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
“This is a queen,” Charlie said, “we can both fit. Now get in you loser.”
Adam gulped, he still replayed the kiss from earlier and now they were going to share a bed? God, he was never going to get any sleep on this trip was he?
Charlie was turning off the lights by the time Adam finally climbed in. He faced his back towards Charlie, only flinching slightly when his right shoulder twinged at the movement.
“You okay?” Charlie asked, his voice cutting through the darkness.
“I’m fine,” Adam said, even though he was anything but.
“I think tonight went well,” Charlie said.
“Yeah,” Adam said.
“Goldberg and Averman were in fine form.”
“They always are,” Adam said, and he remembered Connie’s remark from earlier about Charlie following him.
She had meant it in jest, but Adam couldn’t stop thinking about it. He always chalked him and Charlie ending up in the same place as pure coincidence but now he wasn’t so sure. They had gone to college and roomed together. That had been surprising at the time because Adam had been sure that Charlie would have gone to the University of Minnesota, but when he told Adam that he would be following him to Colorado Adam had thought and felt nothing but elation at the fact that they would still be together for four more years.
Now the idea that it was all happenstance became suddenly suspect. Had Charlie planned it this way? If so, why?
“Stop worrying,” he heard Charlie say from beside him, “go to sleep, whatever you’re worried about can wait for the morning.”
Adam wanted to ask Charlie but he found that he couldn’t.
“It’s my nature,” he replied.
He felt a soft pat on the back.
“Whatever you’re worried about, it will all work out.”
Adam wished he could be as sure.
“So does this outfit look good enough for your parents?” Charlie asked.
It was five in the evening and they were getting ready to head over to Adam’s parents for Christmas Eve. Adam was making some last minute adjustments to his hair in the mirror before he turned to look at Charlie.
“You look fine,” Adam said.
Charlie looked more than fine, as a matter of fact, in a sleek button up white shirt and fitted jeans. Adam gripped his own collar to try and steady his heartbeat. It was becoming ever more worrying over the past forty eight hours over how attractive he was finding Charlie. It was bordering on infatuation at this point.
“Really, I want to make a good impression. It’s not every day one meets the parents,” Charlie said.
Adam looked at him strangely.
“You’ve met them before,” Adam said.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t your boyfriend back then,” Charlie said.
A thrill ran up his spine at Charlie calling him his boyfriend. It seemed to do that every time someone mentioned it. It made him feel treacherous and dishonest. Charlie was only pretending to be his boyfriend, Adam shouldn’t read any more into it than that.
“It’s fine, let’s just focus on getting through this evening,” Adam said.
They arrived at Adam’s childhood home promptly at seven. Charlie grabbed the good bottle of scotch from the back seat that they purchased specifically for the occasion. They made their way to the front door and Charlie knocked three times.
“Should we just go in?” Charlie asked, “You did used to live here after all.”
“Knocking would be better,” Adam said, this place hadn't felt like home in years, if ever.
They didn’t have to wait long before the door swung open to reveal his mother wearing her traditional red turtleneck and long black skirt that she had worn every holiday for as long as Adam could remember.
“Adam! I am so glad you could make it!” she said, “How’s your shoulder?”
“It’s fine,” Adam said, “I’m on schedule to be back active in the next couple of weeks.”
It was then that his mother finally turned to see that Charlie was also standing there waiting.
“OH! Hello,” his mother said, her voice still cheery but slightly more formal than the tone she had taken with Adam, “I didn’t you see you there.”
“Um, Mom this is Charlie,” Adam said, “You remember him, he’s my——“
“I’m his boyfriend,” Charlie said and held out the bottle of scotch to her, another thrill went up Adam's spine, “and this is for you. Merry Christmas.”
His mother barely had time to stutter as her eyes widened at the bottle.
“Oh this is Philip’s favorite, thank you, you didn’t have to,” she said.
“It’s no problem,” Charlie said, “and it’s from both of us.”
Charlie put his arm slightly around Adam’s back, but instead of the usual tension that that action would have usually brought, Adam found himself relaxing into it. No matter what happened in his parents’ house, Charlie was there with him and he could get through it.
“Well it’s freezing outside. Come in, Come in!” she said, waving them both into the house.
From there, there was a flurry of introductions. The group gathered was small, mostly close family friends and the few aunts and uncles that were in the area. When they came upon his father, Adam tensed while Philip Banks appraised them both.
“The shoulder is healing okay?” he asked.
Adam nodded, “Yes, the doctors say should I be able to play as soon as the six weeks are up and the twinge in my shoulder is gone.”
“That’s good,” Philip said before turning to Charlie.
“And you’re a coach, I hear,” he said, his tone was not particularly cold or accusatory, but he didn’t sound particularly impressed either.
“Yes, I do Major Juniors,” Charlie said, “most of the kids are 16-17 at the moment.”
“Do you want to coach professionally some day?” Philip asked.
Charlie sort of shrugged, “Maybe, I like teaching the kids, but I think it would be nice to coach College or hell even Team USA would be great.”
Adam’s father nodded in approval, “Ambition is good, but working with people that young can be inspiring, they aren’t yet too high on their own talent.”
“Oh I wouldn’t sell teenagers short,” Charlie said, “we all thought we were invincible at that age.”
Philip Banks laughed, an honest to god laugh that Adam hadn’t known his father was capable of.
“Too true, too true,” he said when he had finally calmed.
He beckoned a couple of others over and did the honors of introducing both Adam and Charlie together. While Charlie’s exploits as a coach were interesting enough, when everyone remembered that Charlie was also an alumni of both Eden Hall and the 96 Goodwill Games Team, he started wowing everyone with stories of the Duck’s exploits. It wasn’t long before Adam’s father was showing Charlie off.
Adam took that time to wander away for a bit and he soon found himself milling around the living room, looking at the familiar relics of the life that he used to live here.
“I suppose you’re Adam.”
Adam turned at the voice to see a rather pretty, petite woman standing behind him. Her mousy brown hair was super curly and she did look vaguely familiar to Adam.
“Um hi,” he said.
“You don’t remember me do you?” she asked.
Adam shook his head and apologized.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Oh don’t be, I don’t really recognize you either. I’m Shelby,” she said, “I believe from the A+ Child center.”
Oh, it was that Shelby.
“I believe our parents might have gone to some lengths to set us up,” she said.
“Yeah.” Adam said, “It’s unsuccessful though.”
“Yeah I figured. I take it you’re pretty gay, huh.”
“Yeah I am,” Adam said, and he realized it was the first time he said that fact to another person so nonchalantly as if it was just another part of himself. Which he guessed it was.
It really felt like he was living in a bizarro world.
“And I take it even if I wasn’t…uh…’pretty gay’ it would still have been unsuccessful, at least on your part,” Adam guessed.
She laughed and nodded.
“Yeah, my mom is not super happy that I moved in with my boyfriend who is an artist, and not even one of the profitable kind,” she said, "he's a performance artist. Post-Modern
“Ah,” Adam said, trying to make it sound like he had any idea what that was..
“What’s going on here?” Charlie asked, coming up from behind Adam. He slipped an arm around Adam’s waist before turning to Shelby.
“Charlie this is Shelby,” Adam said.
“We were just commiserating about how terrible our parents are at setting us up,” Shelby said.
“That they are,” Charlie said, there was a terseness in his voice that was a little unusual. It didn’t take long for Adam to realize that Charlie was jealous. The fact settled strangely in Adam’s stomach.
“Yeah, well, I just wanted to apologize to Adam on behalf of my mother, but I see now that that seems to be unnecessary,” she said and turned to Adam, “For what it was worth it was a pleasure to be reacquainted with you.”
“And with you,” Adam said. They tapped glasses in cheers and Shelby wandered off. Charlie looked at Adam.
“Yeah even if you were into women that definitely wouldn’t have worked,” Charlie said, “she’s definitely not your type.”
“She could be yours though,” Adam said, “I am sure her parents would prefer you to her artist boyfriend.”
“Your set up skills are almost as bad as your mother’s,” Charlie said, “she is definitely not my type.”
Adam didn’t have the courage to ask Charlie what exactly his type was.
They were seated next to each other at dinner near the head of the table. Charlie seemed to fit right in with the group, listening avidly to other’s stories and anecdotes and provided his own. No one batted an eye when he went to whisper some sort of joke in Adam’s ear, or wrapped an arm around the back of Adam’s chair.
It was in Adam’s mind, perfection. Full blown proof that he hadn’t been cast off or rejected. Charlie had been right, all his parents had needed was to see it to believe it. Also he realized, it might have helped that even with the article, they probably needed him to tell them himself.
He wondered how disappointed they would be when they found out his and Charlie’s relationship was sham. Probably not as disappointed as he was steadily becoming.
“I really like him,” his mother said to him as he helped her with the dishes after dinner. Charlie was out socializing as he often did which gave Adam and his mother a rare moment alone, “And your father does too.”
“You do? He does?” he asked and gulped before adding the next part, “Even though he’s a he?”
Her answering smile was soft and apologetic.
“I admit it was hard to picture at first when we saw that headline,” she said, “and you never said anything when we called. I thought there was a slight chance that they had it all wrong.”
Adam couldn't face her at the moment, the familiar feeling of shame seemed to wash right through him.
“But seeing you with him out there,” she said, “I’m glad it was true. You look so much happier than you did before. You two are a good match.”
Except for the part where I am still pretty sure that Charlie’s straight.
“Uhh, thanks,” he said, he loaded the last dish into the dishwasher before he made his way to rejoin the rest of the party before his mother stopped him.
“Adam, I just want you to know,” she said, “regardless of whether you get back out on the ice again, I want you to know that your father and I are very proud of you and we are glad to call you our son.”
Adam could barely swallow the lump in his throat.
“Thank you,” he said, before he left.
They didn’t stay that much longer after dessert as guests started to trickle down. His mother told Charlie that he simply must join them on their summer vacation to the lakes and that he was always welcome in which Charlie would always have a standing invitation as long as he wanted. They packed them off with leftover pie and a couple of gifts to be opened the following morning.
“Well I think that went well,” Charlie said once they were in the car.
“Yeah,” Adam said, “I just….”
Charlie looked at him, “You didn’t expect them to be fine with it,” he finished.
“Yeah,” Adam said, “but they are more than fine. They’re proud.”
“Yeah well it’s easy to be proud of you,” Charlie said.
Adam’s gaze lingered on Charlie for just a moment long.
Not as easy as it is to love you.
Christmas morning came with little fanfare. There were no small children in the Conway/Garrison household to rush in the early morning to see what Santa had brought them, rather just four fully grown adults making their way down the stairs to get coffee.
Charlie’s mom had been especially welcome to Adam ever since they arrived. She did not seem at all to be put off by the fact that her son was apparently dating his male best friend, just that she was so happy that they were here and were happy.
Adam had woken up that morning, his back pressed to Charlie’s and he may have stayed that way for a moment or two longer than necessary, just to bask in the contact. The end of the holidays were fast approaching and Adam knew that soon this little charade between them would be over.
Adam was entirely sure by now that he was in love with Charlie, and had been for a long time. The knowledge of this brought him no solace however, just a different kind of despair. How were things supposed to revert to normal after they "broke up"? How could he ever look at Charlie the same way? Every touch, every smile would be like a knife through Adam’s heart, teasing him with the idea of having something that he could never have.
Charlie wasn’t really his. Not really.
He thought of the kiss at the Duck’s Christmas reunion, so short, yet that one touch had more of an effect on Adam than any of his previous one night stands or encounters. Nothing had ever come close.
Charlie was the bar that Adam knew he would compare everyone else to for the rest of his life and he instinctively knew that he would find them all wanting, because who else in the world would match Charlie Conway?
The gift exchange in the morning was short as there really wasn’t that much to be exchanged. Charlie’s mom gave Adam a nice scarf and hat set, while the gifts from his own parents seemed to be a new wallet for him and a nice messenger bag for Charlie.
They spent most of the day just lounging around. Charlie’s stepdad retreated to his garage where he was working on restoring some classic car that he had picked up at an auction earlier in the year, while Charlie’s mom was in the kitchen preparing for dinner later that evening.
Late in the morning, Adam caught sight of Charlie and his mom sitting on the deck in the backyard deep in discussion. She put an arm around Charlie’s back, as if in comfort. Adam drew away, not wanting to disturb them.
Later after dinner, when Jim was snoring loudly in his recliner while It’s a Wonderful Life played on the T.V. And Charlie’s mom was putzing around the kitchen, Charlie beckoned for Adam to follow him up the stairs to his room.
“What is it?” Adam asked.
“We didn’t exchange gifts with each other this morning,” Charlie said.
“Oh right,” Adam said, they had. He thought it might have been an oversight but going by Charlie’s behavior at the moment, Adam suspected that Charlie had planned this.
“You did get me a gift, right?” Charlie asked.
Adam had, but given the avalanche of feelings and desires he had about Charlie, the gift he’d gotten seemed incredibly inadequate.
He went to his duffel bag to pull out a small package wrapped in red and green plaid wrapping paper and handed it to Charlie.
Charlie took the gift and carefully unwrapped it. Inside was a new Blackberry.
“It’s part phone and organizer,” Adam said feebly. It was expensive but now seemed incredibly impersonal.
“Thanks,” Charlie said, “this is great.”
Charlie then reached over and handed Adam a slightly larger package.
“And this is for you,” he said.
Adam unwrapped the gift and his heart fell. There suspended in a glass box was a single puck.
“I got it from Bombay actually,” Charlie said, “It’s the puck from the shootout in 96. There’s a guy on first street who did this. Usually he does baseballs but he was able to do it with hockey pucks too.”
“This is,” Adam said. He wanted to say that it was too much and that Charlie should stop, “God, Charlie this amazing.”
Charlie smiled, “I thought it was nice, and I thought it was a good reminder to you now that things will work out.”
Adam looked up then and realized that the actual gift, while thoughtful and perfect, could never live up to the man standing in front of him.
“Thank you,” he said.
“It’s the least I could do for making you put up with me all these years,” Charlie said, “I know I’m a lot.”
“No, it’s no problem,” Adam said, “I like having you around.”
He did, and even after the charade was over, and even though every interaction would be a painful stab at what could never happen, Adam would still want Charlie around. There was no universe where he wouldn’t want to be with Charlie in some capacity.
“So, did you get everything you want for Christmas?” Charlie asked.
Adam looked at Charlie for a moment.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said.
“Well that wasn’t very convincing,” Charlie said.
“Well I got all that I could possibly get,” Adam said, “No one can get everything that they want.”
Charlie stopped for a moment.
“Yeah I didn’t either,” Charlie said, “do you want to know what I still want?”
Adam looked up at him and met his gaze for a moment.
“What?” he asked and stared at Charlie waiting for the answer.
But Charlie didn’t answer, rather he stepped forward and with very little warning, his lips were on Adam, harder and more urgent than they had been two nights ago under the mistletoe.
Adam startled for a moment, but before his mind could kick in with why this was a very, very bad idea, Adam leaned in and matched Charlie’s intensity with his own. It was now in this, that Adam realized what the whole thing was heading towards.
They kept the kisses shallow and intense for a few moments until they needed to come up for air. Charlie’s hands were cupping Adam’s face and he was staring at him intently.
“I’ve been thinking about this ever since we got here,” Charlie said.
“Well I’ve been thinking about this for forever,” Adam replied.
Adam had never seen Charlie smile so wide at any one person before and he thought he was almost blinded by it. Charlie leaned in and kissed him again, this time deeper, and Adam obliged him, opening his mouth to allow Charlie access.
Their hands were everywhere and it wasn’t long before he felt Charlie’s hands slip up underneath his shirt, glide up his back. Adam’s body was on fire from the touch and moved in further, amazed at how good and solid Charlie felt against him. How perfect they seemed to fit.
“How far do we want to go?” Adam asked, because he figured one of them should have some of this figured out, but despite his past experiences, he had never been in a situation like this before. He’d never been with someone he actually cared about before.
“As far as we want to, I guess,” Charlie gasped and Adam instinctively leaned in and pressed a kiss to Charlie’s jawline.
“I don’t think we have the stuff to go that far,” Adam said, some reality had peeked back in to make sure they weren’t too lost in the moment.
Charlie laughed, and the sound was music to Adam’s ears.
“There is plenty of stuff we can do,” Charlie said, “how about we move to the bed and find out.”
Adam was closer so he backed up first before sliding back on the bed. He discarded the sweatshirt that he was wearing and slid out of the jeans easily. Charlie did the same, and Adam realized once again that Charlie was the standard to which everyone else in his life was compared to.
Adam Banks only had one type. And that one type was Charlie Conway.
Charlie crawled over him before he finally laid down, matching Adam’s length and they were kissing again. Adam was hard as rock at the contact, and he marveled at how sex had never felt this easy or right or fun.
“You feel so good,” Charlie said.
“So do you,” Adam said, his breathing slightly labored by the increase in his arousal.
“You with me?” Charlie asked. Adam felt Charlie slink an arm down between them and he sucked in a breath when he felt Charlie’s hand wrap around him.
“I don't think I can do this alone,” Charlie said, “My hand isn’t THAT big.”
Adam laughed and catching Charlie’s drift and intentions, he reached down to mimic Charlie’s hand’s position around Charlie, they pushed towards each other until there was no part of either of them that didn't touch the other.
“Are we really doing this?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah I think we are,” Adam said.
“Do you want to stop?”
Adam stared up at Charlie, sweating, panting and perfect and he shook his no.
“Good, now let’s do this together.”
They moved easily and in a rhythm that was in Adam’s mind all their own. No two people were ever as in sync as they were at that moment.
“God, can we go harder?” Charlie asked.
Adam couldn’t form words just bucked his own hips harder in agreement. The sensation was almost too much, too overwhelming. And Adam was too aware that this was Charlie.
“I’m almost there,” he gasped, through labored breaths.
“Me too,” Charlie said.
They didn’t both reach completion at the same time but they were close. Adam came first, and Charlie soon followed, and they kept going until they were completely spent. After a few long moments where Adam basked a bit in the weight of Charlie on top of him, Charlie got up to grab a fresh washcloth and cleaned the remnants of their lovemaking because at least in Adam’s mind he could not think to call it anything else.
“So now is there anything else you want for Christmas?” Charlie asked when he finished tossed the washcloth aside and settled up to nestle besides Adam.
“No,” Adam said, “I am perfectly satisfied.”
It was true, and Adam thought if God really did have mercy, he would let him die here.
Reality hit Adam with full force the following morning.
Last night I slept with Charlie.
He had no idea what any of it meant. They had slept together. They had slept together while pretending that they were together.
But they weren’t.
Adam had no clue what Charlie thought about the previous evening, but it couldn’t possibly be the mess emotions of what Adam felt. Had Charlie got lost in the act? Was he experimenting? Did he feel sorry for Adam’s lack of dating history?
Hell, Charlie probably knew that Adam had been celibate since he had slept with the guy who had eventually outed him.
God he didn’t know where they went from there. Before last night, Adam had played along with the whole thing, and there had been a few moments where he’d pretended it was real, but now he couldn’t do that.
They had slept together.
They had crossed some sort of line and there was no getting back to the other side. There was no after this.
God, Adam had to get out of there.
He reached for his phone and quickly dialed the airline. He had to get on the earliest flight possible.
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.
Adam turned to see Charlie sitting up in bed. He was still stark naked with only the sheets covering his bottom half. Adam couldn’t help but blush at the memory of what Charlie had looked like or felt for that matter.
“Uh the team sent me a message,” Adam said, “they called an emergency meeting, I think there is some surprise trade or something coming up.”
Going by the look on his face, Adam knew that Charlie didn’t believe him. This wasn’t surprising, Adam wasn’t good at lying like this, especially not to Charlie who knew him so well.
“I need to catch the first flight back,” Adam said and then added, “I think you should stay, spend some more time with your mom.”
Adam knew that if he had left an opening Charlie would have insisted on coming with him.
“Okay,” Charlie said, “if you say so.”
“I do,” Adam said, and he knew there was unspoken conversation between them. One that had nothing to do with flights and moms and team emergencies.
But Adam had to get away. Everything with Charlie was so confusing and cloudy and Adam had to get to a place where he could sort through it all. Without Charlie.
Luck was on his side, as there was room on the midday flight home. Adam consented to the change fee which was pretty exorbitant for simple transfer of ticket. He’d have to fly coach, but he’d do what he had to do. He could not stay here for another minute. He didn’t want to be here for when they would ultimately have to talk about ending their little arrangement.
And Adam would not be able to tell Charlie that he didn’t want it to end. He wanted it to be real.
One perfect night didn’t make it real. It was just a night, and someday Charlie would have to go on to his own life. One that definitely would not include Adam.
“You’ll call me when you get back?” Charlie asked later when Adam moved to get in the cab he’d called to take him to the airport.
“Yeah,” Adam assured him, “I’ll call you.”
Charlie opened his mouth to say something else, but Adam spoke, not really wanting to hear what Charlie had to say.
“Everything’s fine,” Adam said, “I just have to take care of some things.”
Everything wasn’t fine, and as the cab drove away, it took everything in Adam not to look back. It was better this way, because for the foreseeable future, all he had to take care of was the remains of his broken heart.
In the week between Christmas and New Years Eve, Charlie and Adam spoke only once. Charlie called Adam to tell him he was back and Adam had told him to thank his mom again for letting him stay. Charlie had said he would relay the message. The whole conversation was short, stilted and way too unnatural for the both of them but Adam didn’t want to risk talking about anything else.
Eventually they would have to talk about it, or at least talk enough to end the arrangement that they had had with each other, but not yet, Adam still felt too vulnerable, too raw after everything that had happened.
Late in the evening on New Year’s Eve, Connie had called Adam for a simple chat and to wish him a happy new year.
“It was so great to see you this year,” Connie said to him.
“It was good to see you too,” Adam replied.
“Yeah, and Charlie was definitely more like his old self when you were there,” she said. Adam bristled a bit at the mention of Charlie. There was nothing but pain and regret there.
“Oh yeah,” he said, trying not to sound too interested in what Connie meant.
“Yeah, he was more open and relaxed. And he looked really happy,” she said, “God, I don’t think I have seen him as happy as he was this year.”
Adam couldn’t say he’d noticed that but he couldn’t help but probe Connie for more information.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “I don’t know. I mean he’s always been a happy go lucky guy, But when he was with you he looked….he looked content.”
A sense of panic, and distress began to swell in the pit of Adam’s stomach, and he finally found it in himself to ask Connie the question he’d meant to ask Charlie.
“Connie,” Adam said after a moment, “Do you think Charlie followed me here?”
They both knew what the “here” in Adam’s question meant and he heard Connie shift uncomfortably on her feet across the line.
“Well, I can’t say for sure, but if I am honest,” Connie said, “I would say yes, he did. He always wanted to be a match for you. I mean I didn’t always think in the romantic sense, but maybe looking back I would say yes. It was pretty obvious back in the day.”
Obvious to everyone except me, Adam thought.
He let Connie drone on about memories, but inside Adam went through everything that had occurred between him and Charlie in their decades long friendship. He wanted to refute Connie’s theory but re-examining everything Adam found that he couldn’t.
It wasn’t coincidence that kept him and Charlie together all these years. It had always been Charlie, and maybe, just maybe, Charlie had proposed the arrangement of them pretending to date because he, like Adam, secretly wanted it to be true.
Adam ended the call with Connie as politely as he could, but without the conversation he suddenly felt an overwhelming amount of self disgust at himself.
He knew that he was in love with Charlie. That he probably had always been in love with Charlie. And what’s more, that Charlie had probably always loved him too.
And he’d gone and shut Charlie out and ran away because he was too scared of admitting the truth.
And god he was such a mess. This week had been the longest they had really gone without each other (he didn’t count road trips for hockey as they were in constant communication with each other even then) and it had been borderline unbearable. Hell, Adam didn’t even care about the fact that he could get back on the ice this week. Nothing in his life would be right until he made things right with Charlie.
He puzzled for the remainder of the day over what he should do. By the time he’d resolved that he should probably find Charlie and talk this whole thing out. He stared at the photo that had started the whole thing and instead of feeling anxious or distressed as he had initially, he saw it fondly and he saw it for what it was.
It was two friends who loved each other.
He vaguely recalled Charlie talking about a New Year’s party at a local rooftop bar that he had heard about through work and also the fact that Adam had agreed to go. There was a chance Charlie would be wallowing and skipping attending a party, but Adam also couldn’t see Charlie being cooped up in his own apartment drowning self pity either.
Still, Adam stopped there first, but after not being able to find Charlie’s car in the parking lot and there was no sound coming from within the apartment when he knocked, he reasoned that Charlie definitely wasn’t there. Fortunately, Charlie had originally texted him the location of the party and so Adam head right there. Of course there was the possibility that Charlie was somewhere else, but it was a start.
There was heavier traffic than usual due to the holiday and so it took Adam longer than normal to cross town to where the party was situated. It was already a quarter til the new year by the time Adam made his way to the bustling party on top of one of the nicer buildings in the downtown area.
Adam scoured the party-goers, looking for any sign of Charlie but he couldn’t spot him. Just when he was about to give up and he made his way to the exit, he spotted Charlie off to the side separate from the crowd, scrolling through the Blackberry that Adam had given him for Christmas.
Adam’s heart thumped so loudly that it was a constant drum in his ears.
“Hey!” he called out as he approached, Charlie didn’t look up or move and Adam hoped it was because he couldn’t hear him and not because he was ignoring.
“Charlie!” he called again as he got closer, this time Charlie looked up and he startled a bit when he recognized Adam.
“What are you doing here?” Charlie asked, there was way too much suspicion and hurt in his voice for Adam’s liking and Adam felt a pang. He hoped that his actions that week hadn’t led to irreparable damage between them.
“I was looking for you,” Adam said.
“Oh you want to talk now?” Charlie asked, the sarcasm barely concealed, “you picked hell of a spot.”
“I know,” Adam said, practically shouted., “and I’m sorry about that.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and sighed and waved him towards a quieter part of the roof.
“I’m sorry,” Adam said when the noise of the party was just dull tremor around them and not overwhelming.
“You said that,” Charlie said.
“I know, I guess I should explain what happened,” Adam said.
“I know what happened, you ran,” Charlie said.
“So why did you stop?” Charlie asked.
Adam looked up at him.
“You’re here, I take it you’re going to stop running,” Charlie said.
Adam nodded. This was definitely a problem of being in love with a person who knew you so well, there was nothing you could put past them.
“I am,” Adam said, “And I’m sorry. I just woke up that morning and all I could think about was how it was going to be over.”
“How was what going to be over?”
Adam gestured between them.
“Us, our arrangement,” Adam said, “we’d gone through the holidays so us pretending to date was giong to be end, and I didn’t want to face that.”
“So you running away and shutting me out was going to stop that from happening? God, and they used to say you were the brains of the team.”
“I know it was a bad plan, but I just got scared,” Adam said.
“You do realize I never actually said we had to end ‘it’ after the holidays, do you,” Charlie said.
Adam almost laughed as he recalled the conversation.
“You didn’t,” Adam said, “you just said we’d end it if it got out of hand.”
“And did it?” Charlie asked, “Get out of hand for you?”
Adam shook his head.
“Maybe a little, but I really liked being with you,” he said.
Charlie threw his head back.
“I liked being with you too, you dumbass,” he said.
Adam sighed, he looked at the clock. It was almost midnight. The countdown would be starting soon.
“So you were willing to just go on with it, no end date?” Adam asked.
“That was my plan,” Charlie said, “I obviously underestimated how much you overthink things.”
“And how long were you willing to go on with it really?”
Charlie’s eyes met his, and there was no lightheartedness, no joking in his demeanor.
“Honestly for however long you would have me. When you ran off the morning after, I thought….” Charlie looked down, his cheeks a faint red, “I thought I wasn’t good enough, that I messed up or that you really didn’t like me that way. I thought that you might after that kiss the first night we were there. I had felt something. When you ran, I realized it must have been just me.”
“It wasn’t just you,” Adam said, “I felt it too.”
Charlie looked up at him then, something unfamiliar shining in his eyes. It was hope, but the sort that Adam had never really noted before.
“Honestly, I’ve felt it for awhile, I just didn’t want to put a name to it,” Adam said, “and there was nothing wrong with you that night. You were great. Honestly no one else has really compared. Nor could they.”
He swallowed the saliva that had built up from the nerves he’d been feeling the entire conversation.
“It just became too much,” he said, “I realized how I felt and I didn’t think it was possible for you to feel the same way and I have been around enough to know that sex doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more to it and I just wanted avoid the devastation that I would feel. Because Charlie….Charlie, for the longest time you are the most important person to me. This last week has been miserable and I don’t know how I would have gotten through anything without you.”
He stepped forward, and Charlie did not back away, but Adam understood that it was his turn. He had to make the move because Charlie had done most of the work in true Charlie fashion.
“And the idea that I would have to go on feeling the way I do about you and you not feeling the same way back. God, I’d be devastated. Because you definitely could find someone else. But for me, I couldn’t. For me, there is only you.”
The crowd began to chant as Adam waited with bated breath for Charlie’s reply.
“You’re wrong on that one too Banksy,” Charlie said.
Charlie reached up to cup Adam’s face.
“Because it’s the same for me. There’s just you. Always.”
Time seemed to stand still and the rest of the world, no universe seemed to fade from Adam’s view.
“You can say it,” Charlie said, “Because I can guarantee that I’ll say it right back.”
Adam took another breath and leaned until they were closed that he could feel Charlie’s breath on his skin.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Neither of them heard the tune of Auld Lang Syne, as Charlie leaned in and Adam’s mouth with his own. And as the sound of kazoos and cheers and party poppers filled the air, they continued to embrace, oblivious to everyone else’s happiness but their own.
“Great job today Banks!” Petey said as they exited the ice to go back to the locker room after a hard day’s practice. It was Adam’s first official day back at practice after his recovery from the injury, and all things considered he’d done very well.
“You didn’t even look like you were out,” Michael Lorde, another forward said coming up from behind them.
“Thanks,” Adam said to both of them., “I did some extra strength training these last few weeks in preparation.”
“There you go again,” Petey said, “Making us all look like slackers.”
“Speak for yourself,” another teammate called from ahead.
Petey waved them off and turned back to Adam, “No really, you were great. We’re going to kill Buffalo this weekend.”
“I hope so, a win would be nice,” Adam said.
They settled into the locker room. Coach only came in to give a slight debriefing. He gave Adam a slight glance and a vague thumbs up for his efforts, and so Adam thought he could officially count today’s events as a success.
“So, Banks, you have to give me a good date for you and Charlie to come over for dinner,” Petey, “my wife has been pestering me all week to have the two of you over.”
“Well, he’s out of town this upcoming weekend for a tournament,” Adam said, “but I think the week after we could make it.”
“Great, I’ll pencil you in.”
Adam shot him a look and Petey relented.
“Alright, my wife will pencil you in. I’ll look forward to it.”
“Me too,” Adam said and he meant it. Ever since the new year, things in the locker room had felt much lighter and Adam felt that he could be more open and not as guarded with everyone.
Not only had general relations with the team improved, but Adam had even agreed to meet with a local LGBTQ+ org for an outreach project geared towards queer youth. Now stuff like that didn’t feel quite as pressured or overbearing. A weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
It was amazing what being in love could do.
When he got back to his place, Charlie was already there amidst a scattering of rosters, potential plays and notes. Clips of Charlie’s team’s last game played on the TV. Not only that but he could smell something baking in the kitchen.
“Well you’ve certainly made yourself at home,” Adam said, setting down his bag.
Charlie turned and grinned at him.
“Not my fault that there’s more space here,” Charlie said, “Besides, I figured I’d get dinner started while I plan for practice tomorrow.”
Adam sat pushed a few stray papers away before sitting beside him.
“And neither of those are things you could do at your apartment,” Charlie said, “but also you’re here, so I think that gives your place quite the edge. That and the square footage of course.”
Adam laughed, “That’s right I am here. That is why I was thinking.”
“Never a good sign,” Charlie said.
Adam knocked him on the shoulder.
“I was thinking, how about instead of wasting money paying rent every month, you can come stay here,” Adam said.
Charlie dropped his pen on the table.
“What? Like move in? With you?”
Adam leaned in and pressed his lips to Charlie’s cheeks.
“Yeah move in. With me,” he said.
Charlie seemed to mock think about it for a minute.
“I didn’t think this would be that major decision for you,” Adam said, “you practically live here anyways.”
Charlie smiled and stopped Adam before he could kiss him.
“I was just trying things your way for once,” Charlie said.
“And?” Adam asked.
“I think your way is tiring. Of course I’ll move in with you.”
Adam couldn’t help smile even wider. He has been doing a lot of that lately.
“Good, now what’s for dinner?”
“Lasagna,” Charlie said, “I already put it in the oven. I left the salad for you because that’s the only thing you wouldn’t ruin.”
Adam nudged him again, but he didn’t protest too much as Charlie led him to the kitchen. And they started the hard work of building a life. Together.