“I don’t want to go to practice,” Leon said as he rolled over and rested his head on Matthew’s chest.
“I know,” Matthew said, he gently stroked Leon’s hair, “Hey, can I ask you something?”
Leon propped himself up on his arm and turned towards Matthew, “That sounds serious.”
“It’s not, I promise,” Matthew laughed, “Do you ever think about the future?”
“Like after college? Or more down the line?” Leon asked.
“Either? Both?” Matthew asked.
“Not really,” Leon said, honestly. “I guess at first I was just concerned with getting into college and playing hockey, and now I’m just concerned about graduating. Afterwards, I guess it’s all up in the air?”
“So are you thinking about moving back to Germany?” Matthew asked.
Leon shrugged, “I don’t know. I’d like to stick around here for a while maybe join a beer league or something, but I mean my family is still in Germany and if I got a great job offer I’d probably head back.”
Matthew wasn’t exactly sure what he had hoped or expected Leon to say. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Leon’s idea of the future to include himself or a more concrete version of what Leon wanted. Maybe it was how certain Matthew was about what he wanted in life. That he wanted to go pro and win the Stanley Cup and then retire and maybe then he could have a family and quietly come one.
“Have you thought about it?” Leon asked, bringing him back to the present.
“Yeah,” Matthew said, “I want to go pro, and then maybe after a while after I retire, settle down and have a family.”
“You wouldn’t come out during your career?” Leon asked.
Matthew just shook his head, “Nah. I’d want to be known as a good player, not as a player who is good for being gay.”
“And you couldn’t be known as both?” Leon asked.
“Not in the NHL,” Matthew said sadly, “Fuck, this got depressing.”
Leon gently stroked his side and kissed him, “I know that no matter what happens you’ll be happy.”
“I hope so,” Matthew said and dragged Leon’s body on top of his. Leon ground his body against Matthew’s and traded kisses that made Matthew groan.
“I really wish we didn’t have practice later,” Matthew echoed Leon’s earlier sentiments and Leon just grinned.
“See, one of these days I’m going to get you on my side,” Leon said, but he pulled away and grabbed his clothes off of the floor.
Matthew joined him in getting dressed, “Hockey first, fun later.”
On the team, they became more comfortable showing affection as the season progressed. They’d sit next to each other during video review and Leon’s arm would find his way around Matthew’s shoulders. At first Matthew challenged the curious looks with his death glare, but they were just curious glances, and after their relationship became public knowledge on the team, it was just an accepted fact. Matthew was pretty sure that even by February, the coaches knew that they were dating. But they were also producing and so any complaints about bringing their personal lives onto the ice were easily quelled.
Matthew’s stats skyrocketed and he and Leon were making up a significant amount of their points on the team. Conversations shifted to the Frozen Four and winning an NCAA championship and Matthew knew that articles were naming them the “Dynamic Duo”. Any sort of personal accolades paled in comparison to the excitement that Matthew got about seeing Leon’s accomplishments praised alongside his own.
And by early February they seemed like a surefire guarantee for the Frozen Four, but a horrific game against Ohio State knocked them out of the playoffs and they were sent back to Notre Dame to lick their wounds. They were silent in the locker room
“I should have been better,” Matthew said in Leon’s arms as he tried to blink back tears.
“We all should have been,” Leon said, but Matthew could hear his own disappointment and heartbreak in his voice.
Matthew saw his father had already called him, but it was too painful to even think about reviewing the game. All he wanted was to be with Leon. Leon held him on the silent bus ride back and Matthew lay his head on Leon’s shoulder, wondering what he could have done differently and how he could have changed the course of the game. They arrived back on campus in the early hours of the morning and headed straight for Leon’s apartment.
“I’m really proud of you,” Leon said, “And what we did this year.”
“Thanks, I love you,” Matthew said and even though they were drowning in their disappointment, somehow they didn’t feel as alone.
Matthew was heading back to classes on Monday, having ignored all of the messages from friends and family over the weekend. He knew though, it was only a matter of time before he’d have to pick up, so while he was back at his place between classes he picked up on one his father’s calls.
“I’m not really in the mood to go over the game,” Matthew said, having missed the first four already.
“The Flames want to sign you,” his father said and suddenly the hypothetical that his father had floated out months ago was a reality. Matthew’s mouth dried up and his heart fluttered and the thought of how close his dream was to becoming a reality.
“What?” Matthew asked.
“They want to sign you to an ELC,” his father said.
“Wow,” Matthew said.
“You’re going to sign, right? You can’t possibly still be thinking about giving it up for that Draisaitl kid.”
“No, no,” Matthew said, “I can’t believe it. Do mom and Brady know?”
“Your mother is so happy and excited for you, but I figured you could tell Brady yourself,” his father said.
“Yeah,” Matthew said.
“The GM is probably going to call you later today and ask for your answer, so don’t ignore his calls like you’ve ignored mine,” his father said and Matthew just rolled his eyes.
“Thanks, Dad,” Matthew said, and he knew he was going to sign with the Flames when he got that call, but he also knew what he had to do. And somehow, reaching the NHL didn’t feel as good as he thought it would.
“Fuck me,” Matthew said as he pushed his way into Leon’s apartment the moment he opened the door and headed straight for Leon’s bedroom.
“What?” Leon asked.
“Fuck me, please,” Matthew begged.
“Are you sure?” Leon asked, because they’d messed around before but there were only so many things that they could do during the hockey season.
“Yes, please,” Matthew said and Leon looked uncertain, but Matthew knew that if he asked again, Matthew would probably fall apart.
And Leon was so gentle and thoughtful with him and Matthew clung to him, kissing him slowly and softly and trying to make this the best sex that they’d ever had.
“I love you,” Leon kept telling him, and Matthew felt tears burn his eyes as Leon kept telling him that because he knew it would probably be the last time.
“I have to go,” Matthew said, shortly after they finished. He started to get dressed and he knew that this was it. In a few hours, the Flames GM was going to call him and he’d start to pack his things.
“What?” Leon asked.
“I’m signing with the Calgary Flames,” Matthew said.
“That’s great! I’m so proud of you, babe,” Leon said, and Matthew knew he didn’t get it, because they had spoken in hypotheticals before, but now it was happening and Matthew had told Leon he would never come out if he was in the NHL and he was going to be in the NHL.
“I think we need to end things,” Matthew said, not daring to look at Leon.
“What?” Leon asked, and he sounded like Matthew had punched him.
“It’s not going to work out,” Matthew said.
“People do long distance all the time,” Leon said but one look at Matthew’s face must have said everything, “But it’s not about that, is it?”
“I can’t be the first gay player in the NHL,” Matthew said.
“I mean we don’t have to go public,” Leon said.
“I can’t be looking over my shoulder all the time, scouring Instagram, hunting down Twitter rumors from people who saw us together. I can’t ask you to go back in the closet, that’s not fair to you, so I think it’s best if this ends here,” Matthew said.
“So you came here to have sex with me and then break up with me?” Leon spat. He gathered the sheets around himself as if they provided protection.
“I love you,” Matthew said.
“Stop fucking saying that,” Leon said.
“It probably wouldn’t have lasted beyond college either,” Matthew said, “realistically.”
“Get out,” Leon screamed and Matthew flinched, “Fuck you and get out.”
“Get the fuck out,” Leon yelled and tears were streaming down his face and Matthew’s heart sank knowing that he was the one who caused all of that.
“I really did love you,” Matthew said as he left the apartment, with tears streaming down his own face.
And when the GM called later that day, Matthew almost felt sick accepting the offer.