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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · June 13, 2019

From today onwards I will let everyone know, every single day, if Travis Konecny has signed his contract.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 9, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 10, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 11, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 12, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 13, 2019

No. And camp opens today. More details at the blog.

*

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KONECNY A NO-SHOW AT CAMP AS CONTRACT TALKS DRAG ON
By Nolan Patrick | September 13, 2019 | @npatrick21 | 17 comments

With Cornerstone Defenseman of the Future Ivan Provorov signing a deal last night before training camp started, one has to wonder how long Travis Konecny, the undersized winger with, yeah, tremendous potential, thinks he can hold out. He's got a new GM, a new coach, some new pieces in Kevin Hayes and breakout young goalie Carter Hart, and an entire team ready to go…what else does he want?

Yesterday I said the best he could do was 3x4.5, and buzz is that's about what he turned down. Is he looking for term? Money? Yeah, he's good at even strength, and maybe he was "born to be a Flyer", as some other blogs like to yell about so they can sell merch, but real Flyers are about the logo on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

*

← Thread

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 14, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · Sept 15, 2019

No.

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · 8hr

YES FUCKING FINALLY. 3x4.5, what did I say. Says Provorov: "we'll do everything we can to get him up to speed." Hearing AV isn't happy, either, and rumors say when AV doesn't like you, you're fucked. Let's hope for the team's sake that's not true.

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Walleyeguy69 @walleyeguy69 · 39 min

Harsh

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · 20 min

How long it took? I agree.

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Walleyeguy69 @walleyeguy69 · 17 min

Okay!

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Nolan Patrick @npatrick21 · 13 min

You can't tell me it didn't take way to long to get this done, to the possible detriment of his play and the the team's.

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Walleyeguy69 @walleyeguy69 · 12 min

Okay!

*

Nolan snoozes his alarm for the second time and lets it drop back into the cup holder in the center console as Joel passes over the joint again. Technically their shift is starting now, but whatever, Susanna is always bailing and last night Nolan had to close up by himself because she disappeared ten minutes before the store closed.

Nolan takes a long hit.

"Okay, so it didn't work the way I thought, but Kay Syrah, or whatever," Joel is saying, lifting up his hips and trying to cram the hem of his black and white striped polo into his black basketball shorts. It's wrinkled beyond repair — turns out hotboxing Joel's 2003 Honda Civic isn't the same as using a steamer, but it couldn't hurt to try. Besides, Nolan needs something to get him through the day after being up all night finishing stats viz for Konecny, which he had left for last.

There's a knock on the passenger side window. Nolan blows smoke out of the corner of his mouth and squints into the sunlight filtering through the haze to see Taryn, their manager, frowning into the car.

He rolls down the window, and she frowns harder, stepping back and waving an arm in front of her face. "You're getting those lines," he says, turning down the corners of his mouth exaggeratedly and gesturing at the brackets he can feel carved into his cheeks.

"You guys can't do this behind the fucking store, Patty, come on."

Joel leans into Nolan's lap. His hair smells like weed, and strawberries from the shampoo he found on clearance at Target, the same way his room does. "So you're saying like on the record that we can smoke on shift as long as we're not near the store?"

Taryn scrubs both hands over her face. "You're lucky none of this is on the record, get the fuck in there, you're both late."

Nolan rolls the window back up and carefully stubs out the joint, passing it back to Joel for him to slide into the tube of an empty ballpoint pen, which he then hooks in his breast pocket right next to his name tag.

Joel pats Nolan's thigh. "Ready, babe?"

Nolan sighs and scrapes his hair back from his face, yanking all the hair off his wrist as he struggles with the rubber band he had scrounged from the junk drawer before they left the apartment that morning. Taryn taps on the window again, and when Nolan looks she's waving one of those no snag coiled hairbands at him. It's baby pink and glittery.

Nolan pops the door to step out into the alley behind the Rittenhouse Foot Locker, where Joel had won a parking spot for a month in the employee poker game, right behind a dumpster that only gets emptied once a week. Taryn wordlessly hands him the hair tie and he quickly winds his hair into a sloppy bun. "Thanks," he rumbles sheepishly.

She slides his glasses out of the V of his polo and mashes them onto his face. "Come on, there's money on the board, I'll buy you idiots lunch later."

"Dan dan noodles?" Joel pleads, and Taryn links arms with him to drag him around the corner onto 15th Street.

"And scallion pancakes," she says, and Joel smacks a kiss onto her cheek.

Nolan ambles along behind them, feeling like maybe today won't be so bad, the Dutch Treat snaking through his shoulders and cranking them all the way down from his ears. "Did you hear a customer slapped Frosty in the face with a pack of socks the other day?" Joel is saying in front of him, and Nolan tips his head back to let the sun warm his face.

*

COMMENTS ON ‘MAKING THE GRADE: TRAVIS KONENCY ACROSS THREE SEASONS'

walleyeguy69
so what you're saying is, he's actually really good

Nolan Patrick (author)
Yeah, he is, at even strength. But he has weaknesses that not only aren't improving, but are backsliding. Not sure why that's so controversial.

walleyeguy69
 just feels a little personal, is all

Nolan Patrick (author)
These are literally stats? How can stats be personal? (edited)

walleyeguy69
sorry I musta missed the dozens of articles where you picked apart the play of every other guy on the team, my bad

Nolan Patrick (author)
This is literally a series of articles, you can click on the little link up there to see more (edited)

walleyeguy69
You know that, like, spiritually, they are not the same.

Nolan Patrick (author)
No one's forcing you to read this, buddy, you don't like it, do it yourself.

walleyeguy69
Do what myself, play hockey, or write for the fourth most popular flyers blog?

Nolan Patrick (author)
Take your pick bro, love to see you try either one

walleyeguy69
lmao

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*

Joel leans his elbows on the counter as Nolan reads the thread again. "T says you have to get off your phone."

"I know, hang on." It's the same guy from Twitter, it has to be. Like, not just the handle, which is so stupid and obvious no one else would have it, but just the entire vibe of having to get the last word in? That same restless, hot feeling is squirming in his chest at every response, the same way he felt the other night when he posted about Konecny's contract and he knew every Twitter notification was this fuckin' guy.

He had to put his phone in another room to stop himself from responding again. And now here he is again, on his actual blog.

One of the guys on Pensburgh, who's pretty cool if you can overlook him dedicating his life to the Penguins, asked Nolan to grab a beer the last time the Pens were in town, and he counseled Nolan on responding to comments and threads, when to stoke the shit and when to ignore it, to help him grow his brand or persona or whatever.

Nolan wasn't sure about the advice at the time, but he did take him up on the hookup offer, going back with the guy to his hotel room where he pushed Nolan up against the closed door and dropped right to his knees and damn. Maybe there's something to be said for the mind-blowing confidence of a guy who's on the beat of a team that actually wins sometimes.

He did take the advice in the end, setting up the Twitter account over the off-season, and he'd gotten a ton of engagement on the Konecny contract thread. He'd gotten into it a few times on the blog with some people who became regular commenters, and stayed away from anyone who seemed like a troll. But for some reason with walleyeguy69 he couldn't not respond.

And of course with like 5000 typos, because the adrenaline spike makes his big fingers stupid on his phone's tiny keyboard.

He clicks his phone off and sighs, shoving it into his hip pocket.

Joel looks back over his shoulder. "You want the mom and kids situation that just came in? Mom's, like, stressin', she definitely just wants to get some shoes. Commission'll be good."

"Nah, I got that big group yesterday, you take ‘em." Nolan's good with kids, prefers them to any other customer, to be honest. Taryn usually diverts families to Nolan if she catches them coming in, especially ones with tweens. But Joel is great with harried moms of real little kids, and this lady has three of them.

Case in point, Joel winking at this lady before getting down on one knee in front of the oldest kid, who's probably only like six, and holding out his knuckles for a fist bump. "Hey, little man," he says, talking to him like he's an adult, "we getting you some kicks today?" The mom is smitten immediately. Joel's definitely gonna be able to upsell her on the stupid cleaner they got an e-mail about pushing on customers.

Nolan sighs and grabs the inventory clipboard to update the stickers on the Jordans.

*

Nolan's only off-day of the week, and he has to spend it finishing up the stupid video review he said he was gonna do. Lisa, their head of content, said it got a lot of positive feedback and they wanted him to start doing it once a week. It doesn't take him that long if he just sits down and does it, but inevitably he ends up clicking around Twitter or instagram instead of just fucking editing the thing.

He carries his laptop into the living room and curls into the corner. He's been staring at Final Cut for about an hour, and figures it can't hurt to check Twitter — he had put out a call for the Fly or Die mailbag yesterday, which he and Ashley, the two stats guys for the site, are gonna split up to answer for tomorrow.

He scrolls through his mentions, answering a few and putting aside the rest for the mailbag, when a DM notification pops up.

He clicks in and his entire scalp prickles when he sees who it is.

walleyeguy69
@walleyeguy69

I have a question for your mailbag
11:00 AM

Are you kidding
11:05 AM

Why would I be kidding?
11:06 AM

This is kind of stalking behavior

Are you a stalker?
11:07AM

Messaging you on your work Twitter after you asked
for mailbag questions on your work Twitter is stalking
behavior?
11:09 AM

It is when I know you're gonna ask something
shitty and personal and not hockey related
11:09 AM

I won't, I promise
11:10 AM

Fine. what.
11:10 AM

How far up your ass does that stick go, anyway?

Sorry, it needs to be hockey related, how far up
your ass does that HOCKEY stick go?
11:12 AM

I'm blocking you
11:12 AM

No, wait, sorry, I have a real question
11:12 AM

What
11:13 AM

Do you think the Flyers will be able to go back to back
after winning the Cup this year?
11:15 AM

Hahaha okay that's a good one

I do love the team, you know

I know you think I don't but I do, and I think
they've got a good group that could really
do something
11:18 AM

Hmmmmmm
11:18 AM

What
11:18 AM

You don't have ANY issues with the team?

None???
11:20 AM

I mean

Center depth is a problem

Goaltending if D breaks down

Heard horror stories about AV with the
Rangers from a buddy of mine who plays
with them.
11:22 AM

Lol but other than that they're on track to win
11:22 AM

Ha ha yeah okay, I always think things could
be better
11:22 AM

And as long as they trade TK right?
11:23 AM

I don't want them to trade TK
11:23 AM

Lmao coulda fooled me bud
11:23 AM

I think they're a better team with him on it
11:24 AM

Then what's your problemm with him?
11:24 AM

Hello?
11:28 AM

I'm thinking hang on

I don't know, I just think he can really break out

Always feels like he's holding himself back
11:31 AM

Running his mouth too much?
11:31 AM

Nah I don't give a shit about that. Honestly at
Least when he's being a pest he's showing up?

He could literally be their best player. He has so
much talent, such good instincts, you can see it.

Then he fucking wastes it by overthinking.
Passes when he should shoot. Hesitates along the
wall. I honestly don't get it.

If I could skate like him, I would have gone first
overall in 2017
11:33 AM

Oh you played?
11:33 AM

Ha ha no, I can't skate at all. Only one in my
family who can't.
11:33AM

Bummer dude
11:34 AM

Yeah but look at me now, Philly's fourth
most popular Flyers blog
11:34 AM

Third's in sight, bud, dream big
11:34 AM

🙄
11:35AM



*

Like, obviously writing for Philly's fourth most popular Flyer's blog (or even the first through third) wasn't what Nolan thought he'd be doing. He didn't think he'd be playing hockey, either, not really. Only sometimes, when he wishes someone had just made him, though he also knows there's not a force on earth that could have made him do anything he didn't want to do.

The problem is that now he doesn't know what he does want to do.

His father quit hockey when he was 25, and made it clear that no one in the family had to play if they didn't want to. But Maddie was already dominating her peewee team by the time it was Nolan's turn to put on skates, and it was assumed that he would take to it with no problem as spending most of his first two years bundled into a baby Bjorn on his mom at the rink.

Nolan was three when his dad put skates on him and set him on the ice for the first time. He didn't even fall, as the family lore goes; he stayed on his skates, crying fat, shuddery tears as he shuffled along the ice towards the opposite end of the rink, and when he got there he reached up and grabbed the boards with the tips of his fingers and wouldn't let go until his dad came to pry them off.

He refused to go back out, so they let it sit for a year and tried again, when Nolan curled his toes into a ball and wouldn't let his mom put skates on him until she gave up, looking up at his dad and saying gently, "Well, we said none of them had to skate if they didn't want to."

They asked him again when he was 7, for Aimee's first turn on the ice. He watched his little sister learn to fall, then throw her tiny body on the ice on purpose, cackling as she slid, churning icy powder up into her face. Across the ice, some other boys from school who were on the peewee team were running crossover drills with their sticks held in front of them.

It wasn't as easy as when he was 3. His feet slipping inside the rental skates, it suddenly it felt like the ice was actively trying to maim him, every bump and ridge in the community rink sending his legs in directions he didn't want them to go. He was short for his age, everyone kept telling him, his center of gravity was great for skating, but it didn't feel like it.

He let go of the boards and fell awkwardly, clipping his shoulder on the top on way down, and sending him spinning chest first into the ice, breaking his collarbone clean through.

It was the same year his Uncle James retired from the NHL, and he spent all his free time that winter with his arm in a sling, in his Uncle James' basement, poring over stat sheets, watching the hours of tape the Buffalo Sabres kept sending "just to get James' take", reviewing scouting reports.

"They want me to be a skills development coach," his uncle said, when Nolan came over one Saturday to find a huge gift basket of fruit and champagne and candy on the kitchen table. "What do you think?"

Nolan frowned. "I think they need to start shedding some guys for draft picks if they're not gonna step up their play."

Uncle James laughed until there were tears in his eyes. "You're not wrong, kid." He snipped off the top of the cellophane on the gift basket using the tiny scissors from the Swiss Army knife he always kept in his back pocket. "Here, I think the candy must be for you."

Uncle James did end up joining the team as an assistant coach. He would still send Nolan tape and ask for his opinion; for games he couldn't watch, Nolan would spend the next day analyzing box scores and asking Maddie to help him look up specific plays online. He watched tape of Zetterberg, Iginla, Datsyuk, got hooked on Crosby versus Ovechkin.

That Spring, Nolan stayed up late to watch the Sabres make the playoffs for the first time in six years, going all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hockey was fucking incredible.

Nolan was in love.

But no one ever asked him to put on skates again, and that was fine with him.

*

walleyeguy69
@walleyeguy69

Wait

Your dad and uncle both played in the NHL.
9:25 PM

Stalker
9:39 PM

I literally just read your about me thing on your stupid blog
9:39 PM

My blog's so stupid you read it every fucking day

What's that make you?
9:40 PM

Oh I'm dumb as rocks bud.
9:41 PM

I believe it

Both my uncles played, actually

And both my sisters play, too
9:41 PM

Why didn't you play?

You said you can't even skate!
9:42 PM

I can't
9:42 PM

Yeah like I think my question is WHY?
9:42 PM

Just didn't like it, I guess
9:47 PM

Yeah I mean I get that. I liked to skate but I didn't
want to play, I was pretty shy. My mom made me
sign up to get me to meet more kids my age.
9:48 PM

Shy???
9:48 PM

Lmao yeah I still am, believe it or not.
9:48 PM
I don't.

You couldn't have like played soccer or something?
9:48 PM

Canadian moms. You get it.
9:49 PM

Ha yeah I guess I do.

Where are you from?
9:49 PM

Ontario. Just outside London.
9:49 PM

Farm boy huh?
9:50 PM

Sure am.
9:50 PM

Holy shit dude
https://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/64690

There's like 10 of these but this is the best one

Your dad fucking rag dolled Trottier
10:10 PM

You would get off on that
10:11 PM

Oh so now you don't like hockey fights?

Come on, everyone thinks fighting is hot.
10:11 PM

That's my dad, you weirdo.
10:11 PM

Your dad is hot, bro, sorry.
10:12 PM

@walleyeguy69 is blocked

 

 

walleyeguy70
@walleyeguy70

That was weak dude
10:15 PM

@walleyeguy70 is blocked

 

 

walleyeguy71
@walleyeguy71

I can do this all day.
10:17 PM

This is literally harassment
10:17 PM

Sorry you freaked out because you think I was calling
you gay? You can be straight and think hockey is hot.
10:17 PM

I fucking

I DO think hockey is hot, I just don't need to think
about my dad in relation to that???

Also, I AM gay, if you'd like to freak out about that
and then you can finally leave me alone.
10:20 PM

Oh

No that's

Shoot, sorry, I mean, that's fine.
10:22 PM

Uh huh

Very convincing
10:22 PM

Is that why you didn't want to play?

Like, was it a problem for you?
10:24 PM

No, nothing like that

I mean, I assume there are some gay guys in the NHL

Like, statistically, there's gotta be
10:25 PM

Okay come on chirp me for leaning on stats, I know you want to
10:29 PM

Hello?
10:30PM

Sorry. No, haha, I agree with you.
10:30 PM

I just never learned how to skate. It's not that deep.
10:30 PM

I mean, when your whole family is like hockey
royalty it kinda is?
10:31 PM

My dad's a real estate agent. He's just a guy.
10:31 PM

Yeah but like
10:31 PM

Do not
10:31 PM

A hot guy
10:31 PM

@walleyeguy71 is blocked

*

"What are you smiling about?"

Nolan turns his phone face down on his belly and squints up at Joel, who's standing between the couch, where Nolan is cocooned in the Snuggie Joel got him for Christmas last year, and the tv, on which he was ostensibly watching a sports memorabilia episode of Antiques Roadshow before walleyeguy messaged him. "Nothing," he says, many beats too late, and a little smirk curls across Joel's face.

"Is it that guy?"

"Hm?" Nolan says, turning up the volume on some guy who thinks he has a signed Bo Jackson Royals rookie card, which is like the Bo Jackson card for collectors, but Nolan has seen Bo Jackson's signature, and that ain't it.

"You know. Hot fish guy."

Nolan's cheeks heat up and he slouches further into the Snuggie in an attempt to hide it. "First of all, we don't know he's hot."

"Oh, is that first of all?"

Nolan hucks a throw pillow at Joel's face, the one they found at the Quaker City Flea that has "Home is Where the Ho and Me Come Together" stitched on it in gold thread. Joel catches it easily, flipping it back at him and then flopping his lanky body across Nolan's feet.

"You do always like to make them work for it," he says, scooping Nolan's feet out from under his butt and pulling them across his lap.

"I'm not—he's literally just a guy, like, he's just trolling." On the tv, the Bo Jackson guy looks devastated when the bomb is dropped that not only does he not have an authentic signature, but that in the condition it's in, the card without the signature would have been two grand.

"Come on, he likes all the stuff you like: fishing, hockey, pulling your greasy-ass pigtails so hard it makes you hor—"

Nolan muffles his stupid smug face with the Snuggie, leaning all his weight on Joel's skinny chest until he literally yells uncle into the fleece.

Joel's not wrong, though, that there's something about this guy. It might just be that Nolan is hard up, feeling antsy and tired at the same time, all the time, in no real mood to pick up basically ever and he's pretty much exhausted the apps. Taryn's girlfriend, Andrea, had tried to help him once when she came to pick T up after her shift and Nolan was still there because he was using the store's wifi to download video for one of his video breakdown columns, and after 15 minutes said, "well, if everything is a reason to swipe left, you're never gonna meet anyone."

Well. Yeah.

Joel crams himself into the corner of the couch and drags Nolan's feet into his lap again, commandeering the remote and flipping it over to Sportscenter.

Nolan waits a few minutes, through the top ten -- the Matthew Tkachuk between the legs goal was stupid hot — then casually flips his phone back over. He goes back to Twitter and types "walleyeguy" into the search.

There are a lot of them. Most of them are actual fishing accounts and/or NFL fans. There's one guy, walleyeguy420, who just reviews head shops in Alaska, and another, walleyeguyBC, who runs a website about fishing in British Columbia. Then there's a whole run of walleye guys, from 72 to 80, which he thinks must be his guy (or "Guy", as Nolan is starting to think of him) because they're all just generic Twitter heads, all joined this month, and have no posts or likes.

Then there's walleyeguy11, who has a picture of the back of someone's head, wearing one of those animal snapbacks. This one has a turkey on it, and it says TURKEY. Even though there are no tweets, their recent likes are all Flyers or fishing related, a tweet about a newly discovered poison dart frog, and what seems like every single WeRateDogs post over the last week.

He clicks into the little DM icon, but can't bring himself to actually type anything, so he turns his phone off and closes his eyes, letting the familiar cadence of Sportscenter, and Joel's warm hand on his ankle, lull him to sleep.

*

November is that weird time when every game feels like a make or break, but with like over 70 more to go, they're not meaningless, exactly, but it's not time to celebrate or panic.

Jim, their managing editor, loves to stir up the shit with the dummies who like to panic, especially the ones who use November as tea leaves to predict the rest of the season, so he asks them each to do a projected scorecard for the team, a Where Will They Be Come Trade Deadline.

Of course, Nolan is assigned Konecny as part of his batch.

The thing is, Konecny has actually sort of caught, if not completely on fire, a low smolder through October. He's He's making dirty plays down low, and his shooting percentage has gone up. Like, a minuscule amount, Nolan's not gonna roll out the red carpet, but he's at least trending in the right direction, which is reflected in the fact that his goals per 60 has ticked upwards, too.

Nolan focuses on his forecheck, how he can still be more aggressive on the wall, that there's more pressure he can exert when he's on the rush. He's fast, he's so fast, with great hands. It's…well, Nolan has always appreciated a complete package. And he's watched a lot of Konecny's tape.

Like. A lot.

He sends his piece on Konecny, Lindblom, Heiskenan, and Provorov in for editing, then checks the time. He has the Locked on Flyers podcast, then an afternoon shift at Foot Locker, then his weekly FaceTime with his sisters. Somewhere in there he needs to at least think about doing the laundry, though Joel said he would cover doing drop off for him this week.

He sighs and goes to hunt for his AirPods.

*

walleyeguy72
@walleyeguy72

"Unless he falls off a cliff, Konecny should be
chosen for the All Star Game, and if he is,
I will gladly write an entire article about how
wrong I was, even though technically it would
mean I was right."

Wow.

I mean. Wooooooooow.
9:38 PM

@walleyeguy72 is blocked

 

 

walleyeguy11
@walleyeguy11

At least use a real account
to do your stalking
9:40 PM

Well hello there.

You found me.

Now who's stalking who?
9:41 PM

Not like it was hard. 11 huh?
9:41 PM

It's a lucky number, what can I say!
9:42 PM

Sure.
9:42 PM

So you wanna talk about the downright
glowing review you wrote?

Gotta say, I love a man who can admit
when he's wrong.
9:43 PM

Technically I was proving I was right
9:43 PM

Lmao you are really something else eh?
9:43 PM

That's what they tell me
9:44 PM

So what do I get when TK gets chosen for
The All Star Game?
9:44 PM

The satisfaction of knowing you
were right.
9:44 PM

I already have that. Let's wager something
real.
9:44 PM

I'll buy you a coffee.
9:46 PM

Careful now, I might think you're starting
to like me
9:46 PM

Of everything that's clearly wrong
with you, you didn't strike me
as fully delusional
9:46 PM

I like to call it believing in myself.

Never met a challenge I couldn't rise to.
9:47 PM

Never?
9:47 PM

Never.
9:47 PM

Do we have a deal or not.
9:48 PM

Oh, bud, you're on.
9:48 PM

*

It's definitely not Nolan's greatest idea, but he's in that exact sweet spot of crossfaded where his awareness of it not being his greatest idea is what's actually getting him a little chubbed up in his jeans.

He had met up with Joel and Frosty after his early inventory shift and before their late night swing. He loves and hates inventory weekend, because even though he always ends up pulling way too many hours, he does get paid time and a half, and since the Flyers are on a West Coast swing, he got to listen to their game on his AirPods while he worked without anyone bothering him.

Susanna did come in at one point and snipped at him as he was checking the highlights because he did need to actually see Konecny's fight. He had listened to it multiple times, the roar of the crowd at the exact moment he dropped the gloves prickling over his neck and scalp like the best kind of ASMR; he knew it was gonna be a good one.

It was. Konecny's helmet came off about a half a second into it, shaggy dark hair in his snarling face as he swung wildly at Dustin Brown; his split knuckles were rosy afterwards when he shook out his hand on his way to the box, a shiner coming up on his cheekbone, rounded out thickly over a full, joyous laugh, his mouth dark red and wet with exertion.

After saying goodbye to them at the bar, he manages to doze on the bus and wake up exactly 45 seconds before his stop in Germantown. Ten minutes later he's crashed out on the couch in his favorite blanket.

He pulls up Twitter and clicks into his DMs. There's walleyeguy, right at the top.

just for the record ok's fight tonight was extremely hot He squints at what he's written. tk, he adds, tk's fight was hot and tk is hot He probably didn't need that last part, but he's just fully feeling himself and he wanted to say it so he said it.

He doesn't expect Guy to answer, it's 3am, and the whole point is so that it becomes Future Nolan's problem and Crossfaded Nolan just has to worry about blowing off some steam. I know you think I'm like a stats robot or something but actually I just like hockey bc its hot

He's contemplating pulling up the fight again when a Twitter notification scrolls down from the top of the screen, his heart going off-kilter in his chest and dick.

It's Guy.

oh buddy how drunk are you?

Nolan considers this as he clicks in, reads the message again. The adrenaline spike from the notification burned through a good chunk of his high so it's crashed through the top level and into Just Drunk, Basically. like just basically, he types, even though he meant to say, "just a little" but he figures Guy can keep up.

so they only way you'll admit fighting is hot is to be drunk?

Nolan shivers a little, a tiny frisson of annoyance zinging along his nerves, which his neurons somehow translate as turned on by the time the signal reaches his brain. first of all I never said fighting wasn't hot

so now I know the real reason you keep talking to me

Nolan snorts, rolls his upper lip into his mouth to suck on it for a second. buddy I don't even know the real reason

must be something comes the response right away, for you to waste a Saturday night on me

And just— I bet you looked good fighting, Nolan types before he can lose his nerve.

you don't even know what I look like, Guy shoots back.

And no, Nolan doesn't know what he looks like. But when he's pictured him, he puts together what he knows and what he likes: farm boy who used to play Junior hockey, maybe plays pickup or in a beer league; he's shorter than Nolan, with dark hair and dark eyes, a smug crooked smile, wet, fat lower lip that Nolan wants to bite.

but you're right, I do look good. I'm good at it, too

Nolan squirms, letting his thighs fall open. bet you run your mouth while you do it, just fucking talk until someone has to take a swing at you

that what you want to do? Take a swing at me?

Shit. Nolan can actual smell how turned on he is, sweat and precome, his dick giving a little kick in his jeans. not exactly, but I wouldn't mind

The dots appear then disappear. Nolan pops the buttons on his jeans all the way down and presses the heel of his hand against his dick. Still nothing from Guy; maybe he's doing the same thing, getting himself out, getting himself hard, thinking about Nolan.

big boy like you but do you even know how to fight? comes the response.

I can handle myself Nolan fumbles a little one-handed. I can handle you

fuck I bet you can

Nolan lets the phone tilt down and can't help worming his hand into his boxer briefs to get his palm around himself, give himself a few pumps. He looks down the length of his body, thinks about Guy seeing him like this, what he'd want, if he'd suck him, wedge his big shoulders between Nolan's thighs and hold them open, hold him down.

He wishes they were on snap or something else, because he'd send a pic, maybe get one in return. But it's better this way — dirty messages is pretty easy to move past the next day, a dick pic from his professional Twitter account, probably not.

His phone vibes with a notification. Guy's reading his mind. wish I cld see u rn

Nolan smiles and licks his lips. That's non-dominant hand typing if he ever saw it. how goods your imagination?

pretty good. Already thought about doing this w you

Nolan struggles his jeans and briefs down and off, licks his palm to rub over the head of his dick, slow. He wants to make Guy talk, wants to know if it's more important to get off or get Nolan off. tell me

shit I

Guy has good hands, when Nolan pictures them, and a nice dick, thick enough to be a good handful, thick enough to stretch out Nolan's mouth if he got on his knees for him. Nolan could get off on the anticipation alone, on the thought of what Guy's doing right now instead of typing, but he wants to wait more, presses the pad of his thumb hard into his slit, breathes out.

you did that stupid podcast comes Guy's reply, finally, and Nolan laughs shakily. your voice is so much deeper than I thought it would be, stupid prairie accent and all mumbly and I

The dots appear and disappear, appear again. wanna know what you sound like when you come. if I could make you loud

Nolan does make a noise at that, a little thing that slips past his teeth. His cheeks burn with it, even though no one can hear him, and a flush of scalding heat spills down his whole body. He can't help stroking himself now, with purpose. I'm a p quiet guy

I'm a hard worker, you have no idea

The thing is, Nolan does have an idea, and his orgasm builds embarrassingly fast at the thought of it, that laser-beam, dog-with-a-fucking-bone focus that he uses to needle Nolan about every fucking thing, all funneled into making Nolan come.

if I'm lucky, you'll let me try.

Nolan huffs out a sharp breath, drops the phone on the bed, and comes so hard his vision goes grey.

He blinks rapidly until his vision comes back, holds his breath for a second just to feel his heartbeat rattle his ribcage and the base of his throat. Fuck. His fingers feel shaky and numb when he finally drags his phone up to his chest, and then tilts it so he can see the screen.

hello?

ffuck okay shit iu really hope you're gteting after it bc I just have t

And then nothing. Nolan lets his phone slap down on his collarbone while he waits, traces one finger through the slippery come on his belly. Usually he feels deflated after sexting in a way he doesn't when he's in person — not ashamed, exactly, but like his sex drive suddenly drops out completely, which is why he stopped using hook up apps.

But he just feels good right now, still a little turned on, his whole body sort of thrumming with the idea of more, with the idea of Guy getting off right now, how he'd look if he were here, big thighs straddling Nolan's belly as he jerks off onto Nolan's chest. Thinks about his stupid mustache and goatee and how they're less stupid now that Nolan's pictured them rubbing his thighs raw, how his little square teeth would dig into his crooked lower lip, how wet and red his mouth would be—

— oh, shit.

Nolan's mind's eye blinks, and there's TK blinking back at him.

His phone vibes with a notification and he swipes in, suddenly weirdly hot all over.

are you dead? did you nut yourself into a coma?

Nolan laughs, a cooling rush of relief washing over him. It's just Guy. Not that Nolan will ever tell him, but he'd be fine if he found out Nolan had pictured TK. TK is hot, and Guy kind of reminds Nolan of him, it's not a big deal. It's a compliment, really. don't say nut

yeah you're fine

Nolan sends what he thinks of as the person bouncing their hair emoji, then uses his sleep shirt to wipe the come off himself. He feels loose and warm and sleepy suddenly, and rolls on his side, tucking one hand under his cheek and thumbing out a response with the other. I gotta sleep, I'm fucking cooked

oh yeah shit it's late there

Nolan snorts. you're in the same city dummy

The three dots appear and disappear a few times, and Nolan closes his eyes while he waits. He startles when his phone vibes.

I'm actually out west for work for a few days.

That explains why Guy was even up. But Guy probably doesn't have to be at work in like five hours. bring me back something

*

walleyeguy11
@walleyeguy11

oh I'll bring you back something. Something big
3:56 AM

The only reason I'm not blocking you is because
this was really hot and I don't want to lose it
3:56 AM

You love it

DMs now sponsored by great railing
3:57 AM

Oh my god

I'm sleeping
3:57 AM

That wasn't even me trying btw

Just for the record
4:31 AM

*

Over the next few weeks, they talk almost every day.

Nolan tells Guy about breaking his collarbone, about how his sisters waited until they felt enough time had passed that they could chirp him about it — it was about two weeks. Tells him about the weird Russian vending machines at the rink, and how when they remodeled they took them out and replaced them with Pepsi and Nolan has been searching for the brand that used to be in there for years.

Guy tells him about how he played in the O, about how he got high sticked in the mouth when he was 16 and has nerve damage in his lower lip, about his his tore his ACL when he got crushed into the boards when he was a kid, and how it still bothers him, and he worries about it all the time. He tells him about being the only gay kid he knew in Juniors, about how he was smaller and younger than everyone else, and about how he learned how to fight.

He learns that Guy likes it when Nolan is mean, but he likes it more when Nolan's sweet, when he gets close to the edge and begs. He learns that Guy loves to suck dick, that he's good at describing what he'd do.

Nolan learns that the idea of Guy eating him out is so hot that he can't stop thinking about it, and feels half turned on almost all the time, waiting until he can get home to DM with Guy and hear about what else he'd do.

Guy has an older brother who's probably going to take over his family's farm up in Ontario. His grandmother taught him to shoot. His dad taught him to fish. His mom found him out in the corn when he was 13, holding a corn husk to his face to stop the bleeding after he fell off the back of the thresher while they were harvesting, and no one knew because he liked to sneak up there and ride with them into the field so he could eat the first corn off the belt. She had laughed at him for weeks, and still calls him Cob to this day.

He learns that Guy has a job with a lot of traveling, but that he always sends a good morning DM, no matter where he is or how tired he is.

He learns he really, really fucking likes him.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have been clawing their way up in the standings, buoyed by Travis Konecny, whose shooting percentage has gone through the roof. He's all over the ice every game, bullying opponents, getting knocked down and getting right back up again.

Holy shit, Nolan thinks, watching every game with his heart in his throat. Konecny might actually do this thing.

*

There's a lull after lunch, and Nolan hunches behind the soccer display, idly scrolling the meme channel on the Fly or Die Slack. A DM notification pops up; It's Jim, their Managing Editor.

one of the guys at bsh dropped out of the flyers learn to play media charity thing and they e-mailed this morning asking if you wanted to go instead.

Nolan blinks.

Pat 😽 11:34 AM
me specifically?

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:34 AM
yeah, they thought your thread about konecny's contract was funny. all about the engagement baby.

Pat 😽 11:36 AM
I can't skate tho

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:36 AM
Yeah it's called LEARN to play
You get to hang out with some players for a couple hours, shoot the shit, get a few digs in on whoever they send from the Inquirer. What's the big deal???

Pat 😽 11:37 AM
ugh. Who alls gonna be there?

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:37 AM
Media packet says Hayes, Simmer, and JVR.
Come on, Pat, this is a gimme.

Pat 😽 11:38 AM
When is it?

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:37 AM
Next week

Pat 😽 11:38 AM
Next week??? I have a job, Jim, come on

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:37 AM
You're not a fuckin brain surgeon, Pat, I think they can find someone to take one (1) shift at foot locker

Pat 😽 11:38 AM
Fine

Jimmy | Orlando Scandrick ELITE 11:38 AM
Thank you.
Just dial the bitch back to like 6 and try not to fall down, you'll be great.

*

"Hey."

Nolan jerks his head up to find Andrea on the other side of the spinner rack, leaning her elbow into an L-hook of knee socks and knocking them all askew. "What."

She jerks her chin at his phone and raises one perfect eyebrow into a high arch.

"You don't work here, you can't tell me what to do. Besides," Nolan gestures expansively to the store. "There's literally no one here."

"I'm here."

"You don't count," Nolan says distractedly, thinking about the paperwork that might be in his e-mail right now. Thinking about being at the Farg when maybe Konecny might be at the same time. "And you're fucking up all the socks."

Andrea narrows her eyes. She looks almost exactly like Taryn when she does it, it's a little terrifying. "You're, like, in too good a mood lately. It's freaking me out."

Nolan shrugs. "You're free to fuck off," he says, trying for his usual tone.

"Weak." She sticks her tongue out and ruffles at the front of the display, tilting all the sock-packs crazily because, as Nolan has said a billion times, the eyelets are too small for the hooks.

"You're so annoying," Nolan grumbles, but jams his phone into his armpit and fixes the socks anyway as she stands flicking through track jackets, waiting for Taryn to finish counting out the register for her shift so they can go home.

The store is dead the rest of the day, of course, the one day Nolan wants something to distract himself from spiraling about whatever this event is going to be. Jim pings him again on slack to let him know the paperwork is in his inbox, and he spends his break with his glasses pushed up into his hair, squinting at the fine print on the release and nda and the details and length of the publishing embargo after the event.

A Twitter notification rolls down on the top of his screen. Nolan puts his palm over his face to hide the smile he knows he's been getting double takes at for the last two weeks that's trying to tug up the corners of his mouth, before shoving his phone back into his pocket and methodically unfolding and refolding the table of Nike reflective running shirts until his shift is blessedly over.

*

Twitter
walleyeguy11
look at this angry ice skating cat that's going around, he looks like you!

*

Walking into the dressing room in Wells Fargo is so surreal that Nolan considers pinching himself.

On the surface, it's not too far off from other dressing rooms he's been in — there are the wooden stalls with nameplates and there's the logo on the carpet and there's the door to the change room and there's the giant laundry bin ready to be wheeled out for dirty jerseys. There are hooks in each stall for gear, though there's nothing hanging from them now, of course. And there's the smell, the smell of hockey, sweat and locker room soap and the insides of guys' skates and the particular smell of the foam inside their pads when it gets wet.

But the nameplates are names of guys Nolan's only ever seen on the ice from a distance, or on his television. Guys who he watched get drafted, whose stats he crunched, guys living the life he sometimes wondered if he could have had, if he had tried a little harder, been less stubborn in the wrong direction.

Guys like Travis Konecny, whose stall he's been assigned to, according to the paperwork crumpled in his hand where he's also clutching the skates he'd been given at check-in. They're heavier than he remembers.

He dumps all his shit on the bench next to him and cracks open one of the water bottles that have been lined up in the stall for him. There are a few packets of those hydration powder things, too; he rips one open and dumps it in, shaking it up until the water swirls dark pink.

There are cameras here, and the PR staff gives them all the low-down as they shoot B-roll: they'll go out onto the ice, meet the players, and do some drills. There'll be a brief presser afterwards where they can each ask one question, and they're under severe NDAs that everything they talk about outside earshot of PR on the ice is off the record.

Nolan has a few questions ready to go for all three of the players listed, depending on what everyone else asks, mostly stats focused, though he does want to ask Simmonds about the success of the PK and the magic that goes into keeping it there season after season, or, if he's feeling extremely Big Boy Brave, he'll ask JVR about being the You Can Play rep. He's gonna try to keep the small talk casual, maybe tell Kevin Hayes that Howdy says he misses him and he owes him $50. And if all else fails, they can always fall back on golf.

He toes off his Vans and pulls his socks up high and tight under his jeans, before shoving one foot and then the other into the skates, tying them as best he can. The cuffs crumple uncomfortably under the tongue, but he figures he'll get used to it, so he pushes himself to his feet.

His ankles bend almost immediately, the knot he tied not nearly tight enough somehow, even though he pulled so hard his palms are red, and he has to sit back down, his ass right on the edge of the bench. Across from him Giroux's nameplate is staring back at him, Gina from the Inquirer sitting in it to lace up. She's barely even looking as she does it, chatting with Jordan Hall, who's in Coots' stall, and one of the aspiring journalists who won the contest on Twitter sitting next to him, looking on with wide eyes.

Nolan notes that she brought her own skates, which he doesn't think is fully on board with the spirit of a Learn to Skate charity thing, but whatever.

He picks at the double knots on his skates and starts over, carefully folding the cuff of his jeans tight against his ankle before lacing up again.

"Put your leg out," the girl with her own hockey skates in JVR's stall says. "Like, extend your leg and pull as hard as you can."

Nolan loops the laces into his fist and sticks his leg out, pushing against the tension. It definitely feels better.

"Good?" She says.

"Yeah." He clears his throat. "Uh, thanks."

"No problem!" She stands. "By the way, TK's gonna kill it this season."

Nolan blinks. "Okay?"

"Sorry for your eye test or whatever." She winks and clomps towards the tunnel.

Hall catches his eye. "I see what you're saying about his play along the wall," he says, sympathetically.

Nolan frowns. "It's not personal."

"I mean, it is a little." Hall stands, too. "Or else why are we all doing this?"

*

The walk down the tunnel to the ice is also surreal, but after a few steps he feels steady on his feet if not entirely in his brain. Sometimes when he'd go watch his sisters practice on the rink near their house, he'd rent a pair of skates just because, liking the feeling of clomping around on the rubber flooring. He had to admit he liked the part where he got to wear them standing in line for a soft pretzel or getting a weird soda from the vending machines; no one looking at him would know that he hated skating, that his toes felt like ice inside his slightly-too-small rentals.

Maybe he even looked like a player.

He knows he doesn't look like one now, stepping awkwardly up onto the bench and feeling his ankles bend precariously for a second. Everyone else has already stepped out onto the ice, he can see Jordan Hall, Gina from the Inquirer, the girl who helped him with his skates, currently skating backwards over center ice and laughing with her head tipped back. There's the head of Flyers social, who had checked him in and gone over the embargo details again about what he was allowed to tweet from the event itself.

He tries to tuck his hair back behind his ear through the earguard and the straps of the helmet he's wearing. It's a dull gold with a sticker of a cartoon death on the back, borrowed from another writer at Fly or Die who plays in a beer league. Nolan had just barely managed to not make a noise at the glitter in the paint when Ashley narrowed her eyes when she dropped it off at the store for him.

He leans over the boards and sees a cluster of people down at the other bench wearing Flyers track jackets and ripstop pants. The tallest one breaks away and Nolan feels his entire body go red as Wayne Simmonds makes eye contact with him and smiles. He's big in real life, like, huge, and also has a really, like, entire face, two things he knew from seeing pictures of him, but in real life is just…more, and extremely overwhelming.

Thank fuck Giroux isn't here.

He tries to remember what his dad said about stepping onto the ice, but every time Nolan had gone when he was a kid, it was from ice level, not from a full like, foot off the ground. He carefully lowers the blade of his left foot, then his right, trying not to look like he's desperately clinging to the boards for dear life.  

He hears blades through the ice behind him, and turns around, gritting his teeth and he mentally forces his fingers to let go of the boards.

"Hey, man," says Kevin Fucking Hayes, his big goofy face actually in front of Nolan's face in real life. "You all good?"

Nolan's knees feel like rubber. "For sure."

Hayes looks down at his feet. "You want us to get you some figure skates? They're easier."

"Ha," Nolan says, in as normal a way as he can. "No, seriously, I'm good. Just gotta get my, uh," he gestures to the ice, wobbling his hand back and forth.

"Ice legs under you?"

This time Nolan actually laughs, and Hayes' grin gets broad through his beard. "Yeah."

"Cool, man. We're gonna start soon, okay?." His gaze shifts over Nolan's shoulder. "Teeks, you ready?"

Nolan's feet go numb, followed by his legs and maybe his entire face when, behind him, Travis Konecny replies, "Born ready, brother."

Nolan tries to turn but without the boards for support, when his left skate slips just a fraction of an inch in a direction he didn't mean to go, he can't steady himself in time. His arms windmill as he goes down, hard, first on his ass and then on his hip and thigh as his body tries in vain to somehow right itself mid-fall.

"Oh, shit!"

Nolan blinks and a knee comes down to the ice in front of him. He follows the thick line of the quad attached to it, up over the gloved hand and bare wrist braced on his other knee, and up that arm until he's looking into Travis Konecny's face.

It's a good face, crushingly for Nolan's sanity. Handsome, tan, with creases at his eyes and around his mouth that mean he smiles a lot, currently crinkled mostly with concern, but his eyes — the color of churned up river water and not, as Nolan had previously thought, generic brown — are bright with a slowly unfurling grin.

"Oh," Konecny says, breathless almost, and Nolan thinks the slightly gut-punched look on Konecny's face must be what he himself looks like. "Oh, hi."

Nolan licks his suddenly dry lips. The ice is freezing under his palms. "Uh."

Nailed it.

Konecny gives himself a little shake, his shoulder twitching up towards his ear. "That was a pretty good fall," he says, and holds out a gloveless hand. "We're supposed to let you get up by yourself, but." He shrugs, his grin a little less suppressed now, tugging his mouth into a crooked curve on one side.

It's extremely charming. "But the rules don't apply to you?" he grumbles, shifting his weight off his freezing cold left butt cheek to his right.

Konecny waggles his fingers in invitation. "Not when the rules are stupid."

Nolan snorts a laugh without meaning to. "Can you just," Nolan says, valiantly ignoring the way Konecny's nose wrinkles with delight, ugh, "show me what to do?"

Konecny's grin is so wide and so crooked, showing all his little square teeth and a flash of his pink tongue. "For sure."

After ducking his face to hide the way he knows he's flushing when Konecny instructs him to "get on your knees", things go okay. Nolan gets one blade planted pretty solidly with his other knee getting soaked through against the ice, then, after getting stuck in a squat for what feels like five minuets but was probably only 2 seconds, manages to push himself to his full height without falling down again.

His ankles still feel wobbly and he can't feel his feet, but he's up and, in skates, all but towering over Konecny, who, gratifyingly, has to tilt his head back a bit to grin up at him.

"Fuckin' rights, bud," he crows.

 Nolan huffs out a laugh even while he rolls his eyes, making Konecny smile more.

"We gotta get you to center ice," he says, jerking his head back towards where the group is clustered, getting equipment handed out. "Mostly because when you fall again I don't want you to bump your noggin on the boards."

"Not gonna fall," Nolan mutters, sliding his right skate forward and, when he in fact doesn't fall, trying to push off with his other toe — and immediately biting it again, this time sprawling forward onto his elbows and knees.

"If it makes you feel any better," Konecny says above him, "I spent the entirety of my first skating class on my ass and then I cried in front of everyone."

Nolan grits his teeth and gets a skate blade planted under him. "Oh yeah?"

"Absolutely. I mean, I was four, but…"

Nolan gets shakily to both skates and looks at the big clock across the rink. Only an hour and fifty minutes left to go. Maybe a sinkhole will open up under them.

Konecny is looking critically at his skates. "Ankles look real wobbly. Here," he takes Nolan's elbow and steers him back to the bench door. "Step in and lemme take a look."

"Don't you have to, like," Nolan gestures to the rest of the crew, splitting into a few groups.

"Rules," Konecny reminds him with a wink, and Nolan prays for the sinkhole to hurry.

Konecny instructs him to sit, takes off his other gloves, then scoots all the way over, so his thigh is pressed up against Nolan's. He must feel Nolan stiffen a little. "Sorry, uh," he says, putting a hand's space between them, "is this is okay, it's just, like, I only know how to do it from this side."

Nolan clears his throat. "It's fine."

Konecny gives him a little smirk, and also whiplash from the topsy turvy way he's acting. "I don't bite, I promise."

Nolan pointedly sticks his foot out.

Konecny bends down over Nolan's leg and unlaces his skates, running his mouth about eyelet sizing or something, and how Giroux has his own section labelled in their equipment manager's box and one time Simmer switched the labels. His drawl is slow and syrupy, the hint of a lisp like his tongue is a little too thick for his mouth.

"Feel alright?" he says, pulling the laces tight.

Nolan swallows. "Yup."

Konecny steps over Nolan's lap, a move he manages to make with absolutely zero guile, and crams himself up against Nolan's other side, bending to unlace and relace Nolan's other skate even more efficiently. His rounded shoulders pull the jacket tight against the muscles in his back, and a gold chain glints against his bare neck, right under the place where his hair starts to get a little shaggy as it grows out of his fresh new-contract-headshot-day cut.

"Okay. That's gonna be so much better." He stands, crams his gloves into his armpit, and hops over the boards before turning to open the bench door for Nolan. "Ready?"

Nolan stands and…well, it is better, already, his ankles less wobbly, and he can feel his toes again, which is probably useful. "Born ready," he says, pitching his voice up a little to match Konency's vocal fry.

Konecny laughs, his whole face creased with it, soft chin folding in on itself. It's. A lot. "Fuck yeah, baby, let's fucking go."

Nolan watches him demonstrate how to push off and glide— "inside front edge, no toe pick," Konecny says with a wink — and follows, unsteadily taking little half strides, trying to match the grooves carved into the ice by Konecny's blades, who's skating backwards in front of him.

"You're doing great," Konecny says, so sincerely that Nolan doesn't know whether to feel affronted or proud, his heart flopping around somewhere in his gut in acute and almost satisfying embarrassment.

Nolan hits a ding in the ice and stumbles, flails his weight backwards to try to balance. Konecny reaches out and catches his forearms, steadying him. Nolan's momentum carries him forward, all the way into Konecny's chest, which is solid and broad, like, so wide, jeez. He smells like deodorant and detergent, like fresh sweat trapped in the nylon fibers of his track jacket. "Shit," Nolan breathes, his heart hammering in his throat.

"I stepped on a puck once and smacked my face into the ice, knocked out half my front tooth," Konecny says, his neck cranked all the way back to meet Nolan's eyes.

Nolan, trying to gauge when he can let go of Konecny's forearms without immediately falling again, mutters, "oh, yeah, what were you, six?"

Konecny laughs and points to his right front tooth. "Two weeks ago, actually. Jakey papered my stall with learn to skate flyers every day for a week."

Nolan can't help smiling back, and before he knows it they're both laughing, clinging to each other to stay upright.

"I'm, uh," Konecny says, voice husky with laughter, "I'm TK, by the way."

"Yeah," Nolan replies, "I know."

"Just making sure," TK says, sheepish.

There's a moment where Nolan thinks about lying, but when he opens his mouth he finds himself saying, "Nolan Patrick."

TK's voice is even more sheepish when he says, "Yeah. I know."

Nolan's skate slides a little, bringing him thigh to thigh with TK. He swallows hard. "Oh."

TK seems to be turning something over in his head, Nolan can all but see the gears cranking as he tongues at the inside of his lower lip. "Listen—"

"Yo, Eleven, what's the hold up?" Simmonds shouts from across the ice.

"Gonna fuckin'—" TK mutters under his breath, then shouts back, "I'll be right there!" He smiles a little, like, nervously. "Do you think you can get across by yourself? I'll grab you a stick and gloves."

Nolan eyes the length of the ice from where they are to the goal where they're demonstrating the difference between each kind of shot. A little cheer and then groan goes up in a wave when Hayes tries a lacrosse goal and misses. "I can do it."

TK wrinkles his forehead between his eyebrows. "Are you sure? Like, no offense, but you really cannot skate."

Nolan gives him his most dead-eyed stare, and TK puts up his hands. "Okay, okay, sorry, sheesh." He tongues his lower lip again. "I do appreciate it when guys put in the work, gotta say."

Heat prickles all over Nolan's body, and he immediately gets sweaty in his pits and the crooks of his knees and elbows. He knows his face is flaming, the contrast of his hot cheeks and cold nose making him feel weak-kneed.

"I'm a hard worker," Nolan says, echoing Guy's DM that has been permanently etched into the backs of Nolan's eyes since he saw it, and now TK is the one who goes ruddy.

He slides his hand down to Nolan's wrist. It's weirdly hot against the thin skin there, and Nolan wonders if TK can feel how his pulse is jumping crazily against TK's palm. "I bet you are," he says, his drawl going crackly at the end.

"Tiki!" Hayes shouts, and they both startle.

"Yeah!" TK yells back, "Dang!" then gives Nolan's wrist a little squeeze. "Steady now," he murmurs, and lets go, turning to dig through the bin they've wheeled onto the ice to get him a pair of gloves.

Nolan flexes his wrist a little, still feeling the warm circle of TK's fingers around it, the rough drag of his callouses.

Hayes waves from where he's standing in the middle of the crease. Everyone has spread out to the smaller goals that have been set up near the left circle, practicing wrist shots. Nolan nods back, and determinedly pushes off like TK showed him, gliding as best he can, and then resorting to marching a few paces — the only thing he got down to a science when his dad tried to teach him — anytime he feels unsteady.

TK glides up next to him, turning to skate slowly backwards. "Hey, look at you!"

Nolan flaps a hand at him — he's been holding his breath and he's not sure if it's helping or not but he doesn't want to risk it.

TK laughs and skates ahead with their equipment, laying the sticks across the net while he puts his gloves on, then going to check in on some of the other participants.

"You're with me, Patty," Hayes says as Nolan slowly comes to a stop in front of the net. How does everyone know who he is? "Can I call you Patty?"

"You just did," Nolan points out, and Hayes booms out a laugh.

"No wonder Teeks likes you."

"Uh," Nolan replies.

Hayes shoves a pair of gloves at him. "You got him all turned around with your blog posts. It's fucking hilarious." He waggles his gloved hands at Nolan, and Nolan startles, then tugs his own on. "The other day he asked me to show him how to read those shot charts. Like I've ever looked at one of those in my fuckin' life."

Nolan makes a fist in his glove. The palms are thinner than he thought they be, soft, thin suede, and he can feel every ridge on the taped handle of the stick Kevin shoves into his hands. "They're not that complicated."

Hayes shrugs. "If you say so. Now come on, march yourself over to that net over there and lemme show you how this works."

Nolan manages to stay on his feet for the entirety of Hayes showing him how to flick a puck into the net, figuring out the timing of how to get the puck from the heel of the blade to the toe and then sending it in. He misses his first, like, five tries, and when the sixth goes in, Hayes throws his hands in the air, his gloves flying off, and grabs Nolan's helmet between his giant paws and shakes him gently but firmly.

It's ridiculous and meaningless but also is making Nolan's heart thump crazily in his chest, and he can't help the laugh that bubbles up.

"Feels wicked good, right?" Kevin says, beaming. "Nothing more satisfying in the fuckin' world."

He's not wrong.

Nolan does it a few more times, moves on down the line to backhands (nets exactly zero, it doesn't seem like it should be so hard and yet), slapshots (Jordan Hall whiffs on his first try and falls on his ass — Simmer winks at Nolan while TK drags Hall to his feet, both of them weak with laughter), and one-timers.

TK is his partner for that one, gently saucing him the puck until Nolan gets it. Kevin was half-right: it's not hitting the back of the net that's the most satisfying, it's hitting the back of the net after a perfectly executed play, being perfectly connected to someone else so you're able to feel where the puck is gonna be and making it go where you want it to go.

The last exercise is what Simmer calls "skating lines": they have to skate from the near goal to the first blue line and back, then the red line, then the far blue line, then the far goal. "Y'all like calling for bag skates when you think we're looking lifeless," he says with a wicked grin. "Let's see how it works for you."

Everyone starts lining up on the goal line, laughing and shoving each other, and TK leans into Nolan's space. "You don't have to," he says earnestly. "Nothing is, like, required."

Nolan meets TK's eyes with his jaw set tight, tucks his hair behind his ear, mostly for comfort.

"Seriously," TK says with a little reassuring smile.

"Meet you back here," Nolan says, and turns to push off — slightly less unsteadily, he thinks, than he has been all session — towards the starting line.

Simmer blows the whistle hanging around his neck and everyone goes; Nolan reaches the first blue line as basically everyone else is back at the goal, turning around for their second lap towards center ice, but he flattens his mouth, compresses his core as hard as he can and keeps going.

He thinks, grimly, that everyone can just wait for him when he's done, standing around on the ice for however long it takes him.

His quads are burning by the time he's heading towards the far blue line, and have crossed the line into numb when he finally hits the far goal. He's been holding his breath intermittently, focusing on his skates, his heartbeat thundering in his ears, not fucking falling on his ass, and now he lets it out in a long stream and allows himself to unclench a little.

Everyone is smacking sticks on the ice at the other end, hollering encouragement, and Nolan feels a burst of giddy energy. This is so stupid, he thinks, and starts laughing breathlessly, uncontrollably, it's so fucking stupid, why did he do this, he could have been hanging out with TK and instead he's maybe going to die while Gina from the Inquirer shouts, "you got this, you fucking asshole!" across the length of the ice.

But he doesn't die, instead he bends over with his hands on his knees — "ready position", he remembers from his dad — and drifts to a stop in the crease.

He's immediately surrounded by his media brethren, everyone jostling and shoving and pounding him on the back. His face hurts from smiling. His hair is pouring sweat from under his helmet, and he's dripping wet at the small of his back and under his arms and in his gloves.

He thought he always loved hockey, but now he suddenly feels like maybe he never did until this exact moment.

*

They have a few minutes to get themselves together, get some water, get some media shots of them all standing around, while they roll a carpet out by the penalty box, and bring out folding chairs for the promised presser. Nolan scrambles to remember literally any of the questions he was going to ask; Simmer smirks at him when Meghan calls on him and when he opens his mouth what comes out is, "Nolan Patrick, SB Nation, for TK?"

TK smiles, his hands folded together in his lap, an encouraging little crooked curve to his mouth. "Yeah, Patty, whatcha got."

"Your fight the other night in LA," Nolan hears himself saying, and TK sits up a little straighter, his eyes sharpening. The crooked curve is less encouraging now and almost a little…predatory. "It seemed to really get everyone fired up, and you came back from a 2 goal deficit in the third to win the game."

"You liked that, huh?" TK drawls.

Nolan's ghost steps outside his body to watch from the sidelines when Nolan says, "You kicked the shit out of Dustin Brown in the Kings' own barn, so yeah, I liked it."

A titter runs through the assembled guests and crew, and Nolan can see the pink flash of TK's tongue where he bites it between his front teeth. "Is there a question in there, or?" he says, and Nolan laughs.

"Yeah, sorry, yeah, I've been noticing you've been more physical lately, was wondering if you could tell us about that, if it's been a deliberate plan or you're just following your, like, bliss or whatever."

Hayes and Simmer crack up and TK's face goes ruddy, creasing with a sort of smug embarrassment, preening under the attention. "Maybe a little of both? I dunno, some guy on the internet said I need to be more present and utilize my specific skill set, so that's what I've been trying to focus on."

Nolan bites down hard on the smirk that's trying desperately to creep across his face. "Okay, thanks."

There are a few more questions and then things break up after that, the players signing the used sticks and a few pucks, handing them off to a few kids, interns maybe, which they'll auction off later in the season, and everyone chatting as they drift towards the bench door to head back to the locker room.

Nolan's legs feel shaky when he stands — a combination of the skating and the attention — so he goes slow. Just before he reaches the bench, suddenly TK is there, a hand briefly at the small of his back, then at his elbow, glancing away as Nolan leans an elbow on the top of the boards.

"I was right," TK says, "knew you'd be a hard worker."

Nolan's heart thuds weirdly in his throat, and licks the sweat out of the bristly hairs along his upper lip where he hasn't shaved for a week. It almost looks like TK's eyes track the movement of Nolan's tongue for a second, before his own mirrors the movement; If it was anyone else, Nolan would call this flirting. "Well, I had a good teacher," Nolan replies, waits a beat. "Hayes is good at this."

TK laughs, a middle-pitched, shocked laugh that makes Nolan's entire body want to smile back. So he does, and there's a long moment where they don't say anything, just looking at each other.

"Listen," TK says, leaning against the boards, too, one elbow hooked over the top of the bench door, at the same time Nolan says, "well, I better get going."

"Oh. No, yeah, you have, like," TK clears his throat, flipping a puck around in his other hand like a fidget toy, "like, work."

Shit. "Yeah, no, uh, gotta get this written up, but what were you—"

"No, no, just, you did really good." He smiles a little. "Go easy on me in this one, okay?"

Nolan's cheeks feel like the surface of the sun. "I'm sorry, I didn't think you would ever see—"

TK laughs, and bumps the toe of his boot against Nolan's. "I can take criticism, dude, it's fine, and you're not always wrong." He tongues at the corner of his mouth. "I'm a hard worker, too."

Nolan's face, his entire body, goes supernova. Maybe he died out at the red line during bag skate. "I, uh, yeah, I never doubted that."

TK presses his lips together in a thin line under his mustache and seems to make a decision, holding the puck out. "If you have any other questions or anything."

Nolan blinks and takes the puck. It has an NHL logo on it, with OFFICIAL PRACTICE PUCK in an arch across the top in white.

"Like for your piece," TK says, as though that clarifies anything, and laughs what Nolan is coming to know as his slightly embarrassed laugh, a little huffed out chuckle. "It was the only thing I had."

He turns the puck over. It has a phone number written in silver sharpie. "Oh."

TK holds out his hand. "It was nice to meet you."

Nolan's fingers are pruned from sweat, and he's not sure he can stand without holding on, but he gamely lets go of the board and takes TK's hand in his. It's sweaty, too. Callused. Slender fingers with knobby knuckles.

The moment lingers for a second, then TK drifts back and opens the bench door for Nolan. "Maybe I'll see you around?"

Nolan steps up into the bench. "Yeah, man, for sure."

The walk down the tunnel is even more surreal, Nolan insisting to himself that he can't feel TK's eyes on him the whole way.

*

Jess @okayteekay · 35 min
Sorry but what the fuck is THIS all about???

Philadelphia Flyers @nhlflyers · Dec 15, 2019
Everyone likes some good old-fashioned fisticuffs 🥊
[TK_charity_media_skate.mp4]

|

cooter era@c00ts · 30 min
👀👀👀👀👀👀👀

|

cooter era@c00ts · 30 min
I actually can't stop thinking about this. This is like some pride and prejudice level flirting what on earth

|

*** in 45 😌 @shortfastloud · 28 min
Did anyone tell TK this was being FILMED or?????????

|

Jess @okayteekay · 27 min
TK? Did Patrick forget he's LITERALLY a member of the media and has spent the last two months building his brand as number one Travis Middlename Konecny Hater?

|

Finn @down2eff1 · 20 min
Jess I don't even go here but they absolutely banged is what I'm getting from this.

*

Nolan looks up from the Twitter thread Joel texted him from across the store. Joel is currently innocently stapling tags to the bottoms of the new stock of Reeboks.

where did you see this? Nolan texts back. and the hiit sneakers need to go next to the studio shoes

Joel pauses with one shoe resting back against his shoulder like a rifle as he fishes his phone out of his pocket. He looks at the message, squints up at the display for a long moment, then swaps two sets of sneakers in the top row before texting back. Jake and Jesse both sent it to me. Separately! Jesse said your a celebrity now

Nolan rolls his eyes. Joel's older brothers are a collective menace. it's a charity event, the questions have to be softballs

He regrets it the second he sends it, but it's too late. He watches Joel get the message and then stand there typing and deleting, his mouth stretched in a closed-mouth, gleeful smirk, glances down to see the typing dots appear and disappear three or four times.

Eventually Joel wanders over, blowing a beleaguered sigh out of the corner of his mouth. "There's something on the tip of my tongue about soft balls and hard dicks, you know, but I just can't get there."

Nolan digs in his pocket for his AirPods. "I'm taking my break."

"No, we said we were going to Buffalo Exchange today!" Joel literally cannot stop grinning even as he says it, it's not cute.

Nolan looks Joel right in the eye as he puts in his AirPods, then goes into the back to punch out and disassociate for the next 45 minutes.

*

Nolan puts the puck on his dresser, and lays in bed every morning staring at it.

On the fourth day he propels himself out of bed, snatches the puck, and carefully adds TK to his contacts.

TK
Travis Konecny >

10:32 AM

Hey, it's Pat.

Nolan Patrick. We met at the charity
skate thing the other day

Patty! :D

I know who you are haha

Now you can text me any
of your hot coaching tips directly instead
of putting me publicly on blast.

sorry I don't give that out
for free

Yes you literally do, your blog doesn't
run on subscriptions.

Big fat contract and you're gonna
take advantage of the little guy?

You're lots of things Patty but little
ain't one of them.

*

Nolan shoves his phone under his pillow and stares up at the popcorn ceiling. How is he supposed to deal with that?

*

So he's on a texting basis with Travis Konecny now. TK. And sometimes they meet up for coffee. It's not a big deal.

They find common ground in iced coffee year round, even in the dead of winter; stupid Will Ferrell comedies; crying at dumb shit in public; hunting; the many ways to break a regimented diet plan; and, of course, hockey.

He's hot and funny and loves the squirrels in Dilworth Park. He chews with his mouth open and is so fucking annoying Nolan wants to kill him half the time.

He doesn't let himself think about the other half of the time.

*

walleyeguy11
@walleyeguy11

hey haven't heard from you in a few days. Just thinking about you
10:45 PM

Sorry, just been a kinda crazy week.

Is it weird to say I miss you?
10:47 PM

Why would that be weird?

I mean, I miss you
10:47 PM

Just getting some stuff in order.

Things will even out soon.

I hope.
10:48 PM

*

TK looks soul-destroyingly cozy when he blows through the door of the Federal Donuts a block down from Nolan's — god he hates that he thinks of it like that — Foot Locker a week before Christmas. He's wearing a shearling collar wool jacket in a rust and yellow and brown southwestern pattern, and a slouchy black Carhartt toque, looking down at his phone where Nolan has just texted him, inside. His cheeks and nose are pink from the sharp wind that the narrow Center City streets funnel directly into your face as you walk, and it's making his mustache and goatee look extra dark and shiny.

Nolan wants to scratch his fingers through it. He makes a fist with one hand against the formica table top at the booth in the back, and raises the other in greeting as TK scans across the crowd at the counter and the packed tables up front.

TK's face lights up when he sees him.

"Dude," he says, out of breath and laughing when he slides into the seat across from Nolan, "how did you get a table, I've been waiting outside in that massive line!"

Nolan feels his traitorous cheeks heat, and jerks his chin towards Hyun, who's working the counter this morning, currently making them two Vietnamese iced coffees. "Oh, me and Hyun used to, like…" He pulls his sleeves over his hands. "Uh. Go out. Kind of."

TK twists to look over his shoulder, the least chill person of all time, for fuck's sake, and Nolan slouches back against his chair, rolling his eyes. Hyun has his lips pressed together like he's trying not to laugh.

"Wow," TK says, turning back to him. "He's, like. Hot hot. Damn, dude."

Nolan can't help but laugh, shoving a palm under his glasses to scrub at his eyes. "Yeah, well."

"I mean," TK goes on, eyeing him up and down critically. "You also do look extremely like that, so."

"Anyway," Nolan says, before he turns into a pillar of ash, "You're like a professional athlete, can't you get a table anywhere you want?"

TK laughs. "No, oh my god, I hate that shit. I always feel like a douche."

"So what I'm getting from this is you tried and bombed."

The pink on TK's cheeks is, charmingly, not from the cold anymore. He has that same self-satisfied embarrassed expression he had at the skate where they met, confirming Nolan's suspicion that he loves to be chirped. "I grew up on a farm in a town of like 30 people," TK says. "I'm not smooth."

Farmboy, Nolan's brain makes sure he takes note of. "You really aren't," Nolan says with a smirk, and is gratified to see the corners of TK's eyes crinkle even more.

"Nolan!" Hyun calls and Nolan slides out to grab their coffees.

Hyun purses his lips at him.

"Shut up," Nolan grumbles. "Gimme a donut."

Hyun snorts. "Oh, you got it bad, huh?" He grabs a warm plate from the stack next to the sink and snags a strawberry lavender donut that just came from the fryer. "On me. You're gonna need it."

TK half stands to take a coffee from him as he comes back. "Hey, thanks."

"I know you usually don't do anything fancy, but you can't come here and not get this," Nolan says, licking sugar off the edge of his thumb as he sits. He notices TK noticing, and scrapes his teeth over the bed of his thumbnail.

TK clears his throat and looks quickly down into his coffee, stirring it with his straw. "Did you see the game last night? What'd you think?"

Nolan did see the game last night. The Flyers crushed the Jets, TK scoring twice and coming out the other side with 3 points. He was a pest all night, seemingly everywhere, and all three of his points came from the net front, where he spent most of his time jostling and jawing at guys twice his size. "Think you found your office, huh?" He says, aiming for casual and probably failing miserably.

TK grins. "Took your advice, Pats. Your advice," he stresses when Nolan makes a noise of protest. "Thanks for not being so mean about it, by the way."

Nolan's last post was about the power play and how the Flyers were deploying guys at the net front, and how TK might fit into that both with the advantage and at even strength. Guys just seemed to constantly underestimate him, Nolan wrote. I did, though you didn't hear that from me. He got razzed in the comments, the most he'd ever gotten, but all good-natured. There were lots of familiar names but also a bunch of new ones, which Jim highlighted in the weekly engagement roundup e-mail he sent around, but not the name Nolan always looked for first.

Guy had finally commented in the middle of the night last night, a single orange heart emoji.

Nolan woke up to it, and stared at it for a long, long time, until his phone buzzed in his hand with a text from TK, confirming they were meeting at the Center City location.

He hit the little thumbs up on Guy's comment and closed the tab.

"You did the work," Nolan says, a little delayed, but TK doesn't seem to notice.

"Team effort, bud," TK replies. "Have you ever thought about, like, actually doing this? Like for a living?"

"I mean. That's what I'm trying to do?"

"Not for a blog, though," TK says, strangely intense. "Like, have you thought about doing it for a team?"

Nolan shifts a little in his seat, poking at the ice in his coffee with his straw. "You kind of need a degree for it, like, computer shit, and I…" He shrugs. "I'm just not super great with organized education, or whatever."

TK takes a deep breath. "There are lots of positions that just need, like, an interview and a friend in the right place."

Nolan narrows his eyes.

"Listen, that's why I wanted to meet, there's a spot opening up in our scouting department, and I just think you'd fucking kill it." TK's normally soft jaw is set, jutted out, like he's waiting for a fight.

"And who do I know?" Nolan says slowly.

TK scoffs. "Me, dummy."

Nolan's not sure what anything on his insides are doing at the moment. "Thought you didn't like to throw your weight around."

"This isn't getting a table at some fancy restaurant, Patty, come on."

Nolan shifts his gaze over TK's shoulder. A group of teenage girls come in, laughing. "I don't want to take advantage. And it's just a weird time right now, I feel like I'm finally getting somewhere with the blog…"

TK frowns. "These sound like excuses, to be honest."

Nolan huffs out a sardonic laugh, rips off a piece of his donut and squishes it between his thumb and index finger. "Now you sound like—" Shit.

"Your dad," TK says knowingly. "I get that a lot, believe it or not."

"I do, old man," Nolan grumbles, and TK grins, defusing the weird tension. "No," Nolan goes on, almost forcing it out. "This guy…" he trails off, losing his nerve.

"Oh. A guy." TK leans forward. "What guy?"

Nolan blows out a breath and looks up at the ceiling. "This guy that I'm, like, talking to or whatever. Online. Like, on Twitter." He looks at TK from under his lids, along the length of his nose. TK licks his lips, his shoulders doing their little jittery dance.

"Like you slid into the DMs?"

Nolan snorts. "He slid into my DMs."

TK's eyes light up. "Ah, a fanboy? You get a lot of those? Again—" and he gestures to Nolan's entire, like, self.

"Stop, shut up, no, literally never. I don't know, we started just talking about—" you, Nolan is absolutely not going to say, this is bad enough, "like, hockey, you know, on the blog, but then we started getting to know each other, and, like…"

TK is looking at him raptly, leaning all the way forward on the table. Nolan slides all the way down in his seat until his ass is on the edge, legs sprawled under TK's chair. "Please forget I said anything."

TK shifts, bumps Nolan's calf with his ankle accidentally. "No, no, I want to hear. Have you guys met?"

Nolan sighs. "No. I want to, but…" He's absolutely not going to tell him about their bet. The reality is that Nolan could meet him any time he wanted.

TK's eyes, when Nolan meets his gaze, are sharp, hawkish, and his energy all over the place, breathless and expectant. "I dunno, man," Nolan says finally. "Just more excuses, I guess, right?"

"Shit," Tk breathes. "I'm sorry, Pat, really. I'm sorry I said that. I just want to help. Like you've been helping me."

Everyone wants to help. Joel, Guy, TK, Taryn. Nolan's just not sure how to accept it. "How does AV feel about you taking coaching advice from some guy on the internet?" he says, offering TK a little half smile.

"I'm gonna be honest, dude, I don't think AV cares what we do as long as we're scoring."

"Well." Nolan jostles his ankle under the table. "You're hitting that metric."

"Sure am." He nods at Nolan's donut. "Promise you won't rat me out if I eat half of that?"

Nolan wordlessly slides the plate towards him. Under the table, TK presses his ankle firmly against Nolan's calf and leaves it there until they stand to leave.

*

An hour later, Nolan's phone vibrates in his pocket as he's ringing up the last of the after lunch crowd. He makes sure Taryn isn't looking, and hunches behind the register to try to look at small as possible.

Hey, TK has texted, and then, in succession:

Just wanted to say sorry again. I overstepped maybe

?

I hope I didn't make you feel bad.

Nolan smiles a little helplessly. Before he can text back, his phone buzzes again.

TK
Travis Konecny >

Today 3:07 PM

I do still think you'd be so great at it though

Like seriously perfect

Just think about it

Sorry is this an apology or

Lmao yeah yeah okay sorry

Really truly I'm sorry

But?

There's no but.

😐

Okay okay

Can I just send you the info? I won't bring it up again.

Yeah, okay.

[attachment: Dave Brown]
This is our head of scouting. He said you could reach out
directly.

Thank you.

And for what it's worth, I think you should meet this
guy. Like, maybe he's great! Maybe he's terrible!

Don't you want to know?

3:16 PM

Sorry sorry okay I won't bring that up again, either.

No ha ha

I guess I just don't know.

I do want to.

It's not my place to tell you who to date
or where to work. You don't even really
know me.

No, wait

Really, thank you. For like everything.
I'm not trying to be a dick.

I know bud it just comes natural ;)

💁



*

"Patty, seriously."

Nolan stuffs his phone in his pocket as Taryn comes behind the register to body him out onto the floor. "Sorry, sorry."

"Sorry you got caught," she says wryly. "Please don't make me put your phone in the lockbox." She squints at him. "What's the matter with you?"

Nolan leans his elbows on the counter. I feel like I know you, he had wanted to say to TK. I want you to want to know me. But wrapped up in all of it is, like, Guy, and work, and Work, and like, the fact that some days he feels like he has no idea what he's doing about any of it.

He feels a stupid pang at the thought of TK urging him to meet Guy, a thing that Nolan wants to do, but doesn't want TK to want it.

He idly pinches the soft skin in the hollow of his throat between his thumb and index finger, until Taryn pulls his hand away. "Is this what you want to do forever?"

She laughs. "Sell shoes? Or beg stoners to do the job I hired them to do?"

"Hey, don't talk about Bee like that," Nolan says, and Taryn snorts.

"I don't know," she says, after a second. "Like obviously this isn't what I thought I'd be doing…"

"What did you think you'd be doing?"

Taryn laughs again. "I went to school for poli sci, so I guess I thought I'd be, like, saving the world or something? Turns out Foot Locker pays more than most internships, and I'm good at managing people. I actually like it." She taps the back of his wrist. "Look at you and Joel. Both your commissions are up and all I have to do is threaten to lock your phone up three times a day and make sure he doesn't smoke in the bathroom during business hours."

"Fascist," Nolan intones.

Taryn shrugs. "I make enough to take my girlfriend out sometimes and help her pay for grad school. There's a corporate track I'm thinking of applying for. I'm on a casual-texting basis and go-to sneaker provider for Joel Embiid." She sniffs when Nolan doesn't say anything. "Joel The Process Embiid? Star forward on the Sixers, maybe you've heard of him?"

Nolan grunts. He doesn't say he's on a maybe-more-than-casual texting basis with Travis Konecny because he feels…protective about it. Just the thought of saying it out loud makes Nolan's entire body go hot, something like embarrassment squirming in his gut.

"Anyway, I guess my point is I don't know if this is what I want to do forever, but it's working for me for now." Her mouth quirks. "For me it just comes down to, like, everything I chose got me here, and I wouldn't give up anything I have now for the chance at what I thought it would be like."

Nolan nods, messes with the cord on the pen on the card reader, winding it around the tip of his finger until it turns red, then purple. "No, I get that."

"You don't need to know right now, either, you know," she says, reaching over the counter to gently unwind the cord and smooth her warm palm over his cold fingers. She quirks her mouth to the side. "You could also quit, like, any time you wanted. If there was something else you wanted to do."

"Trying to get rid of me?" he says, fake bitchy.

"Patty, in all seriousness, you're my best associate on the floor, even though you've never counted a register out right in your entire life. I would be so sad to lose you." She pokes his wrist. "But that's not a reason for you to stay here forever." There's a gust of cold air as the front door opens, followed by the bickering of between two and seven kids.

Taryn stands. "Now go and flirt with that dad until he buys every single one of those monsters new boots."

Nolan tucks his hair behind his ears, adjusts his glasses. "And plenty of waterproofing spray."

Taryn grins, a little sappily. "My guy."

*

Nolan looks at the contact TK sent him 10 times a day for three days, before he finally clicks on it.

*

*** in 45 😌 @shortfastloud · 27 min
YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Philadelphia Flyers @nhlflyers · Dec 30, 2019
Congratulations to Travis Konecny for being selected to represent the Flyers at the 2020 All Star Game in St. Louis!

|

cooter era@c00ts · 25 min
Someone check on Jess, are they okay?????

|

Jess @okayteekay · 20 min
Just had to have a good cathartic cry about my bb boy! I'm so proud!

|

*** in 45 😌 @shortfastloud · 20 min
Somewhere in Philly, the servers that house the computer simulation that is Nolan Patrick, SB Nation, are self-destructing

|

Jess @okayteekay · 19 min
Cannot wait to watch him spin this, truly

|

*** in 45 😌 @shortfastloud · 18 min
"As I said all along when I called him garbage, Travis Konecny should be an All Star"

|

cooter era@c00ts · 7 min
I'm so sorry to say this but he's hot

|

Jess @okayteekay · 2 min
ARI I STG

|

cooter era@c00ts · 40 sec
🥀 🥀 🥀

*

Nolan's on the couch in his parent's house back in Winnipeg for the holidays, his dog, Charlie, napping in the crook of his arm, when his phone starts blowing up.

He had thought about not coming home this year, but his mom had offered to buy him a ticket; Maddie was going to be here from Toronto, and Aimee, as she liked to remind them on their weekly calls, had nowhere else to be, so it would be all the kids back together under one roof, the first time since Maddie went off to college.

Also, after the last few weeks of December had been some massive steps outside his comfort zone, which included what he considered the outside edge of fully flirting with a professional hockey player that he was starting to realize he had a massive crush on, and he figured he was owed a week to pretend he was still a kid who didn't have to make any big decisions about anything.

He had been idly considering driving out to Brandon to see his friend Garrett, or maybe force him to come here, but mostly just stroking Charlie's soft, curly ears over and over, the joint he had smoked out on the deck earlier winding its way pleasantly through his shoulders. He ignores the first vibe of a text, and the next that comes like two minutes later. Then there's a flurry of them, four or five in quick succession; it's either the Manitoba group chat, Joel telling him the apartment has burned down, or Taryn trying to convince him to work the Flyers x Nike event happening at the store the second week of January, which Nolan has flat out refused to do, and has cashed in every chip he can, every overtime he didn't clock, every missed break.

He wiggles his phone out of his pocket, Charlie making vague displeased snuffling noises before settling down again, and squints at the screen without his glasses.

It's a mix of texts, slack DMs, and Twitter notifs. The name he's used to seeing catches his eye first:

Twitter
@walleyeguy11
Sent you a tweet: "@flyersnhl Congratulations to Travis Konecny for being selected to represent the Flyers at the 2020 All Star Game in St. Louis!"

Holy shit.

Holy fucking shit.

Nolan sits up fast, cradling Charlie against his belly so he doesn't fall, clutching his phone in his other hand so hard his knuckles turn white.

He dismisses every other notification and swipes into his DMs.

walleyeguy11
@walleyeguy11

Well well fuckin well

So where are you taking me?
12:07 PM

I said I would buy you a coffee, now
I'm taking you somewhere?
12:09 PM

Yes. Somewhere nice.
12:09 PM

This is outrageous
12:09 PM

This was the deal babe

Sorry
12:10PM

No your'e not
12:10 PM

Nope :D

Federal Donuts in Center City. Next Sunday.
1pm sharp.
12:11 PM

You're going to be such a shit about this aren't you?
12:11 PM

Oh absolutely.

Look for me. I'll be wearing my hat.
12:11 PM

🦃
12:12 PM

Hey.

I really am excited to see you.
12:19 PM

Hey.

Me, too.
12:20 PM



*

TK
Travis Konecny >

12:30 PM

Hey! Congrats on the selection, I just saw!

Thanks, bud! :)

*

Sunday finds Nolan at his favorite table at Federal Donuts, shredding the entire stack of napkins that the previous patrons left behind, slowly and methodically, as he waits for Guy. Across from him, the ice in the Vietnamese coffee he ordered for Guy melts just enough to shift, clinking, spinning the straw Nolan had put in it around in a little lopsided half circle

He can't stop thinking about TK, either, his brain getting everything all mixed up. Which is why, for a second, he thinks he must be seeing things when TK comes through the front door.

Nolan's entire body glitches and he blinks hard, then again. TK is still there, and now he smiles as he spots Nolan.

He makes his way over and stands for a second, weirdly stiff. "Hey," he says breathlessly, and slides into the seat opposite Nolan, wiping the condensation from Guy's coffee off the table with the edge of his sleeve.

"Hey," Nolan says, his heart pounding so hard in every pulse point he feels like his entire body is shaking with it. "Congrats again on the All-Star selection, by the way. Like, in person."

TK's nose scrunches up. "Thank you?"

Nolan huffs out an anxious little gust of air that he hopes passes for a laugh. "Sorry, listen, I'm actually meeting someone, like, that guy I was telling you…" Nolan trails off as he watches TK's face go a ruddy red along his cheekbones and down his throat. His eyebrows are stitched together under the brim of his cap, which he's wearing frontways for once, and has a stupid…

…turkey on it.

"Oh my god," Nolan breathes.

Farmboy, his brain reminds him. There's the scar on his temple from where he fell off the thresher. There's his fat, crooked lower lip, droopy from nerve damage after taking a stick to the face when he was 16. There're his broad shoulders, the ones he tries to make stronger every year, worried his body is going to give out on him.

There's TK.

There's walleyeguy11.

"Hey, Patty," TK says softly, and makes a hesitant, half-attempt to reach across to Nolan, letting his hand hover between them for a second before he puts it flat on the table.

"You…" Nolan feels a little light-headed, a tang of pennies in his mouth. "You're…"

"You said it yourself," TK jokes weakly. "Statistically, there's gotta be some gay guys in the NHL."

"I did say that," Nolan replies, slow, like he's echoing himself somehow.

"I thought if we were somewhere familiar you wouldn't freak out," TK says, anxiously licking his already wet lower lip. "But you seem like you're freaking out."

"Yeah, sorta feel like this is just a freaking out kind of situation," Nolan gets out, dropping his gaze to stare at TK's hand on the table, his long, slender fingers with their deep nail beds, the veins running around his knuckles standing out the way they always do on hockey players.

TK laughs a little nervously. "So I guess you really didn't know, huh?"

Nolan lets his eyes trail up TK's arm to his face.

His eyes are silt, searching Nolan's face, his brows still stitched together with worry.

"No," he says finally, leaving but I thought about it unspoken, unsure how to say that part.

He really did, he's realizing. They've been all tangled together from the beginning.

It just feels like the ground is moving under him, or it already has and Nolan hasn't realized it yet. Like that moment before he hit the ice when he was 7, the moment when he realized he wasn't going to be able to get his arms out in front of him, everything he learned about falling completely out of reach in his moment of blind panic.

TK smiles wryly, self-deprecation tugging his mouth all the way up on one side and all the way down on the other. "I'm realizing now maybe there was a better way to do this."

"Not sure how, gotta be honest," Nolan says, still slow and careful.

"I just…jeez, Pat, I just like you. Like, I really like you. Getting to know you these past few months…" TK shrugs helplessly. "It's been everything."

"I like you, too," Nolan rumbles. "You have no idea."

"I might." TK's face does something complicated. "Is there a but here?"

Nolan puts his hands over his face, shoving his fingers under his glasses to press against his eyes. "Is it okay if I don't know?"

"Fucking of course. This is no pressure. And I just want to make sure, like, please know I would never tell anyone if you decide to, uh. Like, I'll delete everything if you want me to."

This idiot, this professional athlete with way more to lose than Nolan, is worried about protecting him. Nolan feels a damp warmth prick the backs of his eyes. "No, you don't have to do that."

"And the job, obviously, like, that doesn't depend on this, not that you even need to call, I just want to make sure you know that—"

Nolan reaches across the table and puts his hand over TK's, curling his fingers under it to dig into his broad palm. "Shut up, I know."

TK takes a deep, shuddery breath, then lets it out on a shaky laugh. "Okay, good."

"I think I just need, like, a little time."

"No, yeah, of course. Whatever you need." He withdraws his hand, and takes a breath like he's going to stand.

"You don't have to go," Nolan says quickly. "At least finish your coffee."

TK looks at it, doesn't say that it's in a plastic to go cup with a lid and there's no reason to have to stay to drink it. "So good it's worth the awkwardness?"

"Just drink your damn coffee," Nolan says, and TK smiles, a real one, for the first time since he sat down.

"Is there a donut involved, or?"

"The deal was for a coffee. Get your own donut."

Nolan watches him at the counter, closely inspecting the donuts coming out of the fryer and chatting very seriously with Amanda about her recommendation and thinks, not for the first time and with what, terrifyingly, might be all the love in his heart, this fuckin' guy.

*

Nolan avoids Twitter for almost an entire week, and just tries, to, like, vibe.

And on the seventh day, of course, he gets put on the schedule for the Flyers x Nike event, because fucking Susanna has to take her mom in for emergency knee surgery which Nolan can't really be mad at her about but absolutely is anyway. He spends the entire train ride into Center City caught a cycle of feeling guilty about it, freaking out about potentially seeing TK, and trying not to think about the voicemail he had gotten earlier, which he hadn't actually listened to, just skimmed the first sentence or so of the transcription before clicking out and thinking about throwing his phone into the Schyulkill.

Joel squeezes his knee and taps his pocket, where his hollowed out Bic is clipped. "One quick toke for luck?"

Nolan laughs gratefully. "God yes."

It's more than one and it's not quick — they get distracted by the sandwich cart on the corner — and by the time they get there Taryn already has the gate up, with Nike and Flyers reps milling around. But on the bright side, Nolan is feeling much better about the chance of seeing TK, and has convinced himself that he probably won't be there, anyway.

What are the odds of him accidentally showing up to two events he didn't know Nolan was going to be at?

*

"Whoa, dude," Joel breathes, peeking out of the stock room door at the group of players that are browsing through the store while they wait for the doors to open. "What are the odds of him accidentally showing up to two events he didn't know you were gonna be at?"

Nolan grabs a box of shoes — the last pair of the on-clearance grey-on-grey New Balance 574s — and shoves his face into it to make a long, low distressed noise, huffing the smell of new suede and rubber to calm down.

"Quick question, though, how'd you manage to talk to both of these guys—I mean," Joel scratches his chin, "you know, both guys who are one guy — for like, literal months and not mention that you work at Foot Locker?"

It does seem like a huge misstep now, okay, yes, but Nolan is realizing that the thing he thought was such a huge part of his personality and his life maybe…isn't. "Does that really matter right now?"

Joel raises his eyebrows so high they take his cheeks with them.

"Okay, okay," Nolan grumbles.

The door to the stockroom swings in suddenly, making Joel yelp when it smacks him in the head. "Shit, T, what the hell?"

"Me what the hell? What are you two doing back here?" she hisses. "I've got half a GD hockey team out there and a line that goes all the way to the fucking Wawa around the block."

"Nolan is having a crisis," Joel says, rubbing the back of his skull.

Taryn sighs, closes her eyes briefly the way Nolan's mom does when she's trying not to lose her shit. "Is it, like, necessary that the crisis happens now, or can we deal with it after we finish the event that's extremely important to the continued success of this location and also my career?"

"Hot fish guy is Travis Konecny," Joel says, and Nolan puts his face back into the box of sneakers.

"Oh, Patty," Taryn says, simultaneously sympathetic and beleaguered, "only you," and pulls the box away from him, not so surreptitiously inspecting the sneakers for damage before putting it behind her on a low shelf.

"Fucking Susanna," Nolan says into his hands.

"Technically it was SEPTA's fault for not fixing that broken railing," Joel offers.

"Okay," Taryn says briskly, snapping her fingers. "Pat, you go outside to do the first wave of crowd control. Bee, you're on the floor with customers, Frosty will be here in 10, he'll be on players, and Mads and Alex will run the register." She leans over to sort through the box she had brought in, and pulls out a sign that says LAST IN LINE, and shoves it into Nolan's chest. "Go give this to whoever is last in line right now, and you can get me a black coffee while you're there."

Nolan nods gratefully. "Thanks," he mumbles.

"We've gotten through worse."

Nolan smiles wanly. "Have we?"

"Black coffee," Taryn says and bodies him gently towards the back door to the alley, "And a rainbow chip muffin."

*

It falls apart almost immediately. Coming back down the alley with Taryn's coffee and muffin, Nolan notices that someone from the art space next door is throwing away a bunch of mannequin parts, and he slows to look at them — Joel's birthday is coming up. So he ends up walking directly into someone who he's not expecting to be standing on the other side of the dumpster, spilling half a cup of thankfully lukewarm coffee on his shirt and smushing the muffin to crumbs.

"Oh, shit," a familiar voice says, and then, "Oh. Shit."

Nolan looks up from his ruined polo — Wawa had been like the 7th circle of hell inside, so hot that Nolan immediately was sweating inside his down parka, and had unzipped it to get the cool air on the way back — and into TK's startled face, pale under his olive complexion.

Nolan tilts his head back and sighs at the low-hanging ceiling of clouds, his breath coming from him in a long, dense fog.

"What are you…" TK trails off, taking in Nolan's now coffee-stained, zebra-striped polo and name tag that says PATTY, punctuated with the blushy smiley emoji.

"I work here," Nolan says.

"You work for SB Nation." TK is still staring at his name tag.

"And I work here. The fourth-most popular Flyers blog doesn't exactly pay the rent."

TK's mouth clacks shut and he blinks, his neck and shoulders going on a journey of little anxious twitches. "I didn't know, I swear," TK says.

"Not stalking me?" Nolan jokes weakly. He wants to kiss the scar on TK's temple, his mouth, pet the shaggy hair curling over his collar.

TK doesn't laugh. "No. You said you needed space, I wouldn't."

Nolan looks down and the remains of the muffin. "I know."

"I just needed a breather before we got started," TK says, by way of explanation about why he's standing behind a dumpster in nothing but a thin hoodie and jeans in the middle of January.

"Shy," Nolan says with a little smile like a peace offering.

TK smiles back. "Yeah. I like these things once we get started, but I always feel like I want to throw up for like a day beforehand."

"But you can go out and play hockey in front of like eighteen thousand people on an international broadcast."

"Yeah, I mean, that's different, that's just hockey."

Nolan laughs, loud and surprised, and a pleased little smile creeps over TK's face. Nolan is an idiot. Such an idiot.

"Come on," Nolan says, plucking at his damp shirt as the wind kicks up. "I gotta change and break it to my manager that you spilled her coffee."

TK follows him through the back door, picking their way over bins of unpacked stock, until they reach the area that functions as an employee room: a bank of lockers and a bench behind a folding screen. Nolan goes to the one on the end, 19, and spins open his combination. Inside there are three spare shirts, crumpled on top of his beat up Nintendo DS and a power bank. He grabs one and shakes the wrinkles out as best as he can, draping it over the door of the locker while he unpins his name tag, then puts his glasses on the bench.

He stops with his fingers on the hem of his wet shirt. "Uh," he says, and TK's eyes, which had been wandering around taking everything in — the stacks of 12-packs of America's Choice cola and La Croix, the dartboard with a picture of Tom Brady on it, the cardboard box filled with random clothes and junk that says LOST AND FOUND/FREE STUFF — snap to Nolan's.

"Oh," he says, realizing that Nolan has to change, and turns his back.

Nolan pulls his shirt over his head, his skin prickling up in goosebumps because it's always so cold back here, and stops. TK has his snapback turned around and pulled low over his eyes. His back is so wide, pulling the fabric of his thin hoodie tight over the wings of his shoulder blades, which are twitching every so often. His one hand is at his side, pads of his fingers smoothing over and over a crease in the denim of his jeans.

Nolan drops his wet shirt and steps close to him, so close he can hear the dry click of TK's throat when he swallows.

"Nolan," he says, low and intense.

Nolan slides a hand over the jut of one shoulder blade and down his spine, out over his hip where his jeans ride low, the swell of fat and muscle that Nolan has been thinking about for months. He stoops to put his face into the curve of TK's shoulder where it meets his neck, his chin against the firm line of his trap. "I thought about it," he mumbles into the soft, warm skin there.

TK takes a deep, shuddery breath. Nolan can feel his lungs expand through his back and against his chest, can feel his own heartbeat rattling along TK's spine. "Are you sure?"

Nolan closes his eyes. "So fucking sure."

"Oh thank god", TK says fervently, and shoves Nolan back so he can turn to face him.

Nolan lets himself be bullied back into the lockers, bends his knees a little to bring his face closer to TK's.

"Don't come down here on my account," TK says, his voice crackly with relief and laughter, puts his hands on Nolan's hips, "but since you're here, I am gonna kiss you now."

"Yeah, that's—" Nolan licks his lips, reaches up to knock TK's stupid turkey snapback off. "Obviously."

"God," TK breathes, "I just fucking like you so much."

TK's mouth is wet and plush when it meets Nolan's, and Nolan opens his immediately, letting TK lick inside, his tongue slow and fat and cool against Nolan's. Mouthbreather. Nolan is so painfully into him.

They make out against the lockers until a noise out back in the alley startles them both back to reality. TK's thigh is between Nolan's; he got so hard so fast that he feels dizzy with it, his knees bent deep now to keep TK close and keep his balance. His nipples are hard, too, tingly from being scraped against the dangling strings from TK's hoodie. Because he's shirtless in what can only generously be called a locker room, letting TK kiss him senseless about 20 feet from a store full of their teammates and the entirety of the cross-section of sneaker heads and Flyers fans in the greater Philadelphia area.

"I've thought about blowing you in the locker room an embarrassing number of times," TK admits, like he can read Nolan's mind. "This isn't quite what I was picturing, but I'll take it."

"You'r not blowing me here," Nolan says firmly, tightening his hands on TK's upper arms when it feels like he might actually go to his knees. Nolan isn't that strong, like mentally.

"But I am going to blow you," TK promises, his drawl thick and syrupy, pressing his thigh in and up, snug against Nolan's dick.

"Oh definitely," Nolan says, trying and failing to be cool, and not caring at all. He tilts his head back against the cold metal of the lockers, shocking against his heated skin, and lets TK kiss his throat, mouth out along his collarbone.

He makes a noise when he gets there, pulls back to smooth his thumb over the raised pink ridge of the scar there. "This where you broke it?"

Nolan hums an affirmative, and TK leans in again to kiss the scar tissue, prod it gently with his tongue, warm now. Nolan shivers a little.

"Does it still hurt?"

Nolan threads his fingers through the thick dark mess of TK's hair to hold him close. "Not usually. Aches sometimes, but that might be in my head."

"Seems like such a small thing," TK murmurs against his skin, running his thumb back under the bone, pressing the pad of it to the divot of his throat, "But it changed your whole life. My whole life"

Nolan's heart does something funny against his ribs. "Did it? Change your whole life?"

TK looks up at him, his eyes dark and serious. "Yeah. I think it did."

Nolan can't help but kiss him again at that, breathless, his heart in his throat. Then he bends to grab his new shirt, which is even more crumpled after being thrown on the concrete floor and trampled by their makeout session.

TK has a complicated face on when Nolan straightens. "Uh-oh," Nolan intones, pulling his shirt over his head. A button scrapes his nose.

"No," TK says, a wry tilt to his voice, "nothing bad. I just wanted to say, like, about the job, I don't want it to be weird, or—"

"I went in," Nolan interrupts in a rush.

TK blinks. "What?"

"I went in. For the interview." Nolan fiddles with this name tag, not looking at him.

"You did? You—Fuck, Pats, how did it go?"

"It, uh," Nolan clears his throat. "They called me back, this morning, for a second one, and to run, like, a background check?"

"That's..." TK cheeks are red from how hard he's smiling, his stupid, perfect mouth hanging open in a dazed grin, "Holy shit, Pats, that's fucking amazing!"

"If I get it—" Nolan has to put a hand over TK's mouth to stop him from interrupting, "If I get it, it's gonna be a lot of travel. Are you sure—"

The stockroom door bangs open. "Maybe he's back here," comes Taryn's voice.

"Teeks?" Another voice calls.

Shit, Nolan mouths, at the same time TK mouths, Claude.

Fuck, Nolan mouths, drawing out the u in despair as they scramble to pull themselves together.

TK calls, "Back here just getting a, uh," his eyes go to the stack of soda cans, "seltzer!"

When Taryn pushes aside the folding screen, Nolan is mostly put together, his shirt sloppily tucked in and his name tag askew. Her eyes track from his scraped back hair, how he hadn't been able to do up the top two buttons on his polo, to his glasses on the bench, and then over to TK, whose mouth looks obscenely red in his goatee and who cannot seem to stop smiling because he truly, truly has zero chill.

Claude Giroux's giant, ginger-bearded, handsome face appears over Taryn's shoulder. "TeeKay," he says, his accent a fascinating mix of disappointed dad and Quebecois.

"Hey, Cap," TK chirps, still smiling like a fool, while Nolan avoids the Meaningful Eyes Taryn is shooting at him.

Giroux doesn't even have to raise an eyebrow for Nolan to read his face. "Where's your seltzer."

Nolan picks up an entire 12 pack of the passionfruit La Croix and shoves it at TK's back, who half-turns to take it, then waggles it in Giroux's unimpressed face.

"Let's go," Giroux says, and offers a stiff smile at Taryn. "Thanks."

"See ya later, Patty," TK says, seltzer under his arm, and gently flicks Nolan's name tag.

"For sure," Nolan says, unable to contain the smug note in his voice, as Giroux ushers him out, "See you."

There's a long moment of silence after they go, the stockroom door banging behind them. Taryn is nodding slowly, looking at him with narrowed eyes and sucking on her top teeth. "Where's my coffee," she finally says.

"TK spilled it," Nolan says happily, and does his level best to not laugh at the journey her face goes on.

She presses her mouth into a tight, flat, white line, then pops her lips. "8 bucks on the board for the seltzer," she says, "And another 5 for my coffee and muffin." Then she stalks back past the screen.

Small price, Nolan thinks, and follows her back out into the store.

*

TK
Travis Konecny >

11:30 AM

I knew you would fucking crush it!

Travel the fucking world, baby!

And YES I'M SURE besides u know I'm
bomb at sexting lets fucking gooo

nvm

we're breaking up actually

11:41 AM

This is Taryn, Nolan is working and his phone
is going in the lockbox. You both can flirt
on your own time.

Yes ma'am sorry.

Hey wait can you just ask him
if he wants to go to dinner tonight?

No yeah okay I'll just ask him later

5:37 PM

Yes 😊



*

Literally the worst idea Nolan's ever had is inviting everyone over to watch the All Star Skills Comp.

TK looks so good it's making it hard for Nolan to take a full breath. He had shaved the morning he left, getting dressed in his game day suit before climbing back into his bed where Nolan had been lazing, watching him pack. He ran his newly smooth cheek up the length of Nolan's dick over and over until Nolan was begging for his mouth.

When he stood up, the knees of his slacks were all pouched from kneeling over Nolan, but he just smirked and said, "I hope media gets a good shot of them."

He invited Nolan to go, and even though the fact that he was starting his scouting job in two weeks was probably more of a reason to say yes, Nolan wanted the time to wrap up at the store, deal with the weirdly bittersweet feelings it was churning up in him to leave the safety of the routine and his best friends.

Which all adds up to Nolan sitting squished between Joel and Frosty on the sectional, Taryn and Andrea sharing the floor pillow, Susanna and Alex and Mads and a few guys from Joel's dodgeball team all packed into the rest of the living room and spilling out of the kitchen. Basically the exact group of people Nolan has no interest in being present while he can't help getting horny over watching TK sprint during his turn at Fastest Skater, laughing, his hair flying behind him and his face pink from equal parts embarrassment and joy.

Joel solemnly hands him the embroidered pillow. Nolan snatches it with his best mean mug, but having to pull it over his lap definitely undercuts the moment.

The thing is, Nolan thinks, watching TK lean over the boards to watch everyone else take their turn, is TK's face standing out from the crowd as familiar and comforting isn't new. It's always been the one he looked for first, the one he would check in on when they showed the bench. He could always track TK on the ice, no matter where he was sitting, no matter how shitty the camera work.

As soon as it's over, Nolan kicks everyone out, even Joel.

"Getting sexiled for an LDR is a new one, gotta say," Frosty says while Joel hunts for his shoes.

Joel grins up at him, dragging his left teva out from under the couch. "Pat's always gotta be different."

By the time everyone is gone and Nolan has changed into sweats and an oversized Flyers giveaway t-shirt and is settled in bed, he has a Twitter notification.

walleyeguy19
@walleyeguy19

What's cookin good lookin
11:05 PM

Thought we were gonna facetime?
11:05 PM

I know you're shy, baby, don't
wanna push it if you're not ready
to do face to face
11:06 PM

what?
11:06 PM

It's okay I'm good at doing it one-handed,
had a lot of practice with this guy
I was seeing
11:07 PM

Trav

Are you serious rn
11:07 PM

Total rocket. Mean as hell. God he
made made me crazy
11:07 PM

you're making me crazy
11:08 PM

Then he left me for a hockey player

Can you believe it?
11:08 PM

Travis

Don't make me do it
11:08 PM

What I wouldn't give for one more
night. He's got this huge dick and he gets so

@walleyeguy19 is blocked



walleyeguy11
@walleyeguy11

you're so fucking dumb

Why do I even like you?
11:10 PM

I have no fucking clue but I'm
just riding this wave lmao
11:10 PM

Hey, wait, like

No fucking around right now

It's really important that you know that
I wanted it to be you.

Like. So bad.
11:11 PM



Incoming FaceTime…

"Say it again," TK says, urgent, when Nolan answers. He's too close to the screen, holding it so that Nolan is looking into the folds of his chin, his soft jawline, up his nose. Nolan's heart squeezes in his chest.

"I wanted it to be you," Nolan replies. "I wanted it to be you so bad."

TK's eyes look suspiciously wet, and he scrubs a hand over them as he laughs. "Fuck, baby."

"Yeah," Nolan says, "let's do that."

"Goddammit, Patty." TK sniffs hard. "Can't wait to get home."

Nolan curls on his side. "It's good practice."

TK hums. "I do like to put in the work."

Nolan smirks. "You really do."

"Tell me about your day," TK says, leaning back into his hotel pillows.

Nolan tells him about Joel's dodgeball game, him and Taryn day-drinking and ornery when Joel's team was down, and how when Andrea showed up, stone cold sober, somehow she was the one who got into a fight with a girl in the opposite stands. He tells him about how his last days are going at the store, about cleaning out his locker, about how this one mom he's been helping get new shoes for her kids for the last two years got all weepy when he told her he was leaving. He talks until his eyes are drooping, and when he opens them the cold, early morning January sun is coming through his blinds and his phone is still clutched in his hand.

He has 12 Twitter DM notifications.

He rubs his eyes and swipes in, smiling until his face hurts as he scrolls through walleyeguy73 through 84, all with the same message:

I love you.

He leaves them all unblocked.

*