Adam ordinarily wouldn’t even have been in the locker room so late; after nighttime home games he tries to keep his press to a minimum and haul ass out of the Xcel Center as quickly as possible in the hopes of making it home before Charlie’s crashed for the night. He didn’t even have much press tonight, having not made it onto the board, and none of his teammates were surprised or particularly persistent when he declined offers to celebrate their victory against the Blackhawks at a downtown bar. He stuck around, though, to have the training team take a look at his shoulder, which has been bothering him for a few days.
Not that the training staff had anything novel or useful to contribute: apparently he carries a lot of stress-induced tension in his neck area, making him more prone to muscle pulls. What a revelation.
In any case, by the time he actually returns to the locker room to reclaim his suit, most of the team has left, either for the bar or for home, and only a couple of the young guys – Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek – remain. They appear to be preparing to join the group at the bar, but their progress is being impeded by what appears to be an ongoing water bottle squirt fight. They acknowledge him with a “Yo, Banksy!” when he walks back in, but Adam just nods at them, tired and eager to grab his shit and get home. He isn’t paying much attention to their conversation, which seems to mostly involve them trash talking each others’ skating, physical appearance, and appeal to women. But as he shoves his tie into his jacket pocket and hefts his game day bag over his shoulder, he hears Kunin say, “Ekker, I know the Eurotrash look is hot shit in Swede-land, but here in Minnesota it’s really just kinda faggy.”
It’s hardly the worst thing Adam’s heard in an NHL locker room, so maybe it’s because he’s tired and his shoulder is sore, or maybe it’s because it’s just him and the three kids there, but he half-yells, “Kunin!” and wheels around to cut them off mid-giggle, Eriksson Ek with his arm around Kunin’s neck in a mock-wrestling hold.
“Knock it off, all of you,” he says angrily, and they do, fidgeting and avoiding his gaze like a couple of fifteen year olds caught by someone’s parents with their hands in the liquor cabinet. “What the fuck do you think would have happened if you’d said that where a reporter could hear?” he says.
Kunin seems shocked into temporary speechlessness, so it’s his friends who stumble inarticulately to his rescue.
“He was just joking around, Banksy, I don’t mind,” Eriksson Ek says.
Upon seeing Adam’s continued displeasure, Greenway rushes to add, “But it would be really bad, though! If someone else heard that, I mean. Like, we know that, for sure.”
Seemingly bolstered by this defense, Kunin says, “I wouldn’t say it in front of anybody who would get offended!”
The irony of this statement is not lost on Adam. “How about you don’t say it in front of anybody then,” he suggests coldly. “Not the press, not your friends, not the other team, and definitely not whatever group chatting app you’re all on these days. Difficult as it may be for me to believe at the moment, you three are adults, and this is a professional organization, not a schoolyard. Act like it.”
Adam sweeps out of the locker room amid stunned silence and walks down to the underground parking lot to reclaim his car. The game ended long enough ago that its attendant traffic has dispersed, and, it being mid-October, there’s no winter weather to contend with. Both of these circumstances turn out to be true blessings, because Adam does not demonstrate particularly responsible defensive driving on the trip home. Charlie’s Subaru is parked directly in front of the house when he arrives, and the neighbors have taken the rest of the nearby street spaces, so he has to park a block away and walk, which does not do much for his mood.
The first floor is dark when he opens the door, but a shaft of yellow light spills down the stairs, so Charlie is still up, probably in the smallest bedroom, which has gradually transformed into his office since he finally agreed to lease out his apartment and move in with Adam for real. Adam lingers at the base of the stairs for a moment, listening to see if he’s on a call. He doesn’t hear muffled voices, though, just the clacking of the bulky mechanical keyboard Charlie insists on plugging into his laptop like the nineties relic he is.
Adam hangs up his coat, toes off his dress shoes, and pads into the kitchen in search of a glass of water. The floorboards are cold beneath his socks. Gordie Howe, Charlie’s ugly cat, meows at Adam from his perch atop the fridge as Adam pours his water. Adam reaches out a finger to see if he wants to be petted, but Gordie just sniffs it disdainfully and jumps down to the counter. Adam scoops him up and offloads him to the floor, attempting to shoo him in the direction of the living room. Gordie just glares, so Adam gives up.
As predicted, Charlie is upstairs in his office, surrounded by stacks of paper. He’s abandoned his enormous mechanical keyboard and is now pacing across the six feet of floor space, reading a stack of papers and chewing vigorously on the end of a pen. The pen-chewing has been a habit of Charlie’s as long as Adam has known him. When they roomed together at Eden Hall, no pen in either of their possession escaped this mangled fate, even after Charlie exploded one in his mouth during an English test and got ink all over his face, teeth, tie, shirt, and pretty much everything.
The door is wide open, but Adam knocks on it to draw Charlie’s attention.
Charlie looks up from the papers he’s reading, and that same toothy grin that Adam has followed into trouble time after time spreads across his face. “And just what time of the night do you call this?” he says in mock anger.
Adam spares him a weak smile but cannot summon a laugh.
It takes Charlie only a moment to notice. He tosses the stack of papers onto his messy desk where they land atop a stack of manila folders and stashes his pen behind his ear – another habit that drove Adam to distraction back at Eden Hall – and steps forward in the small room to cup the back of Adam’s neck in his warm, strong hands. Charlie doesn’t kiss him. Instead he presses their foreheads gently together. They are perfectly level, since they remain the same height as each other. For a moment, there is that jolt of disbelief that he gets to have this, to have this from Charlie, but he forces it away. For a long time, he had trouble believing that Charlie was his to keep, but he’s trying to get used to the idea. Charlie’s asked him to stop waiting for the worst to happen, or “doom-scrying,” as he calls it, the fucking nerd.
“Did something happen?” Charlie asks quietly, breath warm against Adam’s lips. “Other than hockey, I mean?”
Adam shrugs. “Just some of the kids being idiots,” he says.
Charlie takes a step back to look at Adam more carefully, though he leaves his hands in place. Charlie’s attention is hawklike and inescapable; Adam both craves and fears it. “By kids, do you perhaps mean adult professional hockey players?” he asks, his voice seamlessly threading humor through his genuine curiosity.
Adam shrugs again. “Just Kunin and some of the others fooling around in the locker room after the game. He said ‘faggot . ’ It bugged me, I guess.”
Charlie is still staring intently at him, and Adam fidgets under his narrowed gaze. Being seen still terrifies a part of him he spent years cultivating. “I know that’s not the first time you’ve heard that word,” Charlie says bluntly. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I called you that a few times in high school.”
“You did,” Adam says emphatically.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie says, and Adam can tell that he means it, but he’s still not put off his line of questioning. Perils of dating a lawyer, Adam thinks. “So what was different about how Kunin said it? Was it directed at you?”
“No,” Adam admits. “Actually… he didn’t even really say it. He told Eriksson Ek his outfit was ‘faggy.’”
Adam is still pinned by Charlie’s intent blue eyes. “So what’s bothering you about it?” Charlie persists.
It takes Adam a moment to answer, for the simple reason that he isn’t sure. He hasn’t examined his own discomfort. He’s more in the habit of suppressing feelings like that – feelings of any sort, actually. Charlie has suggested more than once in their months of whatever this is – a relationship, Adam supposes – that he ought to try the therapy thing, but Adam has shot down the idea every time it’s come up. Perhaps his hostility towards the notion is a sign that it has some merit.
“I think,” Adam says slowly, “I’m more annoyed at myself.”
“Because you didn’t say anything?” Charlie asks.
“No.” A year ago, Adam wouldn’t have said anything. Charlie’s changed him. Not as a coach would, through direct instruction or drilling – it’s more that Adam’s genuine admiration of Charlie makes him always want to be better, to be worthy of him. “I did say something.”
“Good for you, then,” Charlie says.
“No,” Adam says, frustrated. “It wasn’t good. I mean… I made it sound like the reason they shouldn’t say it was, like, it would be bad if it made it into the press. I shouldn’t have said it like that. I should have told them to knock it off because it’s offensive. Period.”
“Well—” Charlie strokes his thumb gently in the space beneath Adam’s ear “—it’s not too late.” Charlie kisses him then, and Adam allows himself to be consumed by it.
He doesn’t forget, though. It’s not too late.
The words echo in his head as he tries to fall asleep, back pressed to Charlie’s bare chest.
They follow him to practice the next day, and on the brief road trip that follows. One perk of being ancient in hockey years is that at least he gets his own hotel room, so he doesn’t have to worry about a road roommate when he dials Charlie’s cell.
“Miss me already?” Charlie asks cheekily when he picks up the phone. Adam can hear him tapping away on a keyboard in the background, though.
“Not at all,” Adam says. “I just miss Gordie. Kiss his horrible little squashed face for me.”
Charlie laughs, still typing. “I will when I get home,” he promises.
“You’re still at work?” Adam asks. It’s 11:23 PM on a Friday.
“No rest for the wicked.”
Adam spends a moment trying to picture him: sleeves of his dress shirt up past his elbows, tie loosened or discarded entirely, top button undone. The picture is hazy, incomplete, because Adam does not know what Charlie’s office at work looks like – he’s never visited him there. It would be too coupley, too conspicuous. Suddenly, he hates that. He wants to stroll into Charlie’s office, cool as a cucumber, and kiss him on the mouth in front of the other lawyers and the paralegals and the social workers and the boisterous juvenile delinquents they represent. Maybe hand him a file he forgot at home and ask, Are you free for lunch, dear?
“I can hear you thinking,” Charlie declares, and the keyboard-tapping noises cease.
Adam snorts out a little laugh. “What does it sound like?”
“It sounds like a pre-Y2K desktop tower that’s about to crash,” Charlie says.
“Fuck you,” Adam says, but he’s smiling.
“I wish,” Charlie says. “That would be much hotter than this deposition research.”
“Charlie.” Adam feels a swell of adrenaline akin to the moment before he jumped off the cliff at the upstate lake cabin.
“Adam.” Charlie sounds teasing, but Adam can tell he still has his undivided attention.
“What if I came out?”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line, and Adam holds his breath.
“Is that a question? Like what do I think would happen if you did? Because I think you already know how I feel about it.”
Adam does. Charlie spent weeks of the summer furious with Adam over his reluctance to come out to his parents. Without the looming threat of losing Charlie, Adam may never have summoned the guts to actually do it. “Yeah,” he says. “What do you think would happen?”
“Well,” Charlie begins, and Adam can tell he’s thinking it over. “I think you’d get press questions about it for a few months. Some of them would be obnoxious, but most of them wouldn’t. It would probably be smart to have answers ready to go. You could talk to Brisson about it. Or the You Can Play people. Some assholes would kick up a stink about it on the internet. A bunch of people would say that you’re ‘distracting from the hockey,’ which is really just thinly veiled homophobia. The NHL fucking hates individuality like no other organization, I swear. But… mostly I think it would be alright. I’d be shocked if any of your teammates turned out to be homophobes when confronted with an actual, real-life gay person. And if other teams start heckling you, tell a goddamn ref and let them pay a fine and sit out a few games.”
“Yeah,” Adam says, breathless. The possibility of it is… dizzying. Like some fairy tale he never knew he wanted.
“Are you asking because you’re thinking about actually doing this?” Charlie says, tinny through their cell connection. “Because I hope you don’t feel like I’m pressuring you at all. I know I was all over you to come out to your family over the summer so I could stop lying to my mom, but you already did, and I’m good with that. If you want to keep it to family and close friends, I totally understand.”
“I don’t,” Adam says. “I mean, I don’t feel pressured. I just want to do it. For me.” Adam isn’t even aware how true this is until he says it.
“Okay,” Charlie says, and Adam can hear the subtle change in his voice when he flips into lawyer mode. “Have you thought about how you want to go about it?”
“Uh,” Adam says. He didn’t even really, firmly decide until just now, until he spoke the desire into reality by sharing it with Charlie.
“Logistics were never your strong suit, Adam,” Charlie says fondly.
It still gives him a thrill to hear Charlie call him Adam. When they were kids – best friends and teammates – Charlie more often than not called him Banksy. It’s what all his hockey teammates have called him – in mini leagues all the way up through the NHL. Charlie seems to have a policy against calling his boyfriend – his partner, really – by a sports nickname, though it took some time in the early days of their relationship for him to train himself out of the habit.
“This is really something you should run by Brisson,” Charlie says, businesslike again. “He may give you options I’m unaware of. But, essentially, you could choose one reporter to talk to. You could talk to the full Wild press corps, maybe just tell management you have an announcement to share at the end of a regular press conference. Or you could just do it yourself.”
“What do you mean ‘do it myself’?” Adam asks. “You don’t mean like on Twitter or something?”
“You don’t even have a Twitter, Adam,” Charlie reminds him. “I meant, write your own statement and have it published somewhere. On the team website, maybe? Or the paper. The StarTribune would fall all over themselves for a scoop like that, but, hell, the first openly gay player in the NHL? I bet the New York Times would be interested if you wanted to go big.”
Adam exhales, half-terrified, half-elated by the sudden solidity of this plan.
Charlie must be able to sense it. “You okay there?”
“Yeah,” Adam says slowly. “I think… I think I want to say it in my own words. And I’m not always, like, the smartest-sounding in a press conference.”
“Write it down, then,” Charlie says.
“Will you, um,” Adam fiddles with the drawstring of his Wild hoodie. “Will you look at it? When it’s done?”
“It would be my pleasure, Adam,” Charlie says.
“I miss you.” It’s stupid, really – only one night apart. But Adam’s gotten used to sleeping with Charlie’s body pressed against his back.
“I love you, too, Adam,” Charlie says before he hangs up.
Adam didn’t have a plan for any of this, so his laptop isn’t with him on this road trip. He brought his iPad instead – better for watching movies and fine for brief email responses, but no good for real typing. The hotel the team is staying in is one of those Hilton’s geared towards business travelers, so there’s a desk. It’s dominated by sockets and charge ports with a little courtesy card with the Wi-Fi password, but when Adam searches the desk, he turns up a stack of Hilton monogrammed notecards and a branded ballpoint pen. He sits down in the upholstered desk chair and prepares himself to do this old school.
He has a flash of memory of sitting at his desk in his and Charlie’s shared bedroom at Eden Hall. Their high school years were before the ubiquity of computers. Although the school had a computer lab, he and Charlie wrote out all of their assignments longhand. Adam had an electric typewriter that his parents bought him as a gift. Charlie did not, so they would take turns using it for final drafts of major essays. Adam remembers handing his rough drafts over to Charlie, who would annotate them in one of those ludicrously bright-colored Gelly Roll pens. Linda had a whole stash of them, and of course if she loaned one to Charlie in class he’d inevitably chew the end of it and she’d abandon it to his ownership.
Adam once asked her why she minded his germs on the end of a pen when she allowed him to insert them directly into her mouth with some regularity. He’d said it somewhat testily – he was eternally jealous of Linda’s on-and-off romantic entanglement with Charlie – but he remembers that Charlie had laughed, belly deep, and slapped the back of Adam’s shoulder. Adam had tried to persuade his soul to be content with this reward.
He does not have to settle for a few hard-won laughs anymore.
Of the two of them, Charlie was always the stronger writer, so Adam is surprised by the ease with which the words flow from the end of his pen. It’s as though they’ve been stoppered up inside him, fermenting for years, and they’ve finally exploded the top off the jar to bubble up and out. When he finishes, he snaps a picture of it on his phone and texts it to Charlie.
Eleven harrowing minutes later, he sees the response.
Then: No notes.
Adam knows full well that Charlie has a point about his tendency to ignore necessary logistics. This is the sort of decision he should really run past both Brisson and the Wild’s management. But something about that notion tastes sour to him. This decision is so deeply personal, so deeply entwined with his own identity, that the idea of them polluting it with NHL corporate strategizing is untenable.
He calls the StarTribune ’s number instead and asks to speak to whichever of the hockey reporters is still in the office. Sarah McLellan picks up and agrees to publish his words unaltered. “We don’t go to press until 2AM,” she tells him. “Are you ready for this to be in the morning paper?”
“Yeah,” Adam says. “I’m ready.”
He texts Charlie a warning: FYI this is happening NOW. Like tomorrow morning.
The reply comes a minute later: Jesus you move fast
25 years isn’t fast Charlie, Adam replies.
Warn your parents!!!! Charlie sends.
Adam really should warn his parents, but as he stares at their contact entry in his iPhone, he can’t quite shake the stone of dread settled in the pit of his stomach. His parents didn’t take his coming out poorly – not precisely.
Adam suspects that his mother had long wondered about him in that way. More than anything, he thinks she was relieved to hear that his… gayness was not a theoretical preference but an actual one, and that he was in a relationship. She had previously – accurately – suspected him of being lonely.
Adam’s father, however, is another story. Their relationship has always been tricky, and this wild card element only complicated it further. When Adam visits their house, now, his dad mostly keeps the conversation to hockey and his brother Jason’s children. He never asks about Charlie, and he’s never invited Charlie over, either.
Adam doesn’t think he could handle it if his father tried to talk him out of publishing his statement. He puts his phone away.
The team plane leaves Nashville at six in the morning. It’s not like any of the guys are religious enough about reading Minnesota’s local paper to be checking it on their phones at that hour, so Adam has a reprieve for the duration of the flight, during which everyone’s phone is on airplane mode. But as they begin to descend over Minneapolis, reality sets in. Since he is neither the team captain nor the scorer of their overtime goal against the Predators, he is not obliged to speak to the press upon landing. But Mikko and Zach will have to, and if anyone will have heard the news about who Adam likes to take to bed, it will be sports reporters.
His palms are covered in cold sweat and his limbs feel that strange adrenaline-fueled lightness of anticipation as he makes his way through the cabin. He taps first Zach and then Mikko on the shoulder. “Need to talk to you,” he mutters quietly, jerking his head toward the rear of the plane, where there’s a little kitchenette with shitty coffee. They’re not really supposed to be out of their seats as the plane begins its descent, but Mikko and Zach follow him anyway, both obviously confused.
“I’m not doing press when we land,” he says urgently, keeping his voice low enough that the rest of the team cannot eavesdrop.
Their confusion visibly grows. “Banksy, you don’t have to –” Mikko begins, but Adam cuts him off with a raised hand.
“You’re probably going to get questions about me,” he says. It comes out sounding short, though he’s not angry with either of them. He feels like he’s in free fall. He jumped off the cliff last night, but he has yet to hit the water.
“Why would we?” Zach asks.
“I’m gay,” Adam spits out. This, he supposes, is coming out to his teammates. Not terribly eloquent, but direct.
Zach’s jaw actually drops, an image which Adam will find funny later. Mikko is more composed.
“There’s a statement in the paper this morning,” Adam says. He pulls the folded piece of Hilton stationary out of the pocket of his suit jacket and passes it to Mikko. “In case you want to read it,” he says. It’s strange, how small it is – this one little notecard that blew up Adam’s life. Or, perhaps, restarted it – like the pre-Y2K computer tower Charlie was joking about last night.
“Does management know?” Mikko asks, looking like he’s shaking off a hard hit on the ice.
“I’m sure they’ve found out by now,” Adam says.
“Uh… I think they would have preferred to know before,” Mikko says.
“Honestly, Mikko?” Adam says, louder now, not caring who hears. “I don’t give the tiniest shit.”
Adam leaves his phone on airplane mode even after they disembark and he reclaims his car from the lot. When he gets home, Charlie is in the front hall of the house, wearing one of Adam’s old Flyers t-shirts over a long-sleeved undershirt, attempting to sand the hideous beige paint off of the bannister. Since moving in, Charlie has taken up the challenge of restoring Adam’s woefully dated and decrepit house to its original 1912 glory. Adam isn’t certain whether Charlie – who possesses boundless energy and enthusiasm – simply needed a project to occupy his scant leisure time, or whether he was motivated by a need to make the house more his own, since it was Adam who chose and purchased it before they were together.
“Ah yes,” Adam says loudly over the sound of the handheld electric sander, “a perfectionist in its natural habitat.”
Charlie switches the sander off, pulls off his mask and goggles, and narrows his blue eyes at Adam, the crease in his brow deepening as he does so. “Your phone is going straight to voicemail,” he says.
“Must have left it on airplane mode,” Adam mumbles guiltily.
“How convenient,” Charlie says. “Since everyone you know is currently attempting to reach you, and a significant portion of these people know enough to call me when they can’t get to you.”
“Sorry,” Adam mumbles again, dropping his bag and leaning down to kiss Charlie apologetically on top of his head, which is full of paint dust. Adam fleetingly hopes it’s newer paint and he hasn’t just given himself lead poisoning.
“Don’t try to placate me with your wiles!” Charlie objects. “Call your mother! I told you to warn her last night!”
“I would have if it were just her,” Adam says, collapsing on the bottom stair in his game suit. Charlie’s already done the sanding on the treads and risers. “I was worried he’d try to talk me out of it. Figured it was easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”
“You don’t need your father’s permission to be gay, Adam,” Charlie says hotly, picking up a paint scraping tool and attacking one of the wooden balusters in his ire. “You don’t need your father’s permission to tell everyone that you are gay. Christ, I’ve wanted to slug that man since I was fifteen years old.”
“I assure you, the feeling is mutual,” Adam says. “He hated you then because I followed you around when he’d have preferred me to be a leader, and he hates you now because it’s your fault I’m gay.”
“Excuse you, you were the one who lured me to the dark side. With your wiles!” Charlie’s face is animated in that way it gets when he is trying to make light of something, but Adam manages only a weak smile in return.
“Adam,” Charlie says seriously. “You can’t let him live in your head. You are a leader.”
Adam snorts derisively.
“You are!” Charlie insists. “Look what you’re doing right now! Leading by example!”
“What example?” Adam asks sarcastically. “Stay in the closet and hate yourself for twenty years and then come out when you’re a year out from retirement?”
Charlie is making his stubborn face now. “You’re doing something terrifying. Which I think is pretty cool. And you’re making it less terrifying for the next poor closet case who’s grinding his teeth through his NHL career.” Charlie leans forward to kiss him, but they’re interrupted by his iPhone’s ringtone.
Charlie swears, grabs his phone, and then holds it up so that Adam can see Les Averman splashed across the screen. “What did I tell you?” he says, and then he hits the icon to put Les on speakerphone.
“Good morning, Lester!” Charlie says with mock cheer. “What a surprise to hear from you on this fine Saturday.”
“Cut the shit, Conway,” Les responds. “Are you or are you not fucking Banksy?”
“At this very moment? No, I am attempting to remove paint from a bannister.”
“Don’t be cute, Charlie,” says a decidedly female second voice – Connie, of course. “Are you and Banksy a thing now?”
Charlie looks at Adam with his eyebrows raised in question.
“Yeah, we’re a thing,” Banksy says, loud enough for the phone speaker to pick up.
The phone then erupts into noise: a whoop of glee from Connie, and a “Motherfucker!” from Les.
“Do you kiss your children with that mouth, Les?” Charlie says.
“Get scrubbing, Les!” Connie crows.
“Scrubbing what?” Adam asks, confused.
“We had a bet,” Connie says flippantly. “He’s doing dishes for a week. And don’t get that dish soap anywhere near my cast iron pan!”
“You were betting on whether I was gay?” Adam asks, torn between being appalled at his friends’ indiscretion and relieved at their apparent nonchalance about the matter.
“Oh please, Banksy. I’ve known you were into Charlie since we were in high school! You used to stare at him in class like one of those little cartoons with hearts for eyes. The only reason he didn’t notice is he was so full of himself he thought it was normal!”
Adam buries his face in his hands, though of course Connie cannot see and continues.
“The bet was about whether you’d succeeded in luring Charlie into your homosexual agenda. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the ego boost of dating someone with a twenty-five-year crush on him.”
“You’re really making me seem like such a catch here, Connie,” Charlie says sarcastically. “Thanks for talking me up to my boyfriend.”
“Charlie, you literally vomited half a dozen Jucy Lucys onto Adam’s favorite sneakers when we were in high school. If that didn’t cure him of his undying love for you, nothing will.”
“Charlie, I support the gays and all,” Les says, “but I will hate you every time I do the dishes this week.”
Les and Connie hang up without further ado.
Charlie says, “We need to get some better friends.”
Adam laughs and resumes kissing him.
Adam’s in the kitchen – warm, post-coital, and making an epic breakfast-at-one-PM spread – when the doorbell rings. Charlie, still in the entryway fucking around with the sander and the bannister, answers it.
“Adam!” Charlie calls.
“What is it?” Adam yells back, folding over an omelette full of all the leftover crap Charlie accumulated while Adam was away.
His answer materializes in the doorway of the kitchen: his mother, carrying a box of something, with Charlie lingering awkwardly behind her.
“Mom!” he exclaims, killing the flame on the burner so he can step forward to hug her.
“I was worried when I couldn’t reach you,” she says, sounding slightly sheepish.
Behind her back and over her head, Charlie mouths, ‘I told you to call her!’ Adam glares at him.
“I, uh, kind of left my phone on airplane mode,” Adam admits. “On purpose. I obviously knew it was going to be blowing up and I wanted a little break before I deal with all of that.”
Mom nods and sits at the table. Adam follows her, and Charlie crosses to the stove to plate the omelette. He brings it to the table with two forks. Their history of sharing food precedes their romantic relationship by more than two decades.
“I thought it would be a good time to bring these over,” Mom says, pulling the cover off of her mysterious cardboard box. Adam can see now that it is full of neat, vertically stored photographs, the three-by-five kind they used to get printed from disposable film cameras when he was growing up. He doubts parents today have physical stashes of photos like this – everything’s on the digital cloud now.
“I started going through the boxes in the basement weeks ago,” she says. “You two haven’t managed to hang anything up in this house, and I have so many pictures of you both from when you were growing up! I thought you could choose a few that you really like, and I’ll have them framed for you for Christmas. If you pick ones where I still have the negatives, we could even get larger copies done.”
Adam is speechless. He just stares at his mother across the table. Maybe this runs in the family, this inability to find the right words.
Charlie, however, always knows what to say. He squeezes Adam’s hand under the table as he speaks. “This is incredibly thoughtful, Mrs. Banks. Thank you so much.”
“I think it’s time you started calling me Lynn, Charlie,” Mom says. “Don’t you agree?”
A part of Adam – the part that inspired him to draft a coming out statement and hurl it in the direction of a reporter over the course of one hour – knew all along that coming out would make him feel better.
But he didn’t realize just how much better until the deed was done.
The trainers are the first to say something. “Finally managed to shed the neck and shoulder tension, eh, Banksy?” says Jordan.
Reader, who is beside Adam having his ankle examined, says, “Maybe it’s because he finally got laid. You must be a real hit in the Minneapolis gay bar scene, after the uproar your little foray into journalism caused!”
Adam’s statement did indeed cause a bit of an uproar. Though Pierre McGuire has yet to let it go, Adam managed to neutralize the regular Wild press corps with a brilliant suggestion of Charlie’s. The first time he addressed them after the publication of ‘the essay that rocked the hockey world,’ as Deadspin called it, he told everyone that each reporter was entitled to one ‘gay’ question, to be asked whenever, but once they’d asked that one question, they were relegated to hockey questions for the rest of the season. This blunt assessment of the biased treatment of gay athletes shamed the room enough that half of the reporters who regularly cover their games haven’t even brought it up.
“I wouldn’t know, Reader. Way too fucking old to go club hopping. And while I’m sure my partner would love to claim credit for healing my neck with the magical powers of his dick, somehow that doesn’t seem scientifically probable to me.” More likely, Adam thinks quietly to himself, the constant spiral of self-hatred and panic had been taking more of a physical toll than he realized.
There is a peal of laughter from Greenway on Reader’s other side. “Banksy, you’re funny!” he says, sounding quite as shocked as he is amused.
“It comes and goes,” Adam says sarcastically. “You’ll learn to recognize the signs. The animals get really quiet all of a sudden.”
Greenway laughs again. “No, man,” he says. “I just mean, like, you never used to joke around before. I kind of thought you had no personality. But I guess your personality was just in the closet too?”
Greenway may sound like the poster-child for dumb jocks everywhere, but Adam can’t help wondering if he doesn’t have a point. He did hold himself an arm’s length from his teammates in the past. He routinely evaded personal questions and anecdotes, which of course meant many of his jokes went unsaid. He also carefully rationed his acceptance of invitations, particularly to smaller, friendly gatherings over the more unofficially mandatory team parties. He didn’t want anyone asking why he never brought a girlfriend along.
This isn’t a problem any longer. At the end of October, Zach Parise, apparently a devoted Halloween aficcionado, invites Adam to a massive outdoor party at his house in the suburbs. “You can bring, uh,” he stammers. “I don’t know if you have a –”
Adam cuts him off to save him from having to decide whether to ask about a boyfriend or a partner. “I do,” he says.
“Great!” Parise says, obviously relieved. “He’s welcome to come, too!”
Adam’s never asked Charlie to come to a team event before, and he’s honestly not sure how he’ll take to this change – he is, after all, a confirmed workaholic. He’ll never be like the WAGs who hang out in the family box at every home game wearing their husband or boyfriend’s jersey, and Adam wouldn’t expect him to, either. He likes that Charlie cares so deeply about his job.
But he gamely agrees to accompany Adam to the party, which takes place on a Sunday, the day after Adam scores the home game-winning goal against the Avalanche. Along with the tension in his neck and shoulders, Adam’s occasional insomnia and indigestion have fled in the absence of his chronic anxiety, and this combination of factors has done wonders for his game. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the very vocal Wild fans. The cynical part of Adam attributes the largely positive reception to his coming out to the attendant bump in his numbers and dreads what slurs may fly his way if his play takes another dive. Still, it feels good to play well, and it feels better to play well as himself. It’s like a giant ‘fuck you’ to all the assholes, real or imagined, who made him believe in his youth that faggots couldn’t play hockey.
“Hey, cake-eater,” Charlie says as they park his car in a line of others on the grassy shoulder of Parise’s street and climb out. “You finally made it to Edina!”
“Shut up, Charlie,” Adam says, miming punching him in the shoulder. Charlie catches his fist deftly in his hand and somehow crosses it over Adam’s head so that his arm is around Adam’s shoulders with Adam’s hand, atop his chest, still in Charlie’s. For a moment, Adam is profoundly self-conscious – rarely has he ever engaged in such a public display of intimacy, and certainly never in a place where he expected to encounter acquaintances.
It’s okay, he reminds himself. Everyone here already knows. Nothing bad is going to happen.
And nothing bad does. The party is full of young kids in costumes jumping in a purple-and-orange bouncy castle, decorating witch hat cookies, and bobbing for apples in a giant barrel of water that’s probably riddled with every strain of the common cold in the greater Minneapolis area. Most of the team is there – the older guys with wives or girlfriends and the younger ones just messing around throwing candy at each other. Charlie meets – and thoroughly charms – all of them. This doesn’t precisely surprise Adam; he has known Charlie since they were both ten, and he’s intimately familiar with Charlie’s unique magnetism, that mysterious force within him that compels everyone around to hear him, to love him, to follow him. It is nevertheless strange to see it unleashed upon his own teammates. Adam has spent so long keeping the different facets of his life carefully separated that witnessing their union feels like a tear in the fabric of the universe.
“He seems like a really smart guy,” Eriksson Ek keeps saying to Adam after Charlie has departed to decorate Halloween cookies with a group of children – as a professional juvenile delinquent-wrangler, Charlie is very good with kids.
“Well, I looked for a dumb one, Ekker, but sadly there were none available in Minneapolis.”
At Ekker’s side, Greenway laughs. “See!” he says, jabbing Ekker in the ribs. “I told you he’s funny now.”
Kunin hovers awkwardly beside Adam when Ekker and Greenway chase each other off to the bouncy castle. “Um,” he says, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I just wanted to say, Banksy, that I’m, uh… I’m sorry about what I said before. You know, a couple weeks ago, when I said, like, the f-word. I mean, not the f-word. The other f-word.”
Adam doesn’t want to say, ‘It’s okay,’ because it isn’t. But he doesn’t want to make Kunin feel terrible about himself, either. “You know better now,” he says instead.
“Yeah,” Kunin says. “I mean, yes! I definitely do!”
Adam gives him a smile before he pushes back into the crowd to find Charlie.
Adam should have known enough to be alarmed by the Gen Z set showing an interest in Charlie, but he didn’t, so he is caught off guard when they approach him on the team plane on the trip up to Edmonton for a game against the Oilers – the first in a lengthy road trip.
In the past, Adam mostly spent these long flights watching movies on his iPad or reading, when he had a book that was passably interesting. More and more lately, though, he’s been playing cards with his teammates. He has nothing on Dubnyk, but Adam’s pretty decent at poker – after years of lying to the world through his teeth, he has tremendous command over his facial expressions.
“What is it?” he asks as the kids flank the end of the table where he is seated with Parise, Dumba, and Dubnyk, engrossed in an increasingly hostile round of cribbage.
“We googled your boyfriend,” Ekker announces, cradling his iPad against his chest. Greenway and Kunin – there is no other word for it – giggle.
“Jesus Christ,” Dumba says. “Are we reliving high school here today?”
“Boys, I don’t need you to tell me his court record,” Adam says, though he doubts the three of them have the attention span to have combed through it anyway. More likely they found Charlie’s picture on the website for his juvenile justice nonprofit. His smile is kind of goofy in it. “He tells me about every case, and I can assure you that he is not gracious in victory.”
“We found this,” Ekker says, grinning maniacally, flipping his iPad around to reveal an image that he must have saved to its memory before they took off.
Adam is very familiar with this image.
“Holy shit!” Parise exclaims. “That’s you!”
The image is from Adam and Charlie’s sophomore year at Eden Hall, when their team won Minnesota’s high school hockey championship. It was Charlie who bagged their final goal – he’d been sitting right in front of the goalie when Adam found a path for a pass from all the way beyond the blue line. He remembers that feeling of certainty that Charlie would be there on the other end of the pass to deliver the goal. He remembers skating into him and nearly knocking him over in his eagerness to hug him. He remembers both of them waving their helmets over their heads victoriously, one of Charlie’s strong-fingered hands ruffling through Adam’s blond hair right there in front of the crowd of onlookers.
It is that moment that this grainy photograph captured, the two of them looking each other in the eye, grinning broadly in victory, and half-embracing.
Adam sees no way to avoid admitting the obvious. “Sure is,” he says shortly.
“Oh my God,” Dubie says. “Your boyfriend was your teammate? ”
“When we were kids! It was a very long time ago!” Adam objects.
“You’re still boning your teammate, Banksy. That’s kinda kinky,” Dumba says. “Especially if you were the captain.”
“Charlie was the captain,” Adam mumbles, regretting it instantly.
“Even kinkier!” Dumba insists.
“I think it’s cute!” Greenway says. “They’re like star-crossed lovers!”
“What are you talking about?” Adam says, hoping the heat in his face is not visible as a blush and knowing the hope is futile. “We are not star-crossed. There are no stars. Or Capulets. Or Montagues.”
“But you wrote about him!” Ekker insists, eyes slightly manic. “In your ‘surprise, bitches, I’m gay’ article!”
“Surprise, bitches, I’m gay?” Adam parrots, horrified.
“Yes!” Ekker continues. “You wrote about having a thing for your best friend and deciding that no one could find out you were gay or it would be super obvious! It’s him, right? Charlie’s the friend that you were madly in love with in high school!”
Adam buries his burning face in his hands. “I don’t know who the hell taught you to read in English, Ekker,” he mumbles. “But I hate them very much.”
Dubie takes pity on him. “Guys,” he says, “why don’t you go back to your seats, in case there’s turbulence.”
“Oh sure, turbulence!” Greenway says, but the three of them retreat, still giggling.
Parise, though, is determined to contribute to Adam’s mortification. “I remember him now,” he says as Adam continues to hide behind his hands. “I was two years behind you guys, but we played you! When I was at Shattuck and you were at Eden Hall! Everyone knew you were the dangerous scorer, so the defense would be all over you, trying to shut you down. In one of our playoff games, Josh kept slashing your wrists on the face off, and Conway went absolutely apeshit and beat the crap out of him!”
Adam is still not looking at his teammates, but he can somehow hear them smiling gleefully at this new kernel of information about Adam’s intimate childhood memories. Of course Adam remembers Charlie going after Josh Radnor. His little teenage heart swooned like a fucking Disney princess.
“He has,” Adam says, “matured a great deal since then.”
They win against the Oilers, which feels like a personal victory to Adam. It’s always tough, playing against teams he used to belong to. It’s particularly bad at the Wells Fargo Center, but Edmonton’s Stadium, Rogers Place, wasn’t built when Adam was a rookie here.
Adam does not score any of the Wild’s three goals, but he assists on two, which makes him childishly feel as though he is winning in a break-up with the Oilers. The press corps doesn’t ask him a single question about the gay of it all – just the predictable stuff about his play, the team’s play – stuff he can answer on autopilot in what Charlie calls “mouth words.”
Charlie has actually invented a game called ‘Post-Game Bingo.’ On nights when he’s not working and Adam is playing away, he drives over to Connie and Les’s and they watch together. After play is over, they all fill out bingo cards with phrases they know Adam is likely to say – such as ‘winning battles’ and ‘puck to the net’ – and then use his post-game interview to play their cards.
It’s truly obnoxious, and Adam absolutely loves Charlie for it.
As he leaves the guest locker rooms at Rogers Place, Adam is distracted texting Charlie to see if he has pictures of tonight’s bingo cards. He almost doesn’t notice Connor McDavid lurking in the hallway by the guest locker exit.
“Hey, Banksy!” McDavid calls out.
Adam stops, blinks for a moment as he slides his phone back into his coat pocket. He doesn’t know McDavid personally, but the NHL is a small world and their paths have crossed. Adam was still with the Flyers in 2015 when McDavid broke his clavicle in that trainwreck of a game, and they’ve seen each other at All-Star games, of course. McDavid also might be one of these kids who assumes that all of the first round picks should act like they know each other. He was the number one pick in 2015; Adam was number one in 1999, just ahead of the Sedin brothers.
“Hey, Davo,” Adam says.
McDavid shifts his weight between his feet, his hands jammed in his pockets. “I just wanted to say, about your… um, about your thing that you wrote.”
Ah, so that’s what this is. A few of the more liberal players have pulled him aside in the weeks since to thank him for being brave or something. Adam’s mostly told them that he wasn’t brave, just really fucking sick of hating himself. That shit gets monotonous after a while.
“I read it,” McDavid says, finally stilling and looking up to meet Adam’s eyes. His gaze is very serious. “A couple of times actually. It was… I really liked what you wrote.”
There is a heavy silence between them, charged as though with static electricity. Adam wonders: Is he…?
There’s no way of knowing, really, if Adam’s words spoke to him because he’s another closet case under pressure to be the next great player in hockey or because he feels suffocated by some other secret. It’s not Adam’s business to speculate, nor his place to ask. But McDavid is still standing there, waiting for Adam to give him some kind of acknowledgement.
“It felt good,” Adam says at length. “Getting it off my chest. I really didn’t know how much it was fucking with my head and my health and my game until I came clean about it.”
“Yeah,” McDavid breathes, sounding almost enthralled.
“Good game, Davo,” Adam says, continuing on by him. “See you around.”
Published in the StarTribune 10/16/18
Adam Banks, guest contributor, is a center for the Minnesota Wild who previously played for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers. In his eighteen-year career in the NHL, he has been a recipient of the Calder Memorial Trophy, a two-time recipient of the Hart Memorial trophy, and a twelve-time All Star. He is a native of Minneapolis.
My name is Adam Banks. If you recognize it, you probably already know that I play hockey, currently in my hometown of Minneapolis. On the ice, I’m a center for the Wild. Off the ice, though, I play defense – pretty much all the time. I play defense with no back up, no breaks on the bench, and, until very recently, no prospect of a final buzzer any time soon.
It’s an occupational hazard of being a secret-keeper.
People tend to think of secret-keeping as a passive pursuit, but that’s not the way it is with real secrets, important ones. It’s not as simple as tucking one little truth away and just not sharing it with anyone. It’s a full-time job. You can never lose focus or allow yourself to get tired, because all it takes is one tiny misstep, and then all your hard work has been for nothing. All it takes is one person guessing or seeing or knowing the truth, and then it’s not a secret anymore: it’s a countdown.
It isn’t just the exhaustion, though, that will get to you. Keeping secrets is pretty much guaranteed to turn you into a jerk. Secrets inevitably beget lies. Sometimes you’ll lie to people who you don’t care about anyway, but just as often you’ll find yourself lying to people who have been nothing but honest with you. And when you aren’t lying, you’re saying no to everything and everyone: to friends, to family, to lovers. The best way to keep a secret is to maintain a safe distance, make sure no one knows you well enough to spot your falsehoods or your omissions. And being distant from everyone you might care about, again, pretty much guarantees you’re being a jerk, whether you want to or not.
Most of all, though, keeping secrets is terrifying. All the time. At first you might be afraid of the imaginary consequence that inspired the secret in the first place: of your friends or family rejecting you or of losing an opportunity or a job. But eventually those consequences don’t even matter. Even if you’re sure you won’t lose your friends, your family, your career, you’re still terrified. The revelation of your secret has become its own dreaded consequence. You walk around constantly asking yourself, Do they know? in the certainty that it must be obvious to everyone.
I’ve become an expert in the art of secret-keeping because I’ve been keeping a particularly demanding one for the last twenty-five years or so. It didn’t feel like a deliberate decision when I started, though I see now that it was. And once I had some momentum, it seemed easier to carry on than to stop.
At first, I had to keep it a secret that I was gay because if I told anyone then surely my best friend would guess that I was hopelessly infatuated with him. He would be disgusted, and he would never speak to me again, and all of our other friends would probably never speak to me again either, and I’d be all alone forever. And then it would get back to my parents, and while they probably wouldn’t kick me out of the house, they’d certainly have confirmation that my older brother was, in fact, the superior son in every way.
This seemed reasonable at the time. (In my defense, I was thirteen.) Hiding my gayness from everyone I cared about seemed a small price to pay for being accepted by my friends and family.
Later, I had to keep it a secret that I was gay because if the agents and the managers and the coaches knew, I would never be drafted, and all of my hard work and my dreams of a hockey career would evaporate, leaving me with nothing. And I do mean nothing, because by that point I’d distanced myself from my best friend – and from all my other friends – lest they notice my infatuation and divine my secret.
I’m not sure when I started fearing the secret itself in place of any actual consequences. Did it happen gradually, or all at once? I haven’t truly been scared of losing my job as a result of being gay in quite some time; if the NHL tried to fire me for that in today’s political climate, it would probably create more bad press for them than it would for me. It’s the secret itself that I fear, and that I’ve feared for most of my adult life.
And that’s why I’m telling you now. It’s not because I’m trying to lead the charge on some NHL locker room language re-education push. (Yes, I have heard homophobic slurs in the NHL. Yes, there are probably a few guys who even mean it. Yes, things have gotten much better since 1999. Not that we were setting the bar all that high back then.) I’m not doing it to ‘make things easier for the next guy.’ (Although, whoever you are, I hope things are easier for you. I hope you don’t wait as long as I did.) I’m telling you because I’m sick of being terrified and ashamed, so I’m choosing not to be those things anymore.