At 18, most people learn that sometimes people stop loving you, and they pack up their half of your life and move it to someone else’s bed. The thing that Kent learned, though, was that they don’t have to stop loving you to leave.
He’s never blamed the world for his problems, but no one should expect him to thank it for its kindness, either.
He knows he is. He’s worked hard, sure, but he also knows that you can work hard at something everyday and still lose.
But his mom worked damn hard to give him every opportunity he could hope for; got him to practice at six in the morning on her one day off; worked tooth and nail to get him into every league she could afford--all because hockey made him happy.
He knows what he has.
He’ll keep it for as long as he can, even if it runs him into the ground and bleeds him dry.
When Kent meets Jack Zimmermann, he knows, in the first ten minutes, that he’s absolutely fucked.
Jack, at 16, is a callous asshole. He’s snarky, and he plays damn good hockey, and Kent is a cocky asshole at that age, so he thinks, maybe, they’ll do each other well.
Jack thinks he’s earned his quick hands and faster feet, but Kent has fucking fought to be where he is, didn’t have the luck to have a famous dad, and he holds his own against Jack on the ice. After that first skate together, Jack snips at Kent under his breath, and Kent snips back, and Jack smiles, and that’s the end of that.
After they win World Juniors like the fucking superstars that they are, reporters go nuts. Jack has media training, knows how to deflect both criticism and praise.
When a beat reporter asks, “And how do you feel about pulling off that win? People were skeptical about your ability to take the team there,” Jack says, “The team played well, everyone showed up willing to play their best, and I think we did.”
The mic gets turned on Kent, and he nudges Jack in the side before saying, “I don’t know, those no-look passes probably helped.”
There are articles upon articles about their on-ice chemistry, the way they move around each other like the well-oiled grooves of an impeccable machine.
Here is what no one writes about:
The first time Jack kisses Kent, it is all teeth. It hurts. Kent tastes blood, but it still feels like winning, and when Jack presses his fingers into the welt along Kent’s cheekbone, his breath catches.
Jack’s hands are soft.
Jack has freckles in the summer, and Kent fucking loves him.
Jack’s eyes have always looked a bit empty, as far as Kent can tell, but when their skin is pressed together, his pupils get blown wide, and Kent can’t be bothered that he’s never been able to find any weight in Jack’s gaze.
Kent laughs into Jack’s skin as much as he can, as often as their lives will allow, and he feels light when he bites at Jack’s jaw.
The thing is, no one ever tells you that you can love someone more than anything and that it can still be shit.
Kent tells him mom a week before it happens.
They talk about hockey and his mom’s work and the trip home he’s planned for next month. Conversation lulls and he says, “There’s something I want to tell you.”
She says, “Anything, baby.”
“Jack and I--we’re together.”
She barely pauses for a second before saying, “And you’re happy?” And she doesn’t sound upset at all. Kent lets go of a sigh he didn’t know he was holding and says, “Yeah, mom, I really am.”
“I’m happy you felt that you could tell me. I love you, Kenny.”
“I know,” he says. “I love you too.”
There’s lots of buzz around the draft, and Kent turns 18 at the beginning of September, so he and Jack will be in the same pool.
He knows they’re both fucking amazing hockey players.
Jack’s dad was amazing, in his own right, but Kent is sure that if given the chance, Jack can be better.
Jack is going to be the first pick, and Kent will probably be second. He doubts they’ll get to play together, but he still finds himself hoping, despite the odds.
Kent knows that Jack has issues.
Jack is complicated, and while it’s not why Kent likes him, it added to the initial mystery. And with Jack, there’s always more to know, always more to learn--Kent thinks he could spend years with Jack and never fully know him.
He didn’t think--
Turns out, it’s worse than he could have ever imagined.
Jack overdoses on a Tuesday.
Kent finds him, and he calls 911 before he calls Jack’s mom. Alicia can’t stop crying, and Kent feels responsible. He gets in the ambulance with Jack, and when they wheel him through swinging doors, Kent can’t follow him.
It takes the Zimmermann’s six hours to fly in from Montreal.
Kent spends six hours alone in the waiting room, and no one will tell him anything. He cries, for a bit. Throws up when he tries to drink a coffee from the vending machine.
He can’t stop thinking that Jack probably didn’t know. Kent never said.
And, really, what’s the point of loving someone if you never tell them?
Kent stands when the Jack’s parents walk in through the sliding doors, and Alicia hugs him even though they’ve only met a handful of times. Bob nods as he approaches, then asks, “What do you know?”
“I--” Kent says, and his eyes well up with tears. Alicia steps back from him. “I don’t know, they won’t tell me anything, he was--”
He wipes at his eyes, steels himself. “He wasn’t awake when I found him, I didn’t know he had pills, I don’t kn--”
And then a doctor is there, and time stops, and then she says, “We think he’s going to make it,” and the bottom doesn’t fall out of Kent’s world.
Bob drives Kent home, with instructions to shower and sleep.
“It’s not like he’s going anywhere,” he says, but his smile is sad, and Kent nods.
“I--” Kent starts as they pull up at his door, but he doesn’t know what he meant to say.
“It’s not your fault,” Bob says. “I’ll come get you in a few hours.”
News gets out by the time Kent wakes up. Jack is still unconscious, but the entire hockey world is talking about him.
Kent’s mom calls. “Do you want me to get on a plane?”
“No,” he says. “I’ll see you in a few days anyway,” he says.
“I can meet you before the draft, honey.”
Kent shakes his head, then remembers she can’t see him. “It’s fine,” he says. “He’s not awake, anyway.”
Kent goes first in the draft to the Las Vegas Aces. His mom cries.
His hands shake as he pulls the jersey over his head, and all he can think is, for Jack, for Jack, for Jack.
Jack is awake by the time Kent is getting back on a plane.
Bob meets him in the hall outside Jack’s private room.
“I can see him, right? Is he awake?”
“Listen,” Bob says, and he looks sorry, and Kent doesn’t understand.
“He’s awake, he should be fine, but listen, Kent, I’m sorry, but he said he doesn’t want to see you.”
Kent reels like he’s been slapped. “What? No, please, I just--”
“I’m sorry,” Bob says again, but he sounds firmer. “Congratulations, though. First pick is a huge accomplishment. You should be very proud.”
“Yeah,” Kent says. “Well.”
Kent buys his mom a cute little condo, and they fill it with Ikea furniture. He buys a place in Las Vegas, because that’s where he’s going to be for the foreseeable future. He buys a car.
He calls Jack everyday, and he never answers.
It never goes straight to voicemail though, and Kent isn’t sure, but he thinks that counts for something.
He adopts a kitten, and she’s small, her belly still soft and swollen.
He names her Kit, and laughs into his empty apartment. “Kit Purrson,” he says, softly.
She fits in the palm of his hand, and he loves her.
When Jack finally answers, Kent almost doesn’t believe it.
“Hi,” Jack says, soft.
It’s silent for a minute, and then Kent says, “You know, I’ve been trying for weeks, and now that you’ve picked up, I can’t remember what I wanted to say.”
Jack breathes out heavily, but doesn’t say anything.
“Jack--” he starts, but gets interrupted when Jack says, “I want to say that I’m better, but if time could be reversed, I’d probably do it again.”
Jack is quiet until he says, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“But help me try,” Kent says. “I want to try, I love y--”
“Jack, please,” Kent says, desperation dripping from his words.
“Congrats on the draft,” he says, but it sounds different than anything Jack has ever said, bitter and terse and mean. It sounds like a lie.
Kent, like he has always done, throws himself into his hockey.
He proves his worth, earns his keep.
He fights because it’s what he’s always done, battled for everything he’s ever had. If hockey is the one thing he’s allowed to win, the one thing he gets to keep, he’s going to be better than anyone.
The Aces win the Cup, and it feels great, but the champagne tastes bitter in his mouth.
well done Jack texts.
Kent knows he’s playing hockey on a college team, in fucking Boston.
Kent doesn’t text back.
Kent sleeps with a bunch of girls, but doesn’t feel much of anything.
They’re all nice enough, pretty and happy to be there, but it’s not the same.
He’s walking to his car after practice when his phone buzzes in his pocket. Once he’s seated in the driver’s seat, he pulls it out and reads it: part of my rehab therapy is making amends
And? Kent types out, feeling suddenly livid. Jack’s such a coward that he can’t even do the twelve steps without being an asshole.
means im sorry kenny. for how fucked up i was
Were you overdoing it with the meds the entire time we were together?
ya. more towards the end. i didnt know how to deal w it
I loved you, Kent types, hits send. Then he adds, I have had to deal with that.
Kent starts driving, hears his phone vibrate in the cup holder. When he pulls into his parking spot, and turns off the ignition, he finally checks it. He doesn’t mind making Jack wait.
i know, it says, and Kent has to grab the steering wheel to keep his hands from shaking.
I give you my amends or whatever, Kent types. It’s over and done. I hope you don’t do it again, and I’m happy you’re working on getting better. But I don’t want you to contact me again.
The next time he sees Jack, he’s at Samwell, and Jack has his arm around some blond guy.
Kent feels sick, but he knows it’s not the alcohol.
And, well. Whatever. He’s a famous NHL player in a hockey frat. Just because Jack’s got his arm around a guy and is smiling in a way that Kent can’t remember ever seeing, doesn’t mean that Kent doesn’t have his shit infinitely more together than Jack does.
Jack’s changed, Kent can tell. But so has he, after everything they’ve done to each other. He’s got thicker skin, stronger hands, wider shoulders. He takes his time, makes rounds through the house and stops for pictures and to shake hands. He’s good at this, always has been.
When he finally gets around to them, he’s a beer and bit into it, and he feels braver than he remembers ever feeling around Jack before, and says, “I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t seeing it myself. Jack Zimmermann. At a party. Taking a selfie.”
And it’s cheap, but Kent isn’t above hitting him where it hurts anymore, so when the blond boy says, “Oh my gosh,” and Jack says, “Kent,” Kent has to fight down all the emotion in his throat, has to shove his fist into his pocket to hide his shaking hands.
And when he says, “Hey Zimms,” he’s surprised that it comes out sounding like it means nothing at all.