The moment the wheels of the plane leave the runway in Dallas, Whits leans over and says, “So, Kent Parson.”
Jack tries very hard not to react, but he’s pretty sure Whits knows his tells by now. “What about him?”
“Some of the guys have been pestering me to ask you what the deal is.”
Jack looks up from the biography he’s reading. “What deal?”
“Everyone knows the story of y’all in Juniors, and what happened after that.” Whits’ gaze focuses on Jack’s face, and Jack swallows down a surge of panic. They don’t know the whole story — they can’t. “They want to be ready for anything that might come up tonight. So if there’s some bad blood there, if people are gonna be gunning for you or—”
“No, it’s not—” Jack takes a calming breath, and forces his face into a neutral expression. “It’s not like that. He and I have things to say to each other, but we won’t do that on the ice.”
Whits nods and is quiet for a moment. “If you need anything—”
“I’ll let you know.” Jack turns back to his book as pointedly as he can manage.
“All right.” Whits sighs and settles back in his seat.
Jack reads the same paragraph three times before he gives up. His heart is pounding in his chest, so he stares at the page and lets his mind wander, picking out images in the text’s negative space.
Looking forward to it
That was the message he’d woken up to that morning, and he’s been thinking about it ever since. It’s been a year since the night Parse randomly showed up at the Haus and pushed his way back into Jack’s head, stormed into the safe space Jack had carefully constructed around himself, just to show that he could. It had taken Jack weeks to get his head back together. It had been terrifying to realize that even after all that time, Parse could still push Jack’s buttons like no one else, even the ones he’d buried deep.
Worse, Jack can’t escape the thought that he deserves it. He knows he hurt Parse, and he can’t blame him for wanting to twist that blade every now and then.
Everyone had expected Las Vegas to be warm, so of course it isn’t. Instead, it’s pleasantly cool, cooler than it was in Dallas. It feels like the autumn they didn’t have in Providence. They arrive ridiculously early on a Sunday morning, but the sounds of slots machines fill the airport all the same. Some of the younger guys look around and grin in anticipation, but all Jack can think about is the game tonight and seeing Parse again.
The bus takes them straight to the hotel, which is also filled with slot machines. The coaching staff have warned them all they should save Vegas for later and rest up for the game, and though the guys are taking that warning seriously, it doesn’t stop them from exploring their surroundings. Whits heads out shortly after check-in to go poke around the hotel casino with Rolly and Janssen. Jack, on the other hand, is not planning to leave the room until the bus comes back to take them to the arena.
He takes off his shoes, stretches out on the bed, and takes a deep breath. Exhaustion is beginning to creep in at the edges, fueled by the intense pace of their recent schedule. They’ll get a brief break over the Thanksgiving holiday, and Jack is looking forward to it.
His phone rings. He knows who it is before he even picks it up. He stares at the screen and almost lets it go to voicemail, but he finally sighs and accepts the call.
“I’m coming over. Which hotel are you in?”
Jack winces. “I thought we were doing this after the game tonight.”
Parse sighs and Jack hears something that sounds like a car door closing. “I don’t want this shit still hanging between us when we get on the ice. Just give me ten minutes, okay? I have something to say.”
“So fucking say it.”
“Not on the phone.”
Jack stares up at the ceiling for several seconds. He’s so tired, and he’s not ready for this. But maybe if they get it over with, he’ll be able to take a nap and focus on the game. “No more than ten minutes, and you’re going to leave the second I ask you to.”
“Of course. Jesus, Zimms.”
Jack cuts the call, and texts him the name of the hotel. After a moment’s thought, he texts the room number too.
Twenty minutes later, he’s jolted awake by a knock on the door. Parse leans against the door jamb when he opens it, wearing his trademark backwards snapback. His eyes are just as big and grey-green as Jack remembers. Parse smiles sweetly and bats his eyelashes.
“Don’t,” Jack warns, and steps back to let him in.
Parse crosses to the bed Jack was just napping on and falls back onto it. He kicks off his shoes and props himself up on his elbows. “Nice. You got a roommate?”
“He’s in the casino.”
“You should request a single next season.” Parse waggles his eyebrows. “More privacy.”
Jack stands at the foot of his bed and crosses his arms over his chest. “You’ve got nine and a half minutes left.”
Parse groans and flops onto his back. “Sit down, at least.”
“Get off my bed first.”
Parse sits up and scoots back until he’s leaning against the headboard, crosslegged. “Better?”
Jack already regrets opening the door. “What do you want?”
“To tell you I’m happy for you,” Parse says, simply. “I know you’ve been through a lot of difficult shit, but here you are, finally playing in the NHL.” It sounds rehearsed. “I wish you’d considered the Aces, but still, you earned every bit of it, and I’m really proud of you, okay?”
Jack narrows his eyes at him. “Is that all?”
“Yes. No.” Parse deflates right before Jack’s eyes. “Fuck, Zimms. What do you want me to say?”
“Why you’re here. Why you…” Jack swallows and looks down at the foot of the bed. He’s spent a lot of time thinking about what he wants to say to Parse, and now that he has a chance, he’s finding it easier to slip back into resentment. “Why’d you come to Samwell last year? Was it just to shit on everything I’d managed to accomplish?”
“No, fuck, I…” Parse lets his head fall back against the headboard with a thunk. “Look, I’m sorry. Okay? I thought maybe I could talk you into…” He makes a sound that’s half-laugh and half frustrated groan. “I was stupid. I missed you, and… I was so fucking jealous, god.”
Jack’s mouth falls open. “Jealous? Of what?”
“Jesus, of… everything. I mean, come on, you got to go to college and have friends and live in a frat house and still play damn good hockey. Good enough that everyone knew you’d get signed as a free agent.” Parse presses his hands over his face and sighs. “You were supposed to do this with me, okay? I wasn’t supposed to be all alone.”
Jack exhales and looks away. Apparently the grass really does look greener on the other side. “You won the Cup. And the Calder. And you’ve—”
“Yeah, and all that’s great, but that can’t be all there is. What’s the point if I’m still…” Parse presses his lips together for a moment, like he hadn’t meant to say so much. “Hockey isn’t everything, you know?”
Jack blinks at him for a moment, stunned. He knows that’s true, intellectually, but living it is a whole other matter. Hockey is all he has time for, all he can focus on. Anything else and he’d fall apart, like he did before. He’s only let himself focus on hockey; even his coursework at Samwell was carefully, methodically approached to keep it well out of the way of the real reason he was there. His years at Samwell were meant to give him space to pull his life together, to play hockey in a lower-stress environment for a few years, to see if it was what he really wanted to do and not just what was expected of him.
Parse had done everything Jack was supposed to do, had accomplished Jack’s dreams while Jack watched on his laptop, full of misery and jealousy. And now here he was, saying it wasn’t all Jack had imagined it to be.
Jack sits on the bed next to Parse, his head spinning.
“Did I just overload your circuits or something?” Parse’s tone is light, but Jack hears the real concern beneath it.
“No. I just… I’m surprised. I thought you felt sorry for me, for being too weak to—”
“No,” Parse says, so sharply that Jack turns to look at him. “Shit. That’s not it at all.” Parse runs a hand over his face and takes a slow breath. “Okay, I want to ask you something, and I want you to answer it honestly.”
Jack frowns. “Okay.”
“Was it my fault? The overdose, I mean. Was it because of me being so… I know I pushed you into it and—”
“It wasn’t your fault, Kenny.”
“I can’t say it had nothing to do with you. There was a lot going on and I didn’t handle any of it well. But I made my own choices.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “It says it right on the damn bottle, you know? Don’t mix with alcohol. But I was seventeen and stupid, and I fucked up.” He shrugs. “I didn’t think about what could go wrong. All I knew was that it made everything easier to deal with. The hockey and the expectations, and the whole not-being-straight thing.”
“You think I didn’t have to deal with that too?”
“You don’t have anxiety disorder.”
“No, I… fuck.” Parse shakes his head and looks up at the ceiling. “Sorry.”
“You didn’t know how fucked up I was. No one did. Not the coaches or my doctors, not even my parents. I was really good at hiding it, because I knew that if anyone found out, I’d lose hockey.”
“You almost did lose hockey.”
“Not just hockey.” Jack turns to look at him. “I flatlined. Did you know that?”
Parse closes his eyes. “There’s a lot I don’t know, apparently.”
Jack nods, even though Parse isn’t looking at him.
“I just… Jesus, your dad had to tell me to stop calling, that you didn’t want to talk to me. You fucking shut me out, like I meant nothing to you.”
“I’m sorry. It was what I thought I needed at the time. I didn’t think about what you needed. I couldn’t.” Jack takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “I know how much I fucked up. I know I can’t make it better.”
“Your therapist tell you to say that?”
“You think I’d come up with that on my own?”
Parse opens his eyes and turns to look at him. “You’re a piece of work, you know that?”
Jack shrugs in response.
“I loved you, so fucking much.”
Jack stares back at him. “I know.”
“Are you seriously going Han Solo on me right now?”
It’s a reference Parse knows he’ll get, and Jack can’t help smiling. “Me too. I thought you knew that.” Parse is pretty much the only person Jack’s ever been in love with.
Parse presses his hands over his face for a moment, then drops them away again. His eyes are bright, and Jack looks away. Parse exhales shakily. “I was so fucking angry at you. I spent years trying to think up ways to hurt you, and then I’d see you and just…”
Jack nods. “I deserved it.”
“Yes, you did.” Parse groans in frustration. “God, stop agreeing with me! How can you be so fucking… sensible about this?”
“Therapy. Years of therapy.”
Parse snorts. “Hunh. Maybe I should give it a try.”
“Look, I know I fucked up. I’m sorry about that, and about a lot of things. But it’s all going pretty well now, for both of us.” Jack looks at him, really looks, and sees Parse’s expression soften. “Do you think we can just… stop being assholes to each other? Be friends again?”
Parse takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “Sure. Fuck it. I’m tired of hating you, anyway.”
“I never could say no to you.”
“I know.” Jack gives him a small smile, and something sparks behind Parse’s eyes. His expression changes then, to one Jack knows well but hasn’t seen in a long time, a smile that’s genuine and warm and full of hope. Jack waits for it, for the feeling of his heart clenching in his chest and the floor dropping out from beneath him. He already hears the mantra of don’t be stupid, don’t be stupid in his head — but nothing happens. Parse is stretched out on his bed, looking up at him like he’d give Jack anything, and Jack… doesn’t want anything.
The realization hits him so hard he grins, huffs out a small laugh.
“What?” Parse sits up and stretches, and just like that, the moment passes. “Has it been ten minutes?”
“Yes. We still on for tonight?”
Parse climbs to his feet. “You sure you’re gonna be up for it after you get your ass kicked?”
“Yeah, I’m not too worried. I might bring a friend along.”
“Is he hot?” Parse smirks, and leans over to tug his shoes back on.
“Not to me.”
Jack makes a sound of exasperation, though he doesn’t really feel it. He opens the door and gestures Parse through. “I’d wish you luck tonight, but…”
“You’re gonna need it more than me.” Parse looks once over his shoulder, then adjusts the snapback as he walks away.
Jack closes the door, and leans back against it. The tightness that had been in his shoulders for days is gone now, melted away. He smiles, then laughs. That was so not the way he expected that to go.
Standing across the face-off dot from Parse is something Jack has imagined dozens of times, but the reality of it is so much different. Jack finds that what he remembers about him doesn’t really apply anymore. Parse has leveled up in so many ways, plays with so much more finesse that he could be any of the handful of highly skilled players Jack’s met this season. Jack should have expected it, but it still catches him by surprise that he can no longer read Parse the way he used to.
The Aces pull ahead in the first, and stay a goal ahead for most of the game. Kratz nets a slick wrister midway through the third to tie them up, but then Jack goes out on a stupid hooking penalty, and Parse scores on the power play with three minutes to go. They fight hard for two more minutes, and Jack can see his teammates losing hope as the clock winds down. With one minute to go, one of the Aces’ D-men goes out on a tripping penalty, and just like that, the momentum shifts. The Falcs control the puck, all their passes connect, and all the Aces’ attempts at forechecking fumble. With 30 seconds left in the frame, Whits wheels behind the net and wraps it around. The goalie somehow deflects the puck right onto Jack’s stick, and he shoots without even thinking. It goes in.
Whits practically leaps into Jack’s arms, and it’s all Jack can do not to fall over. Their line skates off, and there’s ten more seconds before the end of regulation. They managed to tie it, and now they’re going into overtime.
Jack’s out on the first OT shift, facing off against Parse once again.
“Fucking sweet shot,” Parse says, grinning at him from across the dot.
“Thanks,” Jack replies.
“Too bad it won’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter, in the end. The Aces rally and score two minutes in, and the game is over. Jack looks up to see Parse skating toward him instead of celebrating with his team. He isn’t quite sure what Parse’s intention is, but he opens his arms on impulse and Parse skates right into them.
“God, that was fun,” Parse says, and Jack can feel the pressure of Parse’s arms around his waist even through his pads.
“Until that last goal, yeah,” Jack replies.
Parse squeezes him more tightly, then pulls back to look up at him. “You always were a shitty loser.”
“Is there any other way to be a loser?”
Parse shrugs. “I’ll text you the name of the bar. See you there?”
They finally let go of each other and skate back to their respective benches.
“Awwww,” Janssen says, slapping Jack on the shoulder when they get to the locker room. “That was touching, bro. You made Rolly cry.”
Rolly snorts and shakes his head. “Nice to see you two make up, is all.”
“Make up? That was more like making out,” Sandy says, and there is a chorus of “ooooh”.
“You gonna invite us to the wedding?” Kratz says, and there is a round of snickers.
“Nah,” Jack replies. “He lives in Vegas. We’re gonna elope.”
Whits grins at Jack. “Should I be jealous?”
“Absolutely. Did you see his ESPN photoshoot?” Jack’s deadpan delivery triggers another round of laughter, though a few of the younger guys exchange glances.
Whits shakes his head and goes back to taking off his pads.
Jack showers and dresses again, and checks his phone while he’s waiting on the bus. He has a handful of texts from family and friends, including the standard sad face from Bittle. He blinks at it for a moment, and realizes that he’s not upset, even though they lost. They played hard and well. Just getting to OT felt like an accomplishment against the Aces. And he and Parse seem to have made their peace with each other, which is somehow more important than the rest of it.
Jack drops his phone to his lap and whispers, “Damn.”
“What?” Whits drops into the seat next to him.
“Nothing, I just…” Jack turns to look at him. “Good game, eh?”
“Yeah, it was. We did better than I expected.”
Jack’s phone pings and he picks it up to glance at the screen. “You up for going out tonight?”
Whits makes a strangled sound. “What the fuck?”
“If you don’t, it’s not—”
“No, I do, but dude — you never want to go out after a loss. You hardly want to go out after wins.”
“It’s a special occasion, I guess.” Jack tilts the phone so that Whits can see the message from Parse.
Sky Bar. We’re heading there now. Tell the doorman you’re meeting me.
“Sweet,” Whits says, grinning. “Yeah, I’d be up for that.”
Another message pops up while they’re both looking at the screen.
Please tell me you’re bringing Whitton. He is hot AF. [smirky face]
Whits makes a sound like a teenage girl.
“Oops,” Jack says, trying hard not to laugh. He lowers his voice. “Should I text him back and tell him you think he’s cute too, or?”
“Shut up,” Whits says, blushing furiously, then grips Jack’s wrist. “Wait, does that mean he…”
Jack opens his mouth to say yes, but then thinks better of it. That’s Parse’s information to give, not Jack’s. He taps out a quick reply on his phone — See you there. And yes, he’s coming — and then scrolls over to the SMH group text.
“I mean, I’ve heard rumors, but—” Whits’ phone pings and he looks down at his screen. “Whoa. Have you looked at your Twitter notifications?”
“I turned them off.” It had been a little much.
“Take a look at the Falcs’ account.”
The top tweet is a photo of him and Parse hugging it out at the end of the game. It’s captioned Hockey hugs are the best hugs and has several thousand likes and retweets even though it’s been up less than an hour. Jack scrolls over to Parse’s account to see that he’s already retweeted it with the comment Bros for life. Even Bittle retweeted it with a little heart emoji, which is a surprise, considering how bristly he usually gets when the subject of Parse comes up.
“I gotta retweet that,” Whits says, and Jack sees him smirking at his phone as he types. Jack waits a moment before scrolling over to see that Whits replied, Should I be jealous?
“You dick,” Jack says, but replies to that with Probably.
“Jesus, you two,” someone calls from the back of the bus less than a minute later. “Get a fuckin’ room!”
Whits raises one hand with his middle finger extended, and everyone laughs. Jack shakes his head in disbelief that his teammates don’t have better things to do right now than stalk them on Twitter.
They arrive at Sky Bar to find there’s a line, but when Jack mentions they’re with Kent Parson, they’re ushered straight through.
“Must be nice,” Whits says.
Jack doesn’t reply: he’s gotten more special treatment in his life than he deserves because of his last name. At least Parse earned it.
They find Parse sitting in a corner in a roped-off zone with one of the guys from his line.
“Zimms,” Parse says by way of greeting. “And you are Taylor Whitton.” He gives Whits such an obvious onceover that the man sitting beside him rolls his eyes.
“It’s Beaulieu, right?” Jack asks him, ignoring the spectacle of Parse and Whits making eyes at each other.
Beaulieu looks startled. “Oh! I am. Yes.”
“Jack Zimmermann.” Jack slides into a seat across from him and extends his hand.
“Yeah, I know who you are,” Beaulieu says, grinning as he shakes Jack’s hand. His accent is thick, and Jack wonders if that’s typical, or if he’s just nervous.
Jack switches to French. “How do you like Las Vegas?”
“It’s crazy,” Beaulieu tells him. “I mean, I’m technically still underage, but if I’m out with one of the guys from the team, it doesn’t matter. It’s a good thing I’m not inclined to do crazy shit, because you can get in a lot of trouble here.”
“I can imagine,” Jack replies. He wonders how Parse managed to avoid trouble in his rookie year, considering how inclined to crazy shit Parse could be. “So you played for Rimouski last year, right?”
“Yeah,” Beaulieu says, clearly surprised. “How did you know that?”
“You’re on Parse’s line. I watched a lot of video of you in the last week.” Jack smiles at him, then says in English, “You’ve got a fucking sick backhand.”
Beaulieu ducks his head, smiling. “Ah, thanks.”
The server comes by and they all order drinks. Parse chats with her, full flirt mode on, and Whits leans in close to Jack.
“This is gonna sound weird, but I’ve never actually heard you speak French before.”
Jack turns to look at him. “Really?”
Whits grins and moves so close his mouth nearly touches Jack’s ear. “Not gonna lie; it’s pretty damn hot.”
Jack snorts out a laugh and shakes his head. He looks up to see Parse watching the two of them.
Whits stands and pats him on the shoulder. “Back in a sec.” He stands and heads off, presumably in search of the bathroom.
Two seconds later, Parse is sliding into Whits’ empty seat. “So,” he says.
“Oh god,” Jack mutters.
Parse leans in and lowers his voice. “I gotta ask. You and Whitton?”
“Me and Whitton what?”
Parse gives him a long look.
“Oh!” Jack glances over at Beaulieu, whose nose is suddenly buried in his phone. “No, we’re just friends.”
Parse smiles a little wider. “Okay, cool. He’s not really your type, but I thought I should ask first.”
There is a lot of presumption in the word first, but Jack doesn’t comment on that. “How do you know he’s not my type?”
Parse’s smile goes full-on smirk. “Because I’m your type, dumbass. You like ‘em smaller than you and blond. Like that Bittle kid from your team at Samwell — you can’t tell me you two weren’t hooking up on the regular.”
Jack gapes at him. “Bittle? I…”
Parse rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to front, Zimms. He fawns all over you on Twitter.” He turns to look at Jack again, and his eyes widen. “Wait, you didn’t?”
Jack fakes a laugh and looks away. “No comment.”
“Fine, be all private. Like I care. Spoiler: I actually do.”
The server brings their drinks before Jack can reply to that.
“So if I put the moves on your boy Whitton, you’re not gonna be pissed at me or anything?”
“Of course not.” Jack’s eyes narrow. “Wait — you’re not trying to set me up with Beaulieu, are you?”
“Nah, he’s straight,” Parse says. “Though he was so geeked about meeting you that he might give it a try.” Jack snorts, and Parse leans in to whisper, “Like that hasn’t happened before.”
Jack elbows him. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, he’s my rookie, and I trust him.” Parse waggles his eyebrows. “And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten him mad pussy this season. You would not believe.”
Jack snorts. “So that’s why he hangs out with you.”
“Hey, I have a lot of good qualities. Just because I also give amazing head doesn’t mean—”
“Okay, I’m gonna go piss.” Jack stands and walks away, Parse’s laughter trailing behind him. He meets Whits on his way back, and smirks at him.
“What?” Whits asks, but Jack just waves a hand at him and keeps going.
When he gets back, Parse and Whits are deep in conversation. Jack sits next to Beaulieu, who looks relieved to be able to put his phone away at last. They talk hockey for half an hour, then decide to head over to the bar to get a closer look at the television screen that just started playing NHL highlights. They order another round and watch highlights of their own game in the middle of a crowd of people who have no idea who they are. It’s strange, but also kind of nice. Jack hasn’t had many opportunities to feel anonymous in the last decade.
A pair of women sitting a few spaces down the bar keep looking over and smiling, though, and Jack can’t tell if it’s interest or recognition. He looks over to see that Beaulieu is looking at them too. He’s not used to being a wingman, but he can at least give it a shot.
“You should buy them drinks,” Jack tells him.
“Those two? Out of my reach,” Beaulieu says, and flushes. He’s actually kind of adorable, with large green eyes and soft brown curls that fall around his face. He has dimples when he smiles, which has the effect of making his slightly crooked teeth look almost charming. He’s not Jack’s type at all, but Jack can definitely see why the women might be interested.
“No, seriously. Here’s the bartender. Do it.”
Beaulieu waves at the bartender, then orders two more of what the ladies are drinking and sends it their way.
“Thanks,” Beaulieu says when he sits back again. “I’m terrible at this.”
“That’s not what Parse said.”
Beaulieu rolls his eyes. “Parse fucks everything that moves.” He shakes his head, and Jack can’t tell if his expression is one of disgust or admiration.
“He hasn’t changed much since Juniors, then.” Jack watches the bartender deliver the women their drinks and gesture up the bar towards the two of them. “They’re looking this way. You should go talk to them.”
“Oh god, no.” Beaulieu grips his glass so tightly his knuckles turn white.
The women talk quietly, and then one slides off her stool.
“Never mind, she’s coming to you.” Jack elbows him.
“Ah, shit. Okay.” Beaulieu takes a deep breath. “So which one do you like?”
“Uhhh…” Jack hesitates and drains the rest of his drink. “I’m not available, actually, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, right,” Beaulieu says, nodding in apparent understanding. His eyes widen almost comically. “Wait, so what do I—”
Both of the women come over then, all smiles, and one thanks them for the drinks in fairly bad French. It’s charming, though, and Jack lets her off the hook quickly. He thickens his accent and talks about being in town to watch his friend Justin play hockey. They clearly have no idea who either of them are, so it’s easy to play up the Aces and Justin’s assist on the game-winning goal.
Finally, Jack pulls out his phone to check the time. He says he has an early flight to the east coast in the morning and needs to go, but would they mind keeping his friend Justin company a little longer, so he doesn’t have to celebrate alone? They look a little disappointed that Jack’s leaving, but when Beaulieu’s cheeks flush and he looks down into his beer, they both smile at him and say, “Awww.” If Jack didn’t know better, he’d think Beaulieu was doing it on purpose.
Jack leans in to give him a “goodbye” hug and a kiss on the cheek, and the women giggle.
“Thank you,” Beaulieu whispers.
“Have fun,” Jack replies. He pauses by the door to text Whits that he’s heading out.
OK if I stay? is Whits’ immediate reply.
Don’t miss the bus in the morning.
It’s too late to text Bittle or Shitty, so Jack entertains himself in the cab by catching up with the SMH group chat. He usually texts or Skypes with Bittle after a game, and it feels weird not to have done so tonight. He’s not superstitious at all, but he likes routine. He checks his messages again and sees there was a new one from Bittle, sent several hours ago:
Hope it goes well with Parse tonight. [smiley face]
Jack’s stomach flips pleasantly. He switches off his phone and watches Las Vegas go by, and is suddenly very glad he signed with Providence.
Jack’s alarm goes off at 7:00, which feels early considering how late they were out last night. He looks over to the room’s other bed and sees a blanket-covered lump there. He has no idea what time Whits got in, but at least he’s not going to have to hunt him down this morning.
Jack heads to the bathroom, shaves and showers, and comes back out to find Whits sitting up in bed, shirtless, cup of coffee from the room’s tiny coffeemaker in hand. He looks exhausted.
“You must’ve had a quite a night,” Jack says. He pulls clean clothes out of his suitcase and drops his towel.
Whits stares down at his coffee cup. “Yeah, so about that.”
Jack pauses to frown at him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m such an asshole. I swear I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know—” Jack starts, and then says, “Oh.”
“He didn’t say anything until later, when I was about to go, and I—”
“It’s fine,” Jack says. “Really.”
“No, it’s not. I slept with your ex. Like, your only ex. I mean, I knew you were freaked out about this game and seeing him again, and I should’ve put two and two together. You probably wanted to talk to him, at least, and I just… god, I was thinking with my dick.”
Jack sighs and crosses to sit next to him on the bed. “We talked earlier in the day, before the game, and worked out our shit. Really, it’s fine.”
“Still, it’s not cool to fuck your best bro’s ex.”
Jack blinks at him. “I’m your best bro?”
Whits looks back at him. “Well… yeah. I guess.”
Warmth blooms in Jack’s chest, and he smiles. “Thanks, man.” He knows he should say me too, but he isn’t sure it’s completely true. Of all of his friends, he spends the most time with Whits, but he has a long, intense history with Shitty, and… he doesn’t quite know how to classify his friendship with Bittle, which runs deep in a way he can’t really quantify. The point is, he feels differently about each of them, but they’re all important.
Whits sighs. “Anyway, I’m sorry if I made things weird.”
“You didn’t. I don’t care about shit like that anyway.” He shrugs. “You know it’s not really my thing.”
“So what is your thing? I mean…” Whits’ expression seems carefully blank. “Are you gay?”
Jack stares back at him for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t…” Whits hesitates, frowning. “Then are you bi?”
“Maybe?” Jack shrugs. “I haven’t been interested either way in the last couple of years, so… I don’t really know what to call myself.”
Well, that’s not entirely true, but he’s not ready to think about that, much less talk about it. Time to change the subject.
He smirks at Whits. “So did you sleep at all last night?”
Whits’ eyebrows go up. “What the fuck, man? You never want deets.”
Jack tilts his head and leans in closer. “Is that a bite mark on your—”
Whits blushes and shoves Jack’s shoulder. “Jesus, enough! And get some fucking clothes on if you’re gonna hang out in my bed. As much as I’ve been slutting it up lately, I might get the wrong idea.”
“Like you haven’t seen my dick before.” Jack takes the coffee cup out of Whits’ hand and takes a swig. Whits puts in more sugar than he likes, but it’s tolerable.
“Hey!” Whits says, and reaches to take it back. “You don’t know where my mouth’s been.”
“Nowhere mine hasn’t,” Jack replies.
Whits nearly spills coffee on himself laughing.
On the bus to the airport, Jack’s phone pings with a text from Parse:
You fucking broke my rookie. TWO girls, srsly?
Jack texts back a winky face, then tucks his phone away and smiles.