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I - Late Summer ‘09: Sometime After the Draft

“Hey, Ma? Can we talk?” Kent asks.

She’s sitting in the living room on the couch, flipping through a magazine. She looks up at Kent when he comes in the room.

“Of course, honey,” she says, a warm smile on her face. She pats the empty space next to her. “What’re you thinking?”

He sighs, sitting down. “I’m sorry,” he says frankly.

“For what, Kent?”

“Ma, I’m… I’m leaving you again. I just—I feel so guilty. I left you for the Q, and now I’m going all the way to Vegas? How is that fair to you?”

She sits back slightly. Sighs. “Well,” she starts, “I guess it really isn’t.”

He nods grimly. If anything, he’s glad his ma is being honest with him.

“Kent, baby, you have to know that I’m proud of you, though. It’s…” She sighs. “It’s a tradeoff. Yes, I have to watch you go away again. But you’re going to play in the NHL , Kent, after you went first in the draft.”

He winces at that. She doesn’t notice.

“I’m so incredibly proud of you,” she repeats, hugging him. He returns the gesture, fingers curling tightly around the material of his mother’s sweater. She pulls away when she feels a tear hit her shoulder.

“Kenny? What’s wrong, baby?”

He sniffles and shrugs.

“You’re not scared, are you? It’s alright if you are, you know.”

Kent nods. “I know. I’m not, by the way,” he adds quickly.

She chuckles and takes another shot. “Are you really gonna miss me that much?”

He rolls his eyes, wiping away another tear. “Of course I’ll miss you.” Still, that’s not why he’s crying. “It’s my fault,” he says quietly, averting his eyes.

“What’s your f—Oh my God, Kent… No, honey, no, no, come here,” she says, pulling him close again.

More tears start to fall. “I should’ve paid more attention, Mommy,” he says between sobs. “I should’ve known something was off. And now… Now I’m going to Las Vegas and he’s—” He has to stop. His body is shaking. His mother is shushing him, rubbing his back.

“Jack is in rehab,” Kent cries. It’s the first time he’s said those words aloud, and they shoot through his veins like ice. “It’s my fault, it’s my fault,” he’s whispering, nearly hysterical.

“Kent, how could it possibly be your fault?” she asks gently.

He tries to shrug, but he’s still shaking too much. “I should’ve done more, I should’ve been there for him, I—”

“Kent, stop. Listen to me. You were. Jack has a serious problem, honey, and he’s getting help for it now, but this is in no way your fault. I think.... I think this would have happened no matter what. And in a way, it’s a good thing. He’s getting professional help now.”

Kent pulls away, shocked. “How could you even say that? He was getting help before, he had medication. It was the fucking medication that—”

He stops again, choking on his words. She still looks so calm, so gentle.

“It wasn’t the same. I don’t think he was seeing a therapist, or talking to his parents about it. Sometimes, just the medication isn’t enough.”

He wipes a hand across his eyes, still glaring at her.

“Honey, this isn’t something you could have seen coming. You can’t control things like this. It’s just...survivor’s guilt.”

His jaw locks. Her eyes widen.

“He’s still alive. He’s the survivor.”

“Shit,” she breathes. Kent stands up and she goes to grab his arm. “Kenny, I’m sorry. That was a bad choice of words. Kent, stop!”

He sighs and halts, still facing away from her. Her grip is tight around his wrist. It loosens when he stops moving.

“The point is,” she says, her tone pleading for him to turn around, “you don’t have anything to be sorry for. You shouldn’t put that blame on yourself, because I’m sure Jack doesn’t.”

He pulls his arm away. “I need some air,” he says.

She sighs, or maybe it’s a quiet sob. He can’t tell. He still can’t face her. “Alright, honey. Don’t stay out for too long, please. I wanted to sit down and eat a nice dinner together before you have to leave.”

He nods curtly and leaves the apartment, no destination in mind. The late afternoon sunlight is casting a warm glow on the world around him. Fuck the sun, Kent thinks. Fuck the world. His teardrops are leaving little dark spots on the sidewalk. Maybe if he gets lost, they can lead him home.

His breath catches in his throat when he thinks of Jack, lying on the floor in his bathroom. His face is so cold, his hands are so cold. Kent’s slapping his face, trying to get him to wake up. The bottle of pills is empty. It isn’t until he sees the bottle that he pulls out his phone.

He’s on the ground now. He doesn’t remember falling. There’s a sharp pain in both knees. When he shakily rises, there are two red marks. Red trails down his calves. Great.

He should turn around and go back home. No, he needs more time. He takes a deep breath, ignoring the pain and the warm red on his skin.

Hot tears. Warm blood. Why was Jack so cold?

Kent hates himself for leaving Jack behind. He can’t not. He wishes he was the one lying in a bed somewhere, watching Jack go off to play professional hockey. He probably deserved it—much more than Jack did, anyway.

Jack, could you ever forgive me? he asks. Kent just doesn’t believe that Jack ever could. He knows Jack. Well. He’ll claim that he isn’t mad, that everything’s okay. It’s all bullshit, and Kent knows it. Even if what his mother told him is true, even if he couldn’t have stopped it from happening… He’ll always wonder if there was something more he could have done.

He stops walking; he’s made a full circle around the block. The tops of his socks are stained red. Some price to pay for being the “survivor.”

 

II - December ‘14: Epikegster

His thumb is twitching over the send button. He should send the damn text, already.

Hey Zimms. Been a while. I know it’s out of the blue, but is it alright if I drop by Samwell? Heard there’s a party tonight. We should talk. -K

It’s so fucking formal, it almost makes him sick. He doesn’t want to seem aloof, though. Jack needs to know that Kent means business.

No.

If he sends it, there’s a chance he won’t get the closure he desperately needs. Jack could easily tell him not to come. And he would listen.

They need to talk. It’s been five goddamn years, and Kent is tired of letting what-ifs chew at his nerves. He’s tired of putting on that confident, arrogant smirk that people have come to love—or tolerate, at least. He’s so tired of wet pillowcases and guilt over empty ice cream cartons.

Mostly, he’s tired of being so fucking tired. A lot of times, sleep seems to slip through his fingers. His eyes will close, but his head is too loud for him to rest.

In the first year, he had tried desperately to keep in touch with Jack. He knew Jack was mad, and probably envious of Kent’s position. That’s why it wasn’t too off-putting when Jack didn’t return his calls. Texts. Even emails.

A year passed. Kent was tired of being ignored. He tried to go through Bob and Alicia to get to Jack. He could hear it in their voices; they so wanted to help him. They couldn’t though. He understood.

He’d like to tell himself that he gave up and moved on. The guilt was persistent, though. There were some sparse conversations over text. There had been two in just the last month alone. Just talks, brief and cautious. Like skating on eggshells. Basic information. Pleasantries. Not enough to satisfy him. There was always a feeling of hollowness that accompanied the “I miss you,” that seemed to end every conversation.

He’s still not even sure if he wants to try again with Jack, or be friends, even. All he knows is that he needs to hear from Jack that he isn’t mad. That he doesn’t blame Kent for what happened. Once he does, he thinks he might be able to start to live in the present again after five years.


He’s already bracing himself for the reaction he’s going to get when he steps into the house. Until he finds Jack, he knows he’ll have to let himself drip with the Parson bravado that people have come to expect. It’s not necessarily that he finds Samwell disgusting, but he associates it with failure. Jack’s fall. He’s sure the people are nice enough.

So he takes selfies. He plays flip cup with the girl who introduces herself as Lardo. He really does think he’s gonna destroy her. But it’s only fair she makes him hold up a sign that says “she beat me” in their selfie, afterwards. He keeps the plastic turquoise glasses, too.

“For ironic purposes,” he assures her.

She just snorts in response.

He eventually finds Jack, standing under a bag of condoms pinned to the wall. Shit, he looks good. Jack’s grown. Maybe not so much in terms of stature, but he’s much more muscular. His face is so defined. Even in the semi-darkness, those blue eyes still pierce right into Kent’s heart. It’s really him.

There were moments in the past years that Kent wondered if Jack actually was living. He knew how stupid he was being, but he hasn’t seen him in person since....

Jack’s talking to someone. Kent doesn’t really care who he is, until he hears part of their conversation.

“I’m surprised you’re not chirping me for having my nose buried in my phone,” the guy says. Kent can practically see the hearts in his eyes.

“Well, if it’s out. We should take a…’selfie,’ or something. Together.”

Kent almost laughs out loud. It’s the most hopeless flirting he’s ever heard. Five years later, and Jack still doesn’t have game.

“There it is.”

“I’m serious! You know. Like. ‘Bitty’s First Big Kegster.’ ...You could put it on your blog.”

He learns a lot in that one sentence. He must be young—fuck, he looks like he could be in high school—his name is...Bitty? Maybe he’ll figure that one out later. And he has a blog. As much as Kent’s interest is piqued, he has matters to attend to.

“I mean, I don’t get selfies, but you’ve—”

Okay, that’s it, he has to say something.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t seeing it myself. Jack Zimmermann. At a party. Taking a selfie.”

Both turn to look at him.

Bitty gasps, “Oh my gosh!”

He’s trying to read the look on Jack’s face. Trying to keep his cool.

“Kent,” Jack breathes. It’s funny how a certain person saying your name after so many years can pack such a punch.

This is his big moment. He’s swooping back into Jack’s life. Alright Parson, play it cool, he tells himself.

“Hey, Zimms. Didja miss me?”

Because I’ve fucking missed you.

Before Jack can reply, Bitty is rushing forward. He grabs Kent’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically.

“Lord, you’re Kent Parson!”

He looks down at him, trying to be friendly despite how exasperated he is. “Sure am.”

“Uh, Bits? I’ll be right back,” Jack says, glancing from Bitty to Kent and back again. He looks like a deer in headlights.

Bitty turns back to face him, looking disappointed. A little worried. “Oh. Sure, Jack!”

Jack locks eyes with Kent one more time before quickly turning and exiting the room. Fuck. He’d gotten so close, and now this little blond ball of sunshine is talking his ear off. Kent agrees to take a selfie with him, then promptly asks where he thinks Jack could be.

“Hmm. Maybe outside? He probably just needed some air. He’s not really a party person, so—”

“Yeah, I know,” Kent cuts him off.

Bitty looks at him a little weird. “Oh. Well it was nice meeting you, Kent! I’m gonna go see if I can find him.”

Kent watches him weave through the sea of bodies until he can’t see him anymore. Jack wouldn’t go outside if he wanted to be alone. He thinks he knows where to find him.


Jack’s door is slightly ajar. That’s the only way Kent can tell it’s his room, though. All the others are locked, anyway.

He knocks on the door gently, pushing it open. Jack is leaning over his desk. He jumps at the noise and turns around. There’s that face again, the one Kent can’t quite decipher.

“Kenny,” Jack says, taking a small step forward. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugs, trying his best to seem casual as he closes the door behind him. “It’s been awhile. We haven’t talked in five years. I missed you.”

Jack shakes his head. “We talked a couple weeks ago, we—”

“No. We need to really talk. About everything.”

Jack shakes his head again, turning away. He sits down on his bed.

“Kent… I don’t know if this is a good time.”

That hurts. Kent still knows him well. Jack might as well have said: “I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Well, I’m here, aren’t I? So, we might as well.”

Jack scoffs as Kent shifts on his heels a little.

“I’m sorry, Zimms.”

Jack looks up at him. “For what?”

Kent blinks at Jack. “For… I don’t know. Just. Everything,” Kent says, gesturing around him. “This was never supposed to be your life, Jack. You deserve better, more.”

“I like it here.”

Kent raises an eyebrow.

“I do. I like my teammates, even if they are noisy sometimes. And throw big parties at the place where I live. Usually, it’s nice and quiet. And the team is doing so well this season, I really think we—”

Kent’s trying so hard not to scream, or cry, or punch a wall.

“Why the fuck did you just cut me off like that?” He interrupts Jack mid sentence.

“Wha...?” Jack breathes.

Kent blinks; an angry tear rolls down his cheek. He takes a step towards Jack.

“I wanted to be there for you, Jack. I wanted to fucking help. But you just...stopped talking to me. I thought what we had was something, you know? Didn’t I mean anything to you? You...Fuck, Jack, you meant so much to me. You still do.”

Jack’s standing now, eyes wide. “Kent, I—”

“And I can’t help feeling like this is all somehow my fault. Is there something I could have done? I just need to know, Jack. What could I have done differently?”

He shakes his head. “I’m not talking about this. It’s in the past. It’s done.”

Kent groans, wiping another tear off his face with the heel of his hand. Fucking typical.

“I’m still really good, I think,” Jack says after a moment. “At hockey, I mean. I’ve been hearing things here and there from my papa about NHL teams.”

There’s Kent's opening.

“Yes. Yes, Jack; that’s what you should be focusing on!” Kent says, switching gears excitedly. Maybe this is his chance to turn things back around. “Soon you’ll be out of here, and playing with people who matter. You can still have everything you wanted!”

Maybe it isn’t too late for him after all.

Jack gives him a weird look.

“What teams have you heard things about? Where do you think you’ll end up?” Kent asks.

Jack shrugs. “There isn’t anything really substantial yet. I’ve been looking at the Falconers a little bit, especially because they’re so close to this area. But. I still have a whole semester of college to finish. Anything could happen. I’m not dedicated to any one team or anything.”

Kent stops and looks at him. “So really...You have no clue?”

“I mean…” Jack sighs, frustrated. Kent is pushing him. “It could be Montreal, it could be L.A. Okay? I don’t know.”

Kent licks his lips. “...What about Las Vegas?”

Jack frowns at him, taking a step back. “I...I don’t know, okay?”

He’s not really sure what comes over him. Maybe it’s the fact that his best friend, the goddamn love of his life, is standing in front of him again after five years. They’re finally talking about something real. It’s overwhelming and talking about hockey makes Kent feel nostalgic, so he rushes forward. He grabs Jack’s face. He’s kissing him. This was definitely not part of Kent’s plan, but he doesn’t stop.

It feels like they’re picking up where they left off. Or, at least. Kent desperately wants it to feel that way. But Jack has changed in a lot of ways.

Kent still feels like the same damn person.

He doesn’t need to open his eyes to see the look on Jack’s face. It’s the same one Jack made the first time Kent kissed him.

Jack’s lips are hesitant against his, but he does start to kiss him back cautiously. Then he stops and pulls away.

“Pars—”

Kent doesn’t let him continue. He doesn’t want him to. He’s tired of talking; actions speak louder than words, right? After seeing him with that other guy earlier, Kent’s now realizing just how jealous he feels.

Jack pushes away again, gasping. He shakes his head.

“Kenny...I can’t do this.”

Kent brings his arms down to Jack’s shoulders. They’re even broader than they used to be.

“...Jack, come on,” he pleads. He wants to be the one again.

“No, I…”

And then Kent is kissing him again, trying desperately to recapture the emotion they used to share. His hat falls off his head and onto the floor behind him.

“—Uh,” Jack sighs into the kiss, right before he pushes away again. He pulls away from Kent’s grip on his shoulders. “Kenny,” he warns.

Kent groans and throws his hands up, turning around to pick up the hat. This isn’t going at all like he wanted it to. All he wanted to hear is that Jack wasn’t mad at him anymore, but the longer he stays, the less certain of that he is. He takes a deep breath and turns back to Jack.

“Zimms, just fucking stop thinking for once and listen to me.” He starts to formulate a plan as he’s speaking, frantically spitting the words. “I’ll tell the GMS you’re on board and they can free up cap space. Then you can be done with this shitty team. You and me—”

Jack’s worried frown turns into an angry one in the middle of Kent’s sentence. “Get out,” he says through gritted teeth, fists curling.

Fuck. He hadn’t meant to insult Jack’s friends. “Jack,” he pleads.

Jack takes a step back, the back of his knees hitting his bed. “You can’t—you don’t come to my fucking school unannounced—”

“Because you shut me out—” Kent says, trying to defend himself.

“—and corner me in my room—”

“I’m trying to help—”

“—and expect me to do whatever you want—”

“FUCK —Jack! What do you want me to say? That I miss you? I miss you, okay?” It’s the most genuine thing he’s said all night, one of the only things he’s even certain of anymore. “...I miss you.”

He needs to hear him say it back, he needs to know that he’s not the only one missing what they used to have.

Jack shakes his head, glaring at the floor. “...You always say that.”

And just like that, Kent knows. Jack still hasn’t forgiven him. He only defended his team because they’re all he has anymore; he must hate Kent for the way things turned out.

“Huh,” Kent says. Nothing’s ever hurt him more than those four words. The fact that Jack can’t miss him back. He can’t even lie about it. He doesn’t even want to consider the Aces. Jack’s done trying, and Kent’s heart is lying shattered on the floor where his hat was moments prior. “Well, shit. Okay. You know what, Zimmermann? You think you’re too fucked up to care about?”

He’s so angry now, the words pour out of his mouth before he can think about them.

“Everyone already knows what you are, but it’s people like me who still care.”

Jack is shakily sitting now, looking up at Kent. His eyes are full of panic. “Shut up,” he mutters.

“You’re scared everybody else is going to find out you’re worthless, right?” He doesn’t believe it himself, he would never think that about Jack. But he’s not an idiot. He knows how Jack must see himself. He laughs a short, cold laugh. “Oh, don’t worry, just give it a few seasons, Jack. Trust me.”

Jack’s standing back up again. “G-get out of my room.”

“Fine. Shut me out again,” Kent says, so fucking frustrated. He’d gotten so close. His grip around his worn hat is tight, knuckles white.

“And stay-...stay away from my team,” Jack adds, taking a step forward.

That’s the final straw for Kent. He can’t believe Jack would really make a choice like that. He’s choosing this fucking college hockey team over his best friend.

“Why? Afraid I’ll tell them something?” Kent spits.

“Leave, Parse,” Jack nearly yells. He takes another step forward as Kent locks his jaw and wrenches the door open, only to find the same little blond kid from earlier on the floor. Bitty, that’s his name.

What the fuck is he doing here? How much did he hear? That...wasn’t me in there.

He clears his throat, putting the hat back onto his head. In a rush of emotions, he says what he regrets most: “Hey. Well. Call me if you reconsider or whatever. But good luck with the Falconers.” He really can’t control himself. He’s so hurt that after all this time, after all they’ve been through, Jack is really shutting him out again.

“...I’m sure that’ll make your dad proud.”

He hears a choked gasp from behind him as he rushes down the hallway, back toward the stairs. Bitty starts to say something, but Jack’s door slams shut.

His throat and neck are tight, straining from how hard he’s trying not to burst into tears. He can’t help a few tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, but he ignores them as he steps off the stairs. He scans the crowd for an exit, feeling frustrated and frantic; his vision is blurred from crying. He starts to push through people, heading in the direction he thinks will lead him outside.

“Ayyy, Parson!” he hears from somewhere next to him. “You up for a second game of flip cup? Can’t promise I won’t cream you again, but it’ll still be fun!”

He ignores her. He almost wipes at his face, but he doesn’t want to call attention to the tears.

“Pshh, too afraid? That’s fine! We have evidence of the first time, anyway!” Lardo calls after him.

He finally locates the door, pushing through it and past the weird guy screaming about tub juice. He finds his car and gets into the driver’s seat, slamming the door and locking it.

He releases the tension in his face and neck, letting the tears flow freely. He screams and smacks the steering wheel, then winces and hisses at the pain that follows.

Kent isn’t really sure how long he sits in his car and cries. He can just faintly hear the music blasting from the house, reminding him of the mess he left behind.

You really fucked this one up, Kenny, he thinks to himself. If he couldn’t forgive you before, if he couldn’t even say that he misses you… How the fuck is he ever Into going to now?

 

III - November ‘15: Post-Game

His heart's still racing. He can feel his pulse pounding in his ears, almost drowning out the echoes of the people screaming around him. His hands don’t usually shake this much after he’s gotten off the ice. Maybe it’s not because of the game.

The Falconers and Aces had both played a tough game. It was weird playing against Jack. It was confusing in a lot of ways. Kent thought he would still be able to read Jack on the ice, predict his next move. Jack’s changed, though. There’s something livelier about him, more energetic. Less...robotic.

It’s taken Kent a long time to love hockey again. He had to teach himself, force himself even. When he was younger, his mom and hockey were all he really had. He put his whole life into the sport, and then it gave him Jack. It felt too good to be true. It always did. Maybe that’s why—once over the initial shock of the overdose—Kent wasn’t really all that surprised. He’d already come to terms with the fact that Jack wouldn’t be around forever, because he couldn’t see how it could be possible that something so good could happen to him.

He started wondering, then, if the sport really was good for him. He started worrying that he might end up like Jack, or countless others who succumbed to the pressure. Kent knows he’s good. Even before he went first in the draft back in 2009, he knew he was good. But there were definitely times for a while when he questioned what his life might be like if he hadn’t chosen hockey. Would he be better off? He can imagine himself in college, maybe joining a frat. A normal life, a steady boyfriend, a degree.

The thing is, he doesn’t want that. He never did, and he never will. Despite the shit hockey has put him through, it’s the one thing in his life that’s been consistent. It doesn’t cut him off. It doesn’t inexplicably disappear and leave him alone, afraid. The ice is always there when he needs to blow off steam or clear his mind. He’s made friends during his years of playing for the Aces, but he hasn’t been able to connect with anybody the same way he had with Jack.

Shit. They’re supposed to be meeting in five minutes. Kent had texted Jack before the game and asked if they could talk. The guilt that’s been sitting on his chest since December of the previous year has been a lot to carry around. Even during the game, when he would catch Jack’s eyes, it felt like a knife being twisted. The problem is, he can’t figure out where the wound is. He just knows it’s there.

He’s already gotten all of the press out of the way, all of the congratulations. Most of his teammates are gone. A few people linger in the locker room.

Kent takes a deep breath and stands up, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Jack hasn’t sent him any messages, so he must be waiting still. Or, Kent hopes, at least.

He thinks he knows where to find him. Jack had arranged the meeting spot; it was his home turf, so he knew his way around. Kent made sure to note the spot Jack mentioned on his way in, but he’s not completely sure how to get there from this locker room.

He wanders for a few minutes in what he believes is the right direction. His phone’s in his hand, but he turned it off when he got back to the locker room. He can worry about the tweets and the texts later. He has an apology to make.

Finally, he does find Jack, but he isn’t alone. The spot he picked out is very private; the general public isn’t allowed back here. It’s a fairly large room filled with table and chairs. Probably for reserved parties and things of that nature. Jack is standing against a wall, talking to someone who looks familiar to Kent. There’s another Falconer there too. Mashkov, maybe? Kent knows they call him Tater.

The small blond in front of Jack goes up onto his tiptoes and kisses Jack, who laughs and pushes him back down. Kent feels his heart sink. It’s the same kid he met at the kegger last year, the one who had probably heard most of his conversation with Jack. He says something and Jack laughs. Kent stops dead in his tracks. Making Jack laugh wasn’t an easy feat.

It’s in this moment that he realizes: he still hasn’t forgiven Jack. Kent’s been looking for Jack to forgive him all this time, but he still hasn’t gotten an apology from Jack either. He cut Kent off without any kind of explanation. Regardless of his situation, he should have been able to at least explain.

Tater taps Jack on the shoulder and gestures toward Kent, who smiles awkwardly and waves. Bitty sighs and gives Kent a nasty look, then makes it a point to kiss Jack again before turning to Tater. Jack is still chuckling and shaking his head when he approaches Kent, sticking out his hand. Kent shakes it, then adjusts the strap on his shoulder.

“Hey, Jack. Thanks for agreeing to meet me. I know we haven’t really talked since, uh…”

Jack nods. “It’s fine, Kent. I just want to get this over with so we can move forward.”

That’s fair. Kent had been a huge dick, Jack was being mature by agreeing to settle this.

“You, uh, you played a good game.”

Jack grins. “Yeah, you too. I think I play better when he’s in the crowd.” He turns his head to look back at Bitty, who must be telling Tater a story if his flamboyant hand gestures are any indication.

“Oh. So you two are pretty serious, then?”

Jack turns back to him. He’s smiling, but there’s an air of defensiveness to it. “Yeah, we are. He’s… I love him, Kent.”

Kent bites at the inside of his cheek. Nods. “I’m happy for you.”

Jack sighs, taking a step forward. “I-I’m sorry. That’s not what you came to talk about.”

“No, it isn’t.”

Jack steps back again. “Fine. Talk.”

“Jack… I didn’t mean to snap. But let’s not dance around the past, here. You can imagine how it must feel for me to see you with him,” Kent says, trying to keep his tone gentle.

Jack nods. “That’s fair.”

“Thank you. Anyway, I wanted to talk about that party last year. I said some things that I’m really not proud of, you know? I don’t want to make any excuses. I was mad at you, and I wanted you to miss me back, and when you didn’t… I just snapped. And I was wrong, obviously. Look at you now.”

He’s silent for a moment. “I appreciate you saying that.”

It’s stilted, a little forced. He still sounds angry to Kent.

“I also…” Kent pauses for a second, debating whether or not the next point is worth bringing up. “I also wanted to forgive you.”

Jack raises an eyebrow.

“I don’t know if you’ve been feeling as guilty about things as I have, but either way I wanted to say that I’m not angry. A little confused, still. Frustrated, even. But not angry,” Kent says, looking right into Jack’s eyes.

He looks down, sighing. “I… Thank you, Kenny. I guess I have some things to apologize for, too. I’ve been so focused on how angry I am about the things you said. It didn’t always occur to me that I sort of fucked up too.”

Kent smiles a little, even though he feels like someone is punching his heart repeatedly. “Good,” he breathes. “I just don’t want there to be bad blood between us.”

Jack snorts. “Typical of you to quote Taylor Swift at a time like this.”

Kent’s jaw drops. “You listen to Tay?”

“Not really. Bitty forces me sometimes, and it just sticks.”

He laughs in disbelief. “So how did you two meet? I mean, I assume he goes to Samwell.”

Jack frowns at him. “He’s on the hockey team, Kent. He’s really good, too. Fast. Clever. I could go on,” he says, laughing to himself.

It makes sense. Leave it to Jack to fall in love with another small, blond hockey player. And Kent could feel how in love they were, just by being in the same room.

“That’s nice,” he says awkwardly. There’s an awkward pause, then Kent adds, “I can’t believe you actually chirped me, by the way. Who even are you anymore?”

Jack chuckles, then shrugs. “I feel good, Kent. The last time I can remember feeling this happy was…” He closes his mouth, but Kent gets the point.

“We really did have some good times, didn’t we Zimms?”

“Yeah, we did,” Jack replies. He’s smiling a little bit now.

Kent jumps and inhales sharply when there’s a shriek from the other side of the room. Jack whips around and immediately starts to laugh.

Tater has Bitty up on his shoulder, carrying him fireman-style. Bitty is swatting at his back, laughing and yelling for him to put him down. Kent hears Tater say, “Okay, if you want so much!” He then allows Bitty to slide face-first off his shoulder and down his back. Tater catches Bitty’s ankles at his shoulders before his head touches the ground; Bitty’s Falconers cap falls off and his face is red from laughing so hard.

Kent looks at Jack, watching his boyfriend and teammate interact. He remembers that Jack used to look at him like that, like he put the fucking moon in the sky and wrote his name on it.

“Uh, I think I’m gonna head out now?” Kent says quietly as Bitty places his hands on the ground and Tater lets go of him.

Jack chuckles and turns to him, his smile melting just slightly. “Okay, Kent. I’m glad we did this, I feel a little better.”

“Yeah, me too,” Kent says. He feels small now, insignificant. He thought this would make him feel better. “Maybe we’ll talk again soon?” He isn’t really counting on it, but that’s the best case scenario.

Jack nods, sticking his hand out again. Kent shakes it, licking his lips. Trying to fight the dryness in his mouth.

“See ya,” he mutters. The last thing he hears before the glass door shuts behind him is Bitty yelling at Tater and Jack laughing.

Why is it that every time he goes to have a conversation with Jack, he leaves in tears? He’s glad the hallway is empty, because he’s already started to cry.

This isn’t fair. Even after everything Jack’s been through, the shitstorm that’s been his life, he still manages to have it all. The college experience, the cute Southern boyfriend, the pro hockey career. Kent knows that he and Jack never had another shot, it was out of the question. But seeing someone else make Jack happy the way Kent used to was…

He doesn’t want to think about it anymore. He doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that somehow, after years of doing what he loves and getting paid generously for it, he still isn’t happy. He’s miserable. Empty. Void. Maybe the ice feels like home because it’s just as cold as Kent.

Kent understands that Jack is still mad at him. He has every right to be. And it does feel good that he acknowledged his own wrongdoing, but Kent feels heavier after their conversation. He’s just trying to understand how Jack is the one who ends up happy and he’s still struggling to keep his head above the damn water.

He almost jumps out of his skin when he turns a corner and nearly slams into someone. It’s a young looking man in a blue polo; he must be an employee.

“Oh, hey! You’re Kent Parson! Congrats on the game, dude. I mean, I’m sorta upset about the final score, obviously, but you still tore it up out there.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Kent mutters as he pushes past him. He doesn’t really care how rude he comes across at the moment, he just wants to be back in his hotel room.

He’s thinking about the win. The score had been close, tied 2-2 for a majority of the third period. Kent had scored the winning goal with only about twenty seconds on the clock.

Which begged another question; how could Jack be so chilled out and happy after losing a game? Kent knows that it isn’t the end of the world if the Aces lose (though that doesn’t happen very often), but even so, he wouldn’t be laughing and joking around after losing a game. Winning is everything to him, or at least… It’s supposed to be. Now he just feels guilty about it, as if he’s taking something away from Jack. Even though Jack seems to have it all, anyway.

Winning used to be the only thing that made Kent happy, the only thing that got him out of bed in the morning. Now, he thinks he’d be happy losing if it meant Jack might forgive him.

 

IV - December ‘15: Epikegster

It’s a familiar feeling. Sitting in his car, parked down the block from the old frat house. Music thumping in the distance. Looking down at his phone, feeling uncertain.

He can’t count how many times he’s gone over the text, combed through every single word—making absolutely sure that it means what he thinks it means.

Hey Kent. There’s a big party at Samwell this weekend. Not sure how long you’ll be in the area, but you’re welcome to come if you want. Maybe I’ll see you there?

He’d received the text from Jack two days after the game against the Falconers. It definitely caught him off guard. Their conversation had ended on a good note, but he definitely wasn’t expecting Jack to invite him to a party out of the blue.

It feels odd to be here again. He’s associated this place with so much negativity for years, but now he understands this is where Jack really learned to be happy. Maybe someday he’ll have someplace like that.

Kent only plans to stay for a couple hours. He just wants to talk to Jack again, in a more casual setting. Thinking about how well that went a year ago makes his heart crawl up his tightening throat, but he swallows it down and gets out of his car. He’s already mentally prepared for the inevitable wave of selfies and autographs.

When he steps into the house, there’s no reaction. A few people see him and move along, more focused on the party than Kent. Really, he’s not complaining. It’s not like he enjoys all of the attention; it’s more than overwhelming. Still, it’s odd to step into a frat house where hockey players live as a pro hockey player and not be swarmed.

Then again, one of their very own alumni is in the same position as Kent. Sure enough, as he navigates his way through the house, he finds Jack surrounded by a big group of people. He tries to catch his eye, to let him know he’s there, but Jack is too busy taking pictures. Awkwardly interacting with people. Fans.

It feels right, that the tables have turned. Not that Kent would ever wish that kind of fame on anybody, Jack especially, but the implications of the fame are what feel right to him. Jack deserves to be doing what he loves, and unfortunately the masses of people are just something he’ll have to learn to live with.

“Oh, hey, Parson! People’ve been taking bets about whether you’d show.”

His head whips around at the greeting, and he sees a familiar girl come into the room, a beer in hand. Kent remembers now; she had been the one who kicked his ass at flip cup. He scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah, I guess I should’ve texted him back. I wasn’t sure until two hours ago that I was even coming.”

She shrugs. “It’s fine. You’ll might have to wait a bit for the shitstorm over there to die down.”

Kent chuckles. “I can wait. Poor guy looks so uncomfortable.”

“Yeah… This much social interaction isn’t really his gig. Bits is looking after him though, he knows when Jack’s had enough.”

“Oh, this has happened before?”

She nods. “A month ago? Ish? I mean, you’ve stuck out more at these parties than he has so far. Still, he locked himself in Bits’ room.”

Kent looks back at Jack, exhaling softly. Somehow, he feels guilty for this. How could it possibly be his fault? He isn’t sure. Maybe if he’d gotten there sooner, the attention would have been on him instead. If he had responded to Jack, they could have arranged a better time to meet. Something.

“Drink?”

He shakes his head. “Drove here. You have soda?”

“Yeah. I can put it in a red cup for you! You know, preserve your bad boy image and shit. You could just tell people there’s rum in it or something.”

He laughs. “Honestly, just the can’s fine. Fuck my bad boy image.”

“I know at least two people who would be willing to,” she says with a wink.

He rolls his eyes as she briefly disappears and returns with a can of Coke, popping the top and handing it to him.

“So, weird to be back?”

He shrugs, taking a long sip. The cold, bubbly liquid slides easily down his throat. “Last time I was here… How much do you know?” he asks cautiously.

“Not much. Bitty doesn’t really seem to like you much,” she says. She sounds awfully nonchalant for saying something like that.

Kent scoffs, then thinks for a second. “I mean. I guess he has the right. Especially if Jack told him more about us.”

“Aha, so there was an ‘us’!” she says, pointing a finger at him.

He raises an eyebrow at her. “It’s not like it’s some big secret anymore. And that was years ago. We were young. Both of us made a lot of mistakes.”

“Sorry,” she mutters. “I didn’t mean to—“

He shakes his head. “It’s fine. Lardo, was it?”

She nods.

“Don’t even worry about it, Lardo. How about a game of flip cup? I’ve been practicing.”


He still loses. It’s a much closer game this time, but Lardo’s just too good. Like, scary good. Not all the practice in the world could get him to her level. Not like he even has the time to be practicing his flip cup that often. He tries to use that as a defense, but she just laughs at him.

“Last time you were here, you didn’t look too happy when you left.”

He nods. “I came last time to try to get Jack to talk to me. I wasn’t, uh… It didn’t go well. I tried to convince him to join me in Vegas. We fought. I said some things that I still hate myself for.”

“Jesus.”

He laughs, taking another sip of Coke. It’s a little warm now, tickling his mouth and lifting him slightly. “I have a lot of shit to work out, I guess.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure. Hey,” she nods in Jack’s direction, where the crowd has thinned. “Might be your chance here. You two good?”

He opens his mouth to answer, but he isn’t really sure. He thinks they are, after that moment they had following the game, but for some reason he doesn’t feel certain about that. So he just breathes, “Yeah,” and gives her a little wave.

She wasn’t quite right. There are still people all over Jack, but it seems to be the same large group of girls. They’re taking pictures, asking him questions. Touching him. Kent sees Eric a few feet away, watching the whole scene with a scowl on his face. Jack turns to look at Eric, his eyes pleading for help, and Eric nods at him. Jack says something to the girls, then quickly exits the room and heads for the stairs.

Kent groans. He deserves some time alone, and he’s not about to follow him upstairs after the debacle that occurred the year prior. Instead he approaches Eric, cautiously so.

“Hey,” he says, raising his voice slightly to combat the music and the people.

“Hi, Kent,” Eric says. He sounds exasperated. Kent can’t blame him.

“It’s really fucking loud in here!”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Eric shoots back.

Kent nods. “I get it. You don’t like me. And I completely understand why. But don’t I get the chance to explain?”

Eric scoffs. “Why should I give you the benefit of the doubt?”

Kent squeezes his eyes shut, rubbing at his temple. “Look, can we go someplace quieter? Outside, maybe?”

“It’s cold out.”

Kent fights the urge to say, “It’s starting to feel cold in here too.” He doesn’t want any trouble.

“What about upstairs?”

“Why do you wanna talk to me so badly? I don’t really have anything to say to you. I get that Jack is cool with you now, but I don’t buy it.”

He frowns. “Buy what?”

“That you’ve changed.”

“Well, why don’t you let me fucking prove it?”


It’s much quieter all the way up here in the attic, but Kent can still feel the party raging two floors beneath them.

“Okay, we’re here. What do you want?”

“I just… I want to apologize.”

Eric raises an eyebrow. “You haven’t really done anything to me.”

“That’s fucking rich, considering the cold shoulder you’ve been giving me. Look, we don’t have to be best buddies. I’m the ex, you’re the amazing new boyfriend. If anything, I should be the one who feels mad at you. But I’m trying to be rational about this, and I’m trying to be happy for you two. Obviously you have a problem with me.”

Eric steps forward. “I have a problem with the way you treated Jack the last time you were here. I don’t care if he thinks it was warranted or not, or if he feels like he has apologies to make, too.”

“Look, I know I said some things. I think about that conversation every single fucking day, like it’s haunting me or something.”

Eric lets out an involuntary snort of laughter.

“What the fuck is so funny?”

“Sorry, it’s just… We’re in the attic, and you said haunting, and there are rumors.... Sorry. Keep going.”

He sighs. “Whatever. I just want you to know that I’m okay with this. You and Jack, I mean. I’m not gonna try to get in the way like some kind of crazy ex boyfriend.”

“No offense, but I don’t really care if you’re okay with it or not.”

“That’s fair. I just… I want to make things right, you know? I can’t help this feeling that something’s still wrong here. Like some kind of loose end that still needs to be tied.”

Eric shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you. Didn’t you get some kind of closure after that game?”

“I thought I did. I’m pretty sure Jack isn’t mad at me anymore.”

“Yeah, he’s not,” Eric says.

“So why are you, then?”

He shrugs. “You hurt him. I love him. I guess I’m a little overprotective sometimes.”

Kent chuckles. “That’s only natural, though. I just… I feel like I’ve been waiting for him to forgive me for so long. I know things can’t go back to the way they were, and it’s probably better that way, honestly. But I want to be able to move forward. And I still want him in my life, just as a friend. I think we’re both mature enough to handle that, and I don’t care about any of the shit that happened in the past. I’m not even mad about him shutting me out anymore, I just want to make sure it’s not happening anymore.”

“I think I get it now,” Eric says quietly.

“Get what?”

“Well, Jack’s told me about himself, obviously. About the Q, and the draft, and… Well, you know about all of that. But you feel responsible, don’t you?”

Kent stares at him. “No. That was years ago, and it wasn’t my fault.”

“You tell yourself that, but you don’t believe it. I understand now! Kent, have you ever considered that it isn’t Jack’s forgiveness you need to feel happy again?”

“Then whose?”

“Have you forgiven yourself, yet?”

He gapes at Eric, his breath catching in his throat. “What do you mean?”

“Obviously you still feel guilty about what happened to him. I just talked to you for like, ten minutes, and I can tell just from this conversation how twisted up you still are. It messed you up, didn’t it Kent?”

“I…” He doesn’t even know what to say. All this time, he’s been searching, yearning, for some kind of sign that Jack isn’t mad anymore. That he wants Kent back in his life. “I guess you’re right… It’s just—fuck. Years of his life, Eric, just taken from him.”

Eric shakes his head, laughing. “You need to stop thinking like that. He’s happy now, Kent. You’re so fixated on this, but you seem to be missing that important detail. If the overdose didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have come to Samwell. He wouldn’t have met me, or his friends. He wouldn’t have had this time to be out of the spotlight for a while. Kinda. He needed this, Kent. He needed to have a normal human experience for a couple years. He’s better for it now. His anxiety hasn’t been as bad lately, he’s improved so much. I hate to say this, but you need to move on. Forgive yourself for whatever you feel guilty about. You won’t be happy until you do, I can promise you that.”

“Fuck,” Kent mutters, turning away. He bites his knuckle, looking down at the floor. “How did you… What?”

Eric laughs. “I think the words you’re looking for are ‘thank’ and ‘you.’ Kent, you just need to let it go. You can’t change the past; no amount of validation from Jack or me or anybody can. It’s done. He’s happy now. Stop worrying about him and focus on you. I… Everybody deserves happiness.”

And with that, Eric descends back into the party. Kent brushes away a tear, still frowning at the floor. It’s been years. He’s been living with this demon of guilt sitting on his back, whispering things in his ear. He’s been so obsessed with the idea of coming back into Jack’s life, too worried about making the present and the past meet again. He realizes something: maybe it’s not Jack who’s lost years of his life. It’s Kent.

 

V - Now

Kent doesn’t usually smoke. It’s just not his thing. However, that Nursey kid offered to sell him some weed, and it didn’t cost him that much either. Not that money is really an issue for him. It’s weird to think back to before the Q, before going pro, and thinking about how hard it was with just his mom supporting them. She still lives in that little apartment where Kent left her; she refuses to let him buy her a mansion. Or even her own house. She says she’s happy where she is, and she’s doing just fine.

He feels another twang of guilt upon thinking about her. Guilt seems to be a common theme for him tonight. He should call her.

He takes another drag from his blunt, blowing the smoke lazily in front of him. He doesn’t really feel anything. Kent’s starting to see why this damn weed was so cheap, it might as well be oregano and literal grass. The December night is fucking cold, and the smoke scratches at his throat as he inhales. Still, the sharp chill feels good on his skin after feeling trapped in the heat of the party.

The roof over the porch of the Haus is surprisingly deserted. It isn’t that hard to get out; all you have to do is climb through one of the bedroom windows. He’s left it open behind him, and he can still hear the party raging on downstairs. He feels so separate from that now, even more so than when he first arrived. Like he’s in some kind of different reality, conjoined with another at the window.

He jumps when he hears the bedroom door open and close, turning toward the sound. Jack is climbing out the window and onto the roof.

Kent isn’t really sure how he feels. Sad? Regretful? His heart doesn’t jump the way it use to when he saw Jack, his body doesn’t react the same way. He just sits, waiting for him to settle in next to him.

“Kent. Bitty told me you were here, but I couldn’t find you!”

“Here I am,” Kent says, smiling slightly.

Jack chuckles. “Here you are. So how—you smoke?”

“Oh.” Kent sighs, looking at the blunt in his hand. “Not usually. And this isn’t really doing much for me right now, anyway.”

Jack nods. “I’m glad you came. You could have texted back, you know.”

“Jack, please don’t make me feel shittier than I already do.”

There’s a pause. Kent shivers.

“Are you okay, Kent?” Jack is looking at him now, the light of the moon caught in his big, blue eyes. “You seem off.”

Kent shrugs. “I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Nope.”

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

Kent sighs, shaking his head. “It’s just some personal shit, alright?”

Jack’s eyes widen slightly. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Fuck, Zimms, why do you always have to go and do that?”

“What did I do?”

“Now I feel like shit for snapping at you.”

Jack shrugs. “All I did was apologize.”

Another pause. Kent is tempted to take another hit but decides against it.

“Have you really forgiven me, Jack?”

Jack looks at him for a second, thinking. “Yes. I have. Some of the things you said really stuck with me, and I didn’t want anything to do with you for a while. But it’s fine. I never really apologized for what I did, either.”

Kent waves a hand at him. “You don’t have to do that. And that’s not what I’m talking about.”

Jack looks at Kent quizzically. “Then what?”

“I… I still feel guilty about going first in the draft. Leaving you behind. I’ve been told again and again that what happened wasn’t my fault, but—“

“But nothing, Kent. Stop. It wasn’t your fault. I was under a lot of pressure, and not dealing with my anxiety well. It was a bad recipe from the beginning. If anything, you helped take some pressure off now and again.”

“But I could’ve helped more.”

Jack shakes his head. “You’re being irrational.”

“I know I am. I cried after I found out that you and Eric were together, you know.”

“I didn’t know.”

Kent laughs coldly. “I feel so dumb for how jealous I got. For some stupid reason, I thought there might still be a glimmer of hope for us.”

“Who says there isn’t?”

He glances at Jack skeptically. “No, I mean, like, us us.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah…”

“You’re happy now, right, Jack? And you don’t blame me for anything that happened?”

Jack chuckles. “Yes, I’m happy, Kent. Really happy. I can’t blame you for going first in the draft. You’re really good at hockey, and you deserved it. Was I jealous for a while? Of course. I was sitting in a hospital bed while you were getting ready to go and play for the NHL. I think I’m allowed a little jealousy there. But look at how things turned out. Even after everything, I still ended up playing pro. I have an amazing fiance—“

“Hold on. Wait. Back the fuck up. Did you just say…”

Jack smiles, pulling a ring out of the breast pocket of his shirt and slipping it on. “I proposed to him after the game. Right after you left. I think it would’ve been better if the Falcs had won, but…”

Kent lightly punches him in the shoulder. “Shut up. I’m happy for you, Jack.”

“Thanks, Kenny.”

That hurts a little. Nobody else has ever called him Kenny, aside from his mother. Nobody else ever will. He’s just Kent now.

“I don’t keep it on my finger because we’re keeping it on the down low, just for a little while.”

“Who else knows?”

Jack bites his lip, looking up at the stars as he thinks. “So far, just our parents and you.”

“What? Why would you tell me, of all people?”

Jack shrugs. “Don’t know. I trust that you won’t tell anybody, and we’ve been through a lot together. There was a big rough patch there, but… I’d like to be friends, still.” He pauses, then smiles. “Plus, I wanted to brag a little bit.”

Kent rolls his eyes, then grins back. “I think I’d like that, too.”

“To marry Eric?”

“To be friends, dumbass.”

Jack laughs, stretching out his legs and lying down on his back. Kent shivers again. They’re quiet for a couple minutes.

“Are you happy now, Kent?” Jack asks quietly, fiddling with the ring on his finger.

“What do you mean?”

“Would you consider yourself a happy person?”

What a question. Kent knows the answer. He doesn’t like it, but he can’t ignore the truth.

“No.”

“I’m sorry,” Jack says, nearly a whisper. Kent didn’t notice, but Jack closed the window when he came outside. The bass of the music still thumping beneath them, urging Kent’s heart to keep beating.

“It’s not your fault, Zimms.”

“But what if it is?”

Kent scoffs. “Oh no, don’t you go and do that shit. I’ve been juggling what ifs for years now, and it’s the least fun thing you can do to yourself. How could it possibly be your fault?”

Jack shrugs, sitting up again. “I shouldn’t have treated you that way, Kenny. It was wrong. I was afraid, and upset, and not mentally stable. You were just trying to pick up where we left off. I was distant and vague. Maybe if I had just talked to you, you wouldn’t have had all of that guilt for so long. You needed validation, you deserved that, and I refused.”

“Jack…” Kent says, exasperated, “I don’t wanna talk about this anymore. You’re being ridiculous. Yeah, I have some shit I need to work through, but we can’t change the things that happened. We just have to start over, I guess. Move on. I think I can start to do that now. But there’s no point in you blaming yourself for all of that.”

“Well there’s no point in you blaming yourself for—“

“Yeah, and I know that now! I say we just… Let’s put this all behind us, yeah? Let’s agree that there were things we could’ve done better, things we should’ve said and some things we shouldn’t have. Learn from that shit, but stop letting it haunt us, you know?”

Jack nods. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“We were young and stupid. Everybody does stupid shit when they’re young. We’re gonna look back and laugh at how dramatic this ordeal was.”

Jack chuckles. “Probably.”

“You’re happy now, and I’m getting there. That’s all that matters.”

Jack hums, lying down again, hands behind his head. “It’s fucking cold out here,” he remarks.

Kent busts out laughing, doubling over his crossed legs. He feels like his blood is slowly freezing; cold is an understatement.

“Do you wanna head back inside?” Jack asks.

Kent shrugs. “You go ahead. I kinda like it. Reminds me that I’m still alive. Or whatever.”

Jack laughs through his nose, sitting up for the last time. “I don’t know if I said this before, but I’m glad you came tonight.”

“You did. And me too,” Kent quips, standing to shake Jack’s hand before he goes back inside. Jack grips firmly then pulls Kent into a hug, chin resting on Kent’s shoulder.

“I missed you, Kent.”

And just like that, Kent remembers what actual happiness feels like. He feels a tear start to crawl down his face, wiping it away before it can freeze. He hugs him back, heart still aching but on the mend.

Jack pulls away, smiling. “I’ll see you later. Say bye before you take off, eh?”

Kent nods as Jack opens the window. “I will, Zimms. Thanks for this.”

“No problem, Kent.”

“And if you see that Nurse kid, tell him this weed was a waste of my fucking money!”

He sits back down, listening to the sound of Jack laughing. It’s cut off by the window sliding shut, and suddenly Kent’s alone again.

Forgiving another person can be so easy. When you love someone, it’s easy enough to move past a mistake and accept their apology. Kent realizes now that in order to be happy, he has to love himself. He finally cuts away the weight of the past tied to his ankle. He’s still grounded, merely looking up at the sky, but someday he hopes to be able to fly the way Jack’s learned to.