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“Rod?”

“Lilian?”

Lilian sighed.

“In the new house, we won’t have parties that end with Kent Parson asleep on our living room rug.”

Yeah, okay, Kent was lying face down on their living room rug, his face buried in his arms, but he could still hear shit.

“I’m just resting my eyes!” Kent yelled, mostly into his arms.

“Sometimes I can still hear his voice,” Rod agreed.

Kent turned onto his side and found someone had put a blanket over him. “Stop encouraging me,” he said. He pulled the blanket up to his chin and closed his eyes again. “Did you already text me your new address in Henderson? Maybe we’ll all get one of those Escalade limos and visit you soon. Like, next weekend. What are you doing next weekend?”

“You have playoffs next week,” Lilian said. “They’re literally starting on Monday.”

Kent groaned. “We need to stop doing that. This Stanley Cup thing keeps cutting into our social lives.”

Someone threw a pillow at Kent’s face. He absorbed it into his sleepy party nest and closed his eyes again.

This was Kent’s eighth year in Vegas; players had retired since then, had been traded and signed, but Lilian and Rod, the Morrisons, were his hockey-adjacent faves. They couldn’t get traded by management for a weak season or a better prospect; they didn’t have work that depended on the strength and agility of 20- and 30-something-year-old athletes chasing each other with sticks for 100 games a year. They were a fixture in Kent’s life.

Now he was pretending to sleep on their living room rug at their going away party, a low-key and rushed thing they had only texted Kent and the others about at the start of the week. Family in Henderson needed them there for the long-term so they were picking up their lives and leaving, because family did that for each other or something.

“Wait,” Kent said. “Who’s—guys, did you sell the house yet? Who the fuck’s moving in here when you’re gone?”

“Oh, now Kent’s listening.”

“Kent’s been listening, Janz,” Kent replied.

The six people left were Kent’s closest friends in Vegas: the Morrisons, who were leaving; Sydney and her husband Janzer, who played right wing for the Aces; and Aliza and her husband Rafi, one of the Aces’ D-men. Janzer and Syd lived next door to the Morrisons, while Aliza and Rafi were down the street. The rest of their development, the Lumens, was filled with Aces’ players and their families, except Kent, who still had his condo downtown.

“If Kent had been listening,” Janzer said, “Kent would know we were just tearing our hair about who’s going to move in next to me and Syd.”

Janzer (Isak Jansson, allegedly) had joined the Aces the season before Kent, and Janzer had met his wife Sydney at a nonprofit event the team participated in during Kent’s rookie year. Speaking of Janz tearing his hair out: if Kent remembered anything from his rookie year, it was Janz at every bar downtown with his head in his hands, pulling at his perfectly straight mop of blond hair, complaining that it was impossible, impossible he had met the love of his life not in Europe but in Las Vegas. Similarly, Syd thought it was impossible, impossible that she had finished her degree at Howard, moved to Vegas for work, and immediately met the love of her life and he played hockey. Like, for a living. They’d worked it out, somehow.

“I was being introspective and shit, give me a break,” Kent laughed.

Aliza tossed another throw pillow at him. “Shit, don’t let us stop you. Introspect away.”

Rafi and Aliza Maksimov had arrived in Vegas during Kent’s third season with the Aces after the Aces got Rafi in a trade with the Canucks. At the owners’ party to welcome the new players, Rafi and Aliza had arrived hand in hand, 6’3” Aliza towering over her equally tall husband in her five-inch heels. Rafi had given Kent a piggy back ride outside and later that night when they went out dancing, and so Kent was in love.

“The place won’t be empty for long,” Syd said to Lilian. “The Lumens has a five-year waiting list—you’ll have a buyer in no time. That means we’ll have some new terrible neighbor in no time. You’d think we’d be better at making friends but, christ, we’re almost as bad as Kent.”

“Wait, what?” Kent asked. “First off, offense. I’m great at making friends. I’m a fucking Welcome Wagon of humanity.”

“Oh, Kenny,” Syd said. “Yeah, you are, if that wagon was an Oregon Trail covered wagon led by six rabid oxen running straight into a foam party after taking shots of vodka-infused deer all night.”

Rafi said, “Oxen aren’t carnivores.” Then he looked around the room and he pulled out his phone to confirm, just in case. Just in case.

“Come on,” Kent said. “I’ve grown up. I’m almost 27, I’m like, middle-aged already.”

Everyone in the room groaned.

“Okay, but my second point,” Kent said. “This development has a five-year waiting list?”

Aliza made this noise of total outrage at him. “Seriously, where have you been? Do you live in Vegas?”

“I thought, I don’t know, it was just—where you guys lived—”

“The Lumens?” Janzer asked. “Dude, have you actually looked at the listings for new properties around here? Like, they went out and claimed more fucking desert to build a new subdevelopment northwest of here because there’s so much demand for luxury places specifically in this development. The houses out there might go for $10mil once they’re done.”

Kent choked. “For a house?”

“Our community’s much more chill than the new ones at the edge of town,” Aliza said. “Kent, you can’t be on the Aces and buy real estate without four newspapers and thirty sites writing about it. Rafi and I paid $3mil for our place down the street. Syd, you guys were here before us—did your place go for that much?”

“Yeah, something like that, but we bought it off someone from the team,” Syd said. After a moment on her phone, she looked at Kent over the top of her glasses. “Kent, the building where you live downtown? There’s also a long-ass waiting list for a condo there. Like, please contact the management for details on our waiting list and alternative property options long.”

“Uh, I didn’t know that,” Kent said. “What the fuck, though? Unbelievable that someone might wait that long for my place and find out there’s only 1.5 bathrooms.”

“You paid how much for that condo?” Aliza asked. “Kenny. No. Bathrooms. God, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to share a bathroom as an adult. SHUT UP I KNOW THIS IS A RICH BITCH PROBLEM, BUT STILL.” She touched Rafi’s shoulder. “I love you, baby, but we would not have lasted if we had to share a bathroom for more than a week.”

Rafi looked up from his phone. “The internet won’t give me a straight answer. They say cattle just graze. They won’t say on what. Maybe they want us to assume it’s grass… but it’s not.”

Aliza gently shushed him and let Rafi rest his head on her shoulder, his phone safely tucked away somewhere in the couch.

“I feel like you’re all dancing around the same point,” Lilian interrupted. “Kent: why don’t you buy our place?”

Lilian, a respectable human adult, had just asked Kent Parson, who was curled up on her area rug with a small mountain of throw pillows under his head and a blanket draped over him, if he’d like to drop a couple of million dollars on a house. Like, the house they were currently in right now.

She had asked him to buy their house and Kent couldn’t think of a good, snappy retort.

“I mean, that’s how we all bypassed the waiting list,” Aliza said. “Rafi and I bought this place from the guy who got traded and that guy bought our house back in Vancouver.”

“Almost the whole team lives out here,” Janzer said. “Even the three new kids we got from the Habs and the Oilers last year—and yeah, they bought the place from our three we just traded.”

Kent shrugged at them. “I thought it was cute, you know, that they got a house out here so they could start a little Fort Canada for themselves. I didn’t know there was a secret real estate market going on under all that hockey we fucking play.”

“Kent, it’s a house. A home,” Syd said. “It’s kind of important that you like where you come home every night.”

“Honestly, man,” Rafi said. “Have you thought about how you spend most of your time out here with us anyway? I mean, shit, Aliza has a little cat bed for Kit so she can look after her when we’re all traveling.”

Kent sat up and put the blanket around his shoulders. Why didn’t the idea sound worse? Why couldn’t he come up with good reasons for keeping things as they were?

“Am I buying a house?” Kent asked.

Janzer dove off the couch and draped himself across Kent’s back and shoulders, his arms wrapping around Kent’s front. “Are you? Are you, Cap? Are you gonna be my neighbor?”

“Don’t scare him!” Syd said. “He might move to Henderson with Lilian and Rod just to spite us.”

“Is that an option?” Lilian asked. “Can we steal him? Is this how trading happens?”

“We have to drive down to the new place tomorrow and see my sister, get the new place ready and all that,” Rod said. “Kent, you should crash around here tonight, come back tomorrow with these goofballs and see what you think of the place without us around.”

Kent scoffed. “I know your place like the back of my hand, guys. I think that’s why I’m... yeah, I’m actually considering it.”

The rest of them cheered for Kent and clinked their drink glasses, while Janzer leaned in and kissed Kent’s cheek, all gross and loud and sloppy because Janz. Kent pulled Janzer’s arms around his shoulders a little tighter and laughed because, fuck, this was happening.

*

Kent spent the night in one of Syd and Janzer’s guest bedrooms, the one he ended up in more nights than he realized because he was always out here. If he wasn’t staying late to help Syd and Janz clean up after a party, he was at Aliza and Rafi’s for dinner, or checking in on the kids down the block in Fort Canada who had a literal pantry wall of bottled maple syrup they had brought with them when they were traded, or—

Fucking hell, his whole fucking life was already here and the only thing at his condo was Kit, who wouldn’t mind having some more rooms to claim as her own.

Kent left the bedroom and followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen. Syd was already camped out at the kitchen island. She glanced over at his footsteps and smiled at him over the edge of her glasses, already slipped down her nose.

“Morning, sunshine,” she said. “Janz went to the square to pick up sandwiches because wow, I could actually murder a carnivorous ox for a sandwich right about now.”

He laughed to himself and poured himself a cup of coffee. “You need a refill?”

“I’m good, thanks. If Janz knows what’s good for him, he’s bringing me an iced one, too.”

“Oh shit, I want one,” Kent said as he pulled up his texts with Janzer. “JANZ PLS 2 ICED COFFEES. ALL THE SANDWICHES. LUV U PARSE.”

Syd laughed at him. He took the seat across from her at the kitchen island and she cleared her throat.

“The rest of us did have have enough to drink last night,” Syd said. “Don’t think that like… Kent, you don’t have to drop two mil on a house just because you said you might, okay? It was just an idea.”

Kent smiled at her and ducked his head for a second. “Syd, I was totally sober. Promise.”

“Well, okay, but you’re also heading to the finals in a hot minute—that sort of thing messes with all of us every year. If you decide—”

“Hey,” Kent said. “Hey. I—honestly, I’ve been up for an hour, just lying in bed, thinking about that place, and like—I can see myself there. I want my own ridiculous pool and deck where I can have all you guys over. I want to have the rookies and younger guys over and let them know it’s okay to just chill the hell out sometimes, and it’s hard to do that when I’m standing in front of my condo’s giant windows with all of downtown behind me. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, and maybe it will, but... I’m pretty serious about this.”

Syd nodded at him and adjusted her glasses. “We’ll eat here when Janz gets back and then go next door. I’ll let Rafi and Aliza know, too.”

It would be another hour or so before the five of them reconvened at the Morrisons’, Lilian and Rod already gone for the day. Their going away party last night had included most of the Aces and their partners in the mostly empty house, their stuff already sent ahead to the new place in Henderson. The last things left in the house were the living room furniture and the furnished master bedroom. It left enough space for their imagination, Kent’s and his friends’.

“I can finally have my whole family out here. Maybe not this summer, but next summer,” Kent said. “I can only see my dad and my sisters’ families like, one family at a time, you know? None of them have a place big enough back in New York for all of us at once for like, more than an afternoon of little kids and screaming.”

“And they’ll behave in the desert,” Rafi said. His and Aliza’s daughter, Shira, was less than a year old and listening quietly in a sling on Rafi’s chest when she wasn’t trying to rip out Rafi’s epic playoff beard. “I’ll tell them Shira’s our second, because the first one was a bad girl who the wolves took away.”

Kent raised his eyebrows at him. “Rafi, they’re New York kids. They’ll just beg me for actual wolves they can have as pets.”

“That’s fucked up, man. I’m scared of wolves.”

The ground floor had an open plan, a large kitchen for the cooking Kent was finally capable of doing for himself. They knew from lots of parties at the Morrisons’ place that the living room and deck outside was large enough for all the Aces and their partners. There was an alcove by the front of the living room with just two armchairs facing each other, perfect for when his oldest niece and nephew eventually entered their bitchy tween years and wanted to be near family but also texting nonstop with their bitchy tween friends.

“I like that the fireplace is built up in the wall, not on the floor,” Kent said as he stood at center living room wall where the fireplace was covered with both a pair of screens and a sliding glass door. “Kit’s way too curious, I don’t need her accidentally getting up in here or whatever.”

“She has creepy little velociraptor paws, too,” Aliza said. “I swear to god she’s opened the bathroom door of our place once or twice. Like, while I’m in the bathroom, obviously.”

Kent stared at her. “All cats do that, though. They can open doors.”

They all stared back at Kent.

“I’m looking it up,” Rafi announced.

They moved through the house, discussing the bedrooms, the fair number of bathrooms, the master bath that no one but Kent would ever be allowed to use (even when Janzer protested that he would go on strike, he wouldn’t speak to Kent, until he had taken a shit in that master bathroom). They made their way down to the back deck and pool, checking out the distance between the properties on either side.

Janzer was making a pretty good show of demonstrating it was impossible to climb the spiked wall between the Morrisons’ place and his place (like, impossible without leaving proof of injury or impalement) when Kent turned to the other side of the Morrisons’ yard.

“Aw, guys,” Kent said. “Remember Adi? I miss that guy.”

“I miss him, too,” Aliza said. “Hey, remember the time our friend with the multimillion-dollar hiking boot and outdoor gear company dumped his fiancée and disappeared from the face of the earth? I haven’t had an email from him in like, six months.”

“He used to do a little corporate newsletter about his travels and adventures, but I think it dropped off after the third time he had to fight off a tropical parasitic wasp,” Kent said. “Distributing that shit can’t be good for business.”

“The newsletter dropped off or you unsubscribed because bugs are scary?” Janzer asked.

“Fuck you, dude, did you hear what I said? Parasitic wasp. Don’t google that shit if you ever want to sleep again.” Kent thought better of himself and added, “Don’t google that shit the week we go to the finals, Janz. Don’t fuck with your head like that.”

“I like bugs,” Janzer said. Kent shuddered.

“Don’t tell the Morrisons, but I think I liked Adi’s house better than theirs,” Syd said. “He had a wider pool, for one thing.”

As it happened, they were all standing on the deck, right over the pool.

“Dammit, Syd, are you sure about that?” Kent asked. “Should I drop two mil for a narrow pool?”

“It’s not that narrow,” Rafi said. “And you’re not that broad.”

Kent shot Rafi a glare over his shoulder.

Meanwhile, Aliza walked over to the far side of the Morrisons’ yard to try and get a view over the high wall separating the two properties.

“I can’t see anything,” Aliza said. “This is bullshit. Is this how you feel all the time, Kent?”

She grinned at him and headed back to where the rest of them were standing. Kent offered her his hand so she could climb up on the deck table and finally see over the wall.

“Oh shit,” Aliza said. “Kent, does that look like—it looks like there’s water in Adi’s pool. Like, not stagnant and gross untreated pool water, but like someone’s using this pool.”

Kent climbed up, for the little good his half-foot disadvantage on Aliza would do them. He did, however, notice the far end of Adi’s deck table seem occupied.

“Looks like a beer bottle on the table,” Kent said. “And like, a plate. Shit, I think he’s back.”

“I see it too!” Aliza shrieked. “Adi’s back!”

“Well now I wanna see,” Syd said. “Get down, Kent, I’m coming up.”

“Hey, it’s my future yard. Don’t I get first spy rights?”

Aliza waved and screamed over the wall and Kent almost fell off the table, ready to break his heavily-insured, made-the-cover-of-GQ-three-times ass on some fucking deck furniture.

“Adi! Adi it’s Aliza! When did you get home?” Aliza called out. “Come over! Yeah, just come around to the front door and I’ll let you in!”

Kent regained his balance and sat down on the deck table, then offered his hand to Aliza again so she could climb down and go back into the house to let Adi join them.

Once she had gone, Kent looked at the others.

“So,” Kent said. “Over/under on how awkward this’ll be?”

“Bro, Adi’s been gone like… three or four years?” Rafi said.

“He cheated on his fiancée with me,” Kent said. “I was the other dude!”

“You said it didn’t mean anything,” Syd said.

“It didn’t mean anything to me,” Kent said, “But he left the country right afterwards. I mean—”

“You’re wearing PIEDRA hiking boots. Those are his company’s hiking boots. Those are his hiking boots,” Janz pointed out.

Kent looked down at his boots, the inside of the boot outlined with a mountain and PIEDRA written on the base. “I don’t even hike. They’re just really comfortable.”

“Questionable footwear aside,” Syd interrupted. “Is this a dealbreaker?”

“What, on the house?” Kent asked. “No? I mean…”

“But if he’s back,” Syd said. “We were all pretty close before he left. I mean, Elisa not so much, since she always had work stuff and—”

“Babe, she didn’t like us,” Janz said.

“What?” Syd asked. “She—of course she did! We were close! She—”

“She was neighbor-nice to us, polite-nice to us, but she didn’t like us,” Janz said. “Adi always liked us more. I mean, liked some of us a whole lot more, if you know what I mean, Kent’s dick.”

Kent groaned and took off his snapback to fuss with his hair. “Could we not, though?”

“Seriously, not right now,” Rafi said. “We’ll talk shit later, let’s just see where this goes.”

“Back to Kent’s dick,” Janz said.

“I will throw you over that fucking wall back to your place,” Kent said.

“Do it,” Janz said. “Then bury me in the Stanley Cup. Maybe we need a good motivating death to win us a cup this year.”

“What is wrong with you?” Syd asked. “Shut up, we have company here, let’s pretend we’re fucking normal.”

“Oh, were we normal before?” Kent asked.

Syd gently hit Kent’s arm a few times, landing the last slap on his bicep just as Aliza led Adi out onto the deck.

“Look who’s here!” Aliza announced.

Kent turned slightly, saw Adi, and gripped the edges of the deck table so he wouldn’t jump off and into the pool. Their friend of four years before, who had dressed in ill-fitting khakis and polo shirts like the rest of the extremely str8 men in his family (all of them involved in running PIEDRA together), had been thrown into a chasm and replaced with the chiseled action hero reboot of their friend Adriano Herrera. It didn’t help that, apparently, Aliza had literally dragged Adi out of the pool with only enough time to wrap a towel around his shoulders and grab a pair of flip flops. Those abs were new. The cut of his hips just above the waistband of his trunks, fuck, that was new.

And that look of genuine existential happiness? Kent took a sharp breath and tried not to stare.

“You’re all here,” Adi said as he looked at them all in turn. “I’m sorry, I was just in the pool—”

Janzer opened his arms. “Get the fuck over here. GET INTO THESE ARMS.”

Soon they were all in a damp group embrace with Adi in the middle, except for Rafi (who had baby Shira in a sling on his chest) and Kent (who was Kent).

Once they released him and once Adi had seen Shira, awake and interested in grabbing at Adi’s beard, he turned and saw Kent, still sitting on the deck table away from them all.

“Kent?” Adi asked. “Aren’t you pleased to see me?”

“Of course I am,” Kent said. “Just surprised. Usually people try to text when they’re ending their exile and coming back home.”

“But I heard the Aces made it into the finals again,” Adi said. “You read your texts during the playoffs?”

“They’re about the only thing I can stand to read,” Kent said.

Adi nodded and offered Kent a small smile.

Syd came up behind Adi and put her hands on his shoulders. “Kent doesn’t bite anymore.”

“What a shame,” Adi said.

“PARSE IS BLUSHING,” Janz yelled. “We have a BLUSHING PARSE here.”

“All right, all right,” Kent said as he left the deck table and gave Adi a brief hug. “No one’s blushing, no one’s embarrassed, look at us, adulting the hell out the moment.”

“Your ears are bright red,” Aliza said.

“Well, enjoy our friends,” Kent said to Adi. “I’m going to throw myself into a gorge or something.”

“Is that the same hat you were wearing four years ago?” Adi asked as he reached for Kent’s snapback.

“Come on, is that all you think of me?” Kent asked as he took the cap off before Adi could touch him. “Slightly different logo. I think the… thing on the Ace, it’s like, more pronounced or whatever.”

“Fascinating,” Adi said.

Kent put his hat back on and looked at their friends. “Excuse us, you fucking vultures, I just need a minute.” He urged Adi to the other side of the deck, away from the others. The four of them made ooooooooh sounds as Kent and Adi walked away, but Adi gave them a miserable, half-hearted glare before he looked back to Kent with a smile.

“Look, I’m sorry for—well, for the last time we saw each other,” Kent said. “It was way back, I was so much more fucked up those first years I was here in Vegas, I just—I never—”

“Is that why you were so uncomfortable just now?” Adi asked. “Kent, look, that night was my fault. I was the one who was with someone, and I sought you out. Please don’t tell me you’ve been miserable about this the whole time.” Adi paused, then said: “Please don’t tell me that they know we hooked up back then.”

“Oh, our friends? The ones pretending to lick each other’s faces behind your back where only I can see them? Yeah, I totally told them.”

Adi looked quickly over his shoulder and only caught the briefest glance of Janz flinching and getting his face licked full on by Syd, who burst out laughing and hid her face against his shoulder.

“You were gone,” Kent explained. “And you weren’t coming back, and I needed to tell them—well, I needed to come out to them, finally. I told the team, too.” Kent licked his lips and looked away. “Does it have to be a big thing between us? Can we be like we were before, before I fucked everything to hell?”

“You didn’t fuck anything up,” Adi said. “I’m serious. Things with Elisa weren’t good and they hadn’t been for a long time. We had a lot of problems and that night we ended things, that was just—it was wrong of me to—to go to you, but I needed to know.”

Kent cleared his throat. “Know what, exactly?”

Adi ran his fingers through his wet hair and Kent had a flash to when Adi was still here, when they were still friends. The others would tease them all the time about their obvious tells, like how they would both look away and comb their fingers through their hair, Kent’s straight blond hair and Adi’s dark curls. Kent could still remember calling bullshit and Aliza almost falling off her seat laughing when they both did the motion at the exact same time at opposite ends of the group. Now Adi’s dark hair was a little longer with a few sun-lightened streaks, a few silver streaks, curls starting to form as his hair dried. Adi glanced at Kent and caught him staring. They broke eye contact immediately.

“I knew I had to leave,” Adi finally said. “I wasn’t happy in that life anymore and I needed to leave. I promise, you have nothing to be sorry for. Kent, I’m thankful for you.”

Adi’s hand moved to rest on Kent’s shoulder. Kent could feel callouses on his grip, rough on the smooth skin of his shoulder. It took a lot for Kent to keep his eyes focused on Adi’s.

“You were so good, Kent,” Adi said.

Kent swallowed and laughed. “Yeah I was.”

Adi rolled his eyes, but Kent would have sworn he blushed a little as he looked away.

“I mean,” Adi said. “That was one of the lowest points in my life and I needed a friend that night. I’m glad I had you, but I’m sorry if—”

“Don’t be,” Kent interrupted. “Please. Don’t be sorry.” It was Kent’s turn to shift on his feet and pretend he wasn’t quietly dying in the moment. Adi dropped his hand from Kent’s shoulder, just as Kent spoke again. “I don’t regret it.”

“You don’t?”

Kent met Adi’s eyes again. No, he couldn’t tell him that. He couldn’t welcome back a close friend and dump all that on him. Welcome back! Oh yeah, don’t worry about that time we hooked up—you were the first person I had wanted in years, and I wanted it so much I would have let you burn down the city if it would keep us warm. What’s a broken engagement between friends! Tough shit for Adi’s fiancée, but he had needed Adi that night, too, the way Adi had needed him.

“I don’t regret it,” Kent repeated. “Now come on—past is past. You’re back and you’ve got like, years worth of shit to catch us up on, right?”

“All right,” Adi said. “And speaking of catching up.” Adi turned back to their friends, who had started to creep closer across the yard to eavesdrop but stopped when they were spotted. “What are you all doing here? Where are Lilian and Rod?”

“Hey,” Syd said. “Momentary pause in our reminiscing—Adi! Lilian and Rod are moving.”

“What?” Adi asked. “Really? Is that why you’re all here?”

“Well,” Syd said. Kent had come around Adi so he could sit at the deck table again, just in range of Sydney. She smushed Kent’s face in her hands and puckered his lips in Adi’s direction because he was in a Disney movie and this was something that had to happen to him sometimes. “Kent’s thinking of making an offer for the place.”

At that, Adi looked surprised. “Really? You’re thinking of moving out here? Away from downtown?”

“Wrong answer,” Rafi said. “Correct answer: I’m surprised you haven’t moved out here already! Adi, please, get with the game that’s gone on without you for literally years.”

Adi’s lips were pressed into a fine line. Kent leaned back against the deck table, propping his elbows up on the table in his best come at me pose.

“With Syd and Janzer, you couldn’t ask for better neighbors,” Adi said.

Kent snorted. “Don’t worry, buddy, I haven’t invited an entire club back to my place since at least Pride 2011, so chill, your property costs are going to stay respectable.”

“I didn’t say anything that,” Adi said.

“Everyone in the club? During Pride?” Aliza asked. “In your condo?”

“I’m truly sorry I missed that,” Rafi said.

Kent bit his lip for a moment and then glanced at Janz. “Who have we traded that I can blame for the really inadvisable shit I did when I first got here?”

“Tons of dudes,” Janz said. “Literally anyone, we’ll back you up. You’re our captain, you’ve never done a bad thing in your life.” Janz nodded at Adi. “Parse is goodness and kindness incarnate. You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.”

“You better not ask for a better neighbor,” Syd said. “We’re kinda attached to him.”

“It’s all right, really,” Adi laughed. “I’m just surprised, that’s all.”

“Well, don’t be,” Kent said. “I’m not the irresponsible functional alcoholic who fucks engaged dudes at the drop of a hat anymore. I’ve grown the fuck up.”

Syd interrupted with the driest, venom-laced, “Clearly,” she could manage before she pinched his arm (hard, goddamn).

“Sorry,” Kent said to Adi, and held out his hand. “Fresh start, okay?”

Kent almost withdrew his hand because Adi had to think about it. He actually stopped, looked at Kent’s hand, like he was offended it was being offered in the first place but fuck, how else could Kent make it clear that he wasn’t the same guy Adi knew when he left? He wasn’t the same at all. Kent kept his hand out, though, and eventually Adi met him.

“Mucha suerte, if you end up going for the house after all,” Adi replied, shaking his hand. “I have to get back—still lots to settle in the house, get back in with the business, checking in with my family at least a thousand more times, so I’ll leave you to your party back here. It’s been so good to see you all, really.”

Janzer clapped his hands and put his hands on Adi’s shoulders. “Playoffs are starting like, fucking immediately, but once we’re done? We’ll have an end of the season thing. Is your number the same? Whatever, take my phone, put it in there again.”

Syd had joined Kent at the deck table again. Kent leaned against her, even if he couldn’t smile at her and forgive those pinches just yet. While Adi was on Janz’s phone, Kent called out: “And who knows, I might even be your neighbor then. Maybe we’ll have the party here. Maybe I’ll let you meet my cat this time.”

Adi handed Janzer’s phone back and headed towards the house again. “Isn’t your cat on instagram? I swear I saw that on a magazine during one of my flights. I’ll be sure to wait for an invitation from Kit Purrson herself.”

Aliza led Adi back into the house and to the front door. The rest of them listened: the footsteps through the house, the murmured conversation, the front door opening and closing again. That was their cue to go back into the house and shut the back door.

They all rushed to the kitchen, Aliza yelling, “Rafi, put Shira down so she doesn’t get scared, we need to fucking yell about some shit.”

Rafi laid Shira down on one of the armchairs and turned it towards the kitchen so they could keep an eye on her. He stage-whispered at her, “Shh, baby, it’s okay, we just have to scream about a very very pretty man, shh, it’s all right.”

Syd reached the kitchen island and gripped the edges of the granite countertop. “What. The fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

“Guys, I think you’re overreacting,” Janzer said. “Adi doesn’t look that different.”

Syd gasped and put a hand over her heart. “Janz! You play hockey with those eyes? Are you fucking kidding me?! An actual Greek god entered your presence and you’re like, he’s fine?!”

“The locker room’s desensitized him,” Aliza said. “When you’re working the meat market, what’s one more—I don’t even have a metaphor, oh my god, he’s just—he’s beautiful?”

Rafi joined them at the kitchen island and looked around for a long moment.

“Janz, shut up,” Rafi said. “They’re right, he’s fucking beautiful. Like, I wanna go to a spa and have a massage and question everything about my sexuality because it led me up to this point where I am not on my knees in front of that guy.”

Aliza nodded decisively. "Couples' spa day. We need this." 

Syd sighed and put her forehead against the countertop. “Guys, he’s so hot. Where did he go? What did he do? How did he get a second puberty while I still have adult acne?”

“I think you’re beautiful, Syd,” Janz said.

“OF COURSE I’M BEAUTIFUL, JANZ, THAT IS NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION.”

“Breakups, I guess,” Aliza said. “They fuck you up and in Adi’s case, you just leave the country and come back literally a whole new person who knows how to wear plaid and what’s the perfect amount of beard to look like a fucking model.”

“I'm sure it didn't hurt the guy to get away from his homophobic family for the first time in his life,” Janz said. 

The four of them turned to Kent, who had lingered behind them in the living room, watching Shira entertain her stuffed animal.

“You’ve been suspiciously quiet,” Aliza said.

“Especially considering you’re the one here with the most recent experience in fucking hot guys,” Syd added. “If you want to be super specific, I also mean in fucking—”

“Adi’s fine,” Kent said.

“The fuck he is,” Rafi said.

Kent left Shira and walked over to the kitchen where they were gathered.

“Look,” he said. “I’m not gonna get bothered about it. He looked really uncomfortable when you said that I was thinking of making an offer on this place.”

Aliza shrugged. “To be fair, we had just told him by the way, your good friends Lilian and Rod are gone in the same breath, so maybe don’t assume the worst.”

“Whatever, hot guys are a dime a dozen,” Kent said.

“Uh, when you’re Kent Parson, sure,” Syd said. “Just let me have this, okay? Let me have my beautiful friend who will never love me the way I love him.” Syd leaned in and met Aliza’s eyes. “The guys are going to New York for the finals at the end of the week. We can have Adi over for dinner and watch parties and get some fucking dirt on him.”

“You.” Aliza slammed her hand down in front of Kent. “Get him tickets. Get him seats with us for the home games. We need to win him over. He has to be our friend again.”

Kent sighed and nodded. “Fine. Sure. We’ll get him tickets in the family section. Let’s see what he thinks of me when I’m sober, competent, and not about to drown in a hot tub or my own vomit.”

“Yes,” Rafi hissed. “Show him how good you are at hockey and then kiss the fuck out of him.”

“What? I didn’t say that.”

“No Parse,” Janz whined. “Come back to my side! Adi’s eyes aren’t that mesmerizing.”

“I didn’t say that! I just—”

“You’re sweating under your snapback,” Rafi said.

“Oh fuck you, we live in Vegas,” Kent said. “Weren’t we here to talk about buying a house?”

"Sorry, was the return of your good friend a deal breaker?” Aliza asked.

“Kent.” Rafi rested a heavy hand on Kent’s shoulder and oh, that wasn’t good at fucking all. “You have to admit: it’s kinda like fate.”

“Whoa, okay, let’s not go overboard here,” Janz said, putting his hands up as group referee. “Our old friend’s come back—”

“Just as Kent’s seriously considering buying the house next door to him,” Syd said. “Come on. What kind of a coincidence is that?”

Janz half-scowled at Syd. “It’s not a coincidence! He’s probably been back for weeks and keeping to himself, but we didn’t notice because we were busy, you know, making the finals.”

“We’ll see,” Syd said. “Oh, we will fucking see.”

“There’s nothing to see,” Kent said. “I’ll get Adi tickets and make nice again. Then I’ll call Lilian and the Lumens people about putting down an offer for the house, we’ll go win ourselves another Stanley Cup, and that’s the end of it, okay?”

“For a professional hockey player, you’re not interested in the narrative at all, man,” Rafi laughed.

Kent couldn’t argue with that.

“I’ve had enough of the narrative for one lifetime. A life would be nice, though.”

*

This was Kent’s eighth season in the NHL, their third time going to the finals. It was getting harder every year to make it to the end. During playoffs, Kent lived in his phone, his headphones on when he wasn’t on the ice. He condensed his life to text alerts—not push notifications, but old school text alerts that interrupted his podcasts and his group chats with his sisters with his phone’s attempts at voicemail transcription.

>Hi, it’s Janet. Good news, I’d even say great news if you weren’t literally fighting for the Cup right now. Anyway: the Morrisons and Lumens approved your offer. Let me know if it’s ok for me to take inspectors over while you’re on the road. Place can be yours before the finals are over. Bring the Cup home or we’ll crush you with fees. Call or text, I’m waiting to hear from you.

>Kenny, it’s Dad. I was down at Andie’s so we could watch you play your home games, but we’re coming down for your games at the Garden! Just me and your sisters are coming to the city, all the kids’ll be home since they go so late. That overtime tonight! Wow! That was something, and the way you got that last goal. Does it sound like your old man knows a thing about hockey yet? Look: we’re so proud of you, Kenny. So proud, all right? We’ll see you Saturday for Game 3. Love you. Remember, it’s Dad.

>Hi it’s me sorry for whispering but I’m calling from Shira’s bedroom because Adi is downstairs, they’re literally interviewing you all on tv while the Rangers celebrate like the assholes they are, and Adi’s leaving you the most ADORABLE message I’ve ever heard in my life. Oh my god. Text me later, I need to keep eavesdropping and screaming into Shira’s stuffed animals.

>Hi. Kent. Oh, it’s Adi, sorry, you probably don’t recognize the number, but Aliza gave it to me, I hope you don’t mind. I just wanted to thank you for the tickets to the first two games. She and Syd said that was all you. I didn’t go to many of your games, uh, before, since Elisa didn’t like hockey at all and I felt strange sitting by myself with just the other partners, so I—anyway, I’m trying to say you’re very, very good at what you do. You all are, of course, you and Janz and Rafi are all extraordinary, but—I’m sorry, this message is too long already. Thank you again for the tickets and break a leg, all right? God, wait, don’t actually break a leg. I’m not used to seeing people with a hundred pounds on you throw you against the boards so, please, don’t break anything. I’m sure you’ll do well. Anyway, now you have my number, so. Right. I’ll see you soon, future neighbor.

>YOU GUYS LEFT ME AT THE AIRPORT BAR WHAT THE FUCK

>HELP IT’S JANZ HELP I’M SPOILED I NEED A HANDLER

>Kent, it’s Janet—I emailed you the inspector’s report. Nothing major but there’s a few things we might want the sellers to fix before we close. Let me know if you want me to contact them or if you just want to let it go and pay for it yourself since I know you guys are friends and all that. PERSONALLY I don’t think you should let that shit slide but I’m a bloodsucking attorney and you’re not, sooooooooooo let me know.

>Kent, it’s Lilian. Just letting you know this house finally feels a little like home. Me and Rod had our family and our new neighbors over. We’re all in our Aces gear, cheering you boys on. Miss you, miss you all.

>Hey it’s Meg. Fuck, I’m so sorry I couldn’t come to the game tonight, work ran late and we have a crazy big event tomorrow. I saw that check on you in the third but Andie said it wasn’t like, hospital bad, just secret locker room checkup bad. Was it? Please call me. I mean, Andie and Dad already told me what they know but—look, I wanna hear from you, okay? Call me, please, when you get a chance.

>It’s Meg again—does this mean Andie’s your emergency contact, not me? Bro. BRO. I mean yeah okay she’s an actual doctor but BRO.

>Kent, it’s Dad. Do you want me to come stay with you after Game 7 on Sunday? You know, if you—it’s been a nasty series, Kenny. Let me know if I can fly back to Vegas with you. Not that you need it, but if you want it, all right? Love you. It’s Dad.

That was his eighth season over, a second Stanley Cup for the Aces, one last plane home. This time, Kent fell asleep as soon as they took off, his head on his father’s shoulder.

*

When Kent woke up at his condo 36 hours later, he found a fridge filled with food (groceries and leftovers from the meals he had missed since they got off the plane) and Kit and his dad watching some intense cooking competition on Netflix. Kent’s dad looked over his shoulder and lit up to see him.

“I’m alive,” Kent said.

“Not until you shower and scrub out those teeth.”

“Can’t I wait until the season starts again?”

“Kit’s a very particular kitten,” his dad assured him. “Look, she won’t come near you until you shower.”

“I bet you’ve been feeding her from the table while I was asleep,” Kent said. “Fine, I’ll shower, but no more scraps. That shit doesn’t fly in my house.”

Kent’s dad laughed. “Sir yes sir.”

A shower and sandwich later, Kent and his dad had their feet up on the coffee table, episode 400 of this particular show running in the background while Kent looked at his messages.

“Dad,” Kent asked. “How much longer can you stay?”

Can I stay? You want me to stay? My youngest, my only son—”

Kent threw his head back and fake snored.

“Yeah, Kenny, I can stay. What do you need?”

“Uh, well. The house—the new house? It’s mine and I can pick up the keys whenever. So I thought—maybe you could help me like—come with me and a decorator or whatever to pick out furniture for the house? Then I need to donate whatever’s not coming with me, and someone should stick around here for the movers, and, I dunno, just. Stuff I need help with because I don’t know what I’m doing?”

“Is that why you’ve lived in this same apartment eight years?” his dad asked. “Couldn’t look up the movers on the internet?”

“Ugh, Dad, that’s what I have an assistant for.”

“Ugh, Ken.” His dad ruffled his hair and Kent grumbled. “Of course, whatever you need.”

“Thanks. You’re gonna love the new place, promise. It’s big, lots of light, out in the suburbs with my team—it’s a real good place. Lots of spare bedrooms for you and Andie and Meg and all the kids, like seriously all the kids.”

“They’ve only got five between them. You know your mother’s mother was one of fourteen?”

“Fucking kill me. Good thing we ditched that half of the family as soon as we could.”

Kent’s dad sighed. “It was a different time. You want your laptop to make all these arrangements or are you just gonna wing it?”

“Nah, I’m good.” Kent tapped Kit on the head and went to the kitchen to start making calls (mostly to Claire, said assistant who handled the hideous particulars of running his life).

The next day, two-time Stanley Cup winner Kent Parson and his father spent about two hours with a decorator in every room of the new house. The decorator flipped through furniture sets on her tablet and Kent tried to visualize each room with his very, very thin imagination. Within a few hours, Kent’s name and money (and Claire, bless her forever) had furnished his new house and set a delivery date for within the week; he’d hired movers to pack up his condo and deliver everything within the week; and he had his utilities started at the new place immediately, because if a Stanley Cup for the city couldn’t do all that then what was even the fucking point?

“Pretty productive day, Dad,” Kent said as he locked up the house behind them.

“I’ll never get used to how much it costs to live out here,” his dad said.

Kent agreed as he headed down the path back to the street. “I know. It’s weird and even with investments and savings and helping the kids out with college funds and stuff, I still can’t spend all this.”

“Don’t sound too guilty, Kenny, or I might think the hockey was all a front for some nefarious dealings.”

“Nefarious dealings are probably safer than hockey, too. If you hear of any, just sign me up, okay?”

As they walked down the path, Kent heard his name from the house next door and instinctively looked to Syd and Janz’s side. His dad tapped his shoulder.

“Your other left, kid.”

Adi was at the front door of his house, closing up behind him and coming down the path. Kent waved and took an extra step or two ahead of his dad.

“You’re all right?” Adi asked as they met on the sidewalk in front of Kent’s house. To Kent’s surprise, Adi pulled him in for a tight hug that he wasn’t prepared for at all. Adi let him go, but he kept a hand on Kent’s shoulder. “That hit in Game 6, everyone at Aliza’s house woke up Shira yelling at the television. Unbelievable—don’t they suspend people for shit like that?”

“Don’t worry, it looked worse than it was,” Kent said. Then, like an asshole, he remembered his dad and stepped aside. “Dad, this is my old friend and new neighbor, Adi. You know I got Janz and Sydney on one side, but Adi’s on the other. He just came back from… places.”

“Always nice to see places,” Kent’s dad said as he extended his hand. “Scott Parson, good to meet you. You came back just in time. Kenny’s gonna need help throwing parties over there, so if you know any other handsome guys who might want to keep him company—”

Kent leaned in and waved in Adi’s face. “This? Isn’t happening. This never happened. You’re are super fucked up on peyote right now and this did not happen.”

“Mmm, of course not,” Adi agreed. “A pleasure. Adriano Herrera.”

“I’m wearing his boots,” Kent stammered.

“Still?” Adi glanced down at Kent’s feet. “We also make flip flops. Hard core flip flops for the die hard flip flop enthusiast.”

Kent showed his dad the logo on the inside of his boot and Scott tapped the logo lightly. “Yeah, I know these. You got me a pair last Christmas, didn’t you? Great shoes for keeping up with my high school students and walking to the corner store.”

Adi laughed. “I’ll see if we can put that in the catalog.” He nudged Kent’s foot. “So? You’re finally moving in or what?”

Kent crossed his arms. “Now you want me around?”

“Nothing like a good old fashioned feud to welcome you to the neighborhood,” Scott said. “Kenny, what’d you do? You don’t even live here yet!”

“No, it was me,” Adi explained to Scott. “I was a little apprehensive, living next to the man who was in the tabloids every week when I still lived here, but that was a long time ago.”

“It was,” Kent said.

Adi watched him for a long moment, long enough that Kent wondered if his dad would like, give him a second, or—

“Should I leave?” asked Kent’s dad. “I’m gonna go look at this shrub.”

“Dad,” Kent laughed.

“No, it’s all right," Adi said. "I was just on my way out, I just wanted to…” Kent’s dad took a few steps away towards, yes, the shrubs at the edge of Kent’s new house, while Adi took came closer and lightly grasped Kent’s wrist. “I’m intrigued, Kent Parson. You were terrifying to watch.”

“In a good way?”

“Like nothing I’ve ever seen. Parse, the force of nature.”

Kent honest to fuck wondered if maybe he was the one tripping the fuck out on Pantone chips right about now. Adi looked away and sort of laughed to himself as he let go of Kent’s wrist. His sudden freedom prompted Kent to flex his hand and almost do something stupid like touch him back or make a single sound.

“I have to go run some errands, but Aliza suggested I have a dinner at my house for the six of us before the big end-of-season blowout,” Adi said. “I’ll text you and please, bring your father.”

Scott waved at Adi from even further down the street than he was before. “Oh, I’m busy every night, but it was real good meeting you!”

Adi grinned at Kent, waved to Kent’s dad, and walked back to the car in his driveway. Kent watched him go, then turned and headed towards his dad.

“So,” Scott said. “He seems nice.”

“Dad.”

“And he’s local,” Scott said. “Really can’t get more local than the house next door.”

Dad.”

“I'm just saying, it's really good of the universe to drop such a nice-looking boy right in your lap,” Scott said.

The weird and pleasant buzz of the moment dissipated instantly. It couldn’t be helped, it just—fuck, wasn’t this convenient? Wasn’t this well-timed and public? Adi had come out here and found him, in broad daylight, on the street where they lived, where anyone could see them. He introduced himself to Kent’s dad, for fuck’s sake, and joked with his dad and flirted with Kent like it was nothing. He’d hugged Kent, touched his wrist, felt his pulse under his fingertips, like they had nothing to fear.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” Kent said.

“Oh, Kent, come on.”

“I’m not taking the bait again.”

“Kenny, it was a joke.”

“Yeah, it was, and the joke’s always on me.”

Kent stuffed his hands in his pockets, but his dad caught him by the elbow and stopped him from walking away.

“Did you think that first Stanley Cup was the only shot you’d get?” Scott asked. “No, of course not—you knew you and the team could get there and dammit, it took you six years but you got there again and you won. How’s this any different?”

“It’s not a fucking game,” Kent said. “I lose the Stanley Cup, I get a runners-up check and a summer to lick my wounds. If I let some guy win me over again and it all falls apart—I don’t think I can come back from that. Not again, Dad. I can’t.”

His dad let go and held his hands up. “Fine. Fine. You’re young. You can be stubborn. You can be alone, if that’s what you really want. I’m alone—I’ve had a good life with just you and your sisters, but that’s because I wanted it. I wanted it to be just me with just you kids. You think you want to be alone, fine, but make sure you really want it. If you’re alone because you’re scared, you’ll never make it, Kenny. You know people do stupid things when they're scared.”

“Are we done here? Ready to head back downtown?”

Before Kent could stalk back to the car, his dad pulled him in for a hug.

“They’re gone, all right? But we’re still here. Don’t forget that. You’re still here.”

*

Business came up for both Adi and the Aces, so dinner never happened. Instead a week later, Kent had everyone over to his new house so they could bid last season a hearty hail and fuck you, and also find out exactly how many people could fit in his house. The final tally was something like: 30 professional hockey players, 25 partners/spouses, 15 caterers and waiters, 10 children under age 10, <10 hockey-adjacent neighbors, and one Kent’s dad.

Kent was on the edge of the group that had formed around his dad, slowly drinking some lemonade that had materialized in his kitchen. Scott looked over and gripped Kent’s shoulder before addressing the group.

“You know, for a second before he went into the juniors, I thought Kenny might be a teacher like me.”

Wooder, their baby goalie who they acquired from last year’s draft, stared shamelessly at Kent and then back at Kent’s dad, then back at Kent again because a world without Kent Parson the hockey legend was not any reality he had ever known.

“You used to get so mad when no one could keep up with you in math,” Scott continued. “And, you remember, you had to do community service hours to finish middle school, so you decided tutoring was the way to go, but boy oh boy—you did not have the temper for that.”

Kent nodded to the group. “It’s true; I just wanted to be a teacher so I could boss people around.”

Coley, one of their D-men, raised his hand and waited until Kent’s dad called on him.

“Question: are there pictures of tiny baby middle school Parse, and would you be willing to sell them for, I don’t know, literally every penny to my name?”

“Don’t worry, Coles, I was always this beautiful,” Kent said over his dad’s shoulder. “If you’re looking for any flaws on this face, try again.”

“Well,” said Kent’s dad. “There was your first year in the Q. You can find those pictures on google.”

Kent opened his eyes wide and clapped his dad on the shoulder. “I’m out. Forever. Bye.”

He left the group laughing and looked at his phone. He’d been mingling for a good three hundred years already, so he took a few steps back out of his living room and towards the front door. He opened the door a fraction and slipped outside, closing it behind him so he could take a minute to just… collect himself.

His team had just won the highest prize in their profession for the second time since they drafted him, the Aces’ second time ever in the history of the team, and it still didn’t seem real to Kent. It didn’t seem real when he held the cup on the ice. It didn’t seem real on his last cup day—not that anything seemed real that day, driving down in the middle of the day from his sister Meg’s house to fucking Nowhere, Massachusetts to have his throat ripped out for doing exactly what he promised he would do. Now here he was, having his name carved onto that goddamn cup a second time and it still wasn’t anything more than another epithet added to his story, another bargaining chip when his contract was up—

“I think your house has hit full capacity,” said a voice over his shoulder. Kent looked around, even though Adi’s voice was pretty damn familiar to him at this point.

“As long as they stay out of my bathroom, we’re good,” Kent said.

“The nice one with the bath and shower and double sink?” Adi helped himself to the step Kent was sitting on, sitting close enough that—well, close enough that Kent fucking noticed. “I think that’s where they’re keeping the children at this point. You know, to hose them off.”

Kent raised his eyebrows at Adi. “You’ve been hanging around hockey players too much. I won’t stand being chirped on my own stoop. Weren’t you the sweet one at some point?”

“The sweet one? Like we’re in a boy band?” Adi took a sip of his drink and looked right ahead, not at Kent. “You’re the bad boy and I’m the sweet one, as well as the ethnic flavor, I suppose.”

“Swedish is an ethnic flavor,” Kent said. “Just saying, don’t write Janz off that quickly.”

“Excellent point,” Adi said. “I think Rafi would be the… what do you call the old one in the group?”

“Wait until I tell Rafi that. My sister Andie was in love with the old as fuck Backstreet Boy. Shit, what was his name? It doesn’t matter.” Kent looked at Adi, who was still looking off ahead into the distance. “And Janz, I guess he’s the fun one? Is there a fun one? Is that a cliche?”

“The Niall. The Irish boy from One Direction.”

“Oh my god.” Kent choked on his words and edged closer so he could bump his shoulder against Adi. “You were in the middle of goddamn nowhere for literally years and you still managed to catch up with One Direction? Give me a fucking break, dude.”

Adi said, very seriously, “Zayn leaving was a shot heard round the world, Kent,” and Kent couldn’t help laughing. Adi looked down at his cup and traced the edges, his fingertips seeking something Kent couldn’t see. “Anyway, I wasn’t nowhere. I was—well, technically, I took a leave of absence from PIEDRA to do some environmental work. Sponsored by PIEDRA. Don’t laugh.”

“Working with the environment of the soul.” Kent gently placed a hand over his heart. “Is that why you canceled dinner, so you could see your family? How’d that go?”

“That wasn’t the first time I’ve seen them since I came back,” Adi said. “But I had to settle some things with them. They’re glad I’m back, though not exactly glad to hear that I’m still committed to this gay thing, and this doing whatever I please like an adult thing.” Adi laughed, suddenly. "I told Sydney and Aliza this while you were all traveling for the finals, one of those things that I didn't notice was completely toxic until I had left." 

Adi was quiet for a moment, and then he nudged Kent's knee with his own. "I look better now than I did before, don't I?"

"Uh."

"It's not a weird question, is it? These days, I dress better than I did. I look like I exercise once in a while."

"Yeah, I could agree that your physical appearance has altered some."

Adi gave Kent a look, but Kent offered in return an aggressively bland smile.  

"Well, it turns out that it's easier for me to go for a run, to hike and climb, even get to a gym, when I don't have my family's intense scrutiny all over me on a regular basis—whether I look heavier or thinner, whether a new shirt means that I'm trying too hard to look good for men—"

"Oh, good," Kent said. "Good to mix in some misogyny with their homophobia, too, because only women, ugh, care about their appearances."

"Exactly," Adi said.

"For what it's worth, you have the support of Kent Parson, a cover model for ESPN's 2014 Body Issue." 

Adi burst out laughing and covered his face. "This conversation is so embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as you."

"You kept up with boy bands and shit, but did you even spare a look for your friend—"

"No, no I didn't, Kent."

Kent ran a hand through his hair. "Don't worry, I've got a copy framed inside. You're not leaving this party until you see it." Kent looked over at Adi and smiled, miles more genuine this time. "You were saying? Shallow men aren't real men, gay men aren't real men, that sorta thing."

"Happy men aren't real men, either, did you know that? It all ties back to not taking work seriously enough, some fundamental failing as a man. They seem to think I look happier lately, and that's worrying them, too. Happy isn't serious, is it?"

“Did you point out the alternative is that you run away again, this time forever?”

Adi nodded, looking more distracted than anything. “It’s taken my mother all this time to win them, my father and uncles, over to the idea that my happiness may actually be worth something to them.” Adi glanced at Kent again, focused on him, and gave him a wonderfully sad smile. “They had been under the impression that my happiness was something that would distract me and embarrass them.”

It sounded a lot like another poor little rich boy Kent had known, once.

“I get that,” Kent said. “I didn’t know that you worked with your whole family, though, and saw them so often. Like, lots of companies talk shit about being a family-owned business or whatever.”

“No, no, we are truly family-owned and operated,” Adi said. “My father and uncles built it all up themselves and I’m the one who will inherit everything when they think I’m ready.”

“Is this the part when you tell me your secret, that you never wanted to inherit it?” Kent asked. “You just want to go back to the forest and climb El Capitan all day with the cool mountain breeze gently lifting and volumizing your curls?”

Adi raised his eyebrows and scoffed at Kent. “Do I look like an idiot, Parson? Of course I want to run my family’s multimillion-dollar business. I just also want to wake up every morning and blow my husband before I leave for the office.”

Kent lifted his glass to Adi. “Fuckin’ cheers to that, man.”

“Maybe not every morning,” Adi considered. “Certainly when he's been good.”

Adi glanced over, giving Kent a prime view of the devastating smile at the corner of his mouth. Christ, Kent was sitting too close, way too close if he could see all the little imperfections on Adi’s cheeks, faint freckles and scars in his skin and that seriously perfect beard. He must have noticed Kent trying not to stare, or breathe, or blink, or move, because Adi’s eyes crinkled up like an emoji, all of him looking soft and unbearable.

“So, we’re still working on it,” Adi said. “They would love me to be the young, handsome, somewhat athletic, heterosexual CEO, the Kent Parson of selling hiking gear—”

Kent cackled at him and earned himself jab to the ribs. Kent wiped the tears from his eyes and met Adi’s eyes again.

“I'm good at my job, I'm great at the parts of the business I run, but they take some issue with the idea that their ultra manly boots could be represented by someone like me,” Adi said. 

“Lucky for you, I did some unofficial market research for you guys,” Kent said. “Take it right back to your family, let them know that my sister, Meg, and her wife, Tanya, are also totally sold on these boots, and have been for their many years of camping in upstate New York, with their many queer friends. So maybe it’s time to redefine the official corporate definition of masculinity.”

Adi laughed. “I’ll be sure to do that. Now it’s your turn.”

“My turn?” Kent was more than well aware that his who me? face was the weakest aspect of his game, but it was fucking pathetic compared to Adi smoldering at him—maybe not “smoldering” as much as “making basic eye contact.” Maybe it was the desert (maybe it was always the desert), but to Kent it felt smoldering.

“You, our reformed bad boy,” Adi said. “What have I missed?”

“A good question.” Yeah, Kent was pretty proud of his pointed non-answer.

“You came out to your team,” Adi said. “That’s new.”

Kent shrugged. “Maybe when you left, but not anymore. Now it means I have 30 more wingmen across all of North America looking for my next Mr. Parson. It’s sweet. The managers know, too, and they say the franchise will support me if/when I come out, but I know they’re relieved it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Why hasn’t it happened yet?” Adi asked. “And if you shrug again, I’ll drag your father out here for more embarrassing stories about you, Kenny.”

Kent laughed under his breath. “Nah, don’t worry, it’s—I haven’t because there’s no reason to be out yet and throw myself into that mess, you know? I always said I’d be out when—like, when I had someone. Someone who was with me in this life for the long-term.”

“And it hasn’t happened yet?”

Kent said nothing, so Adi sat up straighter and swirled around the melting ice in his drink.

“I suppose that’s a better question,” Adi said. “Since I bared my soul about my family and my situation, and you have maybe two buttons undone, one shoulder peeking out.” Adi added, “Spiritually speaking, of course.”

“Wait, what’s the question?” Kent asked because his sad brain couldn't handle the visuals, nor could it handle poor Adi blushing like he couldn't believe what he'd just said. “Why am I still the NHL’s most valuable cat lady?”

“If you want to put it that way,” Adi said. “But now that I’ve met Kit Purrson, I don’t think she would appreciate being reduced to a prop for your identity.”

“Oh fuck you, Mr. I Actually Went to College.”

Adi laughed, but he didn’t say anything else. He let the question hang between them as he watched Kent, expectant, pleasant, chill, like Kent could keep him waiting until the next ice age and he wouldn’t mind. Like he enjoyed just talking with Kent.

“No one’s been worth it,” Kent finally said.

“Really? Not in all those years?” Adi asked. “You moved here when I was in the middle of my MBA. I remember all the talk about this hockey player coming to Las Vegas, for some reason.”

Kent nodded. “Yeah, I turned nineteen a week later. This was my eighth season and man, I’m so old now.”

“Yes, you’re nearly twenty-seven, you look desiccated beyond your years.” Adi knocked his knee into Kent’s and glared at him, more amused than anything else. “There’s really been no one worth your very expensive time? I deliberately left with the intention of not forming any new attachments, but you—you've formed attachments here. Just not romantic ones."

“No, I haven't, because no one's worth the nuclear fallout that comes afterwards,” Kent said. “It’s fine, though. Like you said: it’s been eight years. There’s been a couple of terrible years, but I’ve had four or five really good years putting myself together. I’m alive. I’m surviving. I don’t need more than that.” Kent cleared his throat and looked off into the distance, the better to avoid Adi’s eyes. “I mean, you cut ties so you could run away and see the world, right? It’s a good strategy. Keep doing that. Just do that and you’ll be cool with your family and your company and your sponsors and your fans and everyone on the planet.”

Adi nodded, then leaned in close to Kent, his hand resting between Kent’s shoulder blades.

“Can I tell you something? I don’t think that’s true. I did cut ties so I could hit reset, but that’s not true about you, not at all.”

Kent wanted to turn his head but Adi was thisclose to resting his forehead against Kent. He was so close, his hand a solid weight on his back.

Kent managed to say: “Yeah?”

“No, I don’t think anyone with friends like Aliza and Rafi, Janz and Sydney—I don’t think anyone who they protect the way they protect you, anyone they love as much as you—I don’t know who you just described to me, but he’s not Kent Parson. Kent Parson would never let someone that bitter near his friends.”

Adi’s hand left his back and Kent turned his head to glance at him. Adi nudged his side again.

“Should we go back inside? Because there’s roughly a hundred people in there who would also take deep, deep offense, at anyone describing Kent Parson the way you just did.”

Kent tried really, really hard not to smile, but he could feel it on his face all the same.

“Fuck you, man, I already bought your boots,” Kent said. “What kind of pretentious perfume commercial bullshit was that, you absolute asshole?”

Adi laughed and stood up. “All right, stay out here if you want. It’s your house, after all. I’ll be inside, talking to your friends and teammates, confident in how right I am about you.”

“I’ll let you have smug palace for a few minutes, but watch out. I’m coming for you.”

Adi opened the door and tossed a quick, “You will,” to Kent before he went back inside. Kent smiled to himself, trying to tamp all that down.

After a few minutes, Kent went back inside and wound his way through the house to the deck in the back. Syd and Janz, Aliza and Rafi, the true party veterans in the neighborhood, had come over early and staked out a corner of the long deck table under the awning. He arrived with a new drink and wedged himself in between Syd and Janz, one arm on the table, one arm around Janz.

“And what’s got you so happy?” Syd asked. “Your dad googled your pictures from the Q and he’s been showing them to everyone. I thought you had changed your name and moved to Nebraska already.”

“Aw, Syd, come on, our ugly Kentling made it out okay,” Janz replied.

“Puberty hit late, but it hit hard,” Aliza said.

“Fuck off, all of you,” Kent laughed.

“I totally did not tweet that pic, by the way,” Rafi said. “Someone took my phone and hacked it and the only thing they did was tweet a pic of 16-year-old Parse at the Aces’ official account. It was really weird how they did all that and then told me that was exactly what they were doing but hackers, man, they’re a fucking mystery.”

Kent took out his phone and retweet that embarrassment. He slipped his phone back in his pocket and looked around again. “So what’d I miss?”

*

Nothing made Kent feel more like a talking sack of meat than offseason training, taking these few months to rebuild his body from the shambles left after a full season and playoffs. In the hottest months of the year, the team ate more, worked out more, and tried to escape the tedium as often as they could. Kent started his offseason with a visit from his sister Meg, her wife Tanya, and their five-year-old twins, Lucas and Mila.

“I don’t WANT to take a nap,” Lucas said. “I want to go in the pool and go outside and WHERE’S KIT. I WANT TO PLAY WITH THE CAT.”

“MOM SAID YOU HAD A CAT,” Mila yelled. “I WANNA HOLD KIT OR I’M GONNA DIE.”

“I HATE EVERYTHING HERE,” Lucas screamed. “WHERE’S THE IN-N-OUT MA SAID YOU WOULD GET US IN-N-OUT BUT YOU LEFT YOUR OLD HOUSE AND NOW THERE’S NO BURGERS.”

“THERE’S NO BURGERS ANYWHERE,” Mila said. “ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. I HATE LAS VEGAS.”

Kent, Meg, and Tanya stood in Kent’s living room, looming over the screaming twins. Meg and Tanya hadn’t even climbed out of Kent’s car before the twins started screaming and demanded to be dragged down the driveway and into the house. Kent had picked them both up and plopped them on the couch, but it didn’t help; they threw themselves on the floor and had been screaming for a good five minutes or so.

“So,” Kent said.

“It’s normal,” Meg said. “But they’re twins so it’s like a fucking feedback loop.”

“It’s almost like white noise at this point,” Tanya said. “They come up with some amazing shit. No burgers anywhere in the world!”

“Yeah, she’s really creative for a screaming noise and rage machine,” Kent said.

“We’ll handle them,” Meg said. “I just need to like. Breathe for a second.”

“What if we threw them in the pool?” Kent asked.

“They need those arm floater things,” Tanya said. “Do you have any? Or do we need to run out and get some?”

“I can get some,” Kent said.

Kent nudged Lucas with the toe of his sneaker. “Hey, you.”

“What?” Lucas demanded.

“Kit doesn’t like loud noises,” Kent said. “Last time you were out here, you guys were just babies and she loved you guys because you were so quiet and nice. All you did was pet her and not scream at her. This racket here? She’s probably not going to come out all day because she’s so shy and there’s so many loud noises out here.”

Meg elbowed Kent and whispered, “Make it a contest.”

“In fact,” Kent said. “I bet once it quiets down in here, Kit’s gonna come out and pick her favorite, and if I know Kit, she’ll probably pick the quietest person. I bet it’s gonna be me.”

“Of course it’ll be you,” Lucas snapped. “You live here. I don’t want your stupid cat.”

“GOOD,” Mila said. “Lucas can't have her. Kit’s gonna be mine.”

“No she’s not,” Lucas said. “She’ll never like you, you scream too much.”

“YOU SCREAM TOO MUCH.”

Kent clapped his hands. “I’m gonna take a nap and then go in the pool, and no one’s allowed in the pool without a nap. So, bye.”

The twins started yelling again, but once Kent turned and started walking upstairs, fear of abandonment kicked in and they ran after him, racing each other and Kent up the stairs to fight over which bedroom would be theirs.

Half an hour later, they were tucked into bed for a nap in one of the guest rooms and Meg, Tanya, and Kent were downstairs, nearly passed out on the living room couches.

“I hate you, by the way,” Meg said as she curled up on one of the couches against Tanya, her head on Tanya’s lap.

“Me?” Tanya asked. “They’re your kids, too.”

“I mean Kent,” Meg said. “Lucas loves him so much, just because he’s a guy. It’s terrible. He’ll do literally anything Kent says, because Kent’s a guy and Kent knows better than his two dumb moms, doesn’t he?”

“Nah, I have that effect on everyone,” Kent said.

“The fuck you do,” Meg replied.

“You have sibling immunity,” Kent said.

“For real,” Meg said. “Do you have wine around here?”

“Baby, didn’t you see the two wine fridges built into the kitchen island?” Tanya asked. “Sorry, not to be that girl, but I zeroed in on those the minute we walked in.”

“I did, too, but it’s Kent so I don’t know if he’s filled them with like, protein shakes and liquid spinach bullshit.”

“One on your left is liquid spinach bullshit, the one on the right is the guest wine,” Kent said. He buried himself further in the other couch, then turned onto his side. He wrapped his arms around himself and watched Meg whine for a second before she got up and headed across the room to the kitchen island.

Meg asked as she looked in the cabinets for glasses, “Do you want one of your gross shakes from the other fridge?”

“If you can throw me a bottle of water without breaking anything in my house, I’d be super impressed and maybe even thankful.”

Meg grabbed a water bottle first and brought it to Kent, holding it over him before dropping it exactly on his hip bone where it would hurt the most, because family. She retreated back to the kitchen to begin rummaging through Kent’s wine selection.

“So it’s just us tonight,” Kent said as he twisted the cap off his bottle and sat up. “But tomorrow afternoon, I asked my friends to come over. You guys are facebook friends with Aliza and Rafi, right? They’re the ones with the little girl, Shira, she’s a sweet kid.”

“Kent, we know all your friends, promise,” Tanya said. “It’s been like, fucking forever since we’ve seen them but yeah, we know them all.”

“Okay, good,” Kent said. “I figured I’d grill on the deck, get everyone in the pool, just hang out for the afternoon and tire the kids out.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Meg said. “Are we gonna meet your new hot friend tomorrow? Like, I assume it’s a package deal—with Aliza and Rafi, we get Syd and her bioluminescent Swede, and handsome mystery guy.”

“Dude, poor Janz, he can’t help his translucence,” Kent said. “And yeah, of course they’re coming, too.”

Meg came back to the couch with Tanya, handing her one of the oversized wine glasses Kent kept for guests. “Dodged my question, Kenny. The hot friend? What about him? Is he coming?”

“Uhhhh,” Kent said. “He is and actually, he lives next door.”

“No fucking way,” Tanya whispered. “He lives next door?”

“Next door is like, five hundred feet away,” Kent said.

“Do you know that because of your restraining order?” Meg asked.

“Shut up,” Kent said.

“Just wondering! It’s a very specific distance and we can tell from how he’s popped up in your friends’ pics that he might be handsome enough to—”

“Make me a felon?”

“Ergh, good point,” Meg said. “Take it back, I take it back, we can’t wait to meet him.”

“You might have already met him, if you—ugh, it’s a long story.”

Meg waved her wine glass at him. “We haven’t even made a dent in this bottle.”

Kent grumbled and tucked himself into the couch again, the better for them to laugh at him and clink their glasses together like the terrifying team they were.

The next day saw the twins in the pool with their arm floaters and a handful of random kid-sized inflatable pool toys that Kent had found at the nearest big-box store. Rafi had put Shira in a little floating seahorse and let her kick around the pool in a tiny area around him while the twins watched these new people suspiciously. Luckily, the twins had been kept fed and entertained all day, so they were less murderous than they had been yesterday after a six-hour flight. Aliza, Meg, and Tanya hung out with Janz at the deck table under the awning, Janz slathered in sunscreen and wearing the largest sun hat on the planet which, to Kent, officially signified the start of summer.

Kent called out from the pool: “Daisy Buchanan, would you toss me a water?” Lucas and his arm floaters were kicking around Kent in the pool while telling him about his adventures in kindergarten. It sounded like Lucas and his sister had been running some sort of candy extortion ring underneath everyone’s noses. Christ, they were five.

“My delicate Nordic skin wasn’t made for this shit,” Janz called back.

“Throw it gently,” Kent added. “I’m surrounded by precious cargo, you goddamn Viking.”

“For real, I literally cannot snapchat this enough,” Rafi said, holding up his waterproof iPhone case from his and Shira’s corner of the pool. “You know it’s summer when we see the return of the domesticated Parse and the floppy sun hat that ate Scandinavia.”

“Enjoy your melanomas, assholes,” Janz replied.

“Oh man, that got dark,” Kent said. Mila was practicing her jumps into the pool and Kent caught her as she was about to climb out again. “There are children here, Janz, tokens of the purest innocence.”

“Hey, impurest innocence, get back over here,” Meg called out. “You need more sunblock if you’re gonna keep jumping into the water and washing it off.”

“I think she means you,” Kent said to Mila.

“I hate sunblock, it’s gross,” Mila complained as she kicked across the pool to the stairs.

“You’ll hate sunburn a whole lot more,” Kent said. He glanced at Rafi and raised his eyebrows. “The joys that await you as Shira gets older.”

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t fucking deprive you of all this,” Rafi said. “We’re just a few houses away, buddy. You’ll be there for every nightmare growing pain.”

“Jesus,” Kent laughed. “Is it too late to move back downtown?”

“Oh yeah, let TMZ get a hold of Old Man Parse,” Rafi said. “Kent Parson spotted at Tom’s Bar, sharing with local patrons pictures of his family, eyes misting over because they grow up so fast.”

“Wasn’t that in The Onion?” Kent asked.

“If Biden couldn’t grow into his Onion parody self, I’m glad you could,” Rafi said. “This is the highest compliment I can ever pay you.”

Kent raised his eyebrows at Rafi, then ducked under the water’s surface to cool off for a moment. When he came back up and shook out his hair, the conversation had become more animated because Syd and Adi had arrived.

“Sorry we’re late,” Syd announced as she put some bags down on the deck table. “We needed more mixers and nonalcoholic stuff and Adi gave me a ride since he didn’t start the morning with a mimosa brunch. More mimosa than brunch. Ugh, I need to lay down and die.”

“Do you want your sun hat?” Janz asked. “It’s in our pool bag.”

“Oh my god, do you guys have matching sun hats?” Meg asked. “Please put it on, please please please.”

“I have my own hat, thank you. You’ll have to wait until I’m dead and Weekend at Bernie’s that shit onto my head,” Syd said as she sat at the deck table. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not a frail white Daisy Buchanan damsel like certain spouses at this table.”

“Kent already made that joke and Mia Farrow looked awesome in that hat, so my self-esteem is stronger than ever,” Janz replied.

“Oh, it’s not a joke,” Syd said. “That’s your name while you wear that hat. You’re literally Daisy Buchanan.”

“Well I do declare!” Janz said.

“Baby, have you read a book? Like, ever?” Syd asked.

From the pool, Kent watched Adi introduce himself to his sister and Tanya as he unpacked whatever snacks he and Syd had grabbed while they were out. Kent stretched out his arms along the edge of the pool, letting Lucas paddle away from him and the water splash against him while Kent’s attention fixed on Adi. Between the end-of-season party at Kent’s place and his sister visiting, Kent and Adi and their friends had seen each other almost every day, their group dinners cycling from house to house. At the end of the night, the two of them would walk back to their places and linger on the sidewalk or the driveway long after they’d said goodbye to everyone else.

If Kent were younger—if he was on shakier footing—if he wasn’t surrounded by people who didn’t hesitate to take him by the shoulders and remind him to put his fears in perspective—

If this had been just a few years ago, Kent would have left all those dinners and all those talks with Adi, shut himself up in a cab back to his place, pressed his back against the seat, closed his eyes and reminded himself why he couldn’t, why his shaky breaths all the way home, photos he had taken, texts and snippets of conversation, would have to be enough.

But Kent wasn’t nineteen anymore, torn away from the first person who had made him feel like more than a scared and closeted hockey prodigy; he wasn’t twenty-two, letting strangers press him against the wall of a club bathroom before he escaped alone to a cab; he wasn’t twenty-five, hooking up regularly with a handful of deeply closeted hockey players who wouldn’t speak more than five or six words to him outside of his bedroom. Those motherfuckers would check him harder than anyone Kent had genuinely pissed off with his shit-talking, like taking out their grudge on Kent could take out the dick that had been in their mouths the night before.

Across the pool from Kent, Adi slipped into the water and ducked under the surface for a moment before acknowledging Kent. Acknowledging, yeah—he smiled at Kent and raised his eyebrows at him.

“Your sister was telling me about Kent Parson’s Children’s Story Hour,” Adi said as he came closer to Kent. “The very interesting story you told your niece and nephew yesterday, the one about Vegas pool sharks.”

“God, I really have to stop lying to those kids,” Kent laughed. “Shit, not that they believe me anyway, but at some point I’m gonna have to not lie to them, right? I’m pretty much demolishing any hope at credibility with them.”

“I do like how you keep honesty on a shelf way in the back, only to be brought out for special occasions,” Adi said.

“Hey, speaking of honesty, but not really, but maybe.” Kent hoped Adi didn’t notice him stammering but, knowing Adi, he probably did. “Do you want to have dinner with me? Like one-on-one? Like—” Kent held his breath for as long as his stupid lungs could manage because once he said it, it couldn’t be unsaid, and maybe he was being a little too literal with the breath before the plunge.

“Like a date,” Kent said.

Adi tilted his head, watching Kent. Kent opened his eyes wide and was about to backtrack all the way back to New York and his tragic attempts at “heteroflexibility” when Adi laughed and nodded.

“I’m sorry, no, don’t—don’t give me those panic eyes, Kent Parson, no take backs,” Adi said. “Yes, of course, let’s do that, I just thought—”

“What?” Kent asked.

“Honestly I thought we would drag this out much longer,” Adi said. He was smirking at Kent and Kent, honestly, was glad he still had his arms stretched out the edges of the pool, anchoring him to the spot so he couldn’t just sink to the bottom and stay there until a crew of scientists could lead an expedition to find him and make millions excavating him.

“I would have asked first, I mean,” Adi continued, “But I wasn't sure. I thought I might have read you wrong, or that I might be intruding.”

“I mean, you totally did intrude, but let's say it's a welcome intrusion.” Kent ran his fingers through his hair and looked away. “I was fine with no one in the world making me feel excited and jittery just to breathe around them, but now you're here so I guess I have to do something about it.”

“Well, don't sound too put out by it.”

Kent looked back, a little too quick to be cool. “I'm sorry. I did mean that. I did mean it was welcome. Okay, and now welcome intrusion sounds kinda doubletalk fucked up?”

“Call it an invitation, then,” Adi said. “Thank you for that.”

“Did you just thank me for asking you out?” Kent asked. “That’s. Oh my god.”

“Pathetic?” Adi asked. “Also, shut up. Like you have room in this pool or in the entire world to talk.”

“Uh, no, it’s fucking adorable,” Kent laughed. “Oh my god, this is already the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

“Good,” Adi said. “It should be. I’m pretty damn special, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“This ego,” Kent said, motioning at Adi with one hand. “Is this new? Where did it come from and how do I get it because I like it a whole lot and I want five of my own.”

“Dinner first, Parse.”

Kent’s brain was coming close to melting in his skull and leaking out his eyes and ears, so he moved around Adi through the water. “I have to go and like, grill? Grill food? For everyone? So I’m gonna… I’m gonna go do that. I’m gonna grill. Out of the pool.”

“Do you want help?”

“NOPE,” Kent said. “Nope, I’m gonna. Go heat up the grill. And focus on that.”

Adi nodded very seriously and let Kent pass. Kent climbed out of the pool and just as he opened the sliding glass door back into the house, he heard Rafi call out behind him:

“BLUSHING PARSE, HE’S ON THE MOVE.”

Kent furiously ignored the whoops and cheers outside as he closed the door. He took two steps towards the kitchen and spotted Kit, waiting for him, immensely disappointed.

“Not you, too,” Kent sighed.

Kit condescended to brush against his ankles, like her own personal kiss of death.

*

On The Night of the Date, Adi texted Kent that he could come over whenever. That was very considerate of Adi, especially when Kent had been standing outside the front door of Adi’s house with a bag of coffee in his hands for about 10 minutes already. He glanced at the text on his phone and laughed at the sad sack he had become, then put the phone away and opened the door.

“You don’t lock that shit, anyone could walk in here,” Kent called out.

The layout of Adi’s house was like Kent’s house, and Syd and Janz’s house, and every other house in the development, though the decor was more… it was messier than Kent’s, helped along by the few pieces of mismatched furniture in the living room and kitchen. Kent had never been big on decorating since every place he had lived had felt temporary and decorating pointless. Meanwhile, Adi had things everywhere on every surface: random things (a bowl of rocks), useful things (bottle opener), useless things (a handmade stuffed toy that looked like a hippo?), some art pieces waiting to be hung up on the walls. Kent glanced around, taking in as much as he could, before joining Adi in the kitchen.

Adi was at the stove, stirring something in a pot while a very red sauce bubbled in the saucepan on the next burner. He glanced over his shoulder at Kent and smiled at him. “Sorry about the mess in the living room. I’m still trying to settle back into this place.”

“Looks pretty settled,” Kent said.

“No, it looks a mess. It was empty when I got back,” Adi said. “I let my ex take everything she wanted since I was leaving, so she did, including the furniture. Fine with that, since everything I really needed fit into my one bag and I took it with me.”

“So fucking rugged,” Kent fake-sighed.

Anyway,” Adi said. “My parents, like the real immigrant packrats they are, insisted I raid our house and storage to restock my house, so. Here I am, about to eat dinner with you off the wrought iron dining room table my parents bought for their first apartment thirty-four years ago.”

Kent glanced over and saw the table in question. “Jesus Christ, they do not fuck around,” Kent said. He walked over to look at it, this intensely ugly and durable relic that could only be from the early 80s, with its twisted legs and hideous teal color that matched nothing else in the house and so fit in perfectly. “This looks like they could have gotten it from the diner in my hometown. Me and my dad and sisters used to have Sunday lunch there every week. We still go there whenever I visit. I’ll get a picture when I’m there.”

Kent cleared his throat and realized he was still holding his gift bag of coffee, so he walked back to Adi at the stove and held it up.

“I brought you coffee,” Kent said stupidly. “I know wine’s the thing you bring dates and I have some wine for guests, but I don’t drink anymore, so. I don’t know. It felt weird. Here’s coffee? It's that brand you like so I thought it'd be useful.”

“Coffee’s much appreciated,” Adi said. He set down the utensils and put a hand on Kent’s jaw, turning his face to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you.”

Adi went back to cooking and Kent stood there for a long moment before he took a few steps back. There were a few things sitting away from the stove on the kitchen island, like the beginnings of a salad and some herbs that went on dinner at the very end. Kent put the bag of coffee down somewhere in the back of all that shit and tried not to think about his sad life where a kiss on the cheek came close to completely fucking destroying him five minutes into a dinner date.

“Can I help with any of this stuff back here?” Kent asked.

“Uh, sure,” Adi said over his shoulder. “I think I left a vinaigrette recipe on a piece of paper around there, if you want to make it?”

“Hell yeah I can make a vinaigrette.”

Kent took care of that, then chopped a few things for the salad a little finer before mixing it all together and looking for some other things to throw in it. Adi interrupted Kent’s salad search, resting his hands on Kent’s waist and leaning his chin on Kent’s shoulder.

“Did you leave everything to burn so you could come over here and check up on me?” Kent asked.

“No, Kent, no arson tonight. Dinner’s ready.”

Kent put down the knife, closed his eyes and leaned back against Adi. “I dunno, it’s still early, are you even trying?” He reached back to touch the nape of Adi’s neck, the tricky curls at the very base, and bare his own neck to him. It was good, great, for a second, but Kent reached down to unbutton his shirt and turn around in Adi’s arms. He pulled Adi in for a kiss and bared his collarbone, hoping he’d take the bait and leave marks all along his skin, real proof that would stare back at Kent from the mirror tomorrow morning, afternoon, evening.

Adi leaned in against Kent’s mouth, a first kiss that made his fucking ears ring, made him lightheaded for a second, so that Kent didn’t realize Adi was asking him a question until he kissed Kent again, asked it against his skin.

“I said,” Adi repeated, his fingers tightening on Kent’s hips, at the waistband of his briefs. “Out of the kitchen. Come on. Follow me. Just a few steps. Where’s that hand-eye coordination everyone’s always raving about?”

“This is so embarrassing,” Kent muttered as Adi led him to a guest bedroom on the ground floor, the room empty of almost everything except a bed, sheets, and a dresser with a mirror that Kent wouldn’t have noticed if one of its sharp corners hadn’t stabbed him in the thigh on the way to the fucking bed. “Fuck, I’m so easy, you didn’t even have to feed me dinner before I threw myself all over you.”

Adi leaned over Kent and tugged Kent’s shirt off, then kneeled in front of the bed. As Kent spoke, Adi’s hands stopped, suddenly, as they slid Kent’s shorts and briefs off his hips.

“This has been easy for you?” Adi asked. “Kent, I’ve climbed glaciers that melted quicker than you.”

Kent laughed and swore as Adi took Kent’s cock in his mouth. Kent twisted his fingers in the sheets at his side, remembering almost embarrassingly late that they were in a house, not a bathroom, not his condo or a hotel room surrounded on all sides. He swore again, louder, and gasped when one of Adi’s hands rested on his abs, his short nails digging into Kent as he sucked Kent’s cock. Kent covered Adi’s hand and squeezed, gripping his hand tight.

Before Kent could come, Adi pulled away and made his way up Kent’s body, dropping kisses along the way on—on every scar, every notch in his skin. Kent opened his legs to cradle Adi’s weight between them, met Adi’s mouth so Kent could taste himself.

“Hey. Kent. Hey.”

Kent opened his eyes to Adi staring, then leaning in to kiss the corner of his mouth.

“Are you here with me?” Adi asked, lifting his eyes again to meet Kent’s.

It felt like Kent’s chest shrunk into itself, his shoulders and his very ribcage tightening around himself—then Kent took a deep breath and kissed Adi again.

“I’m here,” Kent whispered. He wrapped an arm around Adi, his other hand reaching for Adi’s hair, tightening in his curls but not pulling. Without thinking, Kent lifted his legs and felt their cocks slide against each other between their stomachs. Kent hid his face against Adi’s neck, took another deep breath, and just let himself go.

Kent had arrived and lingered outside Adi’s house while the sun was still setting around him. When he opened his eyes, his cheek against Adi’s shoulder, the sky outside was fully night and Kent wrapped his arms tighter around Adi.

“You all right?” Adi asked over Kent’s head. His fingers were in Kent’s hair, lightly grazing his scalp with every slow pass.

“Yeah,” Kent said. He let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. “Sorry dinner's cold now.”

“We have these magical appliances called stoves. You saw me use it earlier.” Kent laughed and felt Adi’s hand stop in Kent’s hair. “You’re worth more than dinner, much more.”

Kent stared straight ahead and tried not to make a sound, anything that would give away how long it had been since he had heard something like that in bed.

“Hey, remember when you made fun of me for thanking you when you asked me out?”

“Oh no,” Kent said. “Oh, shit, I did the same thing.”

“Dear Mr. Herrera,” Adi said in a soft voice. “Thank you very much for having me over for dinner on the evening of the 16th. Please accept my apologies for ignoring a home cooked meal so we could fuck. Do let me know if—”

Do let me know? Downton Abbey has been off the air for years, dude.”

“Kent, I didn’t know you cared,” Adi laughed.

Kent laughed, too, and let his fingers run down Adi’s side, pressing to feel his ribs and the spaces between until Adi swat his hand away because it hurt.

“Right, not everyone plays hockey,” Kent said. “I’ve played through broken fingers and toes, bruised ribs, cracked ribs, sprains—”

“Well, here you don’t have to, okay?”

Kent stared right ahead, out the window at the shrubs and the one tree that managed to grow outside Adi’s house. He lifted his head and pressed a kiss to Adi’s chest, then put his head down again.

“Okay,” Kent said. “Okay, I won’t.”

*

Now that Kent was a person who “dated", he had a nomination for Most Embarrassing Date and it was the one where he taught Adi to skate.

“I used to rollerblade when I was younger. This won’t be so bad,” Adi said as he gingerly stepped onto the ice.

Kent skated backwards and announced to the empty arena, “My team won the Stanley Cup twice!”

“You’re an awful teacher,” Adi yelled at him. “Don’t you have any tips for me? Aren’t you going to hold my hands and guide me around the edge until I’m not scared anymore?”

“Three Art Ross trophies,” Kent continued. “The Calder when I was a rookie. Oh, how about when I was in the Q? We won a bunch of shit then, too. I should look on my wikipedia page, I don’t actually remember all my individual and team trophies over the years because I’m so great at my job. Heard about the Ted Lindsay?”

“You’re just making things up now,” Adi called out. “I don’t care, Kent!”

Kent finished his last quick lap around the rink and arrived in front of Adi, who had finally pushed off from the boards.

“Secret to skating, specifically ice skating, specifically in hockey, because fuck toe picks—”

“So you have seen that movie,” Adi noted.

Kent shushed him and put his hands on Adi’s shoulders.

“The secret is that you never stop moving,” Kent said. “I think it’s one of those physics things? An object in motion is in motion until—wait, or there’s an equal and opposite reaction? Inertia?”

“That was beyond terrible,” Adi said. “In a very sweet way.”

“I tried and therefore no one should criticize me,” Kent said.

“So your secret is to start moving,” Adi said slowly. “And just… not stop. That would explain every minute of hockey I've watched.”

“And guys like to manhandle me whenever they get the chance,” Kent added. “No better way than to get all up on me and shove me against these things.” He sighed deeply and held out his hands to Adi. “All right, do you want me to pull you around the rink or what? Should I get on the speakers and play some music for couples’ skate?”

“So, this is simply my opinion as a humble outsider who knows absolutely nothing about hockey,” Adi said gently. “But this may be the kind of attitude that stops people from ranking you too high in voting for the Lady Byng.”

Kent stopped. “Wait, what?”

Adi laughed and skated away before Kent could catch him.

“YOU MOTHERFUCKER.”

“Kent, Vegas has been a hockey town for some time! You didn’t bring it with you!”

“I BROUGHT TWO STANLEY CUPS.”

“That was weeks ago! What have you done for us lately?”

Kent quickly caught up with Adi and skated alongside him. “Are you ready to get checked? I’m guessing it was high school, right? Five or ten minutes on the school hockey team before you either got cut or dropped out so you could focus on geeking out over numbers and marketing instead of a male-dominated contact sport.” Adi didn’t look very impressed at being read so easily, so Kent grinned and skated backwards away from him. “Come on, one time only offer: get checked gently, like ever so gently, by Kent Parson.”

“Hard pass.”

“Come on, you can skate pretty fast, don’t you want to relive the full hockey experience?”

Adi laughed. “You’re awful like this.”

Kent turned towards center ice and when Adi followed him, Kent sped up and skated right into him, wrapping his arms around Adi so he could keep them moving, turning, before Adi could flail and drag them both down onto their asses. They stopped turning and Kent laughed at Adi, who had shut his eyes and was clawing at Kent’s back, trying to hold onto him and not fall.

“You closed your eyes! Dude! You’re killing me! Anything could have happened in those seconds you had your eyes closed!”

“This was such a bad idea,” Adi said, half laughing and half gasping. “I can’t stop shaking, I think it’s adrenaline or something. Let’s never do this again, all right?”

Whaaaaaat?” Kent asked. “Where’s that hardass who bluffed me into talking out of my ass five minutes ago? Bring him back, he was way more fun.”

“No, I’ve learned my lesson. You stick to your thing and I'll clap politely in the stands.”

“Nah, this is way better,” Kent said.

"Please, I promise, I won't look up any more hockey trophies just to mock you!" 

Kent dragged Adi in for a kiss. He grasped gently at Adi’s hair, keeping them both still and together on the ice for just a moment. Kent untangled himself from Adi’s arms and held onto Adi’s hand as he began to skate away, leading Adi with him.

“You're not bad at skating,” Kent said. “You know, for an old guy.”

“You're the worst, Kent,” Adi laughed.

“Come on, bluff me again,” Kent said. “You were really good at that! Let’s get you on the professional poker circuit.”

Adi sped up and caught Kent around the waist again. He leaned in for another kiss, and then murmured, “That's much safer than skating with you.”

*

It had been six weeks that he and Adi were ”seeing each other”/"dating"/”getting way too acquainted with each other’s morning breath and breakfast preferences while seriously considering putting ladders in each other’s yards to avoid being spotted during the sprint of shame on weekday mornings before Adi had to head to the office.” Six weeks of that and, as a result, maybe Kent dropped Adi’s name in conversation with his dad a little too often. Kent hadn’t noticed until his dad did.

“So you and your neighbor worked it all out, huh?”

“Uh. Worked… what out?”

“Remember way back at the start of the summer when we checked out the house together? You said he didn’t want you to move in, but you did anyway. It sounds like you’re friendly now, so—must’ve all worked out for the best, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kent said very, very slowly. “Yeah, we’re seeing a lot of each other. He’s a good guy. I don’t—yeah, it was just a misunderstanding when he said that thing about not moving in. I thought I told you that? He was like—well, he thought I was still TMZ Kent, like when I first signed, you know? And I’m not anymore.”

“Good. That’s good! You did look happier at that party you threw before I left, so I figured it wasn’t going too badly. Meg and Tanya said you looked happy, too, when they were there with the kids. You sound happier, too. I’m glad the move and the neighborhood worked out.”

Kent paced when he talked on the phone, paced obsessively and all around whatever room, house, or deck he was in when he had to talk on the phone. Hearing all this from his dad made him stop in his tracks and stare at his phone, ticking away the seconds and minutes of the conversation.

“Hey, uh,” Kent said after a moment. “Yeah. We worked it out. And—not that we’re telling anyone yet, and not that I’m coming out to the entire world yet, but—yeah, Dad, we’re kinda seeing each other. Don’t be smug.”

“Really? Kenny, I’m so happy. I’m really pleased, you know that?”

“I said don’t be smug!”

“I’m not being smug. Can’t you hear the difference between happy and smug?”

“Pretty sure they’re fucking interchangeable.”

His dad grumbled.

“I mean, I can’t tell the difference,” Kent said.

“All right, well, I’m happy for you, okay?”

Kent nodded to himself. “Yeah. Yeah, me too, Dad.”

“What do your friends think? I know you’re all real tight with each other. It’s good, right?”

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

“Oh, Kenny, come on. How do you even manage that? You all live on the same block! You see each other all the time!”

“Janz took Syd to visit his family for two weeks and Rafi and Aliza are like, way up the block. But one of the baby Canadians saw me leave his house a few mornings ago and I think I told him I had a cat emergency?”

“Kit Purrson had an emergency at someone else’s house?”

“Look, it was a really complex story that I pulled out of my ass at 5:30 in the morning and I’d love to retell it but it’s lost to the ages and if Bobby Dahlman ever asks you if my cat’s doing better you fucking tell him it was touch-and-go for a minute there but she’s better than ever.”

“Kent. No.”

Kent chewed on his lip and, finally, sighed.

“Fine, I’ll—I guess we’ll talk and I’ll see if he wants to start telling people.”

“Do you want to start telling people?”

“I kinda don’t, Dad!” Kent’s pacing took him to one of the seats at his kitchen island. He sat for three seconds, then stood up again and continued walking a lap around the first floor. “What if we start telling people and then realize we hate each other and—”

“If it makes you feel better, that could happen at literally any time.”

“No, Dad, it doesn’t make me feel better.”

“But it will happen at some point. Then the two of you get to decide like grownups if you love each other enough to solve your problems and keep being partners, or if you never want to see him again because you don’t like how he folds his socks or that he has a gambling problem.”

“Yeah, we have financial managers, that is not happening to my money. He does own a lot more socks than I do, is that weird? Like is there a weird number of socks for a man to own?”

“An odd number.”

“DAD. FUCK.”

“You even sound happy to be upset, Kenny. I think that’s pretty nice.”

Kent grumbled right back, just like his dad, and it was terrible. They hung up and Kent let himself drop onto the couch before he met his stupid boyfriend for another stupid date and they maybe talked about telling people they were being stupid together, and happy.

*

A few evenings later, Kent found himself sitting in the passenger seat of Adi’s car, driving to Adi’s family’s house, which apparently wasn’t just a house in another gated “affluent subdivision” like the Lumens, but a gated compound of four houses, one for Adi’s family and one for each of Adi’s three uncles and their families.

“Jesus, I don’t feel rich enough to be your family’s pool boy,” Kent muttered as they drove through the gate. (The gated compound within the gated community was absolutely fucking beyond, but who was Kent to judge?)

“Maybe not my father, but my uncle Bernardo can be fairly open minded about hiring and exploiting white pool boys,” Adi replied.

Adi pulled up his car along the circular drive and parked in front of one of the houses. Kent couldn’t tell if any of them looked friendlier or homier than the other, but then, not every family could be the Zimmermanns with the wreath on the door and the passive-aggression cooling on the windowsill.

“Hey, so, meeting the family sounds fun and all, and it sounds like it could be the party of the goddamn century, but here’s an idea,” Kent said. “Let’s say we get out of the car and I jump two giant fences, run to the Morrisons’ new place that’s only twenty miles from here, and they’ll give me a ride back to my place. Then I burn down my house and move.”

Adi shut off the car and took one of Kent’s hands in both of his.

“They don’t bite,” Adi said. “The worst thing that can happen? The uncle who draws the short straw offers you a solo tour of the house while my parents and two other uncles berate me in Spanish until I agree to never see you again.” He squeezed Kent’s hand tight. “And that’s not going to happen.”

Kent nodded silently, then looked up to meet Adi’s eyes.

“Are you sure I can’t challenge any of them to a scrimmage?” Kent asked. “I think I can take on your entire family.”

“You know, once they see you’re Kent Parson, they’ll be very disappointed that you didn’t bring the Stanley Cup with you,” Adi said.

“Wait, they don’t—you didn’t tell them you’re dating me?”

It had been literally years, but Kent now once again had the chance to watch Adi look totally panicked before he tried to talk his way out of this.

“So, about that,” Adi said.

“Who exactly do they think they’re meeting?”

Adi climbed out of the car, but Kent was faster, climbing out and then running around the front to corner Adi at the driver’s side.

“I did tell them my boyfriend played professional hockey,” Adi said.

“You just didn’t tell them you’re dating Kent Parson.”

“My exact words were he plays hockey LIKE Kent Parson.” Adi nodded. “Actually, there was a pause before like. He plays hockey! Like Kent Parson!

Kent couldn’t even be mad when he felt this much glee. He leaned in and kissed Adi at the corner of his mouth.

“You fucking coward, I knew you were still a fucking mess somewhere in there.” Kent laughed. “Oh, this'll be terrible. I’m gonna destroy your fucking family.”

Adi sighed and took Kent’s hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tightly as they walked towards the house.

First things first: Adi’s mom called him Adri.

Second thing: Adi’s mom may not have known shit about hockey, but she was a person living in America so she knew Kent’s face and looked appropriately thunderstruck that an Olympian from the Wheaties box was standing at her front door, holding her son’s hand.

Kent extended his other hand and smiled his best wholesome smile. “Kent Parson, Mrs. Herrera. So good to meet you.”

She silently shook his hand, then looked to Adi.

“Really, Adri? He plays hockey like Kent Parson?”

Kent watched Adi’s abashed face and almost died of schadenfreude.

“I asked him to keep it quiet until I actually met you guys, if that’s all right,” Kent said.

Adi’s mom looked back to Kent, eyebrows raised with a skepticism that even her son couldn’t manage on most days.

“Do you think I don’t know my son by now?” she asked. “The way he plays by the letter until he drives us all crazy? Come on, get inside, you have to meet the others.”

“Sounds great,” Kent said. They followed Adi’s mom inside, Kent linking their fingers again as they walked down a wide corridor to a large sitting/dining room. “And I’m sorry, do you guys call him Adri, not Adi?”

“Adriano’s his name, isn’t it?” She looked over her shoulder at Adi, who looked like he was trying his best not to vomit. “He’s Adri at home and Adi everywhere else.”

“Adri with people who can actually roll their R’s,” Adi said to Kent.

“Yeah, I’m not gonna try that.”

“You sure? But you’re doing so well.”

In the sitting room, Adi’s four patriarchs looked up at their entrance and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Kent knew the basics: Adi’s mom María Pilar and his dad Miguel, then there were his uncles Pancho, José Luis, and Bernardo. Kent didn’t know which one of them looked to Kent, then to Adi, then said something in Spanish that Kent definitely recognized as his own name followed by a very popular Spanish homophobic slur.

“Are you kidding me?” Adi snapped, gripping Kent’s hand tighter.

“My intern said that the gays are taking it back,” said the guy Kent really, really hoped wasn’t Adi’s father.

“Yeah, we can take it back all we like, but you can’t,” Adi said.

Adi took a step back and turned to look at Kent, trying to gauge a reaction. Kent couldn't smile, exactly, but he tried to look reassuring as he squeezed Adi's hand.

"I thought you said they didn't bite," Kent whispered, aiming real hard for casual.

Adi's expression had gone blank. "Maybe I just didn't feel it anymore." He inhaled sharply and turned back to his family, motioning first to the uncle who had started it all off. “That’s my uncle Bernardo. Left to right it’s my father Miguel, then my uncles Bernardo, José Luis, and Pancho. Everyone: this is Kent.”

“Don’t get so defensive,” Bernardo said. “This is the first time any of our sons have brought home a—a boyfriend. And he’s a hockey player.”

“How are boyfriend and hockey player on the same level of terrible?” Kent asked.

Adi ignored Kent and continued. “So you decided to open it up by calling him that. That’s great. We brought cookies from that Italian bakery near our place. I know Mom said she liked them last time.”

Our place?” Bernardo asked.

“Estáte quieto, Bernardo,” Adi’s mom said, sharply followed by the the universal shut up gesture at the couch full of men. “Kent, do you drink coffee? I know how all these idiots take their coffee, but I’ll bring milk and sugar for you.”

“Just sugar for him, no milk,” Adi said. “I make him coffee at home.”

Kent watched something cross María Pilar’s face, something he’d—ugh, something he’d seen on his own father’s face when he said something about Jack, once, a million years ago. It was this weird parental look that said: oh, it’s real, it’s serious, he’s not mine anymore, and somehow coffee was the line here. She left before Kent could dwell on it any longer.

Adi’s father Miguel stood up and came over, offering Kent a hand-crushing handshake that, frankly, Kent let him have because Kent was a semi-closeted professional hockey player and this was already more macho posturing than he had ever been forced to do any single day in his fucking life.

“It’s good to meet you,” Miguel said, “And we’re sorry for the misunderstanding. It won’t happen again. We’re glad Adri brought you to the house. Come on, please, sit.”

“Your team did very well this year,” José Luis said. “That’s two Stanley Cups, isn’t it? The traffic from your parade was ridiculous. Couldn’t get downtown that day.”

“Yeah, seriously,” Kent said. “We don’t even know what we’re gonna do with all those keys to the city they keep giving us.”

María Pilar returned with coffee for everyone and placed a steaming cup on the low table in front of Kent, like an offering to get him to talk. “Now tell us: where’s your family from?”

“Is he going to do the 25% Irish, 30% Scottish thing the americanos love to do?” Bernardo asked.

“Like you don’t get insulted when someone calls you anything other than Venezuelan,” Adi said.

“Adri,” Miguel said like a warning.

“I asked him a question,” María Pilar added to Bernardo.

“You did,” Kent said, clearing his throat. “Uh, we’re from New York, like two hours north of Manhattan by train. Poughkeepsie, if you’ve heard of it?”

“Vassar!” Miguel looked over to José Luis, who nodded eagerly. “One of our nieces wants to apply there for next year. It’s a good school, isn’t it?”

“It is!” Kent said. “My sister Meg went there and yeah, she loved it.”

“He has two sisters,” Adi interrupted. “Andie and Meg, and Meg is the younger one.”

Kent nodded along. “Yeah, that’s them, and Meg loved Vassar. Andie went to school in the city—”

“And you didn’t,” Bernardo said.

“Andie’s a doctor now, and college was kinda necessary for her to do that,” Kent continued. “I didn't have to take a break from hockey. I left for the Q—one of the Canadian junior hockey leagues—when I was sixteen and played until I was drafted to the Aces. I moved here when I was nineteen and that’s… pretty much that.”

“Your parents didn’t mind?” María Pilar asked. “Sixteen’s too young, sixteen is nothing. You left home to play hockey in Canada and they let you?” Kent had trouble getting a read on her tone, whether she was horrified or impressed, so it was most likely both.

“My mom left us after I was born,” Kent said. “So it was just my dad and my sisters at home. My dad knew I loved playing hockey and he knew how good I was, so when I got the chance to play in the Q—it was hard for us, but we made it work.”

“I’m sure you did,” Bernardo interrupted. “What a chance for someone like you, to skip high school and girls just to play hockey—”

Kent clenched his jaw. “Excuse me?”

Adi leaned over Kent and spoke to his uncle in rapid, furious Spanish. Bernardo looked unaffected, like Adi was a child throwing a tantrum. He looked at Miguel, Adi’s father, who said nothing. Bernardo shrugged and spoke to Kent again.

“What I meant,” Bernardo started, “Was that it’s a little unusual—”

“I don’t regret where I’ve been.” Kent stared him down, his jaw tight. “Not a day of it. Not a minute.”

“Right, because you’ve been here, winning two Stanley Cups for the Aces,” Adi said. “And all those individual trophies. I should pull up your page on wikipedia, someone put a whole awards section in there, after all the records you’ve broken—”

It took a lot, a lot, for Kent to smile and laugh, but he did. He laughed and grabbed Adi’s forearm. “You’re super embarrassing and I love it, I love how embarrassing you are right now. Speaking of.” Kent leaned forward and looked across the low table at María Pilar. “Any awful baby pictures of this guy? I haven’t seen any framed on the walls so they must be real bad.”

Adi’s uncle Pancho seemed to be the oldest of the brothers, or at least the one who had aged more than the others. He caught Kent’s attention with a hand up as he reached for his wallet.

“No no no,” Adi said, laughing.

“His First Communion,” Pancho said as he passed the wallet to down the row to Kent.

Kent looked at the photo of this boy, unmistakably Adi with his tiny straight baby teeth, wearing a tiny white suit, holding a tiny white prayer book in his hands. He was kneeling at a standalone wooden pew with a pure 80s sky blue and rainbow background. Kent looked at Adi and held the photo up next to his face. He felt his eyes go wide enough that they were about to cartoon-burst out of his skull.

“I’ve been alive on this earth how many years and I’ve never seen this?”

Adi hid his face in his hands, then parted his fingers to look at Pancho. “Really? You start with that one? Please, I want him to like me.”

In response, his uncle rattled off something in Spanish that made everyone (but Kent and Bernardo) laugh hysterically. Kent passed the wallet back and nudged Adi with his knee for a translation. Adi looked embarrassed before he translated it.

“He said they should have known something was up because of that photo, the way I showed up at church and grinned like I was pulling one over on God.”

Kent grinned at Adi and looked back at his uncle. “Thank you for that, seriously, I can die happy now.”

Pancho looked pleased and said something else that made everyone laugh. Adi was in his ear: “Anything to get that little shit to smile like that. He’s my favorite.” Adi added, “He didn’t say I’m his favorite, I’m telling you that.”

Kent looked at him with a small smile. “I can tell.”

Adi whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Kent shook his head and silently took his hand, holding him tight.

They stayed for a few hours, for dinner and more talking and more coffee, before Adi announced they had to get back. María Pilar dragged Adi to the kitchen so he could take some things with him, Adi protesting the entire time. After Kent said his goodbyes, Miguel approached Kent as he waited by the entrance to the sitting room.

“Thank you for putting up with my brothers tonight, especially Bernardo,” Miguel said. “I’m going to have a talk with him because that’s not how we treat people our children bring home.”

“Not anymore, anyway,” Kent said, a little too sharp judging by the look Miguel gave him.

“No, you’re right, when he first told us he didn’t want to date women anymore, that he was gay or whatever, that was what we said. We didn’t want this for him,” Miguel said. “We’ve had hard lives, long before Adri, long before we brought him to Las Vegas, and the last thing we wanted was this one making things difficult for himself. Not anymore, okay? We know better now and Bernardo will, too. You’re good for him.”

Kent swallowed hard and looked away. “That’s nice of you to say, but you’ve just met me. You don’t even know me.”

“No, but I know my son,” Miguel said. “And I remember what he was like before he left on his trips for all those years. Before he left, he’d come here and visit, we’d have little dinners like this, and—he was like an animal in a cage that was too small. Everything irritated him, everything made him snap, because he couldn’t move or breathe. And he’s not like that anymore.” Miguel put his hand on Kent’s shoulder. “You can’t take that away from him.”

Kent nodded, but looked down and said nothing, because what could he say?

“No, come on, don’t look like that, Adri will think I yelled at you,” Miguel said. “What are you two doing next week? You should come back and meet the rest of the family, all of his cousins. We’ll have a barbecue. You eat barbecue?”

Adi took that moment to show up with two tote bags packed with stuff. “Did you just ask him if he eats barbecue?”

“I've been reading about this raw vegan diet,” Miguel said in English, but with raw vegan emphasized as words from a totally different language. “Maybe Kent’s a raw vegan. He looks like one of those hockey sticks could break him.”

Kent motioned to his torso. “Mostly core strength, honestly, keeps me compact and fast.”

“All right, you told my father about your core strength, that’s officially the end of the evening and my life,” Adi said.

“What? It’s on my trading card! I have a trading card. Tim Hortons exclusive.”

“You’re not even Canadian; why is Tim Horton telling people about your core strength?”

“They’re very open minded in Canada.”

Miguel interrupted so he could quickly hug Adi. “I told Kent to look at his schedule so you two come back next week and he can meet all your cousins.”

"Maybe," Adi said. "I'm still working a lot at the office and next week is hard for Kent because he has—"

Adi looked at Kent and Kent could only grin because Adi had little to no idea what he did for work any given day of the week if it wasn't "hockey season." 

"Prospects," Kent clarified. "I'm the captain and everything. Gotta keep up with our prospects."

Adi nodded. "Yes, that's the word. For the thing he's doing."

Miguel didn't look convinced, but shrugged. "You both need to eat, so let your mother know when you can come back."

"Sure, I'll look at our calendars," Adi said, profoundly unconvincing.

They left soon after, but Adi didn't speak in the car or answer Kent's comments with more than a grunt. Kent glanced over occasionally at Adi in the driver's side, but his lips were pressed into a thin, serious line, Adi's eyes focused steadily on the road ahead. Neither of them spoke until they reached the long stretch of highway that led back to the Lumens and Kent broke the silence.

“Are you okay?” Kent asked. “I thought that went okay.”

Eventually, Adi replied. “I’m so sorry about Bernardo. I’m sorry he lived up to every one of my expectations, like making sure he was a dick every time you spoke and glaring at you during dinner. Oh, and greeting you with a gay slur, that was top notch. I can't wait to grind my teeth in my sleep about that one. I haven't done that in years but I can feel it coming back already.”

“That was shitty, but it's—it is what it is. You’ve got two other pretty decent uncles. And your dad said he’d talk to him, to Bernardo.”

Adi looked away from the road and over at Kent for just a second. “He did, did he? He told you that? Isn’t that great. Good of him to wait until Bernardo makes us look bad in front of an NHL player, not any other day of my life, when I actually needed him to do that.”

Kent glanced over; Adi’s hands were rigid on the steering wheel, his arms locked up as he tried not to let his shoulders shake. Kent cleared his throat. “Hey, pull over.”

“No, I’m fine,” Adi said. They spent another moment in that tense silence before Adi nodded and pulled over onto the shoulder. Adi lowered his head and took a deep breath, but he wouldn’t let go of the wheel or look at Kent at all.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m like this. It went fine, didn’t it? It was such a good night. You were so good, putting up with so many questions, making them laugh, standing up for yourself. I don’t know why I’m like this.”

Kent watched Adi for a second before he climbed out of the car. He stepped around to open the driver’s side and urge Adi out. The highway wasn’t busy this time of night, but Kent walked Adi over to the shoulder and pulled him into a tight hug. For a few seconds, Adi didn't move, only let himself be held, but then he wrapped his arms around Kent. After another moment, Adi buried his face in the crook of Kent's neck and breathed. Adi's hands clutched hard at Kent, digging his fingertips into Kent. 

"Hey, I've got you, okay? You're okay now, I've got you," Kent said in a low voice, but Adi was still shaking in his arms. Kent kneeled and took Adi with him, holding him closer in the dirt and sand that made up the shoulder. He held Adi and tried to breathe slowly, loud enough for Adi to hear him and match his breaths.

“It’s not enough,” Adi finally said. He pulled away from Kent and sat back on his heels. He wiped at his eyes and his nose with the collar of his shirt. “Where were all these talks before I—Kent, I left. Everything and everyone I cared about, I swallowed my pride and I left everything.” When Adi’s voice cracked, Kent could feel something welling up in his eyes. “I’ve been back for months and yet some days I still can’t believe I did it, I can’t believe I was gone for years. I’m not brave, Kent, but I did it. I left my friends, my family, my work, just to get away from all this. I didn't see my family for four years and now, maybe, they might want to do something about why I had to leave.”

Kent nodded and rubbed at his own eyes with the backs of his hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry they did this to you.”

"Now you know." Adi looked down at his hands, not at Kent. "Elisa wasn't—she wasn't the problem. It's this fucking life and everyone who wanted me to lie and pretend. God, that sounds so fucking dramatic and I just—I shouldn’t be this upset. It’s in the past. What they say can't hurt me anymore. It doesn’t.”

Kent laughed, a loud, awkward, unattractive thing that would have echoed if they weren’t in the middle of nowhere with literally nothing to return the sound.

“Oh, really, Adriano? Really? Two cocksuckers are crying at night in the Las Vegas desert because the past doesn’t hurt anymore?”

Adi burst out laughing. “Don’t make me laugh. I hate laughing.”

“Sure, sounds good. No more jokes.”

Adi looked up and met Kent’s eyes. They took in each other, two hot messes sitting in the desert, trying not to laugh and cry again, but they failed miserably. Adi got off his knees and they sat together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the dirt. Kent put an arm around Adi’s waist and brought them closer together, leaning their heads together as they sat there quietly.

“I feel better,” Adi said after a while. “Even if nothing’s changed. Even if most of my family is still full of shit.”

“You’ve changed. That counts.” Kent felt himself choking up, but he talked through it. “I wish I knew you better back then, before you left. I wish I knew this was what you were going through.”

“What good would that have done?” Adi asked.

"I don't know," Kent said. "Something. Anything. I don't know."

"I don't think we could have helped each other when we couldn't even help ourselves."

“...Except that time we hooked up.”

Adi laughed unexpectedly, something between a laugh and a sob. “Oh, god, except that time we hooked up. Were we any good together that time?”

“I honestly don’t remember, now that I know what you’re actually like in bed." Kent didn't want to smile, but Adi was half-laughing, half-hiccuping, and it was such a ridiculous sound and theirs was such a ridiculous dick-cute that he had to smile. “But I remember that morning because I slept through my alarm and when I woke up you had literally left the country."

"I wrote a note on a takeout menu, didn't I?" Adi reached around and touched Kent's side, like he was making sure Kent was real. "A takeout menu to a smoothie place because I remember thinking, oh god, I've just had sex with a man who has smoothies delivered. Did I make a mistake? Am I THIS gay?"

Kent rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I can now say with some authority: you're that gay." He nudged Adi back before he spoke. "I think I took your leaving as a good thing? Like, I’ve had the best sex I’m going to have in America and now I must go elsewhere. Though if all you can remember is the smoothie menu, maybe it wasn't that hot."

“Stop making me laugh.”

“But it’s funny.”

“What’s funny is that you just did the Telemundo voice to make fun of me.”

Kent laughed and whispered just between the two of them: “GOLLLLLLLLLLLLL.”

Adi laughed, too, and punched Kent gently in the leg. “Shut up, let me wallow in peace.”

Kent rubbed at his eyes again, then closed his eyes so he could listen to Adi breathe. At some point, Kent moved his hand and squeezed Adi's shoulder; he felt exhausted and they still had about 20 minutes on the highway until they were back at the Lumens.

“Ready to head back?”

Adi nodded against Kent’s shoulder. Kent stood and offered Adi a hand up, too. Adi pulled Kent close and kissed him, hugged him again, this time less desperate, less like he needed someone to keep him from falling apart. He felt more like himself.

“By the way, in case all this didn't make it clear: we’re not going back next week,” Adi said. “It's enough we have to work together, but this? This is not happening every week. Maybe I'll go back in a month or so.”

“Fuck that shit, make it an even Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Kent said. “Blame the NHL, blame my schedule. I'm not leaving you there to get torn apart again.”

Adi stared at him with wide, wide eyes, all of him still and quiet as he stared at Kent. He looked so scared. Kent had to say it again, and this time he tried to press all his weight behind his words. 

"I'm here, okay? I'm here for you. I've got your back and maybe you forgot already, but I saw you hit back tonight. I know you've got mine, too."

"I do," Adi said. "I will." 

The ride back home was quiet. Kent glanced over when they were almost there and saw Adi had slouched down in his seat, his arms wrapped around himself before he’d nodded off. He looked back to the road and tried not to think about everything he would do to make sure no one hurt Adi like that ever again.

*

“We have to tell them before our preseason starts,” Kent said.

It was Saturday, a few days after visiting with Adi’s family. After a busy rest of the week, Kent and Adi continued to quietly celebrate surviving Adi's family by staying in bed the entire day. Sunday they had dinner at Aliza’s with Janz and Syd, back from their Sweden visit, but Saturday had been cleared out for lying in bed. Specifically, Kent lying on his stomach while Adi stretched out across Kent’s back, Kent doing his best to melt under Adi’s weight and also hold a semi-rational conversation.

“Why before preseason? Also, what the fuck is preseason?”

“Only difference between preseason and regular season is that we actually have time to eat,” Kent said. “Oh, and Aces Captain Kent Parson will be around a lot more and he’s horrible.”

“What have I said about talking shit about my boyfriend?” Adi asked.

Kent realized something. “Shit. You haven’t seen me play Good Cap/Bad Cap with the rookies. I’m—it’s really awful. Janz cries a little every year.”

Kent could feel on his back the sound of Adi’s quick hmmm to himself, a little inquisitive sound that Kent knew came with a head tilt, a deep line between his eyebrows, his mouth quirking to one side like his skepticism could sort Kent straight (in a manner of speaking). “Do I want to know what this means? I want to keep liking you, if that’s all right with Captain Parse.”

“Nah, it’s just how I treat the rookies and the new kids,” Kent said. “To their faces I have to invite them over all the time, assure them they’re not fucking up as much as they think, listen to their problems, pat them on the head, and then behind their back I’m gonna talk a lot of shit.”

“Is that all? I thought I was going to have to be the whistleblower on your secret NHL hazing rituals.”

“Vegas can do that fine without me,” Kent replied.

“So we should tell them before your preseason starts so you can have some buffer time in case something goes wrong?”

Kent tried to shrug before he remembered that he had another human being blanketed across his back. “Not even that, dude. Just that—I want to enjoy this with them for a minute or two, before work eats our lives again, the way it does every year.”

“So we’ll tell them tomorrow,” Adi said.

“We’ll tell them tomorrow,” Kent repeated, but he frowned to himself. “You have a better decision-maker voice, you know that?”

“My chair-of-important-meetings voice.”

Kent laughed. “Do it again.”

Kent felt the rumble in Adi’s chest, the way when he cleared his throat reverberated through his chest and onto Kent’s back. Kent was glad Adi couldn’t see his face but, just in case, he crossed his arms and hid his grin.

“So that’s decided,” Adi said. “We’ll tell them… tomorrow. Kent, stop laughing.”

There was a sound elsewhere in the house and they both went completely quiet. Kent lifted his head and Adi turned onto his stomach, though he still leaned against Kent’s back.

“Adi, are you around?” a voice called out from downstairs.

“Oh, it’s Rafi,” Adi said.

“Great! Friend, not murderer,” Kent said. “Unless we’re about to become a statistic.”

Rafi yelled out again from downstairs: “You didn’t answer your texts and Aliza says she’s having a double boiler emergency and you borrowed ours, so I’m just gonna ransack your kitchen a little and take it and go! If you’re not here then I guess I’m just talking to an empty house and that doesn’t make me even a little bit lonely or weird!”

Adi had already left the bed to find some clothes and go downstairs. Kent turned onto his side and then cleared his throat.

“RAFI,” Kent yelled out. “It’s Kent! We’re upstairs in the master bedroom! Come up!”

Adi turned around, literally pulling on yesterday’s shorts as he stared at Kent. Kent stared right back and shrugged.

“Rafi’s already here,” Kent said. “We could tell him now.”

“Can I put a shirt on first?”

The answer was no, because Rafi was up the stairs and in the bedroom doorway seconds later. He stopped and stared at the two of them for a long moment: Adi, shirtless, zipping up his shorts, his curls flat on one side from sleep, and Kent, still in bed, naked except for the top sheet that he had just pulled up around his hips.

“Aliza said it was a double boiler emergency but you should know there’s no such thing as a double boiler emergency,” Rafi said. “That chocolate doesn’t need to be tempered right the fuck now, dudes.”

“I’m sorry you have to see Kent like this, but it was Kent’s idea.” Adi gave Kent a look of purest murder and smiled. “Kent?”

“We were going to tell you all tomorrow.” Kent probably sounded more casual than anyone as naked as him should have been, but. “We’ve been together for, uh. Six weeks or so?”

“Oh,” Rafi said. “Like… hooking up or… other… feelings… stuff… should I get Aliza? I feel like I should text Aliza. Do you guys wanna come over now and tell her, too, and then we’ll, uh, temper some chocolate? Am I even using that word right?”

Kent sat up and pulled the top sheet around his shoulders, pretending for a second that he and Rafi hadn’t been subjected to each other’s bare asses in the locker room almost every day for the past five or six years.

“Are you okay with this?” Kent asked Rafi.

“What?” Rafi stared at Kent and mimicked Kent’s little handwave around the room, like it actually meant something, then realized what Kent meant. “What? Kent fucking Parson, of course I’m okay with this, holy shit, you’re—you motherfuckers are two of my best friends, of fucking course I think this is wonderful.” Rafi stepped into the room and looked to Adi. “You’re actually wearing pants so give me a hug right now.”

“I’m not putting on pants just to hug you,” Kent said.

“I don’t care, our friendship's way past that and I’ma hug you anyway, you little shit,” Rafi said, moving from Adi to Kent. “Jesus, cover up those shoulders, you look debauched. I can feel Aliza judging me from here.” Rafi pulled away from Kent and put his hands on Kent’s shoulders. “Can I tell her? You’re not gonna make me wait to tell her until you tell Syd and Janz, are you?”

“Oh no,” Adi laughed. “He wasn’t and then you handed the idea to him, Rafi. Unbelievable.”

Kent gave Rafi his widest, glassiest, tearing-up-on-command eyes and bit his lip. “You wouldn’t out me and my boyfriend before we were ready, would you?”

“Fuck, stop that, you look like those Precious Moments dolls my grandmother sends me every Christmas,” Rafi said. “No, I won’t tell Aliza but also, I hate you.” Rafi looked at Adi. “Not you, but now I know that any dickheaded behavior from here on out is this guy’s fault.”

“Hey,” Kent said. “He was plenty dickhead before I got to him.”

Adi shook his head. “Pure as a white sand beach. Everything is Kent’s fault.” Rafi and Adi nodded in agreement, while Kent rolled his eyes and let more of the top sheet fall off his shoulders.

“All right, Kent’s ready to be nude again, so I’m gonna get the fuck outta here with your double boiler,” Rafi said. “Our double boiler. Someone’s fucking double boiler is coming with me and you’re gonna eat some delicious chocolate desserts tomorrow and I’m gonna keep your secret for 24 hours. I can do that. I can totally do that.”

“You look a little double boiled right now,” Kent said.

“And you,” Rafi said, retaking the two steps towards Kent in Adi’s bed. “You look happy.”

Kent gasped. “You take that back. I’m cool and effortless chill.”

“You’re wearing a top sheet like you’re Celine Dion.”

“And I look fucking fantastic,” Kent hissed.

Adi clapped his hands and smiled at them both. “Rafi, enjoy the double boiler, and thank you for being you. Kent…” Adi shrugged. “I don’t know what to do with any of that.”

“You figure that out,” Rafi said. “I’m gonna go practice lying to my wife.”

Rafi disappeared into the hall, but then reappeared again. “Fucking around aside: you know I’m happy for you, right?”

Kent nodded. “You always chirp the ones you love.” Adi, who was all around a little better at being a person, met Rafi and hugged him again. Over Adi’s shoulder, Kent watched Rafi’s face melt into something a puppy would do on a greeting card.

Once Rafi left, Kent smiled at Adi. “So. That went well.”

“I’m going to put on a shirt and order lunch,” Adi said.

“In that order? You need a shirt to get on GrubHub? Hey! Don’t leave while we’re discussing your kinks!”

*

The next evening, Kent and Adi walked to dinner together, hogging too much of the sidewalk and letting their hands brush together as they walked. They arrived at Aliza and Rafi’s front door, but Kent stopped in his tracks.

“Are you okay?” Adi asked, letting his hand fall from the door.

“Yeah, I just…” Kent ran his hands down his face and turned away from the door. “I just need a second before we tell them.”

“We don’t have to,” Adi said softly. “If there’s—”

Kent took a deep breath before he spoke. “It’s saying it, saying the words, that makes me feel like there’s a block of ice in my gut. And I don’t know why.” Kent turned back to Adi and crossed his arms over his chest. “They’re my best friends. They’re your best friends. Why is this so hard? It feels like coming to the end of the third period. I’m trying to hold on to my stick with broken fingers and if I can just get the puck into the net, if I can just pass it to someone, then we’ll know and the game’s over. We’ll be winners or losers, but fuck, I can’t get a grip on this one thing.”

“Kent. You’re not broken.”

Kent stared off into space, at some distant point over Adi’s shoulder. “I was, though. Last time I felt—felt anything even remotely close to this. I just didn’t know it. I didn’t know for years.”

He had told Adi, some weeks ago, about the summer of the draft. He’d spent a summer living someone’s dream: doing what he was great at, going to parties where he was adored, running his fingers through another boy’s hair, the two of them shaking at night, holding each other and crying as often as they were talking and fucking, because it was all so much to hold in their hands. Then he woke up, folded into an undersized chair in a hospital waiting room, counting the hours until his friend woke up or he got on a plane to Vegas. In the end, the plane came first.

Out in the open, on the sidewalk of the place where they lived, Adi put his hands on Kent, running his hands along Kent’s arms to soothe him. It destroyed him, the way that seemed to work.

“Somehow, and I don’t know how, but somehow,” Adi began. “You forget that you’ve been here, on your own, for years.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Kent said. “I really haven’t.”

“No, listen. If I leave—if this doesn’t work out—we’re going to be fine. Hey. Look at me.” Out in the open, again, Adi leaned in and kissed Kent’s jaw, nudging him to help Kent meet his eyes. “We both know better now. We don’t have to run, we don’t have to blow up the world, if we happen to not work out.”

“What if I really want to,” Kent asked. Shit, he was about to laugh, and he did laugh when Adi smiled at him. “What if I do want to like, rain fire and brimstone on the entire planet because we broke each other’s hearts?”

“Well, luckily, you’re paid tens of millions of dollars a year to participate in a high-impact contact sport where you can lawfully beat the living shit out of people,” Adi said. “And I still haven’t been to Antarctica, so I can disappear there for a while and you can raze Las Vegas to the ground instead of yelling at me.”

“If Antarctica even exists anymore.”

“Exactly,” Adi said. “If Antarctica even exists by that point, because I think we’re going to be together a while. At least through your preseason. Maybe even Halloween.”

“Shut up,” Kent laughed, shoving Adi away. “Fuck. We go all out for Halloween at the arena. Just you wait. Our mascot for Halloween games is the ghost of a financial stability.”

“I can’t believe you assure your family I’m the nerd, when you make jokes like that.” Adi reached for Kent’s hand and linked their fingers together. “Come on. Let’s go see our friends.”

Kent nodded, then quickly leaned in and kissed Adi again. “Okay. Let’s go show these fuckers how happy we are.”

Adi stopped for a moment and tugged Kent back to him.

“Are you, Kent Parson?” he asked. “Are you happy?”

“Yeah.” Kent smiled. “Yeah, I’m happy. Are you happy?”

“Is there a word for joyful terror?” Adi asked.

“I don’t think so but man, you searched and searched and you found those two. Dick.”

“I suppose they’ll do, then.”

Kent pulled him in for another kiss and led the way to Aliza’s door.

*

In the end, telling their friends went all right.

“I’VE KNOWN SINCE YESTERDAY,” Rafi yelled over Janz and Aliza and Syd trying to congratulate Kent and Adi. “Let me into this group hug. I’ve only been able to tell Shira and Shira didn’t really care.”

“You told Rafi first?” Aliza stared at both Kent and Adi as her hand rested at the base of her throat, clutching a necklace she wasn't wearing.

“Baby, I’m sorry, I walked in on them and they swore me to secrecy,” Rafi said. “You know I hate keeping secrets. You know I hate secrets unless they’re really good ones that you’re in on, too.”

Kent scoffed. “You didn’t walk in on us; I asked you to come upstairs.”

“Kent was over at Adi’s and he called me upstairs like a siren,” Rafi told Aliza.

“Like a siren?” Kent asked.

“Listen, you were two nubile cupbearers away from a symposium. For all intents and purposes, I did walk in on you two.”

Adi interrupted: “But in a sweeter, friendlier way that doesn’t ruin this fucking moment.”

“That’s super funny,” Syd added. “But I think we need to drive to a mountain and yell to the whole world that KENT PARSON FOUND LOVE. Adi too, I guess, but Kent was really worrying us for a minute there.”

Janz had wrapped himself around Kent, latched onto his back in a hug that might actually fuse Kent’s spine to Janz’s rib cage if Janz held on any longer. “Daisy Buchanan needs his sun hat. These are a lot of feelings to process right now and I need my sun hat to feel safe.” Janz inhaled sharply and buried his face against Kent’s shoulder. “Oh god.”

“Are you crying?” Adi asked. “Even my father didn’t cry when I told him, and he had a lot more masculinity baggage riding with me.”

“Kent Parson’s heart has turned from coal to love. I’m allowed to cry. It’s in my contract. This is something I cry for.”

“He’s the sweet one in our boy band, remember?” Kent asked.

“No, I was the sweet one,” Adi said. “Janz is the Niall.”

Janz lifted his head and Kent took a selfie with Janz and his wet, red-rimmed eyes.

“You guys,” Janz said. “I’m such a Niall. SOMEONE PUT PHIL COLLINS ON THE STEREO.”

Kent glanced at Adi. “Was this the best case scenario?”

Adi shrugged. “It’s pretty close. It’s about as much weeping as I expected.”

“RAFI JUST SKIP TO THE DRUMS,” Janz yelled. Kent held up his phone again and took a video of Janz with his eyes closed, resting his cheek on Kent’s shoulder. “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT—FOR ALL MY LIFE—MY LOVE—”

“It’s oh lord, not my love,” Syd said through Janz’s sing-wailing. “But I guess this is why you’re singing it to Kent’s shoulder and not me. It’s fine.”

“I was thinking that, too,” Adi said to Syd. “It’s all right, we can make this our song, too.”

“Remember the time our partners slow danced to Phil Collins without us?” Syd asked. “I’ll dream of this tonight.”

Aliza joined them and motioned to Rafi rushing over to the stereo again. “Now it’s a hockey thing, so we can let them have it, I suppose.” She grabbed Rafi’s phone off the counter. “The least we can do is snapchat this for posterity.”

There was probably more to their conversation, but Rafi had put the song on loop and joined Kent and Janz in a yelling sort of slow dance, their foreheads nearly touching as they swayed together.

*

The next evening, Kent walked up to his front door and found Adi in his sunglasses sitting there with a tablet on his lap.

“You could’ve let yourself in, I gave you keys,” Kent said.

“I just got here and I’ve been freezing in my office all day,” Adi said with a wave. “Aliza sent me the season schedule, now that she knows about us. I thought a hundred games was an exaggeration.”

Kent smiled in a really awful, painful way. “Yeah, it’s not.”

“You’re playing 82 games this season and that’s not including this preseason nonsense and the playoffs, if you make it.”

If? They’re gonna have to put me in traction to keep me from the playoffs.”

“Why do you say that in a sport where that can actually happen?” Adi asked as he stood up. “Also, can I ask a rude question?”

“Ask anything you want,” Kent said as he dropped his gym bag and collapsed on the couch. Adi sat next to him, but Kent leaned over and pulled him closer, wrangling him so they were lying together along the length of the couch.

“How many of these games do you want me to come to?” Adi asked. “Aliza and Sydney were already discussing which ones they wanted to see, but I didn’t know if—I don’t know, I think I’m imagining the two extremes, where you might not want me there at all or that you want me at every home game, which… looks like a lot.”

“Nah,” Kent said. “Come on, pull up the printable version in a spreadsheet and we’ll highlight the good ones.” Kent pulled Adi closer and began scanning the teams and dates. “Games against the Schooners and Aeros are solid—we’re all Western expansion teams so games get heated up, but not vicious, since we’re all coming from the same place, you know? The Schooners have been around like twenty years, we’ve been around ten, so it still feels like we’re making our mark against all those billion-dollar Eastern Conference assholes.”

“Mmm, that’s interesting, but you’re losing me,” Adi said as he highlighted a few of the Schooners and Aeros games. “Do you really have a game every other day from now until April?”

Kent nodded and rested his cheek against Adi’s hair. “Yeah. Late nights, but not too late, unless I fuck up and we have to go into overtime.”

“Not just you,” Adi murmured as he went through the list. “Just tell those thirty other people on your team that I have a bedtime and you’ll have to sleep in the guest room if it goes too late.”

“Shit, okay, throwback, but now that you met everyone on the team—remember that morning I told you that Dahlsters—”

“You mean Bobby?”

“Fine, you picky fuck: remember when Young Mr. Robert Dahlman, originally of Calgary in the province of Alberta, caught me sneaking out of your place? He came up to me after lunch the other day, after I told the team I was seeing you, and asked: Was Kit Purrson actually sick that time? You didn’t update her instagram for days.” Adi cracked up, pressing back against Kent as he laughed. “Anyway, that’s the time I almost cried because I made one of my teammates worry about my real cat’s fake emergency.”

“Did you tell him you were lying, and that you’re the worst liar who’s ever lived?”

“Yeah! That made me feel even guiltier! He was like, oh, okay, I was just worried, I like seeing Kit updates. Poor kid, he probably misses the bears and maple forests of his homeland.”

Adi reached up and touched the back of Kent’s neck, smoothing his recently trimmed hair. “Should I ask about the Providence games? They’re on here four times and they’re not even on this coast.”

“Seriously, four? Should be three max, but, you know, The Narrative. What else are they gonna talk about on ESPN if not that bullshit?” Kent sighed. “Yeah, come to those if you can.”

Adi turned his head slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of Kent behind him. “Are those games difficult for you? Didn’t you play against him last year?”

Kent leaned forward and kissed Adi at the temple, pressed his lips there for a moment. “You should come to those games because I’m told that I make the temperature in the arena drop ten or fifteen degrees on those nights, and didn’t you say something about how much you like me as a force of nature?”

Adi laughed and highlighted those two home games. “Oh, look at that! You have a home game on my birthday. I suppose I can come to that, too, if I don’t have better plans.”

“I’ll get them to embarrass you on the scoreboard, maybe get you and Syd on the kiss cam,” Kent said. “I know a guy, he can even get you an autographed jersey.”

“Make sure it’s a black one with the silver ace. I’ve heard those get much better returns on the online auctions.”

Kent laughed. “I’ll personalize it so much it’ll never sell.”

“You think Kent Parson’s autographed love letter written on a jersey wouldn’t sell? I could retire tomorrow.”

“Only if I can come, too.”

“Then make it a hell of an autograph,” Adi said. “Any other games you recommend? Then I can compare these to the games Aliza and Syd want to see.”

“I already cleared it, you know,” Kent said. “Any game you want, just show up and you’ll get into the good seats. Ever find yourself bored and want to see me at work, I’ll be there.”

“A nice relaxing evening at the hockey arena, reviewing email and reports while men twice your size tear you apart on the ice. I’ll bring a neck pillow and nap during the slow parts.”

“If you’re just gonna nap at my games, old man, I’ll get the boys on the bench to throw stuff at you and wake you up. Popcorn, jockstraps, whatever we’ve got back there.”

“Don’t you have a 5000-calorie dinner to make?” Adi asked.

“I’m not The Rock, dude.”

“The Rock would be nice to me.” Adi sighed. “I should have held out for The Rock.”

Kent laughed and sat up, the better to wrap his arms around Adi for a moment. “Doesn’t matter how many games you come to, okay? I’ll be glad you’re there. I’m glad you’re here.”

Kent pressed one more kiss against Adi’s jaw, then left the couch and headed to the kitchen, talking about something that happened at the gym before he had come home. Adi put the tablet aside and stayed on the couch, half-listening to Kent, half-musing to himself.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Adi said under his breath. “I’m so glad we’re here.”