Nate had liked Cale at first. Really liked him, actually. He was a nice kid. Kind and easy to talk to. He worked hard and fit in seamlessly in the room. Nate had liked him so much that he even let himself think about the future they could share together. As a team, that is. Something he had been hesitant to let himself do since the Duchy debacle. He dreamed about the goals they could score together, the records they could break together, the cups they could (hopefully) win together.
Yeah, Nate had liked Cale a lot. Up until The Great and Terrible Day. And now… Well now he doesn’t like Cale so much. Now he hates him, really.
The Great and Terrible Day wasn’t Cale’s fault by any stretch of the imagination. Hockey is a business. Everyone knows that. Players get traded and sent down all the time. There isn’t really anyone to blame for what happened in July. And if you really had to throw someone under the bus it would definitely be Joe, not Cale. But it’s easier to blame the rookie who swept in and fucked up Nate’s entire life in just 60 minutes of play than it is to blame the GM who signs his paychecks. Cale was the easy target. He made Tyson expendable. So he became the recipient of all of Nate’s pent up anger, frustration, and hurt. And Nate possessed those emotions in abundance. Just ask his therapist.
Nate tries not to be outwardly hostile to Cale. He can’t control how he feels, but he also refuses to act in a way that could get him labeled as a locker room cancer. So instead of lashing out at Cale like he really wants to, he’s taken to just ignoring the guy as much as humanly possible. But apparently when a team’s star player slash face of the franchise and its rookie phenom slash future of the franchine straight up don’t interact with one another, it’s pretty obvious to everyone involved that there’s a problem. Or that’s what Nate assumes, at least, since Gabe and EJ had very formally asked him to join them for lunch after practice today so that they could "talk".
They’d finished their meals in relative silence. Now they’re staring each other down from opposite sides of the table. Nate already decided that he sure as hell isn’t going to start this conversation. If Gabe and EJ want to have some sort of fight with him, he’s won’t make it easy on them.
“So….” EJ starts, noncommittally.
“So.” Nate says back, deadpan.
EJ looks over to Gabe who lets out a long suffering sigh. “What the fuck is going with you and Cale?” He asks bluntly. So they really are going to do this. Okay then.
“I don’t know what you mean”. Nate states plainly, taking a sip of his water. EJ snorts and Nate tears his gaze away from Gabes disbelieving face to glare at him.
Another sigh from Gabe. “Look Nate” he starts “I get it, EJ gets it, fuck even Bedsy gets it. Losing Tys has been hard on all of us”.
Nate opens his mouth to protest. He doesn’t really know what he’s about to say.
Maybe: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Or: Yeah, but it’s been hardest on me.
Could have been: I have no idea what to do with myself now that he’s gone.
Or maybe even: I feel like a part of me, an important part, like a vital organ or something, has been ripped out of my body.
But it doesn’t really matter because Gabe puts up a hand to stop him anyway.
“We know that you two were different. We know it hurts more… or just…it’s different”.
Nate crosses his arms. It’s defensive. He knows it makes him look childish. And he also knows that Gabe and EJ don’t really deserve his ire. They’re trying to do their jobs, if not as his captain and his alternate, then as his friends. But he just...really doesn’t want to do this. Actually he doesn’t feel like he can do this. He can’t have this conversation. Not now, maybe not ever. Because if he does, if he has to talk about it, he might break something, or worse, he might cry. Neither of those displays of emotion would really bolster his I’m fine, everything is fine, I’m okay without Tyson, and I don’t hate Cale story. So he meets their concern with petulance instead of maturity. Sue him.
“We get it”. EJ offers in response to Nate’s silence “It’s hard. But it has nothing to do with the kid”.
“Yeah, I know that”. He replies indignantly.
“Then you have to stop acting like this”.
He says it like Nate doesn’t know that. He says it like Nate doesn’t wish every day that he could put a stop to his overwhelming feelings.The abundant hollowness he feels every morning when he wakes up anticipating a day filled with Tyson then remembers that he’s half a continent away. The never ending loneliness he feels doing mundane tasks that used to be fun just because Tyson was there to do them with him. The inexplicable rage he feels whenever he looks over and sees Cale smiling and laughing in the stall that used to belong to Tyson.
Nate can’t explain all of that to Gabe and EJ. That seems dangerous and embarrassing. So he stares down at the table, biting his lip and trying to puzzle through how he can possibly end this conversation without having to talk about any of the hard stuff. He knows they won’t let him off the hook unless he shows a bit of sincerity. So he chooses the only option he can come up with. Vague honesty.
“I...don’t know how”.
“I know it’s been a hard few months, Dogg.” Gabe says, reaching out to pat his hand where it’s sitting idly on the table. Nate thinks it’s a kinder gesture than he deserves based on the way he’s handled this talk so far.
“It’s hard” Gabe continues “but you better spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how you can tolerate being around the kid because I told him you’re taking him out to dinner tonight.” he says bluntly.
Nate snatches his hand back. “You did what?”
“Be civil”. EJ tells him before unceremoniously standing up and leaving Nate sitting at the table gaping after him.
“What he said”. Gabe adds, joining him.
So yeah Nate is so distressed over the loss of Tyson that he can barely think straight, he hates Cale so much that he can hardly conceal it, and now Gabe has decided to start meddling.
This definitely isn’t going to end well.