We were about to walk into our locker room when my phone rang. It was Sean; I could tell from the ring tone. I’d programmed Sammy Hagar’s ‘Red’ in for him. Matt heard it and shook his head with a smile. “Sean?”
“Yeah,” I said, chuckling. “I’ll catch up with you.” He nodded and I walked off to the side and answered.
“They move fast,” Sean told me as soon as we exchanged greetings.
“Well, your mother,” he said, chuckling. I’d called him this morning and filled him in on my dramatic confrontation with them.
“What did she do now?”
“She submitted an offer to exchange properties for that plot of land in Idaho. The real estate management company valued the properties she offered at $24.8 million.” How like her to come in $200,000 short just to make a point.
“What did she offer?”
“Slums,” he said. “I talked to one of the managers there, a guy I’ve been working with. We’ve got a good working relationship. Anyway, he said she pulled all the most dilapidated properties together and put them in the offer.”
I laughed. “So to spite me, she’s giving me all the dregs of the portfolio.”
“We can refuse the deal, or counter it.”
“What did she offer?” I wanted the specifics on the properties.
“Looks like apartment complexes in South Philly and the Bronx, plus an old hotel in Washington, DC, and another old hotel in Chicago. The place in DC is pretty big; has about 250 rooms. It’s in the Shaw neighborhood.” I heard him flipping through some papers. “There’s another complex in LA, probably south-central, and one in Berkeley, but in the flats.” Property in Berkeley that was located in the hills would be very valuable, but this one would be down in the flatlands, in the industrial section.
“That’s perfect. Take the deal,” I told him. She was playing into my hand perfectly.
“Really? What are you going to do with those properties?”
“I need to work out some details, and then I’ll let you know,” I told him. I knew he wouldn’t like that, because lawyers liked to know everything. I snickered to myself, thinking that Brad should have been an attorney. In any event, Sean’s desire for information didn’t matter, because I didn’t have time to elaborate even if I wanted to. “I have to run.”
“Kick their asses,” he said encouragingly.
“We’ll see,” I said skeptically. I went into the locker room and started getting ready. Even though we didn’t have formal sides for underclassmen and upperclassmen in this locker room, everyone pretty much sorted themselves out that way. It was the accepted social order of our hockey team.
“Hey, you got some time next Wednesday night?” Klip asked me.
“Why? Am I getting lucky?” I joked.
“With your hand,” he joked dismissively. “Shannon wants you to meet some sculptor dude.”
The GLBT meeting wasn’t next Wednesday, so I could work it in. “Alright. Where?”
“How the hell should I know? Getting those commie bastards to even schedule a time is like pulling teeth,” he joked. Klip actually enjoyed the artsy crowd, but he liked to pretend that he didn’t. “The dude said he’s free at 9pm.”
“Fine. Let me know where.” We did our warm ups, then got our usual pep talk from our coach, which was more of a bitch session than anything, then we were on.
I was actually just enjoying the game, putting out 110% when I was on the ice, and then chilling when my line was on the bench. It seemed that we were holding our own against these guys just fine; I was kind of wondering what all the hype was about. They were supposed to be this badass team, yet we’d had just as many scoring opportunities as they’d had. I scanned the crowd, looking to see if any of our fans had made it, and I spotted Will sitting down near the front. When I saw Kristin Hendrickson sitting next to him, I almost freaked out, well, at least for me. My eyes probably bulged a little bit more than normal.
I looked at Gathan and he was watching the game intently, which was his way. It was probably why he was such a good hockey player, because he was so completely in-tune to what was going on, to the rhythm of the game, but this was worth bothering him for. “Dude, look who’s hanging all over Will,” I said, nudging him.
He looked out into the crowd and I could feel his whole body tense up when he saw her. “Kristin’s here? What the fuck is that all about?”
“I’m guessing she’s here to see you,” I said, being a smartass.
“I don’t want to see her,” he said, but he wasn’t very convincing. He’d been miserable ever since they’d broken up, so he wasn’t fooling me with that attitude.
“Dude, don’t be rude. Where the fuck are your manners?” I demanded, probably a little too assertively. “She flew all the way out here, bought a ticket to watch you play this game, don’t you think the least you can do is spend the evening with her and listen to what she has to say?” I was trying to give him a rationale, a reason to listen to her. I knew he needed to do that, even if it was just to close the door on their relationship.
“I don’t know,” he grumbled.
“You may get laid,” I suggested. “And you’d even get a good piece, instead of those skanky hos you’ve been doing.” I’d made him think about sex with her, and that had brought his hormones into the battle. That should tilt the scales, I thought playfully. Cole and Chitworth came off the ice which was Gathan’s cue to go on, so our conversation was cut off as he hopped across the board and tore off into our zone.
Gathan was really pouring it on, clearly trying to impress Kristin. He was everywhere, and playing really aggressively. If he kept that up, he’d end up with a penalty. Only that’s not what happened. The puck was in their zone, and our guys rotated, with Gathan moving in toward the goal and away from his normal position near the line. He muscled his way free, and Ganteaux saw him. He shot the puck to Gathan, knowing he was waiting for it, and Gathan deflected it neatly into the goal. We were jumping up and down on the bench, going nuts over this, our first goal of the night, and the one that would give us a lead, at least for now. Of course, the guys on the ice mobbed him, and then he came over to our bench and got lots of kudos from us, but that’s not where he was looking. He was looking into the stands, at Kristin, to see her cheering like a freak for him.
“You trying to impress her?” I asked.
“Is it working?”
“Hell, you impressed me,” I said, and it was true.
“I’m thinking I should hear her out,” he said, giving me his cute grin.
“I’m thinking that’s a good idea,” I told him.
The first period was winding down. I’d just come off the ice, so our second line was out there. I watched in a somewhat detached way as they accomplished absolutely nothing, and then came out, looking frustrated. Now our third line went in, and that meant that my line would be back on next, so I perked up, paying closer attention.
Gathan was back out there, and being just as annoying as he was before, really pushing it. “He’s gonna pull a penalty,” Matt groused to me, reading it the same way I had.
“Yeah, but he’s got a goal,” I said fatalistically. That gave him some insulation from our wrath for pulling a dumb ass penalty. They had a line change, and not surprisingly, Mark Grayson came skating out for UCLA. We’d run into him a few times last season; he was their resident goon, Carl’s equivalent in the UCLA lineup, only he could actually skate. Before he could get into the action, UCLA got an offsides call, and play stopped for the face-off in the neutral zone. Grayson lined himself up opposite Gathan, clearly delineating why he was there. I watched them chirping at each other, and started to get a little nervous. The third line was our rookie line, and they weren’t picking up on the problem here. Gathan’s other defenseman was a freshman named Steinkirk, who was good, but raw. His nickname was Stinky. Gathan was out there, largely unsupported, and that goon was going to take him out.
“Dude, we need to get out there,” I said to Matt. He nodded, coming to the same conclusion I did, and made to go in. Before we could get over the boards, the puck dropped, and play was in motion. Matt was yelling to the third line to come in, to switch with us, but they were embattled now, as UCLA pressed us into our zone.
I was yelling at Stinky to back Gathan up, but they were all absorbed, and like typical freshmen, they didn’t listen to anyone. There was a scrum when the puck got stuck against the boards. Gathan went in to break it loose, and that’s when Grayson moved in. He started about 20 feet from Gathan and quickly built up speed, barreling toward him, and no amount of yelling on our part could get Gathan’s attention. Grayson impacted him hard and smashed his body into the boards. That was bad enough, but what scared the crap out of us was his head. Gathan clearly hadn’t seen Grayson, so he wasn’t prepared for the hit, and that meant his neck muscles were loose. His head slingshotted into the boards, smashing into them with a crash. I watched in horror as his body seemed to go limp as it collapsed onto the ice.
The official had seen the whole thing, and he made the sign for boarding, but I was already across the boards and onto the ice before that. I got to Gathan, pushing Steinkirk aside. “Nice job,” I snapped at him. “Way to have his back.” He looked at me, completely freaked out by that, and I felt guilty for lashing out at him. It wasn’t his fault, it was Grayson’s fault. I reminded myself to keep my cool, that this was a crisis situation. “Dude, are you alright?” I asked Gathan as I knelt down next to him. He didn’t say anything, so I looked behind me to see if help was on its way.
Matt and Cole were arguing with the officials, but I could give a shit about the game. I saw our team doctor start to waddle across the ice, and decided to refocus on Gathan. I looked into his eyes, which were open and glazed, and I recognized that look, because I’d seen it before when Matt had been hit in practice by Cole, back when we were freshmen. “Are you alright?” I asked more forcefully.
“Dizzy,” he said.
“You think you can get up?”
He looked at me, trying to figure out if he could, when the doctor got there and started asking him questions. I stood up and watched from above him as he moved his legs and arms, getting a sigh of relief from me. “We need to get you up, either on your own, or on a stretcher,” the doctor said, giving him a challenge.
He looked past the doctor to me. “You help me?” I thought about how his words were almost the same as Matt’s, when he’d been on the ice.
“Sure.” I motioned Klip over and he got on Gathan’s other side, and together we lifted him up. The roar of applause from the crowd was deafening, primarily because even the UCLA fans knew that was a cheap hit. He could barely maintain any traction on the ice at all; he was basically hanging between Klip and me as we led him off the ice. “Locker room,” I ordered unnecessarily. There’s no way he was going to stay in this game.
“Dude, I’ll be fine,” Gathan said, but it sounded a little slurred. He didn’t want to leave the game.
“In a few days,” I said. “Not now.” Cole and Matt skated over, after extracting themselves from arguing with the refs. That battle had been handed off to the coaches.
“How is he?” Matt asked, concerned. I pondered at how much their relationship had improved, to the point that he genuinely gave a shit about Gathan.
“He’s acting like he got a concussion. He’s going to the hospital,” I said authoritatively, even though I had no such power. Gathan didn’t seem to hear me, so I vowed not to make any more references to the hospital to avoid freaking him out. I watched Matt and Cole both stare at him with entirely different reactions. For Matt, it was a knowing look, having been there himself. For Cole, it was one of extreme guilt, remembering the time he’d done that to Matt, hit him with a cheap shot and given him a concussion.
“I’m going to help him get cleaned up,” I decreed. “Tell the coach I’ll be back as soon as he’s on his way.” I didn’t spell out that he’d be on his way to the hospital, because I didn’t want Gathan to put the pieces together, but that’s where he was going.
“Take your time,” Matt said. That got a surprised look from me, one I couldn’t hide, but I replaced it pretty quickly with a big smile. It wasn’t like him to disregard the game for anything, but he just had, telling me to make sure Gathan was fine, that he was more important than beating UCLA.
“I will,” I said. “Maybe you can get that third line to play as a team, instead of a bunch of prima donnas.”
“So you believe in miracles,” Cole said sarcastically.
“Sometimes,” I replied. We got to the edge of the ice and Klip and I maneuvered Gathan off, while Matt and Cole skated back to the bench.
“I’ll be fine,” Gathan insisted. “Really.”
“Shut up,” I told him, but with a friendly lilt to my voice.
The team doctor met us as soon as we were off the ice. “Get him cleaned up. We’ll call a ride.” That meant they’d get an ambulance.
“We can get his gear off, but I don’t think we can clean him up,” I told the doctor. “We’re totally holding him up.”
“Fine, do that,” he snapped.
Klip and I sat him on the bench and started pulling off his gear. We got him down to just his jock strap and T-shirt, and I decided that was good enough. “You can go back,” I told Klip. “I got it from here.”
Klip nodded. “Get better,” he said to Gathan, and rubbed his shoulder in an affectionate gesture.
“You’re going to the hospital,” I said. “Don’t argue, it won’t matter.”
“Fine,” he said, pissed off.
“They’ll be here with a stretcher in a minute. As soon as they strap your sorry ass to it, I’m back on the ice. I’ll come see you as soon as this game is over.”
“Thanks,” he said, smiling weakly.
“Who do you want to go with you, to ride with you in the ambulance?” He looked off beyond me. “You want Kristin to go? Will’s here too, and Robbie and Brad are probably around. Your call.”
“I want Kristin to go with me,” he said firmly.
“Good boy,” I said, smiling. I grabbed some guards for my skate blades and flipped them on, and had just gotten that accomplished when the EMTs came into the locker room with a stretcher to get him.
They were really nice to him, probably because he was so cute. “Alright, you ready to go?” the lead EMT guy asked.
“I’ll walk with you, but his girlfriend is riding with him,” I said, more than asked.
“Fine with me,” the guy said.
As soon as we walked out of the locker room, Kristin, Will, and Ryan were there waiting for us. Kristin held back, wanting so bad to go be with him, but worried that he didn’t want her to. “He wants you to ride to the hospital with him, if you’re OK with that.”
Her expression changed to one of glee, but only for a moment until she remembered that the reason she was going with Gathan was because he was hurt. “I’m not leaving his side.” She reached down and took his hand and smiled down at him, and he squeezed her hand lovingly.
“I’ll be there when the game is over,” I called to Gathan and Kristin as they wheeled him off.
“Will he be OK?” Will asked. His feelings for Gathan were just as transparent, only they were more aligned with a good friendship, which was as it should be.
“We’ll find out when the doctors tell us,” I said dismissively. “I need to get back on the ice. Where’s Robbie?” It would have been nice to have him here to help out.
“He got pissed off at me and left,” Will said. “I don’t know where he is.” These people were so dysfunctional it was scary. How was it possible that three really smart and talented people who loved each other as much as Brad, Will, and Robbie did, couldn’t get along?
“OK, well we need to find out which hospital they’re taking him to, and you need to call Jack and Stef and let them know what happened,” I instructed.
“I’ll find out where they’re taking him,” Ryan volunteered, and tore off after the stretcher.
“Call me and tell me,” I instructed Will.
“Got it handled,” he said. He really could be responsible and efficient in an emergency.
“Thanks,” I said. “I knew I could count on you.” I went back to the game, but I was so not into it I should have just left. We ended up pulling off a win, 2-1, but only because the other guys stepped up. I walked into the locker room filled with guilt over playing like shit, and with anxiety over Gathan.
The first thing I did was pull out my cell phone and check for messages. There was one from Will, and I smiled at his thoroughness. “Wade, this is Will. They’ve taken Gathan to the UCLA Med Center. I called Uncle Jack, and he’s going to meet us there. I called Stef and told him, and he’s going too. There will be a car waiting out front to take you to the hospital after the game. Look for it. I tried to call Dad and Robbie, but they didn’t answer their phones. Maybe they’ll answer if you call them.” Those last two sentences were said with considerable sadness, and my heart went out to this kid, who was struggling to build a relationship with his father. I knew how tough that could be, but I also knew how important it was.
“They say that Grayson may be out for the season,” Matt said as we pulled off our gear. He’d gotten a ten-minute major, and we’d used that power play to get our other goal.
I wanted to lash out at him, and tell him that didn’t matter, that this game was just bullshit in the greater scheme of things, but it was important to him, and besides, I rarely lashed out. “He’s gonna have a huge target on his back if he does play again,” I said.
“No shit,” Klip agreed. “You guys going over to see Gathan?”
“As soon as I’m ready,” I said, telling Matt that he needed to hustle.
“Can I ride along?”
“As long as you’re ready when I’m ready,” I stated firmly.
“Oh. We’re in our anal-retentive mode,” Klip teased.
“When aren’t we?” Matt quipped, piling on.
“Look douchebags,” I said playfully. “You’ve got ten minutes to get ready or you’re getting your own ride, and its 17 miles away.”
“Damn. That hardly gives you any time at all to perv on me in the showers,” Klip told Matt as he wrapped a towel around himself.
“Just give me a good view,” Matt joked back. Klip whipped off his towel quickly, and then put it back around his waist, cracking us up. It actually took us fifteen minutes to get ready, and that included blowing off the coach’s rousing bitch session at the end, but I thought we did pretty well.
We walked out to find the car waiting for us. “Dude, who sent the car?” Matt asked.
“Will set it up,” I said.
“Yeah. He’s a smart kid, and he’s organized,” I said, probably being just a little bitchy. It bugged me that Matt tended to internalize Robbie’s attitude toward Will. Matt loved Will, but didn’t give him much credit for having his act together. Matt and Klip talked about the game while I called Will.
“Hey,” he said nervously.
“Hey,” I responded. “We’re on our way. Thanks for sending the car. You handled that whole thing really well.”
“No problem,” he said casually, but I knew he sucked up that praise.
“What’s the status on Gathan?”
“Don’t know yet,” he said. “Uncle Jack is back there checking up on him. Kristin had to leave him so they could do their tests and shit, but she said he’s pretty mazy.”
“How is she?”
“You’ll see. Happy and sad, all at the same time. She fits right in with all the freaks in my family.” I laughed at that.
“Alright, see you in a few.” I turned to Matt and Klip and simply said “No news yet,” and we rode on in silence.
We walked into the lobby and got directions, then wandered through the maze of hallways until we found the waiting room. We walked right into a pitched battle, with Robbie squared off in front of Will.
“Why didn’t you let me know he was in the hospital?” Robbie demanded.
“I called you. Twice,” Will said. “You chose not to answer.”
“I didn’t get your call,” Robbie snapped.
“Give me your phone,” Will demanded, holding out his hand. Robbie hesitated. “Give it to me!” he all but shouted. Stef and JP were looking on, concerned, while Brad was just as pissed off as Robbie. Robbie handed Will his phone and Will flipped to the call history. “See. Right there. I tried to call you twice.” He handed the phone to Stef. “Maybe you can verify that.”
“It would appear that you did, indeed, call him,” Stef said, giving Robbie a very dirty look.
“You could have left a message,” Robbie groused.
“You don’t have the time to talk to me, to give me the time of day, don’t bitch when things happen and you don’t know about them,” he said, getting right in Robbie’s face. Then he turned to Brad. “Should I check your phone too? Are you going to try and lie and say I didn’t call you either?”
“I never said you lied,” Robbie claimed, backing up quickly.
“You are a complete asshole,” Will said to him, with fire in his eyes. At this particular juncture, he had a point.
“How is Gathan?” I asked, intervening and changing the topic back to what we should be focusing on. They all turned to me, surprised since they hadn’t seen us there before.
“They don’t know yet,” Will said sadly.
“They are performing some tests,” Stef added. “He is conscious, but they want to make sure there is no permanent damage.”
“That guy just slammed him into the boards,” Will said. “It was scary.”
“Yeah, it was,” Matt agreed. “That’s the bad part of hockey; it can be dangerous.”
We calmed down after that and found an area to sit. I felt a hand fall softly on my shoulder and looked to my right as Kristin sat down next to me. “It’s good to see you,” I said.
“Thanks. And thanks for what you did.”
“And what exactly did I do?”
“Gathan said you were the one who told him to talk to me, to hear me out. That’s all I really wanted. That’s why I came out here.”
“And did you get to talk to him?”
“Not yet. I mean, he’s been in and out of it, like he’s really stoned,” she said.
“So what did he say?”
“He didn’t really tell me anything, but it just seemed like he wanted me to be there. I told him I needed to talk to him, and that’s when he said that he would, that you told him he needed to listen to me.”
“I’m not betraying a confidence when I tell you that he’s been pretty miserable without you,” I said sincerely. “He hasn’t really dated anyone seriously; he’s just been into hookups.”
It was hilarious to see her eyes fly open at that, and to see her get all outraged until she thought it through and realized that she had absolutely no right to be upset with him. “I guess it’s what he had to do.”
“It’s what most guys do,” I said, even though I didn’t know if that was true or not. “It’s an ego thing. You have to prove that someone wants you, even if the person you used to be with doesn’t.”
“I do want him!” she exclaimed.
“Kristin, come on,” I chided, but in a soothing way. “That’s not the issue and you know it.”
“I get it,” she said. “I guess I didn’t realize how important he was to me until I lost him.”
“Maybe you’ll get a second chance,” I said. “You gave him one. He owes you one.”
“I did do that, now didn’t I?” she asked playfully, cracking me up. “I’ll have to bring that up.”
“You do that.”
“Talking to you has been very useful,” she joked, making me laugh some more. Robbie was giving me dirty looks, because he had no tolerance for any sort of light-heartedness in the middle of a crisis. I ignored him.
Jack came into the room, accompanied by another doctor. I wondered how that played out, how having a physician like Jack show up in his hospital to get involved with his patient worked out, but I put that thought aside.
“This is Doctor Weintraub,” Jack said, introducing the other doctor. “He’s the physician who’s treating Gathan.”
“Thank you, Dr. Hobart,” Weintraub said, and said it in the same way someone responded after they’d been introduced as a speaker at a conference. “We ran extensive tests on Mr. Hayes, and aside from the concussion, we don’t see any other damage at this time.”
“So he’s alright?” Will asked impulsively.
“He will need a lot of rest, and he will not be able to play hockey for a while, but it looks like he will be alright,” Dr. Weintraub said. “At least as far as we can tell, as of right now,” he added, as if worried that one of us was an attorney. He had to get the disclaimer in.
“Can we see him?” Robbie asked.
“He can have two visitors at a time, for no more than ten minutes,” Dr. Weintraub said.
“Did he ask to see anyone?” I inquired.
“He wanted to see Kristin,” he said.
“This is Kristin Hendrickson,” I said, introducing them. “After we all get to spend a few minutes with him, she’ll want to stay here with him.”
“He needs his rest,” Dr. Weintraub insisted. Jack whispered something into his ear, and even though he didn’t look very happy about it, he acquiesced. “You can stay,” he said to Kristin.
“Thank you, Doctor,” she said politely, turning on the charm.
“Why don’t you and I go see him first?” I asked Will.
“He’s my cousin,” Robbie said petulantly. God, he could be annoying when there was a crisis.
“You were here last, you go in last,” Will snapped. I ignored them both.
“Come on,” I said to Will, and we followed Jack back to Gathan’s room.
“I hear you’re going to live,” Will said to him as he stood on the right side of the bed. I stood on the left side.
“That should piss some people off,” Gathan joked.
“We only have ten minutes with you, and then the rest of the crowd comes filing through,” I told him.
“What about Kristin?” he asked, concerned.
“Wade set it up so she gets to spend the night,” Will said with a leer. “How cool is that?”
“Pretty fucking cool,” Gathan said, and looked over at me. “Thanks.”
“She’s a good person. And she’s hot,” I joked.
“No shit,” Will said.
“I’m sure she has a good reason for what happened,” I told him. “I know you were all pissed off at her before, but this is like an open wound for you. You need to get the whole story.”
“And when you hear it, you’ll probably realize that what she did was about the only choice she had,” Will said.
“What do you mean?” Gathan demanded.
“She told me she really felt pressured by that guy,” Will said. “She said that sucking his dick was about the only way out of the situation.”
“She thought he would rape her?” I asked, stunned.
“That’s the impression I got,” Will said. Gathan was furious, so angry that his face was turning red.
“Chill out!” I ordered. “There is nothing you can do about this, and it’s over anyway!”
“But…” he started to object.
“Look dipshit,” I said firmly. “Will just told you some stuff that he probably should have let Kristin tell you. I’m betting he did it so you could think about it, and then not react like a total asshole when she tells you. And so that you’ll keep your fucking mouth shut and let her actually tell you what happened.”
“That’s a good bet,” Will said, grinning at Gathan.
“Fine,” Gathan groused.
“We have to go. Robbie’s going to pop a vein if we don’t let him in here next,” I said, making Will giggle.
“Wait,” Gathan said emphatically. “You guys, you two, you’re my best friends. I really love you guys.”
We just stared at him, surprised. I felt tears in my eyes, so poignant were his words, but Will had already lost that battle and they were pouring down his cheek. “I love you too,” he said, and gave Gathan a nice kiss on the lips.
“So do I,” I said, and kissed him as well. Only I forgot how intense kisses with him could be. I broke it off and must have looked a little dazed, since Will was snickering at me. “Come on, let’s let Robbie have his turn.”