The next two weeks go by pretty uneventfully, my schedule being filled mostly with games and training, but I've managed to squeeze some time in to hang out with Greg (and make out a little). The Kings have been doing insanely well, our record this season being better than any other season in the past with eighteen wins and four losses.
As for me and Greg, I'm still trying to be the best boyfriend I can be without letting people know what's between us. I think our relationship has improved since I had my meeting with Leo and me having come to accept my sexuality. Greg seems happier now and he and I are just a bit closer than before.
Right now, I'm in the middle of getting ready for tonight's game against the Bruins. This is going to be a tough game. The Bruins are ranked number one in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, not to mention Greg's former position with their affiliate team. Tonight's game is definitely going to be an interesting one.
I slip my jersey over my head and fall onto the bench to get my skates on. "How's it looking in here?"
Greg walks into the locker room, in his usual black suit with white undershirt, but is wearing a silver and gold tie (a possible shout out to the Burins while respecting his position on the Kings). "Good, Coach Natick!' we all shout back.
"Glad to hear it. Tonight's game is going to be a tough one. I've seen the Bruins up close several times in the past and they're a tough team. But you all know you have it in you to beat them. Are you all ready?"
"Yes, Coach Natick!"
"That's my team." We all go back to getting ready for the game, but I notice Greg is still standing at the locker room entrance, looking very unsure. He sighs to himself, and looks back at everyone. "Team, I have something I need to discuss with you."
Everyone stops and looks at Greg. He walks a bit more into the locker room, putting on his best game face, but I can see his hands trembling a little. "We've been working together for over three months now and I feel like I can trust every single one of you with my life," he says.
What the hell is he talking about? Oh shit. He isn't. "There's something I should have told all of you when I first was introduced as your new coach," Greg continues. "But now that it's been so long, I think it's about time I told you all something about myself: I'm gay."
The silence in the room is deafening as we all stare at our coach, who I start to see sweating even from here. "If there's anyone who isn't okay with this, speak up now and say it to my face."
Everyone glances between one another and I see Bruce clear his throat. "Do you have a boyfriend, Coach Natick?"
Well, shit. That wasn't what I was expecting. "Um...yes, I do have a boyfriend," Greg says. "But I will not tell any of you who he is. He's not exactly open about his sexuality, but he does accept that he is gay. He's in a position where he can't exactly be open about it."
"Is it a high profile job or something like that?" Gunnar asks.
God, I'm fucking sweating bullets right now. "Yes," Greg says, "and if word were to come out of his sexuality, he could face a lot of backlash from people. Enough of my boyfriend. Is there anyone who finds my sexuality a problem?"
"You can't be serious," Bobby says. "Coach Natick, you're our coach. Even if one of us did have a problem with you being gay, we couldn't change the fact that you're still our coach."
"He's right," Bradley says. "And Coach Natick, it's 2023. Yeah, there are still some pricks and douchebags out there, but the majority of the United States supports gay marriage and almost 90% of people in the country don't have a problem with gay people."
"Why did you think you had to worry about it, Coach Natick?" Vladimir asks.
For the first time in front of the rest of the team, I see a bit of sheepishness coming from Greg as he looks to the floor. "I...I was just scared that one of you would have a problem with me being gay and wouldn't listen to me anymore."
After a moment of silence, several of my teammates snicker and laugh a bit. "No offense, Coach Natick," Jacques says, "but you are a...how do you Americans say it? A fucking hardass?"
The locker room bursts into laughter from Jacques' accented words. "We would listen to you even if one of us did not like you being gay," Jacques continues.
"Yeah," Ken says. "We're all actually a little afraid of you, Coach Natick. So if one of us would give you shit because of it, we can imagine you flipping them like you did Alex on the first day we met you."
"I know better than to cross you now, Coach Natick," Alex says. "I had trouble sitting down for a few days after you threw me over your shoulder. If that was just from me questioning your authority, I do not even want to imagine you taking someone out from them saying terrible things about you being gay."
Greg looks around the locker room with wide-open eyes. "S-So...none of you have a problem with this?" The locker room stays silent for several moments, none of us making a sound and it makes Greg smile. He takes his hand and quickly wipes his eyes. "Thank you all. Knowing my team accepts me is something I can't put into words."
He takes a deep breath and I see his coach persona slip back on. "But we don't have time for this. We have a game to win tonight. You all know how strong the Bruins are when it comes to offense so don't take that lightly. Keep the defense tight and don't let anything get past you. Understood?"
"Yes, Coach Natick!"
Greg continues to stare at all of us and sighs to himself. "God, I can see every single one of you shaking in your skates." I look around and see everyone's in a similar state of nervousness. "I kind of half expected this, so I brought a few people here to help lighten your mood, some people every single one of you know."
Greg turns and heads for the exit, leaving us all a little confused. He returns a second later with a small woman and a man in tow. The woman looks to be a little over five feet tall with grey hair in a tight bun and smile on her face, looking to be in her early fifties. The man looks to be around the same age and about six feet tall with greying blonde hair and a similar smile on his face.
I've never these two in my life, but I hear a small gasp on the other side of the locker room. I turn and see Alex and find his eyes wide open and slowly moving toward the man and woman. "Mama? Papa?" he quietly says.
The man and woman smile and rush to Alex, who opens his arms up wide for them. "Alexei!" the man and woman cry.
Alex wraps his arms around the man and woman and hugs them tightly. "Mama, Papa," Alex quietly says. "How are you here?"
"Alexei," the man (I assume is Alex's father), says in a slight Russian accent, "your mother and I have visas to stay in the United States."
"We are going to become United States citizens so we can live close to you, Alexei," Alex's mother says. "We can see you every day."
From here, I can see Alex holding back tears as he hugs his mom and dad. I've heard Alex's story before. His parents were very poor when they were raising Alex and barely raised enough money to get Alex hockey lessons while he was growing up. Alex moved to the United States and became a citizen about six years ago and has been working to help his parents immigrate to the states ever since.
Alex slowly looks over at Greg. "Coach Natick, how did you manage to get my mama and papa here?"
"When you're really good friends with the governor of California, you can get a few strings pulled," Greg says. "Your parents had applied for visas a while ago, but their paperwork was lost. I asked Shawn to try and find their paperwork and after a bit of work, your parents were accepted for visas. Now they can work at becoming U.S. citizens."
The tears that Alex had been holding in finally spill out and he hugs his parents tightly again. "And Alex's parents aren't the only people here," Greg continues.
After a moment, the locker room starts to fill up with people of different ages, heights, sexes, and appearance. My teammates swarm around the people, cries of 'mom,' 'dad,' names of siblings and other family members filling the locker room. I look around for a minute, but I quickly manage to find the people I'm looking for.
I rush over to my family and encircle them all in a tight hug. "God, it's great to see all of you," I say.
"You too, sweetie," Mom says. "It's been so long since we've come to see you in action!"
"Seriously," Allie says. "This is the first night in weeks I've managed to get out of shadowing my mentor."
"And my band is taking the day off from practicing," Ethan says.
"You nervous about tonight, buddy?" Dad asks.
"Definitely. It's the Bruins, Dad. They're one of the best teams in the league."
"And so are the Kings," Allie says. "You're the top ranked team in the Western Conference, Tanner. You can beat the Bruins."
"I hope you're right, Allie."
The locker room fills with two sudden claps and we all turn and see Greg. "Alright, everyone! The team needs to warm up a bit before the game! If you'll follow me out of the locker room, I'll lead you to security and they'll escort you to your seats!"
The team and I give our families a few hugs goodbye and watch as they leave the locker room. "We have an awesome coach," Gunnar says.
That we do. The guys and I finish getting on our uniforms and make our way to the ice. The Bruins are already practicing when we step out, taking a few shots on goal. We quickly ease into our warm up and find that our families are sitting in the first five rows in a corner of the arena, giving them perfect access to the game.
Looking over at the Bruins, I see something that I've never noticed before: they have an extra goalie. The Bruins have stuck with two goalies for the last seven seasons, but a third? Maybe he's a new recruit and they're giving him a taste of the NHL. Dismissing the extra man, I return to my warm up.
After a little while, we return to the locker room for the pre-game meeting. Greg walks back in as we do, looking as composed as ever. "I hope most of your nerves are out," he says to us.
Yeah right. Like I could get these nerves out. I think I have even more now that I know my family is watching me in person. There's a sudden laugh filling the room and we all see Greg laughing to himself. "I'm glad those nerves are still there."
Now I'm confused. Then what was the point of us seeing our families? "You all should know that it's nearly impossible to not have nerves before a game," Greg says. "But don't those nerves make a game more fun? It makes the thrill of being on the ice that much more intense and knowing your families are watching adds to the thrill.
"You all know that you're a great hockey team and you have it in you to beat the Bruins. Don't let their season stats get to you. They're human, just like all of you. And humans can lose, and those humans out there in gold, black, and white are going to get what's coming to them. Are you all ready?"
Feeling that fire I love, I shoot off the bench with the rest of my teammates. "Yes, Coach Natick!"
"Get out there and win!"
"Please welcome to the ice..." At the voice of the announcer, we all sprint down the tunnel. "Your home team! The L.A. Kings!"
As we skate out onto the ice, I feel the roar of the crowd reverberating through my body, making me shake even more than I already am. The team and I skate around the rink a few times, giving our families a few waves, and returning to the bench, skating up to Greg and Coaches Warren and Jacobs and the trainers.
We all circle up around Greg. "The starting line up is the same as usual," he says. "Start out strong, come out swinging, and let's take this game."
"Coach Natick," Henry says. "Who's that new goalie on the Bruins? I've never seen him before?"
We all turn and see the goalie from the before, the unnamed third goalie, in the Bruins' goal. "He's not in my records," Greg says. "He's an unknown player, but be on the lookout. For all we know, he could be an undiscovered talent. So don't take him lightly. Tanner, Vladimir, Gunnar, Alex, Jacques, and Bradley, you ready?"
"Yes, Coach Natick!"
We break up and skate to our positions, me coming to a stop in the center of the rink. My opposite, Dylan Prescott, is very similar to my height and build, so this face off could be a bit challenging. He and I stare each other down as the referee skates to his position with the puck in his hand, ready for the game.
As I watch the puck in the ref's hand, I suddenly hear a large commotion from the crowd. Breaking my concentration, I look past Dylan and see the mystery goalie, skating out of the goal and slowly making his way to the middle of the ice. The crowd's protests go unheard as the man skates along the ice.
As he gets closer, I see the guy is huge, maybe two inches taller than me and I can tell he's ripped even underneath the loose goalie uniform. I can't see his face past the goalie mask, so I'm left incredibly confused. The man skates to the middle of the rink and stands maybe two feet away from me, not saying a word.
I look around at my teammates, who seem just as confused as me. "Um...dude?" I say to the man. "We're kind of...about to start a game here..."
A low laugh comes from the man. "Geez, Tanner," he says in a familiar voice. "You don't see a guy for a while and you don't recognize him when he's wearing a goalie uniform?"
I'm still very confused. All of a sudden, the man throws his stick away and starts peeling off his pads and gloves. Is this guy looking for a fight? The crowd begins screaming louder and louder. Why the hell are the refs not doing anything? Wait, why is Prescott skating behind the guy?
The goalie is now standing without a single pad or glove on, just his mask and uniform. I suddenly see Prescott taking a hold of the man's uniform shit and pants and giving them a hard tug. The clothes quickly come off with a sharp rip, revealing them to be held together by Velcro. And what he's wearing underneath is...a U.S. Navy uniform.
My heart stops as I stare at the man and my stick falls to the ice. The man reaches up and takes the mask and pulls it off, revealing a blonde buzz cut, dark green eyes, and a handsome, grinning face I'd know anywhere. "Long time no see, baby bro," Keith says.
I don't even care if I'm crying right now. I jump forward and hug Keith as tightly as I can. "Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer says. "Please give a hero's welcome to the older brother of L.A. Kings captain Tanner White who just returned from service: Chief Petty Officer Keith White!"
I bury my head in the crook of Keith's shoulder as I hug him and cry. It's been fifteen months since I've seen Keith in person, and this hug makes those days of worry all worthwhile. I slowly lift my head off Keith's shoulder and see him still grinning. "Y-You're here..." I say.
"That's right, baby bro. I'm right here." I immediately pull Keith into another hug, my tears leaking onto his uniform. "Heads up, Tanner. It looks you're going to have to fight for me."
I slowly look behind me and find my family making their way onto the ice, all of them frantically running to Keith. I take a step back and let them all crash into my brother, all of them lucky enough to stay standing. I quickly join in the group hug and listen as my family cries and the crowd cheers.
After a minute, we all give Keith a bit or room to breathe. "Keith, what the hell was this whole setup?" I ask.
"This was your coach's idea," Keith replies. "I messaged him saying I was returning from my last tour and he contacted the Bruins and set this whole thing up. How the hell do goalies stay in those pads? I was sweating my balls off after just ten minutes."
Ignoring my brother's question, my family and I pull him into another hug. "We can have our reunion after the game," Keith says. "Tanner, you have a game to win. And I have a game to watch."
I take a step back and wipe my eyes to the best of my ability. "There's a seat right next to us," Dad chokes out. "It's got your name on it, son."
Keith grins and gives Dad another hug. "I'll take that seat, Dad." He looks back at me, still grinning. "Kick some ass, baby bro. And make this game a good one."
I sniff a bit. "I plan on it."
Keith and my family walk over to their seats and I bend down and pick up my stick off the ice. I watch as the crowd stands on its feet, cheering for Keith as he takes his seat. I resume my position and find Prescott facing me. "You have a pretty awesome coach, Tanner," he says.
I look over at my bench and see Greg standing with his arms crossed in the bench, but he has a very faint smile on his face as he stares at me. "He's the best," I say. "And you're going down, Prescott."
A few hours later, I listen to the crowd as it counts down the final few seconds of the game. I slide to a stop as the final buzzer sounds. Final score: Bruins: 1 Kings: 7. A complete blowout. Tonight was an amazing night. Wanting to show off a little for my family (Keith mainly), I scored four of the seven goals.
After a shower, I quickly change into my suit and rush out of the locker room before anyone else, finding my family standing outside. I immediately go for Keith, who now has a bag with him, and give him a hard hug. "God, I've missed you, Keith," I say.
"I missed you even more, baby bro. Tonight's game was fantastic."
"I see the reunion's going well."
I look behind me and see Greg standing there, hands in his pockets, looking as sexy as usual. Stepping away from my family, I walk over to Greg and give him a very firm hug, not caring what people think of it. "I can't thank you enough for this, Greg," I quietly say.
Greg returns my hug. "I remember seeing how much you and your family missed your brother. I managed to get his number and made a few calls with some friends at the Bruins and made his return home a memorable one."
I pull away from the hug and give Greg a soft smile, seeing his face blush the slightest bit. God, I wish I could kiss him right now, but my family's behind me and several of my teammates are now greeting Keith and saying hi to my family as well. So I settle for a pat on the shoulder and a bit of wishful thinking for later.
I turn back to my family. "So it's a little after 10:00, but who's up for going to Get The Puck Out and having a family dinner for the first time in over a year?"
"Count me in," Ethan says. "A beer with my oldest brother sounds awesome right now."
"And your old man," Dad says.
"The ladies will join in party too," Allie says.
I look back at Greg. "Would you like to come too, Coach Natick?"
Greg holds his hands up and shakes his head. "I really shouldn't. You should go and spend time together as a family."
"Nonsense," Mom says from behind me. "You helped bring my baby back home, so we should at least take you out as a thank you."
"Are you sure?" Greg asks. "I really wouldn't want to overstep my boundaries."
"You heard my dad belch, cuss, and break wind already," I say. "I don't think there's any boundaries anymore."
Dad barks a laugh from behind me and Greg laughs to himself. "Well if you're offering and insisting, I can't refuse."
"Great," Dad says. "We have one more seat in my car and it has your name on it."
"I'll take Keith," I say. "You guys already kind of got to have your own little reunion while I was on the ice. Plus I drove my car to the center today."
"I just need to grab my bag," Greg says. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Greg turns and heads back for the locker room. "Why don't you two go on ahead?" Mom asks. "You can grab us a table and we'll meet you there."
"Sounds good to me," Keith says.
Keith and I head for my car in the parking garage and climb in once we get his bag in the trunk. "God, it feels like it's been ages since I've been back In L.A.," Keith says as he buckles his seatbelt.
"Well...it kind of has been," I say.
I turn my head just a bit to wipe the corner of my eye. As I turn back, I feel two arms pull me into a uniformed body. "I know it's been a long time, baby bro," Keith says as he hugs me. "And I know I was gone longer than I had planned, but I'm here now and that's all that matters to me."
Keith releases me from his grip and gives me a hard grin. "C'mon. Let's get to the bar. I know A.J. and Ulrich will be looking forward to seeing me too."
Smiling, I put the car in gear and head to Get The Puck Out. As soon as I pull out onto the street, my mouth goes on automatic, spewing out question after question for my older brother. Some of them he can't answer (SEAL stuff), but he answers them as best he can while giving a hint here and there.
After a good drive, I pull onto the street of Get The Puck Out and park my car. We climb out and I wrap my arm around Keith's shoulder as we walk down the street and into the front door. I quickly see the bar is nearly full and A.J.'s behind the counter. "A.J.!" I yell across the bar while gaining everyone's attention. "My brother's home from service. Two rounds on the house for everyone here!"
The bar erupts in cheers at the notice of free alcohol while A.J. just grins from behind the counter. He tosses his towel to another bartender and steps out from behind the counter. He crosses the bar and immediately steps over to Keith and gives him a hard hug. "You son of a bitch!" A.J. says. "You're still in one piece!"
Keith laughs as he returns A.J.'s hug. "And I see you're hair's redder than I last saw it!"
A.J. laughs as he steps back and ruffles his hair. "God, Keith, what's it been? A year?"
"Fifteen months," Keith replies. "And I counted every single day I wasn't on U.S. soil. But it's amazing to be back."
"Great to have you back, Keith," A.J. says. "And Tanner? I think you're going to be paying for over a thousand dollars of alcohol with those two rounds for everyone here."
"Who the hell cares?" I ask. "My brother's home and that's all that I care about right now. That, and the fact that I need a beer."
"Coming right up," A.J. says. "Two Heinekens?"
"Perfect," Keith says.
A.J. returns to the bar and as we walk to a table, I hear a few claps. Turning, I see two men and one woman in army uniforms sitting at a table, looking in Keith's direction and clapping. The claps start a chain reaction and the bar soon fills with applause, every single person in here looking at Keith.
Keith at first seems a bit taken back from the applause, but his composure quickly returns. He snaps to attention, his feet and legs pressing together, his shoulders square, and his back straight. His arm slowly rises to his head and he salutes the crowd, gaining even more applause and a few more cheers.
My brother eases out of his salute and we walk over to the table and take a seat, A.J. bringing over our beers and returning to work. The rest of our family and Greg walk in a minute later and quickly join us, five more beers finding the table. Dad gives Keith a hard slap on the back. "Good to have you home, son."
Keith takes a second to regain the breath that Dad knocked out of him. "Geez, Dad. None of the guys back at he base had the same strength you do."
Dad grins, rolls up his shirtsleeve, and flexes his arm, revealing a very large bicep that could easily be the size of a cantaloupe. "Damn straight."
The table fills with laughs as Dad rolls his sleeve back down. "Glad you're back home, Keith," Ethan says, giving Keith's beer a clink with his own.
"Good to be back." Keith turns and looks at Greg. "Thanks for giving me the opportunity you gave me to come back to my family."
Greg smiles at my brother. "It was my pleasure. And while I may not have a family of my own, helping the family of my captain is just as good."
"Well, consider yourself part of this family," Mom says. "You helped bring my baby home, and that makes you part of this family in my book."
"Yay!" Allie says. "I finally get my gay best friend! I've been looking for him since I was 15!"
Greg blushes harshly. "I really shouldn't overstep my boundaries like that. I mean I'm already here when you're spending time together as a family."
"Jesus Christ," I say. "Greg, you've already helped my family this much. You're already like a member of the family."
"He's right," Ethan says. "You've heard me and Allie banter for an hour. If you can do that without wanting to kill yourself, you're a White."
Allie jabs Ethan in the side with her elbow while he flicks some of her hair, gaining a laugh from Greg. "Hey, we already have two kids we're willing to get rid of," Dad says. "We'll need someone to fill the space."
Ethan and Allie make faces at Dad, who just casually sips his beer. "I think your family would be an amazing one to be a part of," Greg says with a smile.
I feel my heart skip a beat at hearing Greg say that. "Fantastic," Mom says. "And Tanner? Didn't you call Gregory by his full name when you brought him to dinner a few weeks ago?"
Oh shit, that just slipped out. "It's a nickname I had for him in high school and I sometimes can't help but call him by it when we're not at work," I say.
"Does anyone else call you Greg?" Keith asks.
"No, just Tanner. I ask everyone to call me Gregory."
"So...is Tanner special?" Allie asks.
"He's my captain, so I need to show him he can trust me. So I let him call me by the name he called me in high school."
Everyone just shrugs and takes sips of their drinks. I look over at Greg and he gives me a smile only I see and it makes my stomach fill with butterflies. I order us all a few entrees (causing Ulrich to run out of the kitchen and give Keith a welcome home hug before getting back to work) and we return to reconnecting with Keith. "So how long are you staying home, son?" Dad asks Keith. "You shipping back out in a few weeks?"
"Nope," Keith replies, taking a sip of his beer.
Okay, my older brother has lost the entire table in the span of a second. "What do you mean 'nope'?" Allie asks.
"I mean I'm not shipping out anymore. This tour was my last. I'm staying home."
My skin breaks out in goose bumps and it looks like everyone at the table is in the same state of shock I am. Dad jumps out of his seat and pulls Keith out of his, lifting his oldest son off the floor in a crushing hug. The rest of us quickly join in (Greg included) the group hug. I turn and look back at the bar. "A.J.! Two more rounds for everyone in here! Keith's service is done!"
The bar fills with cheers and applause for the second time and we all return to our seats. "At least now I can sleep at night knowing all my babies will be safe," Mom says wiping her eyes.
"So what're you going to do now that you aren't serving?" Allie asks.
"I still have my degree in architectural engineering, and I'm pretty good at drawing, so maybe I'll try and get a job in architect drawing, drawing concepts for buildings and homes," Keith says.
"Sounds difficult," Greg says. "Do you think you'll be able to find a job?"
"I'll need to start looking soon, but I also need to find an apartment to live in. I've been serving with the Navy for almost ten years now and I never really had a permanent home and have been living in my old bedroom whenever I came home. So I need to find an apartment."
"My building has a few openings," I say.
"Yeah, but I'm not a nationally recognized hockey player with a multi-million dollar contract. So I can't afford the very nice penthouse you live in." I smile sheepishly at my brother. "But there are lots of apartments out there. I'm sure I'll find one soon."
"And now that Keith's back and while we're announcing things," Ethan says, "I have a surprise for everyone."
He reaches into his sweatshirt pocket and pulls out a few laminated slips of paper. "What're those?" Mom asks.
"These are for a concert that's at the Staples Center in a little over a month. Tanner, promise me you won't freak the hell out when I tell you these are backstage passes for Our Name Is..."
My mouth drops to the floor at the news. I reach across the table and snatch one of the passes from Ethan's hand and hold it like it's some priceless artifact. "O-Our Name Is...?! Ethan how the hell did you manage to get these?!"
"Let's just say I have a few connections and someone I know is pretty close to the band. He owed me a favor and got me eight backstage passes for the start of their worldwide tour."
I'd hug Ethan for all he's worth right now, but I'm still distracted by the backstage pass. "Greg, are we free this day?" I ask without taking my eyes off the pass.
Greg looks at the date on the pass. "Let me check." He pulls his phone out of his pocket and taps the screen a few times. "We have a bit of practice earlier in the day, but the evening is free for us. So you can go to your concert."
"Hey, one of these passes has your name on it, so you're coming too," Ethan says, handing a pass to Greg. "I think it'd be pretty fun if we all went."
"I haven't been to a concert in years," Mom says.
"I think the last concert I went to was a Nirvana concert back in 1992," Dad says. "Thirty years later, I haven't gone to one since. Is this band any good?"
"Dad, this band pretty much saved the failing music industry," Allie says. "If that doesn't spell good, it should spell unbelievable."
"But that's seven passes," Greg says. "Who gets the eighth one?"
"I was thinking of inviting Scott," Ethan says. "He and Dad have become good friends and he's a pretty cool guy, so I can see if he's free."
"Sounds like a plan," Keith says.
I'm still mesmerized by the pass. I've wanted to go to an Our Name Is... concert for so long now, but the haven't been in concert in months. And now I can and I'm screaming on the inside. It makes me wonder how good of a connection Ethan had to get not one, but eight backstage passes to arguably the most popular band in the world. Oh well. I'm not complaining.
Time passes and a few hours later, out little family reunion has come to a close. And by come to a close, I mean Dad's had one too many is started singing The Star Spangled Banner in the middle of the bar. Mom managed to pull him out and get him to the car along with Ethan and Allie and the four head out.
I've only had two beers over the last few hours, so I'm sober. After paying the tab I've run up (don't ask. It was insane), I step outside with Greg and Keith. "Keith, how about you spend the night at my place?" I ask. "I have an extra bedroom you can use and you can see Adam again."
"Sounds good. But how with Gregory get home?"
"Don't worry about me," Greg says. "I don't have a car, so I'll just call a cab."
"I'd offer you a ride, but my car only has two seats," I say. "We can stuff you in the trunk if you'd like."
"Sure, if you want to keep your position as the team captain." I laugh a bit, but I can feel Greg isn't kidding. "Really, I'll be fine. I'll just hang out in the bar for a few more minutes until a cab gets here."
"We can wait for the cab with you," Keith says.
"Don't worry. I can wait ten minutes. It's after midnight, and I bet you're both tired. Get home and get some sleep. Tanner, I'll see you at practice tomorrow."
As Keith and I turn and start to head for the car, I stop for a second. "Keith, can you wait out by the car? I just need to talk to Greg a bit about tomorrow's practice."
"Sure thing, baby bro."
Keith continues to head for the car while I walk back to where Greg's standing, phone in his hand, dialing the cab company. I do a quick look around, seeing that not a single person is around, and swoop in for the kill. I grab Greg by the face and plant a firm, quick kiss on his lips, the kiss not even lasting two seconds.
I pull away and stand in front of Greg, him looking completely flabbergasted. "Are you kidding me?" Greg loudly whispers.
"Hey, it's your fault for looking so damn sexy."
Greg glares at me for a second before blushing. "Yeah, well I wanted to do that first, but I didn't want to risk anyone seeing."
I smile down at my secret boyfriend. "Don't worry. I made sure no one was around. The only people that could've seen that had to be on this block, and there's only Keith and his back is to us."
Greg shakes his head a bit. "While I did enjoy that, Tanner, we need to be careful. I'll let this one slide, but we can't do that anymore as much as I would love to. But until we're both sure nothing bad will come out of us coming out to the world, we need to be on the down low."
I sigh to myself at hearing that. "I know that, Greg. But I also know that I really hate having to hide from everyone. It's taken me almost twenty years for me to finally come to terms with my sexuality. And now that I accept that I'm...gay, I have to hide it from the world. It just doesn't seem fair."
"I know it doesn't, Tanner. I would want nothing more than to walk down the street with your hand in mine. We saw how the team reacted to me being gay, and they all accepted me for who I am. But I'm also their coach, so it's different from you coming out as gay. Like I said, you're a very popular athlete and you'd be the first professional hockey player to come out.
"While you'd probably be accepted by the team, we're not sure how the fans and some other players will react. Your opponents could try and target you because you're gay and may not be afraid to try and take a swing or 'accidently' slice you with one of their blades. Either way, we can't have you come out to the world yet."
My spirits fall a bit at what Greg tells me. I know it's the truth, and the truth really hurts. I feel a hand rest on my upper arm and I look back down at Greg. "I know it sucks having to do this, Tanner. But it's in your best interest. I don't want to see you potentially lose your job, or even see you get hurt. I wouldn't be able to take it.
"So for now, please just keep it between us. Please? For me?"
The pleading look on Greg's face melts my insides. "Okay," I say. "For you, Greg, I'll do it."
Greg smiles up at me. "Oh, and you know how we're off next week?" Greg reaches inside his suit jacket and pulls out a small envelope. "I was wondering if you could...um, come with me for a few days."
He hands me the envelope and I reach inside and pull out a small card, reading the formal handwriting.
'Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mercer and Mr. and Mrs. Todd Swanson request your presence to celebrate the marriage of their sons Eric Wyatt Swanson and Zane Quinn Mercer.'
I look back at Greg in surprise. "You're inviting me to Zane and Eric's wedding?"
"I'm allowed to bring a guest, and the guys really like you but didn't know you when they sent out the invitations so they didn't send you one, but they definitely would have. So...would you want to? I understand if you don't. It is a pretty big step after all."
"I thought their wedding was in late December."
"They moved it a little earlier so it didn't interfere with anyone's travel plans for the holidays, and so they could go on their honeymoon and be back in time for Christmas. Now it's in a little over two weeks. So...what do you say?"
I look back at the invitation and smile. "I'd be happy to be your date."
Greg grins and gives me a tight hug. "Thank you, Tanner." He steps back and rubs down his suit. "You should head out. Keith's waiting for you."
"Okay. I'll see you in the morning, Greg."
Taking another quick look around, I see we're still alone, so I quickly give Greg a light peck and he makes a face at me when I pull away. "You're damn lucky you're good at that."
I smile and start to make my way for the car, where I find Keith propped up against the side staring down at his phone. "Hey, long talk?" he asks as I walk up to him.
"Yeah, we just had to clear a few things up. Ready to head to my place?"
"Definitely. I'm exhausted."
We climb into the car and make our way for my apartment building. It takes about fifteen minutes, but we manage to pull into the garage and head for the elevators. We step onto my floor and I fish my keys out of my pocket and slip my apartment key into the lock and open the door.
Sure enough, I find my large roommate on the couch, TV on, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts with his hand down the front. He looks over and sees Keith and me. He jumps off the couch, pulling his hand out of his underwear. "Dammit, Tanner! You could at least text me to let me know we have someone coming over!"
"Like I'd expect to find you on the couch with your hand down your pants resting on your dick. Adam, you remember my older brother Keith, right?"
Adam looks and sees Keith, who's just politely smiling at my half naked roommate. "Good to see you again, Adam," he says. "Although I'd like to see you with more clothes on. I've lived with constantly seeing dicks and balls for the past fifteen months. I can live without seeing either for a while."
Adam grins and walks over to Keith, giving him a hug. "Ah, it's great to have you home, Keith. I saw the reunion on TV and I need to tell you I started singing God Bless America when I saw you."
"Oh great, do I have to call the neighbors and tell them we really don't have a dying cat in here?" I ask.
Adam takes his fist and slugs my shoulder. "Keith's staying here for a little while he looks for a place to stay," I say, rubbing my shoulder. "So be aware, we're going to be having someone living with us, so no more lying around in your underwear until he leaves."
My roommate rolls his eyes before stifling a yawn. "I think I'm going to go to bed. Keith, make yourself at home and please drink some of those disgusting energy drinks I have in the fridge. They may be a sponsor of mine, but God, can they make a shitty energy drink. Night, guys."
Adam goes and turns off the TV before making his way down the hall. "I think I'll follow his lead," Keith says.
"Me too. Night, Keith. Great to have you home."
I give Keith a hug and he heads for the guest room while I go straight for my own bedroom. God, I'm exhausted. The game, plus the excitement of having Keith home really drained me. I quickly pull off my suit and get my teeth brushed and face washed and climb into my cool bed, pulling the covers over me.
My head falls onto my pillow and within no time at all I'm asleep. But what feels like a few hours later, I'm awoken by a thump outside my bedroom door. Sitting up in my bed a little, I hear the same thump again. What the hell? I throw my covers off of me and slowly walk to the door. Taking the handle, I open the door and step out into the hallway.
I'm immediately met by the crouching figure that is my brother. "Keith?" I sleepily say. "What's going on?"
Keith's head snaps back to me and I feel my stomach drop. His eyes are wide and his pupils are incredibly dilated, but what scares me is the fact that he has a handgun in his hand. "K-Keith, what're you doing?"
My brother jumps up to his feet and quickly steps over to me. "Find cover!" he loudly whispers. "We're under attack!"
Oh shit. What the hell is going on? He turns and rushes for the living room, gun still tight in his hand. I slowly walk into the living room and see Keith with his back pressed against the back of the couch, breathing deeply and sweating profusely. I watch in fear as he quickly looks over the couch, gun extended, before going back to his original position.
What the hell am I supposed to do here? I don't even know if the gun is loaded or not. But I know I need to get it away from him before he hurts someone else or himself. I slowly creep closer to Keith and he looks over at me, teeth grinding together. "I told you to find cover!" he shouts.
"Keith, you need to put the gun down..."
"Then we'll be left without a weapon and the enemy will get to us! Where's Mackey?! And Ellington?! They're supposed to be covering us!"
I hear a door opening down the hall and I see Adam's head poke out. "What's with all the yelling? It's three in the..."
Keith's spins around and points the gun in Adam's direction. "Adam, move!" I yell.
A loud bang fills the apartment and I see splintering wood flying off the doorframe, just inches above Adam's head. Adam jumps back into his room and slams the door. God, he probably just shit himself. "Dammit!" Keith shouts. "The enemy's closer than I thought!"
"Adam! Are you okay?!" I yell.
"I-I'm fine! Just got a few splinters! What the fuck is going on?!"
"I don't know! I just woke up and found Keith like this! Call the police and get an ambulance!" I look back at Keith and see the gun still tightly laced in his fingers. "Keith, you need to put the gun down. You almost shot Adam."
"We've been compromised! We need to retreat!"
"Keith! Put the fucking gun down!"
I can't seem to get through to my brother and he looks like he's about ten seconds away from doing something else stupid. As I'm quietly freaking out, an idea comes into my head. I push away all the fear and build up my voice. "Attention, sailor!"
Keith looks back at me, eyebrows raised and I see his breathing has steadied a bit. "Sir?" he quietly says.
"Sailor, uh...f-field training is over! Return to your post!"
I have no fucking idea what I'm saying. I'm just pulling this crap out of my ass and praying it works. "Sir, this is training?" Keith asks.
"Did I stutter, sailor?"
"No, sir. It's just...it felt so much more realistic than the other drills before this one."
"We uh...adjusted the training, make it feel like a real life scenario. Training's over! Return your weapon and get back to basic exercises!"
Keith jumps off the floor and salutes me. "Yes, sir!"
"Unload and give me your weapon, sailor, then get to your exercises."
Keith takes his gun and quickly unloads the magazine and removes the bullet from the chamber, letting it fly to the floor. He hands me the now safe gun and walks to the other side of the room, where he starts doing pushups. I see he's completely zoned out, so I rush to the kitchen sink and feel my dinner make a second appearance.
If that wasn't the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced, I don't know what is. I take a second to wash the bile out of my mouth and throat and see Keith's still hard at work on his pushups. "Adam, it's safe to come out now," I call down the hall.
The door slowly opens up and Adam sticks his head out into the hallway, a little reluctant. He steps out of his bedroom and walks into the living room, pressing some toilet paper to his neck and shoulder. "You okay?" I ask.
"Yeah, I'm fine. A few splinters from that bullet stuck into my shoulder and neck and I'm bleeding a little. The paramedics and police will be here in a few minutes. I told them things seemed to be calming down a little."
Adam and I look over at Keith moves into sit-ups, staring blankly in front of him. "Adam, I think he has PTSD," I say.
"I'd agree with you, Tanner. And by what just happened, I'd say it's pretty serious. What was he hallucinating about, I wonder?"
"It seemed like he was thinking he and the rest of his team were under attack or something like that. I-I need to sit down..."
I walk over to the kitchen table and sit down in one of the chairs trying to get my racing heart back to a normal rate. There's a knock at the door a few moments later. "Police," says the other side of the door. "We received a call."
"Just a second," Adam calls out. He walks over to the door and opens it up, gesturing in three uniformed officers, who seem intimidated by Adam's size. "Thanks for coming."
"We got a call about shots fired?" one of the officers asks.
"Yeah, but just one of them, and he wasn't in the right mindset at the time," Adam says. He gestures to Keith, who's now working on squats. "He just returned from service and he's in the middle of a hallucination."
"Then where's the gun in question?" another officer asks.
"Right here," I say, pointing at the gun on the table. "Don't worry. It's empty."
I keep my hands in front of me as an officer wakes over and takes the gun from the table. "We have paramedics coming up now to assess any damage," the third officer says. "He looks like he definitely needs a psych evaluation."
I nod and watch as a few paramedics walk into the room with a gurney (probably a tight ride up in the elevator) and step over to Keith. I watch as they go to work and help to calm Keith down, officers ready in case he goes berserk again. The paramedics give Keith a small sedative and put him to sleep.
The paramedics lift Keith onto the gurney and strap him down. With Keith secure, I feel at ease and so do the officers. I rise out of my chair and walk over to them. "Thank you for coming by. I wasn't sure what was going to happen."
"Just doing our job," one of them officers says. "I'm assuming neither of you...wait. Tanner White and Adam Underwood?"
"Yeah, that's us," Adam says.
"Well, we have something to tell the guys back at the station in the morning," another officer says. "Nothing happens on the midnight shift, my ass."
The paramedics and start to wheel Keith out the door. "I would suggest you head to the hospital too," an officer tells Adam. "Based on what I see, there are probably a few pieces of wood shrapnel in your skin."
"I can drive myself there," Adam says. "The ride in the ambulance would be a little too packed if I were to hitch a ride. Tanner, how about you catch up with the paramedics and ride with Keith to the hospital? I'll call your parents, Ethan, and Allie and tell them to meet us at the hospital."
"Thanks, Adam," I say. "They need to know. I just need to grab some clothes."
And two minutes later, I'm dressed and riding down to the street with the paramedics and a sedated Keith. I take hold of my brother's hand as he's wheeled into the ambulance, the paramedics climbing in with him. As much as I would like, there's not enough room in the ambulance for all of us, so I resort to my car. The back of the ambulance slams shut and the siren starts to wail as they head for the hospital, me following not far behind them.
About thirty minutes later, I'm sitting in the hospital waiting room. The paramedics took Keith to be examined and I was told to wait outside. I didn't even put up a fight. I'm mentally exhausted after going through all that. As I stare at the floor, I hear the hospital doors open. Looking over, I find my family walking in.
They immediately see me and rush over to me. "Tanner, what happened?" Mom asks, still wearing her pink pajamas. "Adam called us and told us something happened."
"Where are Adam and Keith?" Dad asks, in his usual nighttime white tank top and sweatpants.
"They're...they're both being examined," I say. "They're with some doctors right now."
"What do you mean they're with doctors?" Allie asks. "Tanner, give us some answers. I was asleep with Drew when Adam called my phone. I had to wake Drew up to drive me here."
And speak of the devil, Drew walks in a few seconds later. He's a handsome guy with short light brown hair, good muscle tone, and a cleft chin. "Parked the car, baby," he says to Allie as he walks up.
"Tanner, answers," Ethan demands. "Why the hell are we at a hospital at nearly four in the morning?"
I sigh to myself. "Keith he...he had a PTSD attack and thought he was back with the SEALS. He nearly shot Adam."
My family and Drew stare at me in shock. "Keith almost shot Adam?" Dad asks.
"PTSD?" Mom asks.
I nod. "Adam's getting pieces of wood removed from his skin. The bullet hit his doorframe and caused a few splinters to hurt Adam, but it's nothing serious. But Keith? I really don't know."
We all take seats on the available couches, the air very heavy. As we sit, I hear the hospital doors open again and I look up and see Greg quickly walking into the hospital. I stand up and walk over to meet him. "Greg, what're you doing here?"
"Adam called me and told me something happened," he says, nervousness in his eyes. "When he called, I thought something happened to you so I took a cab here. What's going on?" I quickly explain the situation to Greg and he immediately gives me a hug. "How is he?"
"We don't know. We haven't been here for very long. Want to sit with us?"
Greg nods and we rejoin the rest of my family and Drew. We wait patiently for a little while and about twenty minutes later, Adam walks out with a few bandages wrapped around his neck and shoulder. "This is why I hate hospitals," he says as he walks over to us.
I stand up and give my roommate a hug. "You okay, Machine?"
Adam laughs by me addressing him by his nickname. "I'm good, Tanner. They just had to pull a few pieces of wood out of my skin. Hurt like a bitch, but I'll be okay in a few days. Doc gave me a prescription for some pain meds, so I'm going to be a very happy man for the next few days."
And there's Adam, making the best out of every situation. A door opens up behind Adam and a doctor walks out. "Who here is with Keith White?" she calls out.
We all walk over to the doctor. "We are," I say. "How is he?"
"Keith is awake and responding normally," she says. "But based on what I heard from the police from what you and your...large friend here told them, I would say this is definitely PTSD related. You told police that Keith seemed on edge, erratic, hallucinating, and not in the right mindset?"
"Then all signs point to a PTSD created dream. Keith thought he was back out serving with the Navy and didn't know he was awake."
"So...what does this mean?" Mom asks.
"It seems like Keith skipped out on his return evaluation, a test to determine whether or not a person returning from service has any mental or physical issues. Had Keith not skipped it, Navy doctors would have picked up on his PTSD. I would say it is in Keith's best interest he be started on medication to help the symptoms of his PTSD.
"And I would strongly advise that Keith start seeing a therapist or a counselor so he can talk through what he experienced while overseas. And being around family and friends is a good way to help someone who has PTSD. It shows them that they have someone there for them to help protect and care for them.
"For now, the only thing Keith really needs is rest. But he's awake now and you all can go in and speak with him for a few minutes."
The doctor leads us through the hallways and we reach a room. Walking in, we find Keith propped up in a bed, looking very tired and held down with restraints around his wrists. "Hey, everyone," he quietly says.
We all walk over to the bed and look down at Keith. "How're you doing, Keith?" Allie asks.
"I've been better, and I sure as hell would rather be anywhere else but here hooked up to a half dozen machines. But I guess it's my own fault I'm here."
"Keith, this isn't your fault at all," Ethan says. "You were having a PTSD episode."
"Which probably wouldn't have happened had I not skipped my evaluation. Adam, I'm really sorry about what happened."
"Don't worry about it. It's not like you actually hit me with a bullet. I'm just happy you're a crap shot."
Keith gives Adam the stink eye. "I'm relieved I missed," Keith says, looking up at the ceiling. "Had that bullet hit you...God, I can't even think about it..."
"Well, Keith. The best thing you can do right now is focus on getting past this," I say. "It'll take some time, but we're all here to support you."
Keith smiles up at me. "Thanks, baby bro. I really need to get some sleep. Ad by the looks on your faces, you all need some sleep too."
"We can stay if you want, sweetie," Mom says.
"I'll be fine. Really. I'll probably be released either later today or tomorrow and then I can start medication and seeing a therapist."
Everyone looks at one another for a few moments. "We'll be back later this afternoon, son," Dad says. "And we'll spend the whole day here."
"You guys don't..." Keith starts.
"Keith," Allie interrupts. "I'm an expert at suturing holes in people bodies shut. If you don't shut that hole in your face yourself, you're going to have your lips filled with thread. And if that doesn't stop you, I think your asshole would be next."
We all turn and stare at my sister, many of us with the same look of shock on our faces at hearing that come out of my sister's mouth. All except Drew, who just smiles at Allie. "That's my girl," he says, wrapping his arm around Allie's waist and kissing the top of her head.
Keith shakes his head out and looks up at Allie. "Somehow, I wouldn't put it past you, Allie," he says, looking a bit nervous.
Allie raises her nose, proud of herself. "We'll see you later, Keith," I say. "Get some rest."
Keith nods and slides down into his bed, while we all turn and leave the room. As we leave the hospital, I look at Greg. "Do you need a ride back to your apartment?"
"Doesn't Adam need a ride?"
"I drove myself here," Adam says. "And I think I'm in good enough condition to drive myself back. Then I'll take some Tylenol and pass out in my bed."
"Are you sure?" I ask. "I wouldn't want you to crash on the way back."
"Tanner, it's a ten minute drive and there's like no traffic out right now. I'll be fine. Get Gregory back to his apartment safe and sound though."
"Well, okay. But right into bed when you get back."
I give Adam a punch in the shoulder (the good one) and watch as he walks over to his car. I lead Greg to my car and we drive over to his apartment in silence. I pull into the parking lot and come to a stop in front of the front door. As I put the car in park, Greg looks over at me. "Tanner, are you...?"
Before he can finish his sentence, I grab Greg and pull him into a tight hug, resting my head on his shoulder. "No, I'm not," I say.
Greg wraps me in his arms and rubs my back softly. "It's okay, Tanner. Just let it out."
On that note, I feel myself slowly starting to cry. I grip Greg by his shirt for purchase and keep crying softly into his shoulder. All the fear and worry from this night just eases out of me. "That...that wasn't my brother..." I quietly say. "The man in my apartment...that wasn't my brother..."
"He'll be okay, Tanner."
"He looked so...scared, Greg. God, I wish I could've been there for him when he wasn't here..."
"Well you're here for him now, Tanner. You and your family are here to support him and to help get him through this. You'll be able to be with your brother again soon."
I sniff a bit and lift my head off Greg's shoulder and look down at him. "How are you able to make me feel better even when I'm this upset?" I choke out.
Greg smiles and gives me a small kiss. "Because I don't like seeing you upset, Tanner. Seeing you upset makes me upset, and having you upset is the last thing I want. So Tanner? Know that if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, I'll come running to give you that shoulder."
More tears fill the bases of my eyes and I give Greg a crushing hug. "Thank you, Greg. I'm so lucky to have you..."
Greg laughs a bit. "I'm the lucky one here, Tanner."
I sniff my nose and give Greg a kiss. "So um...about Eric and Zane's wedding..."
"If you need to bail out to help take care of Keith, I completely understand."
"No, I was wondering how many days of clothes I should pack and if there was some kind of color scheme I should match up with."
Greg raises his eyebrows. "Tanner, are you really sure? I honestly think that you should spend as much time with Keith as possible."
"And I will over the next two weeks. Then I'll spend some of our week off at Eric and Zane's wedding. My family and Keith will understand, and if Keith doesn't seem to be making any improvement, I won't go to the wedding."
Greg mulls over the thought. "Well, if you're that committed, then I won't be able to say no."
I smile and give Greg another kiss. "Great. So do I need to buy a plane ticket?"
"No need. Mr. Mercer is paying for everything for the wedding, including air travel tickets and rooms for everyone coming. He even rented out a whole hotel, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Vikingsholm for the duration of the wedding."
Somewhere in the pit of my falling stomach at hearing how rich Zane's dad is, I get the feeling that this wedding is going to be a very nice one.